A figure of gothic melodrama

Deborah Orr did a nicely blistering piece about the Women-Murderer “museum” in August.

Mark the Ripp-Off, otherwise known as Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, is the man behind a new museum in Cable Street in the East End of London. Except he isn’t. He’s behind a lurid new tourist attraction in Cable Street in the East End of London, which is dedicated to exploiting an already much-cultivated fascination with the unknown killer of five women between 1888 and 1891.

I hadn’t properly taken in the extent and grotesquery of the fascination until this “museum” came along. What is this sick shit? There’s nothing cool or nostalgic or fun about the serial murders of desperately poor prostitutes in late 19th century London. We don’t consider Willy Pickton cool or dapper or interesting, so why is there this idea that the X who killed those women in Whitechapel was? Is it just because it was late-Victorian London so we think “oh hey, Sherlock Holmes and fog and hansoms, must be cool”?

This joint is called the Jack the Ripper Museum, from which one can deduce that it exists to commemorate a crude and ugly piece of invented nomenclature that surely has already proved itself to be quite enduring enough, thank you very much. Certainly, someone killed five women, with extreme savagery. But that person was not Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper is an invented villain, a figure of gothic melodrama who serves the purpose of making five murdered women also seem like inventions, mere accessories after the fiction.

Like something out of a movie – Norman Bates or Hannibal Lecter.

Mark the Ripp-Off says otherwise. He seems to be suggesting that that the name of the “museum” is a clever ploy, aimed at reeling in customers. They will turn up expecting gory details about a misogynistic serial eviscerator, only to discover – delightedly, I’m sure – that the “museum” instead offers a meditation on the condition of women in the East End of London during the Victorian era, using the situation of the women who were slaughtered as a “starting point”. They’ll all be stampeding past the promised crime-scene tableau to get to that stuff, I’m sure.

Well now that the “museum” is open and Fern Riddell has reviewed it, we know there is no “that stuff” to get to.

Does this guy think it’s funny to say that he’s going to open a museum celebrating women’s history, then actually open one celebrating a notorious killer of women? Does he think it’s funny that people are up in arms against his new project, having believed that something more serious and useful was going to be sited in the area instead? Somehow, either of these is not as bad as imagining that he really believes that his exploitation of the murder of women isn’t part of the problem, but instead is part of the solution.

How can anyone think that the way to understand the social existence of women is by speculating about why some unknown killer annihilated them, or detailing how their situations made them vulnerable to him?

Oh, he doesn’t think that. He just pretends to, for the look of the thing.

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