Last week London’s notorious serial killer, “Jack the Ripper”, made headlines once again when a museum billed as a celebration of London women turned out to actually be a Jack the Ripper museum. The museum received planning position by claiming it was going to be a museum celebrating East End women. The level of deceit was such that even the architect claims to have been duped about the actual nature of the project.
There is a lot about this project that, in my opinion, warrants criticism.
It seems like a sick joke It is a disgustingly sick joke to build such a place under the guise of celebrating women. What the museum’s founder did was wrong, but the marketing campaign is only half of the problem.
Even if the museum had been upfront about its plans, is it right to allow something that runs the risk of celebrating a violent killer who targeted vulnerable women?
Here at the History Collective we tiptoed on the line between remembrance and celebration by posting happy birthday wishes to Elizabeth Báthory. I would argue that the birthday wishes (which were both dubious and tongue in cheek) are acceptable because we must not paint a rosy picture of the past that overlooks reality. Acknowledging her birthday was intended to give readers information about an important historical figure. But what about the movie trailers? Do they provide us with information or make entertainment out of gruesome tragedy?
As many of the articles about the Jack the Ripper Museum point out, there is already a tourism industry that profits from Jack the Ripper. It has also been made popular through Alan Moore’s graphic novel, From Hell, and the movie adaptation by the same name.
When you stop and think about it, it seems perverse that we get entertainment from such an awful figure who preyed on vulnerable women. There are plenty of arguments to show that humans often get pleasure from watching violence, but as historians I think it is important that we consider how we commemorate the past. Where is the line between commemoration and celebration? Is celebration, at least at times, inevitable? There are no easy answers to these questions, and no moral high ground (as long as you don’t do something as despicable as claim a murderer exhibition is a celebration of women), but I think as long as we discuss the issues we are heading in the right direction.