More than a century has passed, and billions of events have transpired that are a billion times worse than what happened there, and thousands of miles rest between me and Whitechapel. Part of me worries that it's my easily titillated playground-self that's obsessed, that there's a gross-out contest inside me satisfied by the gothic gruesomeness of the crimes. That the spooky ethos of Victorian London is what sustains me. I always have this worry: that I'm as sordid as the bluehaired women clucking their tongues over the pulpy true crime books in the check-out aisle.
But there's always something more I keep coming back to. I really do think Alan Moore got it right: those crimes ushered in the era we're standing in right now. Jack the Ripper wasn't created by some crazy nutjob who wanted to hack at prostitutes. He was created by the society around him. I'm not talking about where the responsibility lies--not saying that poor Jacky got beat by his mum and so had no choice but to cut up whores. What I'm saying is that the industry of serial murder was invented right then and there, or maybe just perfected.
The same system that created prostitution as a necessity, that failed to give women the resources they would have needed to get by, is the system that later capitalized on their respective demises. I keep thinking of Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, manufactured by Disney to be exactly what they are. And now the magazines are having a great time eviscerating them. In 1888 the newspapers were having a field day. The crime scenes were carnivals. Multiple hundreds of average, every day London citizens started writing fake Jack the Ripper letters to the police and papers. One gets the grim suspicion that only a few of these are schoolboy pranks, that the letters tapped into something a bit more sinister: an identification with the murderer, perhaps, or a slavish need to participate in what became the biggest gang-bang of the Victorian world. Let's all make a little cut.
Goodbye and goodbye and goodbye, Mary Kelly (and Catherine Eddowes and Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride, and all the other women who have felt the knife in some way, then and now both). One-hundred-nineteen years of goodbyes, and we're still pimping you out and cutting you up.
Last year's sonnet, not a perfect sonnet, but dusted off for the occasion: