I once used to open my introductory lecture in criminology by asking the students who was interested in serial killers. Over half of the, mainly women, students would raise their hands. I would then say that I wasn’t and that they’d learn nothing about them in my classes.
I have, however, lightened up a bit; and now open my crime and media module with discussion of the case. Not of the many murders, which victims might reasonably be seen as ‘true’ ones and certainly no speculation as to the killer; though, of course, these are all mentioned BUT in how the media of the day and more recently - in press, books, films, games etc - represented it. That is the focus on the murders worldwide by the media, the part played by the media in giving Jack a name and continuing a culture in which a gynocidal maniac becomes a tourist attraction.
So, in part, I play the game that is the organising principle of the BBC’s Ripper Street. I use the very interest in ‘Jack the Ripper’ to engage my students. Sadly still too many fall for the Ripperology aspects and see my continued use of the term ‘Whitechapel Murders’ as a prissy political correctness. I have not watched any of the Whitechapel Series on ITV as there is sometimes so many series about crime that ‘I must watch’ that - based on trailers, previews or even chance - I don’t watch them all. The DVDs of Breaking Bad my son bought me for xmas must be watched.
Clearly both Whitechapel and Ripper Street as have others draw shamelessly on the interest in ‘Jack’ as does this blog post. This is not a review. For fan boys I recommend this from Den of Geek and for feminist ire and irony Grace Dent. If this were a review I might mention that it feels like a graphic novel.
I am glad to see that the writer says, ‘In truth, I’ve never been much of a Ripperologist’ but pick up on the ‘almost’ in the claim that, ‘Strangely, the whole series was unlocked by almost throwing him away’. I ‘almost’ throw him away too but Ripper Street would have far fewer viewers and commentators if he had truly been discarded. So if this is not a review what is it? In part it’s a teaching aid, a checklist of criminological concerns and tiny alternative to overuse by criminologists of the The Wire.
So what did I spot in the first two episodes? Let me know if I missed any.
Episode 1: ripper tours; the significance of the media; the possibility of ‘copy cat’ killings; the passing off of one murder for that a serial killers and the rise of photography and its early use in policing and for pornography.
Episode 2: vigilantism; public order policing; the need for juvenile justice; need for abolition of the death penalty; the media again; the meaning of criminal tattoos (kings’s a mugging!); shades of Fagin (a form of ‘grooming’?) and international police cooperation (Pinkertons).
And always victims. William D. Rubinstein says, ‘probably more is known about the lives of these five than of any other group of working-class women in Victorian England’. Ripper Street gives some idea of similar lives but still very much a tourist view. Let me be your guide!