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Jack the Ripper's Legacy: the Commodity

Updated on May 18, 2015


Poetic and musical speculation have often been companion to the unsolved and unknown; the artistic and creative mind ponders the mystery in hopes that deep ruminations will help to make some sense of the given case. The familiarity of Jack the Ripper's legacy makes him an easy target for such poetic dreams. Not surprisingly, the Ripper has been awarded the dubious honor of inspiring a tune that has been sung by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. After its 1955 release in Berthodlt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, "Mack the Knife" became a hauntingly pleasing and ever-so-popular melody. Although the song is ultimately centered around Brecht's main character, the uncanny similarities between MacHeath and the Ripper are no less that intentional. Even today, sixty years after its first introduction to the public, "Mack the Knife" has fixed itself into the minds of those who have heard it.


Brecht and MacHeath were not the only ones to transform Jack the Ripper into a song and dance man. Steven Bergman and Christopher Michael DeGrazia made their own contribution with an "...examination of the Whitechapel murders through the lives of the women that died" complete with a "...stirring score, an unexpected love story, and a tale as modern as today's headlines". In Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical, one of the world's most infamous unsolved murder mysteries is choreographed into a musical score that will further desensitize the modern world to the atrocities of 1888.

Following in the steps of Brecht, Bergman, an DeGrazia, the UK, the very people who were plagued by the Ripper, attempted to monopolize these ghastly crimes through stage performances. In Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, the audience is promised " authoritative historical narrative of the Ripper story set to music that will appeal to all" so that an endearing rock'n'roll version of Jack can sing his way into the hearts of the audience.

In 1995, Jack the Ripper made another appearance in the United States. This time, he was on television screens across the country courtesy of A&E Biography. In the five part series, A&E tells viewers of

the sensational mystery of Jack the Ripper...[and] reopens the case to examine the evidence and speculate about who he might have been...[analyzing] at the subjects who were questioned, including overlooked individuals, such as an American who has never before been linked to the crimes.

A&E promised to reveal "...why this gruesome mystery still fascinates crime-lovers everywhere" failing to realize that the publicity they are offering to the case is just what it takes to keep the interest alive and well.


Even with movies, musicals, and television appearances, no commodification is complete with multitudes of books containing rare and innovative research results. Jack the Ripper is no exception. Each title proclaims a new and never-before-explored slant on the Ripper murders and promises decisive evidence that could bring the case closer to being solved.

First published in 1992, the Ripper mystery was awarded its own alphabet in The Complete Jack the Ripper A-Z. This book is a "...must-have...for anyone carrying on a serious study of the case". "Despite some factual errors", The Jack the Ripper A-Z is regarded as a definitive study of the Whitechapel murders. The contrasting reviews of the book present an undeniable irony; a "serious study" should not include "some factual errors". The thick coat of mystery in which this case is shrouded creates a real challenge in distinguishing fact from fiction within the vast amount of available information.

From final solutions to extensive alphabets, there are those books that seek only to capitalize on the case and should be eagerly disregarded. Though hailed as "...a curious and important book" in one review, it is difficult to put much faith in Jean Overton Fuller's Sickert & the Ripper Crimes. In Fuller's book, readers learn that

Florence Pash, friend and colleague of the artist Walter Sickert and herself an artist, confided to the author’s mother when in her late eighties, a terrible story that she had kept even from those closest to her.

From this summary, it seems that Pash's story could be one of the victim who escaped or, even more entertaining, the I-watched-it-all-happen-and-never-confessed genre. Nevertheless, it is highly doubtful that Ms. Fuller reveals the true identity of the Ripper.

The ruminations of so-called scholarly writers are not the only literature available for the public's perusal. In the comic book series From Hell, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell "...[divulge] a deeply disturbing yet undeniably captivating masterpiece". The series offers detailed exploration into the Ripper's murders and ensuing case with "...meticulous research that encompasses a wide spectrum of Ripper studies and myths and...[the] ability to evoke sympathies" in characters some pretty monstrous characters.


Jack the Ripper has been turned into one of the most marketable and salable figures in history. Through his commodification, the public has become desensitized to one of the most brutal murder sprees ever recorded. The Ripper has evolved into an almost fictional character, and it is difficult to distinguish between truth and invention.

The press was also partly responsible for creating many [of the] myths surrounding the Ripper and ended up turning a sad killer of women into a 'bogey man,' who has now become one of the most romantic figures in history.

By attempting to solve and understand the unknown, society has recreated Jack the Ripper and turned him into a comic book style monster who can be molded and shaped by any imagination. This pseudo-fictionalization of the Ripper's crimes acts as a hopeless attempt to justify the violent acts he performed; however, today's society must come to the realization that arbitrary violence like that of 1888's East End is never justifiable or excusable.

Jack the Ripper's infamous legend will always be preserved in history books, on movie screens, and on the many pages of research that have accumulated over the years, but an accurate picture of who this killer really truly was is something the world seems destined to never know. For now, contentment must be found with the distorted image that contemporary society has come to know as Jack the Ripper.


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