I Spoke to the PR Guy Tasked with Defending East London's Crappy Jack the Ripper Museum
He'd suggested a counter-protest against the Fuck Parade's scheduled storming of the museum this weekend, but then changed his mind. I asked him why.
This Sunday will see another protest by anarchist group Class War in London – some of whom were involved in the "Fuck Parade" anti-gentrification protests which, last Friday, saw Brick Lane's Cereal Killer Café paint-bombed.
Class War's next target is going to be East London's new Jack the Ripper museum. Maybe they've taken notice of all the glib think-pieces about the Fuck Parade pointing out that an independent business is a bad target and instead chosen to protest something that no one could possibly want to defend.
After all, the museum has already been a focal point for controversy and had its windows smashed. It was sold to the local community as a museum about the history of the women of East London, but instead became a museum centred around a man who spent a lot of time murdering them. Even the architect who designed it said he felt "duped" by the scheme.
However, if Class War thought they were going for an indefensible target, it seems they were wrong: someone does want to defend it. A new protest called #PROTECTLONDON appeared to be happening on the same day, with a call out for the counter-protest (above) appearing on the website of the Ripper Museum's PR man, Joshua Walker.
"It's time for locals and local business to band together and show that we won't accept it!" it said, suggesting that people gather at the same time and place as the Fuck Parade.
I asked a spokesperson from Class War what he thought of being greeted by a load of counter-protesters, and he told me, "It absolutely exemplifies what class war is about, you know. Rather than check their privilege, the irate yuppies have decided that they'd rather turn us over. Well, that's something to look forward to. Rather than ask themselves why we're angry, what we're unhappy about while they're flaunting what's right and wrong in our faces and destroying our communities – rather than check that, they've decided they're going to come and have a pop."
Are we about to see scenes of crusties and yuppies screaming at each other in the street, as London's gentrification plays out as a piece of Situationist street theatre?
Well no, apparently not.
I called Joshua for a chat, and he put dampeners on the whole thing: "We had a discussion here and we said maybe we should do a counter protest because there are so many people who are cross about what these people are doing, and maybe it's quite important that they know that they don't represent East London, they don't represent women, they don't represent poor people – they're just a group of people who have certain views," he told me. "We literally had a five-minute conversation and said, 'You know, maybe we should do something.' I did one little piece about it or something and then said, 'You know what, let's not do it.'"
I thought it was weird that there was still an event call out with big red letters on his website. Was this the "little piece" he mentioned? I let that question slide as he continued.
"These protesters have been violent to date," said Joshua. "The last thing we want to do is antagonise people or incite any violence. I think they're doing a good enough job on their own, actually. So we decided against it. Some people were quite disappointed – we had a hundred or so people who were quite interested in doing it."
The lack of a counter-protest aside, I asked if James could understand the anger towards the museum. Could there have been a way to celebrate women's history without focusing on their disembowelment?
"I think a lot of it comes from a misunderstanding, not having come to the museum," he said. " Just because we call ourselves the Jack the Ripper Museum – actually, that's what people refer to the era as, and the murderer or murderers – that doesn't mean we in any way glorify what was done; we're not glamourising it, we're literally telling a story, and we're telling a story from the point of view of these women."
They're phasing out the merchandise with the blood-of-murdered-prostitutes motif on it, he added, so get it while you can!
It must be a tough job defending a Jack the Ripper museum in the world of instant internet hate mobs. I wondered if Joshua regretted the decision to spend the day getting into arguments on Twitter about whether or not what the ripper did really counts as sexual violence, when, you know, he could have had a non-sexual motive, such as racism (tweets he has since deleted).
"No one really knows what was going on in [the Ripper's] head," he told me. "We don't know if it was a man, we don't know if it was a woman. We don't know how old they were, what their background was, what their job was. To say that it's sexual violence – it's just inaccurate more than anything. It's not in any way defending Jack the Ripper. It was heinous. It was awful... it's completely blown out of proportion – we've had death threats. It's all a bit silly."
That statement seemed to sum up the position of the museum as a whole: we'll call it a Jack the Ripper museum to draw in the prurient blood 'n' guts tourists, but technically – technically – it's the museum about the women of the East End that we promised. The ripper tore out the uterus of prostitutes, but can we really call sexual violence if the intention is unclear?
Joshua insisted I come and see how great the museum is for myself. But since TV historian Fern Riddel, who consults on the BBC's Ripper Street, already went and used words such as "laughable" and "fantasy" to describe it, I think I already know everything I need to know.
I guess we'll never know how big the pro-Ripper throng at the #PROTECTLONDON event would have been. In PR terms, perhaps that's for the best – giving a street protest group called "Class War" some sort of approximation of a war between local business owners and angry proles would have played into their hands a bit.