Five women in twice as many days have been found murdered in Suffolk, UK, and the media are loving it.
Ipswich’s murdering psycho has been so obligingly villainous, the media have promoted him, in quaint British tradition, to ‘Ripper’ status. Men murder women all the time (about 11 times a day in the US alone), but ‘Ripper’ is the pet name reserved for a special class of male murderer who, in the popular imagination, is particularly evil, brilliant, fascinating, ruthless, predatory, depraved, cop-taunting, and of course, hooker-hating. He also has a grippingly seedy life history (“a loner who never fit in”), one that tabloid pop psychologists can modify into a reassuring, explanatory ‘motive’, or, even better, into a pyschokiller narrative revealing to a prurient public explicit, lingerie-ripping details of woman-hating violence.*
In a departure from Rippers past, the Ipswich killer doesn’t mutilate. He wins the exalted ‘Ripper’ crown in part because of the stunning dispatch with which he ‘works’ — he is, it is noted unfailingly, and with a sangfroidesque blend of awe and admiration, the fastest serial killer in British history — but mostly because all his victims appear to have been prostituted women, an important prerequisite for Ripperdom.
The Ipswich killer’s upgrade from random violent schlub to a mythic personage capable of waging “a campaign” means a concomitant downgrade for his victims. These people are demoted instantly from human women to ‘prostitutes,’ from ‘prostitutes’ ** to ‘vice girls’. From there it’s just a short hop to ‘heroin addicts’ and finally, to the lowest form of life imaginable, ‘single mothers.’ Their first names are always used as if they were children. Tabloids, as Guardian columnist Joan Smith notes with dismay, even allude to their hair color (“blonde Gemma”). It’s as though they were hotties in Hustler rather than murdered women; no report omits to describe the women’s corpses as ‘naked’ or ‘having been stripped.’
Why celebrate the murderer and dehumanize the victims as fetish objects? Because the public is enamored of the delusion that only nutcase criminal masterminds hate women enough to murder them, and that prostitutes more or less have it coming to them.
Joan Smith’s beef is that getting all hung up on the prostitute angle clouds the issue and hampers the investigation, and it looks like she is spot on. The English Collective of Prostitutes are calling for temporary amnesty so women can come forward with information without fear of intimidation or arrest. Naturally, men in positions of power generally display a profound reluctance to cut a gal a break, and the Suffolk cops are no exception. That they won’t grant this temporary amnesty suggests that their “big crackdowns and street sweeps” — all of which, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, target women rather than the pervs who pay to rape them — are somewhat dearer to the cops’ hearts than apprehending a serial killer in a timely fashion. They merely advise the sex workers to stay off the streets. But as one sex worker advocate points out, “Various schemes like zero tolerance, big crackdowns and street sweeps — where police try to clear the streets of prostitutes over a day or several days — force the women to work faster so they don’t have the time to check out clients, who are already freaked out by the police presence.”
Meanwhile, nothing titillates like a true crime story of naked young vice girl junkies murdered by psychotically clever deviants. Because there aren’t enough of these in the newspapers, American consumers of mainstream misogynist violence turn to the roughly 574 dramatic TV series devoted to the sexual-predator-fallen-woman theme, all of which are transparently vehicles for broadcasting cumshots of hot actresses in torn lingerie, bound, gagged, chained by the wrists. They all draw predictably high ratings. The evil psycho/tortured hooker motif is one of our culture’s most cherished entertainments.
But, as Geordi LaForge says on my favorite show “Reading Rainbow,” don’t take my word for it. Ipswich Evening Star editor Nigel Pickover, who is publishing minute-by-minute updates, has revealed a sudden Suffolk-Ripper-based “sales bonanza into Christmas.” His readers are exhibiting a “hunger for news [that] he [has] not witnessed since working on the Yorkshire Ripper murders in the 70’s and 80’s.”
Lucky Yorkshire Ripper, his picture in all the papers again! One of the perks of being coronated Ripper is that you get re-celebritized whenever some new deviant shows up waving your sceptre.
* The Sun’s ‘top criminal psychologist’ speculates that “the maniac [has a] history of being dominated by women.” Funny how every single woman on the planet has a history of being dominated by men, yet the world remains puzzlingly bereft of crazed chicks rampaging around on tabloid-quality murder sprees.
** “Prayers will be said at services this weekend for the prostitutes and their families.” Italics mine. Also mine is a great sneering optimism that inviting God to intervene will do at least as much good as the Suffolk coppers.