Jack the Ripper: A PR gift that keeps on giving—who would have guessed?

The infamous serial killer stands at the heart of an ongoing crisis surrounding the controversial opening of a museum in London’s East End this past July. When a multi-story structure devoted to Jack the Ripper was unveiled in place of the originally promised (and council-approved) “first women’s history museum in the UK,” it was a shock to say the least.

Residents, local officials, nor anyone who worked on the project were told about the redesigned premise, but revealing a theme honoring suffrage turned suffered has brought several ethical questions to the table.

Billed as recounting the unknown late-19th century killer’s story from the perspectives of six female victims, the museum is the invention of Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, former chief of diversity and inclusion for Google in the UK, Middle East and Africa. Accompanied by his right-hand PR man Joshua Walker, the divisive duo has done everything but frame the project in an honorable or ethical light.

Palmer-Edgecumbe has mounted several defenses throughout the slew of backlash surrounding his redeveloped theme. Generally speaking, he said they planned on the women’s history direction, but decided the murder victim perspective “would be a more interesting angle.” He attests the logo still includes women (as the ground-smeared blood) and during construction further justified the switch with claims the museum’s full name was “Jack the Ripper and the History of Women in East London”…the sign just wasn’t finished yet.

Walker also added they changed the basic focus to garner more widespread appeal, but have not deviated from the original mission to honor the London women’s movement.

The museum’s front during construction – via Daily Mail (Picture by GLENN COPUS©)
The museum’s front during construction – via Daily Mail (Picture by GLENN COPUS©)

Protesters have since assembled feeling “hoodwinked” and betrayed by the turn of events. Seeing as total disregard for the area’s historical value, many felt disparaged by the supposed means of ‘honoring East End women.’ Anti-capitalist group Class War joined the outspoken opposition as well, asserting the museum glorifies sexual violence.

With news of the anarchists’ impending protest as part of a larger campaign seeking to end “The War on Women,” Walker’s Twitter troubles further deepened the crisis.

Waging his own war with micro-blogging critics, Walker was quickly perceived as defending Jack the Ripper himself, rather than the museum alone. He said the victims were never sexually abused, so deeming it sexual violence was wrong. Backtracking after the fact, he claims to have simply meant the facts were never confirmed, so it wasn’t a fair statement. He maintains the museum strives to portray the women’s lives in a respectful manner, despite an additional, since-deleted tweet that read: “Telling a story from the perspective of women—it’s a tough job but someone has to do it.”

Things quieted down for a while, but with Halloween has more hoopla arisen surrounding a special meet and greet event featuring Jack himself.

The official press release asks: “Dare you have a selfie with him in his sitting room where he planned his horrific murders?  Or how about a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes?”

And set to play Jack—none other than Palmer-Edgecumbe.

Extensive Twitter backlash has followed, criticizing the use of victims as entertainment “props.” Exploiting the once real-life individuals, the museum’s upcoming event was called vile, tasteless and misogynistic.

Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, the museum’s founder – via Daily Mail (Picture by GLENN COPUS©)
Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, the museum’s founder – via Daily Mail (Picture by GLENN COPUS©)

The museum’s spokesman counteracted the claims by asserting it’s creating an “educational, exciting and historically accurate depiction of actual events that took place in London in 1888.” He also unrelatedly noted Palmer-Edgecumbe’s recent honor at the Amy Winehouse Foundation Gala Dinner last week for his “charity work.”

William Benoit discusses two key components of any crisis-oriented attack: The accused is held responsible for action and the act is considered offensive.

The mass of online as well as in-person opposition has certainly held Palmer-Edgecumbe, and Walker accountable for their communication missteps at seemingly every possible point. The team’s poorly handled actions regarding the museum’s presented image are also seen as offensive by countless publics.

With any great crisis comes the image restoration strategy. Despite poor handling of the museum’s case, several signs as also detailed by Benoit were evident.

“Evading responsibility” entails emphasizing good intentions. Palmer-Edgecumbe and Walker maintain they mean well with the Jack the Ripper spin, still aiming to honor the East End women’s social progress. Not looking to discount the area’s rich history, they simply wanted to provide an even “more interesting” educational attraction to the community.

As far as “reducing offensiveness,” the two persistently tried to bolster questionable conduct by highlighting the “overlooked” positive traits. After all, the smudged blood still featured women as part of the logo and Palmer-Edgecumbe’s charitable honoring has everything to do with softening blow surrounding the campy killer meet and greet.

Aiming to minimize perceived harm, Walker says the conceptual focus may have changed, but they still thoroughly align with the originally established awareness mission. Representing accuser attacks as well, his Twitter feuds calling out technical falsehoods regarding historic evidence were attempts to undermine credibility of his accusatory critics.

The museum’s ongoing fallout entails actions deemed unethical across the philosophical board, but especially from a non-consequentialist perspective. Potential outcomes were disregarded; however, the problematic means of crisis handling didn’t abide by goodwill-guided rules. As much of society looks down upon outright lying and offense, Kant would do the same.

Reckless actions without regard to repercussions comprise a resounding road to ethical downfall.

Sounds like Jack the PR Rip-off rides again.

(Feature image via Jack the Ripper Museum and clipartsheep.com)