The race to be the first celebrity: Jack The Ripper versus The Elephant Man

Cameron Hayes
The Race to Be the First Celebrity: Jack the Ripper versus the Elephant Man, 2011
Oil on linen
78 x 100 inches
Photo: Bill Orcutt
Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York

The race to be the first celebrity: Jack The Ripper versus The Elephant Man, 2011

Because in the 1880’s Darwin had convinced most people in England that the process of evolution meant that the next generation (babies) would make their generation look like monkeys in comparison, people in the 1880’s were determined to celebrate regressive rather than progressive character traits. They wanted to celebrate the parts of people that they considered backward and retarded.


The Race to Be the First Celebrity: Jack the Ripper versus the Elephant Man, 2011 – detail

The local government replaced all the statues of heroes with statues of toilets, irons, and vacuum cleaners. In the afternoon, people lined up along the driveway of the mental home to applaud the new inmates being dragged in. They also lined up along the hospital driveway to watch those maimed in factory accidents crawl to the hospital door. The trail of blood they left behind started the tradition of the red carpet for celebrity arrivals. Many formerly famous people had to make their achievements even more spectacular to keep up with the new disabled celebrities. Dr. Livingstone tried to convince his audience that everybody and every animal he met on his adventures was a cannibal. He did this by starving baby animals and then stuffing the mother’s skins with fresh meat.


The Race to Be the First Celebrity: Jack the Ripper versus the Elephant Man, 2011 – detail

But the more emotionally and physically disabled you were, the more your celebrity became invincible. As more and more machines convinced people that they were becoming evolutionarily obsolete, people became more attracted to the most human of humans: prostitutes, natives, mental patients, criminals, and cripples. The two greatest celebrities of the age combined crime, mental illness and prostitution: crime and mental illness with Jack the Ripper and physical deformity and nativeness (mother squashed by an elephant) with The Elephant Man.


The Race to Be the First Celebrity: Jack the Ripper versus the Elephant Man, 2011 – detail

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