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
The 1880s: Darwin had convinced most people in England that the process of
evolution meant the next generation would make their generation look like monkeys
in comparison. To prove their status and relevance, people in the 1880s were
determined to celebrate regressive rather than progressive character traits. They
wanted to celebrate the aspects of people that they considered backward and
regressive. People wanted to promote qualities in their fellow man that were
humiliating and anti-evolutionary, to inhibit the feeling of being surpassed
The local government replaced all the statues of heroes with statues of toilets, irons,
and vacuum cleaners. Everything inspirational was being replaced with the
acceptance of the debilitating filth of human mediocrity. In the afternoon, people lined
up along the driveway of the mental home to applaud the new patients forcibly being
dragged in, as well as outside the jails to view the violent criminals. They also line 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 have to make their achievements even more
spectacular to keep up with the new fashion of celebrities. Dr. Livingstone tried to
convince his audience that everybody and every animal he met on his adventures
were cannibals. He did this by starving baby animals and then stuffing the mother’s
skins with fresh meat. Soon lying and pantomime replaced discussion and history.
But the more emotionally and physically disabled they were, the more their celebrity status became
invincible. As more and more machines of the industrial age threateningly came torepresent to people that they were becoming evolutionarily obsolete, people became more attracted to those who were previously outcast: prostitutes, the exotic other, mental patients, criminals, and the physically impaired. The greatest celebrities of the age had to involve a combination of crime, mental illness, sin and prostitution: like the crime and mental illness of Jack the Ripper and the physical deformity and “nativeness” (mother squashed by an elephant) of The Elephant Man.
As a child the Elephant man was thought so shockingly grotesque that the only job
he was suited for was selling women’s stockings door to door.
A theme park called “The Elephant Man’s Mother” celebrated how Joseph Merrick
suffered without his mother’s milk (nature): children could buy elephant man masks,
head sacks and trinkets at the gift shop.
Great thinkers and achievers made people feel inadequate like old school friends
who have made it big. People blocked them out by filling their minds with the lives of
the needy and emotionally retarded: Karl Stefanovic, Alan Jones, Kardashians.
Images of great art were replaced by Instagram pics of restaurant meals.
Philosophical proverbs and heroic mottos were replaced by tweets about – well –
other tweets. Prostitutes (then) and skinny models (now) along with sexually ambigous radio hosts are symbols of nonreproduction, and, along with criminals, are celebrated as an affront to the next
generation to the certainty of evolution.
Ugliness becomes the new trend with dog baiting and talkback radio, adults toileting
and fighting in the streets to affirm their human / non-robot status. The ultimate
machine of the age – the clock – torments people by reminding them of an evolved
future of which they will not be part of and obliterating the past which they felt
Darwin’s theory of evolution means babies are the masters of the next generation,
exploiting the adults’ fear that they would have to mutate to survive. Babies are
destroying the old London by driving steam train tracks through old buildings and
replacing trees in the parks with wooden chairs stacked in the shape of trees.
Mothers used long handled prams because they feared the violence of their pumpedup babies. Babies in top hats roam the streets looking to kill regressive human forms
and at the races shooting any non-winning horse.
The London zoo is the only sanctuary for the adults from the oppression of evolution.
The zoo animals in cages were confirmation that the adults weren’t the bottom of the
evolutionary ladder, the skin tight cages they put the animals in demonstrated the
adults’ superior freedom and intelligence, the wheels they put the cages on made it
possible and convenient for the adults to express their anger at the animals rather
than the system. Like Lord Curzon, Captain Cook and Gordon of Khatoum adults felt
it safer to concentrate on the individual not the system.