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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Adrian Bingham, Family Newspapers? Sex, Private Life and the British Popular Press, 1918-1978

This really does fill in a much needed gap (which I flagged up in one of my chapters in The Facts of Life) about how sex figured in the popular daily/Sunday papers in Britain in the earlier part of the C20th, given that that was where a lot of people would have been picking up such sexual knowledge as they had.

Bingham does an excellent job, showing the ways in which newspaper proprietors and editors were well aware that 'sex sells' but also of the ways that they had to negotiate around societal taboos and the idea of being 'family newspapers' and making sure the content was suitable for the kiddies. One does get a very strong impression that sex got discussed rather a lot in the context of society scandal/divorce and criminality, although there was also a dimension of (male, heteronormative) 'healthy/normal' embodied in  the phenomenon of the extensive use of pin-up photos.

There's also interesting stuff about a moment, in the 40s and 50s and into the 60s, in which at least certain papers were taking a stance on being modern and the importance of knowledge and enlightenment around sex and there was a period in which it's arguable that there was some genuinely educational stuff going on  - note here role of women advice columnists and also the articles on e.g. abortion which were presenting the progressive legalisation case. Although this varied a lot over the range of topics and there is some very good analysis of the ways in which the popular press generally chose to deal with prostitution (as 'oldest profession' with occasional moral panics over 'white slavery', vice rings, etc).

But that moment was swept away by an increasing sexualisation and sensationalism that burgeoned in the 70s.

Useful stuff. I really ought to read his other book on Gender, Modernism and the Popular Press in Interwar Britain but it's wicked pricey. I could get it on ILL and take notes I suppose but I like to have my own copies so I can look things up when I need to.

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