Death, Gender, and Ethnicity

By David Field; Jenny Hockey et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 7

Beauty and the Beast
Sex and death in the tabloid press Mike Pickering, Jane Littlewood and Tony Walter
INTRODUCTION
In a previous paper, we challenged the conventional sociological view that death in contemporary western society is ‘publicly absent but privately present’ (Mellor 1993, Mellor and Schilling 1993). By looking in particular at press coverage of the extraordinary deaths of otherwise ordinary individuals, we were able to show that in Britain there is widespread coverage of death and death-related issues by the media. We also contested the influential view of Gorer (1995) that death-related issues in their public representations are emotionally sanitised in the manner of pornography by showing that, at least as far as the press is concerned, their treatment is saturated with emotion, however sensationally treated that may be. Far from being subject to some sort of taboo, the grief-torn feelings of relatives and friends of the deceased in cases of extraordinary public deaths are actually the focus of intense press interest. We offered three possible ways of accounting for this kind of attention, which of course extends beyond reporters to those who buy and read the newspapers for whom they write, though not in ways that can necessarily be assumed from any analysis of news texts themselves (see Walter, Littlewood and Pickering, 1995). The three accounts were as follows:
People who have been bereaved and their comforters do not know what to do or say following the decline of mourning rituals. Therefore, there is interest in newspaper stories about death-related issues.
People who have been bereaved in (white mainstream) Britain affirm the cultural value of stoicism but also wish to indicate, indirectly, how deeply they feel their loss. The difficulties associated with this account for interest in this area.

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