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Sex in the sun: racial stereotypes and tabloid news

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journal contribution
posted on 26.10.2009, 14:13 authored by Michael Pickering
Sexuality and ethnicity are potent categories, especially in combination. In news reporting, the ways in which such categories are symbolically mobilised may seem very much of the present, but such uses are often deeply rooted in the past and reproduce stock notions that were developed in previous historical formations. The present article takes a front-page tabloid news story as an example of how this can operate. It shows how the story draws on various stereotypical representations of female and black sexuality on the one hand, white European and black African social arrangements on the other. Its narrative structure privileges and silences certain “voices” in the narrative, and uses what these “voices” say to support its key thematic template. The discourse of the story is schematically organised around this template, which deals in long-established binary conceptions of civilisation and primitiveness, and strategically opposed values of social responsibility and personal fulfilment. These are reinforced not only by the various textual features of the narrative, but also by its intertextual relation to the other, subsidiary, front-page story in the same edition of the newspaper. The lead story plays fear and fascination off against each other as its key point of interest, and in doing so ensures that various gender and racial myths and stereotypes are maintained in ideological circulation.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


PICKERING, M., 2008. Sex in the sun: racial stereotypes and tabloid news. Social Semiotics, 18 (3), pp. 363-375.


© Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group)


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This is an electronic version of an article published in the journal, Social Semiotics [© Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group)]. It is available online at: