In Tabloid, Inc.: Crimes, Newspapers, Narratives, V. Penelope Pelizzon and Nancy M. West bring some long-overdue attention to the distinctly modern and distinctly urban phenomenon of the tabloid newspaper. Concentrating on the late 1920s and early 1930s, when papers like Hearst's Daily Mirror and Bernarr Macfadden's Evening Graphic were at their most popular, the authors use a combination of narrative and film theory to repair the neglect of the academic community by illustrating how these sensationally written, explicitly illustrated newspapers created narratives that influenced more [End Page 259] respectable forms of media. This concentration upon forms other than the newspapers is both the book's great strength and its weakness, for in a sense this book is about everything but the tabloids; resultantly it falls into the very pattern of avoidance that the authors hope to correct.
Tabloid, Inc. can be seen as part of a spate of recent work on neglected popular print forms. Indeed, when it comes to popular material, the richest works of recovery (and definitely the most visually stimulating) are often in mass-circulation—even coffee table—books that arise from the collectors' market. Taschen especially does a fine job, with recent books on true detective, men's adventure, and pinup magazines. Other publishers as well are following the trend; just in the last year there have appeared histories of 1950s gossip tabloids (Henry Scott's Shocking True Story [New York: Pantheon, 2010]), film fan magazines (Anthony Slide's Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine, [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010]), and mid-century romance comics (Michael Barson, Agonizing Love. [New York: Harper, 2011]).1 This larger fascination with sensational reading shouldn't be surprising, since the general public has logically not been subject to the long-standing prejudice against populist forms that has until recently hobbled academia.
The rise of cultural studies can be seen, in part, as indicative of a general dissatisfaction with the traditional material archived and available for study. Likewise, the democracy of the World Wide Web, which has moved much of this material out of collectors' closets and online, has also played a part in the general recovery of rare or ignored printed matter. Regardless, quite a few of the academic books published in the last few years use popular print material to broaden our definitions of gender, the archive, or modernism.2 Tabloid, Inc. is one such project that looks to a highly ephemeral form, rarely collected, and even more rarely written about.
The tabloids were the incredibly lurid—both in prose and illustration—dailies that were published in major urban centers (mostly New York and Chicago) but distributed nationally. They were full of "purple prose and emotional excess," but also "literary allusion, metaphorical wordplay, rich vocabulary, and deft wit," which the authors confess surprised them (3). And whereas yellow journalism and sensational newspapers predate the twentieth century, Pelizzon and West concentrate on the short six-year period that flanked the end of the roaring 1920s when each paper, whether the New York Daily News or The Evening Graphic had its own style, attitude, and circulation of anywhere from 400,000 (for The Evening Graphic) to a [End Page 260] million (for The Daily News) (13). The headlines usually screamed about crimes, public scandals, love triangles, vice, and the rackets. This was after all the height of prohibition, political corruption, Midwestern crime sprees, and organized crime, of Capone, Dillinger et. al. And it was also the height of pre-code Hollywood's flaunting of sex and violence on the screen, which according to the authors of Tabloid, Inc. is not coincidental, for the book's main argument is that the tabloid newspapers supplied a form of narrative that influenced Hollywood, whether by supplying narratives of melodramatic crime, tabloid reporters for Hollywood's screen writer stables, or methods of marketing.
Make no bones about it; this is a film study book, despite the odd lack of any mention of film in the book's subtitle. In...