Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 4

418 Myth

myth as consisting of a dual system at the surface: popular culture and everyday life are mythical because they are spoken through a naturalization. What is hidden in Barthes version of myth, and what needs to be revealed by semiology, is the inversion of real relations that has taken place to transform an ideological proposition into common sense. In this respect, then, the perspectives of Barthes and Levi Strauss are similar because they suggest that myth is a process of thought. However, these perspectives are at considerable odds when it comes to the issue of whether myth is comparable to science: Levi-Strauss hails the rigor of myth, while Barthes condemns its persistence.

Bibliography
Barthes R (1973). Mythologies. Lavers A (trans.). London: Paladin. Barthes R (1977a). Change the object itself. In Heath S (ed.) Image Music Text. Heath S (trans.). London: Fontana. Barthes R (1977b). The rhetoric of the image. In Heath S (ed.) Image Music Text. Heath S (trans.). London: Fontana. Campbell J (1975). The hero with a thousand faces. London: Abacus. Frye N (1982). The great code: the Bible and literature. San Diego and New York: Harcourt Brace. Frye N (1990). The anatomy of criticism. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. Levi-Strauss C (1977). Structural anthropology 1. Jacobson C & Grundfest Schoepf B (trans.). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. Levi-Strauss C (1987). The view from afar. Neugroschel J & Hosss P (trans.). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. Ricoeur P (1984). Time and narrative (vol. 1). Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Vernant J-P (2001). The universe, the gods and mortals: ancient Greek myths. Asher L (trans.). London: Profile.

See also: Barthes, Roland: Theory of the Sign; Greimas, Algirdas J.: Theory of the Sign; Hjelmslev, Louis Trolle: Theory of the Sign; Jakobson, Roman: Theory of the Sign; Mythologies in Pop Culture; Narrative: Linguistic and Structural Theories; Narratology, Feminist; Occitan; Phoneme; Phonology: Overview; Saussure: Theory of the Sign; Significs: Theory; Structuralism.

Mythologies in Pop Culture


P Cobley, London Metropolitan University, London, UK
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

The notion of a mythology as developed by Roland Barthes (19151980) is based on an apparently substantial linguistic foundation. For Barthes, a mythology is a phenomenon of everyday life that represents a departure from that which is defined, traditionally, by the term myth. In Mythologies (1957; English translation, 1973), Barthes drew together a series of brief articles he had written for French magazines during the period 1954 to 1956. These were his investigations into the nature of contemporary French life, each one a separate mythology. Barthes aim in drawing attention to these facets of everyday (French) existence was to track down, in the decorative display of what-goes-without-saying, the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden (1973a: 11). The mythologies he singles out in this way, then, include wrestling, the haircuts of the Roman characters in Mankiewiczs film of Julius Caesar, the face of Garbo, steack frites, striptease, the New Citroen, and the brain of Einstein. Importantly, though, Barthes does not simply expose the power interests underpinning these commonplaces and commodities of

everyday life. In addition, he insists that their existence as myths is dependent on the fact that myth is a language (1973a: 11). The magazine essays were therefore supplemented by an essay called Myth today in which semiological analysis [was] initiated, at least as far as I am concerned (1973b: 9). Fourteen years after the publication of Mythologies in France, Barthes summed up the project of his book as a set of theoretical articulations: 1. Myth, close to what Durkheimian sociology calls a collective representation, can be read in the anonymous utterances of the press, advertising, mass consumer goods; it is something socially determined, a reflection. 2. This reflection, however, in accordance with a famous image used by Marx, is inverted: myth consists in overturning culture into nature or, at least, the social, the cultural, the ideological, the historical into the natural. What is nothing but a product of class division and its moral, cultural, and aesthetic consequences is presented (stated) as being a matter of course; under the effect of mythical inversion, the quite contingent foundations of the utterance become Common Sense, Right Reason, the Norm, General Opinion, in

Mythologies in Pop Culture 419

short, the doxa (which is the secular figure of the Origin). 3. Contemporary myth is discontinuous. It is no longer expressed in long fixed narratives but only in discourse; at most, it is a phraseology, a corpus of phrases (of stereotypes); myth disappears, but leaving so much more the insidious the mythical. 4. As a type of speech (which was after all the meaning of muthos), contemporary myth falls within the province of a semiology; the latter enables the mythical inversion to be righted by breaking up the message into two semantic systems: a connoted system whose signified is ideological (and thus straight, non-inverted, or, to be clearer and accepting a moral language cynical) and a denoted system (the apparent literalness of the image, object, sentence) whose function is to naturalize the class proposition by lending the guarantee of the most innocent of natures, that of language millennial, maternal, scholastic, etc., (1977a: 165166). Concerning point (1), Barthes transforms the customary understanding of myth, and it is a momentous shift toward recognition of the importance of popular culture and the quotidian. Myth is usually contrasted with history (usually a matter of fact tied to the historical record) and the literary (frequently a deliberate fictional confection). Myth is different from both in that it arises neither from personal invention but rather from transmission and memory (Vernant, 2001: x); it is a (story) form that exists independently of any particular storyteller and relays not fact or fancy but cultural memory. The continuities with Barthes notion of myth, then, are evident. The main difference in the latter, however, is the absolute grounding in the everyday. Traditional myths tell of heroes and major identity-founding events; concomitantly, they seem to suggest that there is special material stock situations and characters that harbours particular aptitude for mythic status. For Barthes, however, anything is susceptible to myth, especially the most everyday of phenomena. As he argues, nothing can be safe from myth (1973a: 131). It can take almost anything and transform its cultural bearing into a natural one. Thus, the work of myth on nearly all cultural phenomena is the work of inversion, as Barthes insists in point (2). What the process of myth carries out (in producing a mythology) is a way of uttering a message. To paraphrase Barthes, a football game is a football game, but when it features David Beckham in a leading role, it can become a myth invoking all the platitudes associated with this contemporary

cultural icon. The cohesion of such utterances is largely what enables them to become, convincingly, the norm or common sense. The spectacle of wrestling, an example that opens Mythologies, has at its core the moral concept that the villain (or bastard) will pay for his deeds. It is a formulation of justice in mythic guise, deliberately oblivious, of course, to the fact that individuals evade justice every minute of every day. Wrestling, then, is a particularly good example of Barthes third point. That is, that myth cannot be fixed as a correspondence between a configuration of signs and a stable meaning. Rather, it is a discourse or, put another way, it is the framework that makes it possible to remark on and think about various cultural phenomena. Stereotypes are a central part of myth as a discourse because they fix the limits of representation: what does and does not fit a cultural phenomenon. In the history of the representations of African Americans, from the end of the Civil War through the first half of the 20th century, the myth of the mulatto was always bound to stereotypical tragedy because of the mulattos abortive attempts to pass as white. In this period, a representation of a mulatto without the tragic element would likely be a contravention of the norm and common sense. As Barthes argues, this kind of representation can be seen to be mythical given the right conditions of analysis, but as long as such recognition is not in place, the representation insidiously sets the boundaries for conceiving what is represented. Crucially, myth is a type of speech [point (4)]. Like speech, myth produces two levels of signification. Both levels make up a system that Barthes was to elaborate in Elements of semiology (1967) five years after Mythologies, demonstrating a clear debt to the work of Louis Hjelmslev (see Hjelmslev, 1969). The first level of this system Barthes calls the languageobject: it is the language which myth gets hold of in order to build its own system (1973a: 115). This level is the domain of the signifier (signifiant, sound pattern) and signified (signifie, mental concept), which Saussure envisaged as being connected in the brain to produce a (linguistic) sign. This is the level at which straightforward indicating takes place: denotation. The second level Barthes dubs metalanguage, because it is a language that speaks about the first level. This level is constituted by connotation, and Barthes suggests that it is cynical because it is ideological, through and through. It puts forth a proposition (for example, mulatto tragic) without any conscience. However, it relies on the level of denotation to naturalize the proposition. Interestingly, Barthes argues in the space of a sentence that it is because of this dominance of the

420 Mythologies in Pop Culture

two-level schema (language/metalanguage) in myth that semiology is licensed to treat writing and pictures in the same way: their signs both partake of denotation/connotation. Thus, in his often quoted essay on The rhetoric of the image, Barthes suggests that the pictorial advertisement for Panzani food products, as with all photographs, foregrounds its connotation overwhelmingly and from the outset of viewing (1977b: 3637). As such, denotation a system devoted to establishing the literalness of the object executes the key part of ideological work for connotation, saying this is how it is. Denotation, then, might vitiate the more fanciful conceptual leaps of connotation by placing the object and anchoring the myth system in a language that appears to be dominated by mere indication. Semiologys task, according to Barthes, is to recognize the operations of these systems and to reveal the invertion that has taken place in the process of a mythology being uttered. Given the focus of Barthes concept of myth on popular culture, it was hardly surprising that his work was taken up with great fervor, especially by Anglophone media and cultural studies from the 1970s to the 1990s. The example that Barthes uses in Myth today, that of a photograph on the cover of Paris-Match of a black Algerian soldier saluting the French flag, has served numerous commentators as a prime example of the pervasive nature of myth, from Coward and Ellis (1977: 2729) to Deacon et al. (1999: 144145). Weedon et al. deal with Barthes version of myth better than most. They write:
Barthes principal aim in Mythologies was to provide a basis for a critique of the naturalizing effect of ideology, its quality of vraisemblance. For example, even though she or he may be critical of its connotations, the reader of Paris-Match nevertheless believes its denoted truth: this event took place, it has a real history and so, in a sense, the soldiers behaviour is only natural. Barthes locates this very principle of myth in the relations between his two orders of signification. The denoted signified establishes the reality of the ideology; it allows myth to be innocently consumed (1980: 180).

connotations, and orders them purposefully to play a social role (1997: 1617).

He adds, A set of iconic signs which already possess a meaning (a black soldier is giving the French salute) becomes the basis for the imposition of an important social message, that French imperial rule is fair and egalitarian (1997: 23). Putting the cart before the horse in this way is characteristic of a great deal of the writing on mythologies in Anglophone media studies (cf. Fiske, 1990: 8591, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Dyer, 1982: 128). Ironically, years before Barthes initial conception of myth was being taken up by cultural critics and media theorists in Britain and North America, he had already shifted the emphasis of his analysis. In his 1971 retrospective on Mythologies, Barthes argued that the identification and uncovering of myths were no longer sufficient in the post-1968 world. Myths had become easily recognizable and their exposure a routine exercise. Barthes therefore recommended that work should proceed on the identification of sociolects. The task of semiology was
No longer simply to upend (or right) the mythical message, to stand it back on its feet, with denotation at the bottom and connotation at the top, nature on the surface and class interest deep down, but rather to change the object itself, to produce a new object, point of departure for a new science . . . (1977a: 169).

For Barthes, denunciation, demystification (demythification) (1977a: 166) of the bourgeois and the petit-bourgeois has become, itself, a mythological doxa. Mythoclasm was succeeded by semioclasm, he claimed, and what was needed was a far-reaching interrogation of all sign systems and a challenge to their very basis. This would not simply entail unraveling the connection of denotation and connotation but a more thorough assault on the mechanics of meaning. For many, this is the very crux of contemporary semiotics.
See also: Barthes, Roland: Theory of the Sign; Greimas, Algirdas J.: Theory of the Sign; Hjelmslev, Louis Trolle: Theory of the Sign; Saussure: Theory of the Sign; Sign Theories; Structuralism.

However, some media studies versions of Mythologies are not so clear. There is a tendency to assume that denotation and connotation exist in a linear, mechanistic relation whereby connotations are conspiratorial supplements working upon simple denotations. Bignell attempts to explain myth with the following:
It is as if myth were a special form of language which takes up an existing sign system and makes a new sign system out of it. As we shall see, myth is not an innocent language, but one that picks up existing signs and their

Bibliography
Barthes R (1967). Elements of semiology. Lavers A & Smith C (trans.). London: Cape. Barthes R (1973a). Mythologies. Lavers A (trans.). London: Paladin. Barthes R (1973b). Preface to the 1970 edition. In Barthes R. Mythologies. London: Paladin.

Myths about Language 421 Barthes R (1977a). Change the object itself. In Heath S (ed. & trans.) Image music text. London: Fontana. Barthes R (1977b). The rhetoric of the image. In Heath S (ed. & trans.) Image music text. London: Fontana. Bignell J (1997). Media semiotics: an introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Coward R & Ellis J (1977). Language and materialism: developments in semiology and the theory of the subject. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Deacon D et al. (1999). Researching communications: a practical guide to methods in media and cultural analysis. London: Arnold. Dyer G (1982). Advertising as communication. London: Methuen. Fiske J (1990). Introduction to communication studies (2nd edn.). London: Routledge. Hjelmslev L (1969). Prolegomena to a theory of language. Whitfield F J (trans.). Madison and London: University of Wisconsin Press. Vernant J-P (2001). The universe, the gods and mortals: ancient Greek myths. Asher L (trans.). London: Profile. Weedon C et al. (1980). Introduction to language studies at the centre. In Hall S et al. (eds.) Culture, media, language. London: Hutchinson.

Myths about Language


H Scheub, University of WisconsinMadison, Madison, WI, USA
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Tongue of God


A mythic riddle is solved when God creates the other side of a metaphor, one that owes its existence to the Word, which establishes the prismatically mirrored image of God in man. Now, tenor and vehicle in place, a world comes into being. Lucian tells of the Celtic Ogmios and the Roman Hercules depicted as gods followed by men; the men are attached to God by gold chains, linking their ears to the tongue of God. Among the Burun and Meban people of Sudan, Juon, the creator, modeled humans out of clay. He knew that man must eat, so he gave him a mouth. Man must be able to dance, to speak, to sing, so he gave him a tongue. God knew that man must be able to hear the sound of the dance, the speeches of great men, so he gave him two ears. God sent into the world a perfect man. In the creation myth of the Dyaks of Sakarra from British Borneo, Salampandai, the creator of humans, fashioned a man of stone and a man of iron, but those men did not speak; when he created a man of clay, the man spoke, and he became the ancestor of all humans. Some creator gods, such as Awonawilona of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico, are alone at the beginning of time. Then God conceives in himself a thought, and the thought takes shape, just as Awonawilona himself changes into the sun. The thought or the word of the creator god becomes an externalization of the creator, so that the world that results is in fact the shadow of god. Thought, according to the mystics of Islam, is a manifestation of God and the life of the spirit of the universe. Its basis is

man. Every path that a human takes leads back to God. A man is a copy of the perfection of God, who is simultaneously creation and creator. God is both seer and seen; the world a mirror of him. A mans essence is the essence of God. Amma, the Dogon creator of Burkina Faso and Mali, planted a seed within herself and a man was the result. But because of a flaw, the universe contained within it the possibilities of incompleteness. The egg became two placentas, each containing a set of twins, male and female. One of the males, Ogo, broke out of the placenta and attempted to create his own universe. But he was unable to say the words that would bring such a universe into being. His counterpart, Nommo, was killed by Amma; parts of his body were cast in all directions, bringing a sense of order to the world. Amma brought pieces of Nommos body together and restored him to life, and Nommo became ruler of the universe. He created four spirits, the ancestors of the Dogon people, and Amma then sent Nommo and the spirits to earth in an ark. Along the way, Nommo uttered the words of Amma, and the sacred words that create were made available to humans. Among the Kwakiutl of Canada, a man built a house in a remote place and then heard numinous noises. He searched and found the house from which the sounds came: sparks were flying from the roof. He looked through a knot hole and saw the Xwexwe dancing. When a certain word was uttered in the song they were singing, they fell, transforming into red cod, with their tails striking the ground and making the noise the man had heard; the words of the song were foreign to the man. The earth in a California Wappo myth was flooded. When the water disappeared, Coyote told Chicken-hawk that he would create people. He took feathers, placed them in a sweat-house that he had created, and