Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 19

Roland Barthes, Myth Today

-Semiotics=study of signs/meanings - theory developed in Ferdinand de Saussures A Course in General Linguistics, where he argues that the most precise characteristic of words is that they are what others are not. The same is true of ideas. Hence, different languages produce different concepts - language is made up of signs, which can be divided into signifieds and signifiers. A signifier is a sound or a sound image like cat or book, etc. (it is something that exists outside of our heads, in the material world) referring to the signified (an idea or a concept), like ex. that thing with ears and a tail and fur that purrs. (The signified has no material presence, it is what we think of when we hear the signifier uttered). THE ABOVE IS ALSO THE FIRST ORDER OF SIGNIFICATION, ACCORDING TO BARTHES.

-The connection between the signifier and the signified is completely arbitrary, which means that there is no natural, only conventional connection between words and meanings. In other words, there is no logical requirement that says the concept of a chair has to always be named by the English word chair. In fact, it is not. - Another interesting example are the animal noises and words supposedly imitating natural sounds (onomatopoeia) which are interestingly enough different in every language. Ex: a dog in English says bow-wow, in French oua oua and in Russian gav gav.

- another great example are the words that mean different things even in the same language, such as blue (color and mood), gay (sexual orientation and mood). -according to Saussure, the mind is a system of operations that generate structures of similarity and differentiation - this theory of Saussures seems to overthrow realism (the view that the world out there can be known by humans, that its simple and knowable). He replaces this realism with linguistic relativism (the view that what we can know is the system of concepts generated by the arbitrary structures of language).

- signs are obviously not only words, they can be images, gestures, whole sets of images, facial expressions, etc. Cultural production would be impossible without them. -communication is even more problematic in mass communication than it is in interpersonal communication, because when communicating to a mass of people, it is impossible to know the audience and to make sure what is being said is understood

The Second Order of Signification has to do with how myth is created, according to Barthes. Barthes criticizes anything that he deems to be political propaganda disguised as fact. This to him is very dangerous, because it masks the contradictions within any social system. Thus, we can talk about myth as a form of discourse that makes cultural norms appear natural (cf. Raymond Williams). Barthes goal is to demythologize, i.e. to study and pinpoint the codes that are put to work in creating myths. In the Second Order of Signification, the sign from the first order of signification becomes the signifier in the second order. Ex. Roses: 1st Order of Signification: Signifier (Roses) + Signified (Mental image of what a rose looks like; that plant with leaves and petals, etc.) Sign (Term plus mental image we connect with it)

2nd Order of Signification: Signifier (Sign from the first order) + Signified (Valentines Day) Sign (Product consumption and expenditure of money as romantic obligation) Barthes argues that the original sign (the sign from the first order of signification becomes emptied of its original meaning (i.e. in this case, roses are a particular flower with a particular color, thorns, leaves, etc.). The original sign is dehistoricized, and thus is now ready to be inserted with any kind of meaning the current ideology is calling for. (In this case, the idea that if you dont spend a specific amount of money on specific objects including roses on Valentines day, the feelings of love you may think your feelings are deficient, not strong enough, etc).

Myth The dominant social forces in any society have a tendency to create the myth that the rules and governing institutions of that society are natural (or previously, God given). This is a kind of self justification of the status quo. When an aspect of a society and its ideologies is naturalized and accepted as such, it ceases to be questioned. As a result, the dominant social forces have the tendency to pathologize and ostracize anyone who puts these codes of meaning and ruling into question.

Put differently, one might say that Barthes problem with Myth/Mythologies is that they transform history and ideology into nature. Barthes describes Myth as having interpellatory (Althusser) character; like commercials/ads, it speaks directly to the viewer as a magical object appearing in the present, without any trace of the history that produced it. Barthes stresses that Myth is not an object, it is a mode of signification (109).

Barthes key example in the study of Myth is the picture of the African boy on the cover of Paris Match, saluting the French flag. The key moment of Myth analysis is always when the analysis moves between the 1st and 2nd orders of signification. When the sign from the first order of signification (the image of and the mental concept of a African boy saluting the French flag) is emptied out by making it the signifier of the 2nd order of signification, content evaporates and form takes over. As Barthes states, When it becomes form, the meaning leaves its contingency behind; it empties itself, it becomes impoverished, history evaporatesThere is here a paradoxical permutation in the reading operations, an abnormal regression from meaning to form, from the linguistic sign to the mythical signifier (117). What exactly is the history that this image is emptied of, according to Barthes?

Linford Christie (Stuart Hall) Key difference between 1st Order of Signification and 2nd Order of Signification: While the pairing of the signifier and the signified is always arbitrary (Nichols stapling) in the 1st Order, it is never arbitrary in the 2nd Order. Barthes: Mythical signification [2nd Order]is always in part motivated, and unavoidably contains some analogyMotivation is necessary to the very duplicity of myth (126)

Practiced on a national scale, bourgeois norms are experienced as the evident laws of a natural order the further the bourgeois class propagates its representations, the more naturalized they become (140). p. 143

Dexter opening credits