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Welcome to the Macat Multimedia Series. A Macat Analysis of Roland Barthes's Mythologies.
How can dominant ideologies successfully present themselves as simply the way the world should
be? The French theorist Roland Barthes thought
they did so by appropriating popular culture – and repurposing it. He believed they drained
popular ideas of their real meaning – and then repackaged them to create “myths”
that carried new and often very different implications.
Writing in Mythologies, a collection of essays published in 1957, Barthes looked at examples
drawn from everyday French life, from advertisements to the world of wrestling.
His aim was to show that images – which he called “signs” – were stripped of
meaning when they were removed from their proper context. The result, he thought, was
the spread of a uniform, unthreatening and above all bourgeois ideology – a comfort
blanket of myth that might be cosy and reassuring, but could easily prove stifling.
To understand what Barthes meant, consider the iconic image of a charismatic revolutionary.
What did he really stand for? How has he been depicted in popular culture? And what does
his iconic image represent today? Barthes argued that the 'signs' that society
projects onto our revolutionary bear very little relation to his actual qualities. The
reality was that he was willing to kill to achieve political aims – and that the state
he helped to forge was more repressive, and less free, than his public statements might
suggest. Stripped of this context, though, his image
becomes a sign with other uses. It can exploit consumers' eagerness to identify with qualities
that they believe symbolise youthfulness, rebelliousness, hatred of authority.
Companies that exploit the image, Barthes explains, introduce a 'second order signification'
– a new myth, one that symbolises something different.
It's an image drained of real meaning – one that no longer refers to the revolutionary's
real beliefs. Before long, the famous photograph is appropriated
to sell all sorts of products – t-shirts, beer, even washing powder.
So when Sofia goes to a shop and buys a t-shirt with our revolutionary's face on it, she
thinks she's making a statement about her individualism, rebellion and anti-capitalism.
When in truth, the image is now a capitalist commodity. By buying the t-shirt, she buys
into that conformity. It's the sort of “rebellion” her bourgeois
society is happy to live with. Popular culture has taken a real person whose real ideas posed
real danger, and turned him into an image which, Barthes would point out, has been safely
reinvented as 'myth'. Roland Barthes's writings have had a huge
influence on the ways that critics seek to deconstruct and examine meaning. A more detailed
examination of his ideas can be found in the Macat Analysis.


An Introduction to Roland Barthes's Mythologies - A Macat Literature Analysis

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jeremy.wang 2020 年 3 月 30 日 に公開
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