Roland Barthes: Myth Today

Reflecting on Roland Barthes and the section ‘Myth Today’ within the book Mythologies (Barthes: 1957).

Barthes believes semiotics to work on 2 levels and that sign systems can produce a second tier, or ‘metalanguage’, of meaning. I also found that semiotics is closely tied to structuralism. In addition, I learned that Barthes sees myths as ideologies. Myths therefore support and even advance the interests of certain social, economic or political groups.

A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident and apparently inevitable; denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought, perhaps by some unspoken but systematic logic; and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself. Such `mystification’, as it is commonly known, frequently takes the form of masking or suppressing social conflicts, from which arises the conception of ideology as an imaginary resolution of real contradictions. (Eagleton: 1991, pp.5-6)

Barthes’ second order of semiotics directs the viewer to the ideology of a media object. Once we have agreed the immediate signifier, what is signified and the consequent sign, the three can be joined to reveal the metalanguage. A new signifier emerges pointing to, or signifying, an ideology. I feel that identifying the object as a single model is a structuralist technique that permits holistic analysis. This means that individual elements of an object become a system of signs that unite to become an ideology.

This is to say that Structuralism can explain that the origins of knowledge and culture come from deep systems that are pervasive, but hidden in our society. If a change is made to a single element of a structure, changes are produced in others.

Structuralism has gained particular importance in the field of literature. Ferdinand Saussure demonstrates that the meaning of each word is independent of it signified form, but also adds that the meaning of a word depends on it’s place in the meaning of language. Structures are not found in things, or words which appear at first to have meaning in and of themselves, but are founded in relations between things.

“The goal of all structuralist activity, whether reflexive or poetic, is to reconstruct an ‘object,’ in such a way as to manifest thereby the rules of functioning (the ‘functions’) of this object. The structure is therefore actually a simulacrum of the object, but it is a directed, interested simulacrum, since the imitated object makes something appear which remained invisible or, if one prefers, unintelligible in the natural object” (Barthes: 1963).

Structuralism examines the structures underlying a system, which make the content possible. In reading and interpreting the above from a computer art perspective, I can convey the elements of the structure as objects, or classes (signs) in a computer program or code. The program therefore manifests itself has a hierarchy of functions. I do not think that the vocabulary of language, systems and computing is merely coincidental.

EAGLTON, T, Ideology: An Introduction, Verso, 2007

FRENIE, E, Art History and it’s Methods: A Critical Anthology, Phaidon Press, 1995

Edtd SZEMAN, T, KAPOSY, I, Cultural Theory: An Anthology, Blackwell, 2011

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