Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Roland Barthes: Mythologies

Roland GĂ©rard Barthes was a French literary theorist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. Barthes' ideas explored a diverse range of fields and he influenced the development of schools of theory including structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, social theory, Marxism, anthropology and post-structuralism.

Barthes's many monthly contributions that were collected in his Mythologies frequently interrogated specific cultural materials in order to expose how society asserted its values through them. For example, the portrayal of wine in French society as a robust and healthy habit is an ideal that is contradicted by certain realities (i.e., that wine can be unhealthy). He found semiotics, the study of signs, useful in these interrogations. Barthes explained that these cultural myths were "second-order signs," or "connotations". A picture of a full, dark bottle is a signifier that relates to a specific signified: a fermented, alcoholic beverage. However, it can also be related to a new signified: the idea of healthy, robust, relaxing experience. Motivations for such manipulations vary, from a desire to sell products to a simple desire to maintain the status quo. These insights brought Barthes in line with similar Marxist theory.