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Fifteen bart and barthes: image, meaning, ideology.

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1 fifteen bart and barthes: image, meaning, ideology

2 Think for yourself Everything in this lecture is a theory It’s probably partly right And partly wrong It’s … ideological! You don’t have to believe any of it But you do have to understand why others would believe it Think for yourself

3 Meaning What do these images mean? How do we understand them?

4 Knowledge and inference in language “I’d like a cheese sandwich” Is not an assertion It’s an indirect request Or even an indirect command This has to be inferred from context based on knowledge about speech acts

5 Knowledge and inference in language Bill: “Is she wearing a ring?” George: “No, I think she’s checking you out.” When you hear this What context do you imagine the sentences being uttered in? Why is George’s observation relevant to Bill’s question? What you do have to know to figure this out?

6 Meaning in Anglo-American Philosophy Reference (denotation) What objects are referred to by nouns What properties are referred to by predicates Whether the sentence is true Sense (connotation) Everything else Truth conditions What would have to be the case in order for a sentence to be true

7 Semantics through truth conditions “John loves Mary” “John” and “Mary” denote objects (John and Mary) “Loves” denotes the relation love The set of all pairs of objects A and B for which A loves B The sentence is true if and only if The pair (John, Mary) is a member of the set love Very systematic, very powerful Very limited scope Mostly punts on connotation Non-assertional sentences, counterfactuals, etc. are difficult to analyze Basis for most natural language work in AI

8 Meaning in continental philosophy: Semiotics/semiology Meaning is communicated through signification A sound or image refers to/suggests/signifies a set of ideas or meanings Signs as units of language Signifier Material manifestation Image/sound/object Signified Meaning/idea “Weaker” theory than analytic philosophy (I.e. fewer predictions) But consequently a much broader domain of application Including connotation Sign Signifier Signified

9 Barthes: Connotation as second-order signification Connotation is communicated through association As complete sign is used in a meta-sign to signify another idea Myths Pervasive, “mythic” values and beliefs used by a society to understand itself and the world Idealized fictions (for him at least) Operate at the level of connotation Sign Signifier Signified

10 Family values Families are a potent symbol in American culture The nuclear family packages a number of traditional values Gender roles Filial piety Economic production It’s used pervasively, but in art and politics

11 Father Knows Best (USA, 1954) The original family sitcom Portrayed traditional American values of the 50s It presents an idealization of the 50s nuclear family

12 The Cosby Show (USA, 1984) Worked against prevailing stereotypes of African Americans Rejected by ABC Didn’t think audiences would accept an upper-middle-class black family

13 Married … With Children (USA, 1987) … but the family symbol was also caricatured and ridiculed

14 The Simpsons (USA, 1989)

15 Star Trek: The Next Generation (USA, 1989) The family symbol was even incorporated into Star Trek (The character of Wesley Crusher is still hated passionately …)

16 Child as political icon Child-rearing is one of the principal functions of the family Children are symbols Of helplessness Of the need for protection/intervention Their symbolic power is often borrowed For aesthetic purposes For political purposes

17 Terminator 2


19 Childhood as a contested space Children are at the center of many current debates What is a child? What rights do they have? What rights do their parents have? What interests does the state hold in their welfare? What responsibility does the state have for their welfare? Even questions about the deficit are debated in terms of children

20 Freedom The ultimate American value Central theme in the shift from feudalism to capitalist democracy Give people autonomy Limit the power of the state Egalitarianism in those powers reserved for the state

21 The Free Market Markets are optimizing systems Remove restrictions from the market The market will optimize More goods will be available more cheaply (Of course, very few markets are free in this sense) Appropriates the rhetoric of Darwinian evolution And is appropriated for other purposes AI research Counter-terrorism Public education New York Stock Exchange

22 Too much freedom is bad (in others)

23 Rebels, freedom, and Bad Boys The good guys are rebels American revolution Liberal values of freedom and democracy Hans Solo is a rebel in a different sense Bad Boy Non-conformist Individualist Allusions to gunslingers and James Dean

24 Rebels resist the power of others

25 Bad Boys Bart is a Bad Boy Bad Boys are cool They exercise their autonomy They resist The Man They’re non-conformist They live outside the rules of normal people

26 Arnold is a Bad Boy too

27 America as Bad Boy In what roles does this image cast The United States Saddam Hussein Iraq (if any) What values does it appeal to?

28 Conflict of values

29 Modernity, progress, and humanism

30 Modernity is also a Barthesian myth About inevitable progress About science as a liberator of man About science as fair (apolitical, non-sectarian) and more humane than the kings and churches of the middle-ages

31 Scientific execution In the 19 th and 20 th century, new methods of execution we developed Guillotine Electrocution Gas chamber The were justified as being superior because they were more scientific And so more humane

32 Pests, parasites and vermin Pests and vermin are parasites The feed off of the work of honest humans They contribute nothing Killing them is legitimate because They are being unfair They are unsanitary It’s self-defense Willard (USA, 2003)

33 Not vermin Beliefs and values can be very slippery

34 Maus (Speigelman, 72)

35 Vermin

36 Reality, representation, and reflexivity

37 Ideology Many different concepts that share a single name We’ll try to tease them apart But all are about systems of ideas Ideas: beliefs, values, practices of judgment Systems: organized, interlocking Lens through which we view reality We can change lenses (maybe) But we can’t stop using them (they’re part of your eyes)

38 Overt ideology “Being ideological” You know when you believe it Others may disagree with you

39 Covert ideology What about things we all agree on? Can become invisible Or seem like “obvious” common sense Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis: Language shapes thought And therefore social reality Martin Heidegger: “Language is the house of being”

40 Althusser: Ideology as ubiquitous background “There is no practice except by and in an ideology” “There is no ideology except by the Subject and for subjects”

41 Althusser’s concept of interpellation: Teaching people how to be people Ideology hails/interpellates/recruits/names individuals as subjects Individuals: people Subjects: people making themselves understandable to others as people/citizens/normal Ideology gives us the tools with which to describe and understand ourselves It’s both enables us to think about ourselves And sets limits on the possible thoughts we can think

42 … but that would be ridiculous

43 Which socially approved stereotype are you?

44 Ideology impersonates common sense Althusser: “… the accusation of being in ideology only applies to others.”

45 Subjects and subjectivity Althusser’s use of “subject” is deliberately ambiguous (a kind of pun) Cartesian subject Res cogitans Individual with free will, free choice Subject of the state Individual who submits to a higher authority

46 Ideology as instrument of the state The state has overt mechanisms for maintaining order “Repressive state apparatuses” Police Prisons Courts But it also has covert mechanisms for maintaining order “Ideological state apparatuses” Schools Churches Public service ads The news media These mechanisms help maintain consent (deliberately or not) “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” - Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1970)

47 “A tax on stupidity”

48 Eagleton (from Ideology: An Introduction) A dominant power [legitimates] 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

49 Who cares? (1) The Marxists were surprised when the workers didn’t revolt So they needed to revise their theory to explain why people would Freely choose (according to capitalist theory) A system that worked to their disadvantage (according to Marxist theory) Solution: people aren’t freely choosing

50 Another formulation Why would a democracy ever have a privileged minority? Why doesn’t the majority just vote their privilege away?

51 Who cares? (2) Nobody’s perfect We almost certainly all share beliefs that people in 100 years will find barbaric Deal with it – it’s inevitable Part of our duty as good democratic citizens is to examine our own values Think for yourself Oops, that’s more ideology …

52 Modern bride

53 Men’s health

54 Cultural imperialism? No, never …

55 I don’t want to know what this is about …

56 Cigar aficionado


58 Gee, no cigars …


60 Leader as sign

61 Meaning Now do we know what these images mean? Do we understand them?

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