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Introduction to Semiotics of Cultures, 2010 Ronald Barthes – Myths Today Vesa Matteo Piludu University of Helsinki.

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Presentation on theme: "Introduction to Semiotics of Cultures, 2010 Ronald Barthes – Myths Today Vesa Matteo Piludu University of Helsinki."— Presentation transcript:

1 Introduction to Semiotics of Cultures, 2010 Ronald Barthes – Myths Today Vesa Matteo Piludu University of Helsinki

2 Semiotics The term, which was spelled semeiotics (Greek: σημειωτικός, semeiotikos, an interpreter of signs) was first used in English by Henry Stubbes (1670, p. 75) in a very precise sense to denote the branch of medical science relating to the interpretation of signs Plato and Aristotle both explored the relationship between signs and the world, and Augustine considered the nature of the sign within a conventional system. More recently, Umberto Eco, in his Semiotics and philosophy of language, has argued that semiotic theories are implicit in the work of most, perhaps all, major thinkers. Semiotics, semiotic studies, or semiology is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood.

3 The tree ”souls” of Semiotics Semantics: Relation between signs and the things they refer to, their denotata. Syntactics: Relation of signs to each other in formal structures (systems of symbols, web of signification) Pragmatics: Relation of signs to their impacts on those who use or consume them (social, cultural, political, psychological impact)

4 Roland Barthes (1915 – 1980) Mythologies (1957) The most journalistic of all the Barthes’ books, probably the most popular No organic development Fragmentary: the chapter were articles written every month for different magazine Themes: myths of French popular culture and daily life Influence of existentialism, Saussure, marxism

5 Myth in antiquity Narratives about gods, heroes, fantastic beings who tell us why the world is organized at it its The Ancient myths weren’t obvious but complicate: many philosophers, including Plato, discussed on their inner meaning Ancient myths were deep, suitable for speculation

6 Modern myths according to Barthes Simple narratives, often presented by media that express the obviousness and inevitable condition of the social order, status quo, where we live Modern myths are dangerous, and for Barthes it’s relevant to unveil the ideological messages hidden in their discourse

7 Myths in 1954 - 1956 The essays were written every month for two years, from 1954 to 1956 Topics suggested by current events and media (articles, films, shows, exhibitions) Barthes tried to reflects on myths of French daily life He was upset for the naturalness and simplicity with newspapers and common sense dress up a reality determined by history Confusion between Nature and History Ideological abuse of this confusion A modern myths is the language of the falsely obvious: the mythologist should unmask the mystification that transform myths of middle class in universal and natural facts

8 Myths Today The last chapter is theoretical: Myths Today It is still a quite confuse, as Barthes itself stated in the introduction of 1970 edition: the semiotic analysis was quite unsophisticated Even so, Barthes considered actual the necessity of unveiling myths

9 Myth today A kind of speech, language that is connected to a particular historical time (French colonialism, mass media culture) Myths could be ancient, but generally aren’t eternal: a myth could disappear rapidly in the media culture Semiotics for Barthes isn’t metaphysic, it is always connected to some historical background Everything (film, photo, article) could be transformed in a myth Pictures are more imperative than writing: meaning at stroke, but they become a kind of writing when they are connected to certain meanings

10 Barthes: tripartite meaning process Object or signifier could signify several meanings In a certain contest is connected to a certain concept or significans The signifier with a clear meaning become a sign in a certain historical and cultural background

11 Black cat and witch

12 Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923): Chat au Clair de Lune

13 Black Cat Art Print by Shunso Hishida

14 Tournee du Chat Noir by Theophile Steinlen (1898)

15 Chat Noir by Theophile Steinlen Many of the posters were produced, to advertise the local “cabaret” owned by Aristide Bruant, created in 1881 as a venue for performers and a nightclub for artists elegant and luxurious body This is a perfect balance of mass advertisement (in the right language) and art

16 Halloween poster

17 Black cat in advetizing

18 Catwoman (Batman)

19 Black Cat (Spiderman)

20 Myths for Barthes Second order semiological system, a metalanguage A sign of the first semiological system (linguistic) became a raw signifier in the mythological system In other words: the myths banalyse symbols, that became “raw material” it is “natural” that the black cat means bad luck, we don’t need to think about it According to media culture, is unnecessary know about the historical formation of the black cat as a symbol (Christianity)

21 Myth analyzed by Barthes: Black African and the colonial troupes

22 Meaning of the African soldier’s image France is a great empire and all his sons faithfully serve under the same flag Signifier: black soldier Signified: “frenchness”, militarism In the linguistic system the images contain a long story, connected to history, to a certain knowledge of reality In the mythological system all is impoverished: the African soldier is considered a spontaneous, indisputable image The myths doesn’t suppress meaning, it only impoverish it: the message loose some knowledge and appeal to a certain group of reader (the French middle class who supported French colonialism)

23 Same concept, different signifiers In myths the same concept (French imperiality) could be repeated by several different forms or signifier

24 Distortions Myth disport reality, doesn’t censure: the African soldier is deprived by his own history and memory … not of his existence The sign is only half-amputated Myth it is a stolen and replaced speech: it took a sign from somewhere in time and replace it in another context The concept deforms, don’t abolish The signifier become arbitrary, natural, frozen, eternalized: the French empire at the time was considered only as a natural, obvious fact The myth of media culture look general, neutral The history that caused the phenomenon is censured

25 Poor and incoplete images Myths prefer to work with poor, incomplete image, ready for ideological significations There are inexhaustible stores of simple images ready to be used for militaristic purposes

26 Marcus Aurelius in Rome

27 Women soldiers in Iraq: mythological photo

28 Saving Jessica Lynch: the movie Fiction film With Saving Private Ryan (1998) still in the public psyche, it was a tailor-made adventure to reinforce support for the campaign in Iraq

29 What the mythological photos don’t say Many female soldiers say they are sexually assaulted by their male comrades and can't trust the military to protect them. "The knife wasn't for the Iraqis," says one woman. "It was for the guys on my own side." From the article: The private war of women soldiers By Helen Benedict

30 Photos of torture and humiliations at Abu Ghraib Prison


32 Switzerland: posters vs. minarets The recent posters against minarets shows also the Western fear of the popularity of burka and of female terrorism The connection between minarets, burka and terrorism is clearly ideological, but it is presented as a “natural” combination of things

33 Barthes: obviousness of myths Myth transform a meaning in an obvious form: it’s language robbery, it become something unquestionable, justified in excess, it became a natural fact Modern myths are often simple because articulate languages offer resistance to simplification

34 Barthes: the role of the scholar The media often focus only on signifiers, considering them the ”obvious” representation of a concept Myth is not a lie, it’s an inflection, a distortion: the naturalization and trivialization of objects, concepts and history The scholar should distinguish signifier and significans, the representation and the concept He focus on the mechanism of production of myths He is able to connect the myth and general history, To show hot it corresponds to the interest of a sector of a society To evidence how it is masked into innocent fashion

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