- Количество слайдов: 42
Barthes, day two: Reading Culture
Brief review Last time we discussed Roland Barthes' influential theory that culture is like a language system that we are able to read as text. He says that we live in a world filled with signs that we constantly read and interpret. The meanings we are able to produce from these signs are shaped by culture. Barthes also says that we should recognize that many of the meanings produced by these signs are not politically neutral. They produce myths that promote the social status quo and keep us from seeing how the world really works.
Key terms Barthes' term myth is similar to the related term ideology in that both refer to ways to seeing the world that protect the existing power structure by making it seem natural and inevitable rather than historical. Note: if something is historical, that suggests it was produced by human activities in the past and may be changed in the future. For example, any attempt to explain away a social inequality (class, race or gender inequality) as something natural rather than historical (e. g. , those people are just naturally inferior) is ideological. When an ideology is concealed within cultural signs, it becomes what Barthes calls myth—a fantasy that protects and promotes current ways of doing business.
Case Study: Car Mythologies What “myths” are at work in the following images? What social contradictions are being glossed over and presented as natural? For example, what is the difference between the real and imagined relationship of automobiles to nature?
Jeep “Grand Cherokee”
Pontiac “Firebird” (2001)
What the myth leaves out. . .
Barthes reading of a car ad What does Barthes think of the presentation of the new Citroën (see-tro-en)? Why does he compare it to a Gothic cathedral? How is a car like a house of worship?
Barthes compares the car to a cathedral because it is built by largely invisible craftsmen and aspires to be the supreme creation of its age. It is also like a cathedral in that many admire its form, but few actually come to use it. Barthes then notes that the smoothness of the new Citroën almost conceals its industrial production—making it a work of nature or God rather than a factory product of man. It is even called the “Goddess” Unlike the deliberately rugged trucks and SUVs we looked at earlier, this car seems like it is trying to domesticate the automobile by making it seem smooth, calm and peaceful. Barthes thinks it almost resembles a kitchen appliance. Kitchen machinery is often made to look unthreatening.
Another mythology: Einstein's Brain 1. How is Einstein’s brain “mythical” in Barthes' sense of the word? In other words, what secondary and ideological (i. e. , status quo serving) connotations has Einstein acquired in popular culture? Does it naturalize anything that is actually social and historical? See pg. 68
Einstein mythologized as either superhuman or less than human—a thinking machine “the man who is too powerful is removed from psychology and introduced to the world of robots; as is well known, the supermen of science-fiction always have something reified [“thingified”] about them” (68) Einstein's thinking is reified in the image of his “brain. ” It becomes something purely anatomical and machinelike. It becomes natural rather than social/historical.
Related example of reification: IQ (intelligence quotient) is a number score reached by taking one of several possible standardized tests that attempt to measure human intelligence. IQ is really just a test score, which can change depending on the test, your preparation for it, your cultural familiarity with the questions etc. However, we often use IQ to casually refer to a person's “intelligence. ” We reify [thingify] IQ and treat it as though it were a natural quality, rather than simply a test score.
Process of development over time falls out of the picture Photographs of Einstein show him standing next to a blackboard covered with mathematical signs of obvious complexity; but cartoons of Einstein. . . show him chalk still in hand, and having just written on an empty blackboard, as if without preparation. . . ” (69)
Einstein becomes an embodiment of genius inspiration or machine-like superiority, and his training and historical situation fall out of the mythologized picture.
Case Study: Toys
Barthes' “Toys” (page 53) Barthes holds that toys are important cultural artifacts that “mean something. ” But just what might they mean? And why are they important? There at least two major types of toys in the world: (1) the toys that children find or invent themselves and (2) the pre-made toys that adults choose to give to their kids. In his short essay “Toys, ” Barthes argues that there is something troubling and ideological about the toys given to children in post-war France. What does he observe about these toys?
According to Barthes. . . Childish inventiveness is actually discouraged by the toys. They are miniature imitations of the adult world, adult activities and adult work— cars, hair styling dolls, pretend cooking equipment, toy soldiers etc. Or, they are blocks or other “do-it-yourself” materials—better for inventiveness, but still somewhat restrictive. He also notes that most “do-it-yourself” activities use prefabricated components with predetermined uses. These toys seem to prepare children for the work routines of adult life.
Some toys have an ideological (status quo serving) purpose Increasingly complicated toys also make children into owners and users rather than creators. Kids now own their toys in much the same way that adults own their cars—they may be able to choose from prearranged selections, but they have no hand in how they work, what they look like, or what they are able to do. Look at the child as “little householder” section on page 54.
Wood vs. Plastic Barthes suggests that plastic toys and excessively mechanical toys seem to lack something of the duration and the spirit of earlier wooden toys. Wood wears out over time, but plastic breaks easily and, once broken, is discarded. Plastic toys are both standardized and impermanent. “Wood does not wound or break down; it does not shatter; it wears out, it can last a long time, live with the child, alter little by little the relations between object and hand. If it dies, it is in dwindling, not in swelling out like those mechanical toys which disappear behind the hernia of a broken spring” (54 -55).
The World of Wrestling What value does Barthes find in [pro] wrestling? Why does he think the question of whether or not it is a sport misses the point? How does the spectacle of wrestling produce myths that support the status quo?
Not a sport so much as a theatrical spectacle of good vs. evil, betrayal, revenge, and eventual justice.
Barthes demonstrates that the meanings it produces are not really different from those of High Art theater such as opera or Greek tragedy. This drama is celebrated, but wrestling is often belittled as dumb or unsophisticated. There is a class politics at work here.
Wrestling produces myth in that enacts fantasies of good vs. evil, masculine vs. feminine and the idea of ultimate justice in a world where such justice is hardly natural or even common. More recent Law & Order example
For next week Read the essays about cars, driving and the myths of automobility posted on the website.