Media, Information and Technoculture 3214F/G Lecture Notes - Lecture 7: Roland Barthes, Mass Society, Mass Media

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MIT 1200 Lecture “Romans in Films, Toys, the New Citroen” March 2, 2011
Week 7
Semiotics Take 1: The Romans in Films, Toys, The New Citroen
Recap of past few weeks:
-Mass media developed in relation to the emergence of mass society
-The masses are a group who have political legitimacy as opposed to a mob
-Social Change doesn’t always mean progress (we’re not progressing
becuause our technology is better)
-The emergence of Mass Society leaned upon a variety of technologies, each
of which produce a distinct…?
-A discipline that analyzes signs and symbols; the study of the functioning of
sign systems
-From Greek semiotikos, which means “interpreter of signs,” (from root:
sema: “sign”)
Roland Barthes
-1915-1981, Professor at the College de France
Mythologies (1957)
-A collection of short essays written over several years in the mid 1950’s; can
be thought of as improvisations on contemporary mass culture: film,
advertising, magazines, photographs, cars, toys, plastic, food, etc.
-Last essay called “Myth Today” is long, theoretically dense. It’s significant
because it’s at the end of the book: you don’t need to know the theory to
appreciate the improvisations.
-Interrogate the Obvious”wanted to challenge the innocence of cultural text.
-Barthes will treat the objects of mass culture as ‘sign systems’ in order to
account for the ways in which they become mythologized, their meanings
-Just another way of answering the question: What is the function of media in
-For him, all objects are media: car, toys, etc. They are all carriers of a
certain kind of meaning, ideology.
-Cars are like the great cathedrals of yesteryear
-In mass society, cars function the way cathedrals did in the past. They
are the supreme creation of the era. People now build cars, it’s what
designers aspire to do one day like designers used to aspire to create
great cathedrals.
-In the 1950’s, cars were our new form of worship, not cathedrals.
Citroen: First mass produced company of car outside of the U. S (Ford
was first)
-The material itself… promotes a taste for lightened in its magical sense.
There is a return to streamlining, new, however, since it is less bulku, more
relaxed… speed is less aggressive, less athletic signs, as if it were evolving
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