Roland Barthes – Myth Today – Summary, Review andAnalysis
The second section of Roland Barthes' "Mythologies", titled "Myth Today", is a
theoretical discussion of Barthes' program for myth analysis which is demonstrated in the
first section of Mythologies. What Barthes terms as "myth" is in fact the manner in which
a culture signifies and grants meaning to the world around it.According to Barthes,
anything can be a myth, and he follows this approach throughout the examples in
Barthes' concept of myth seems similar or at least draws on the concept of ideology as
formulated by Marxin The German Ideology. Ideology according to Barthes' version in
"Myth Today" is not entirely concealed and is subject for scrutiny through its cultural
manifestations. These manifestations, mythologies according to Barthes, present
themselves as being "natural" and are therefore transparent. What Barthes is after in his
analysis of mythologies is to reveal the ideological nature of culture's underling myth.
At the beginning of "Myth Today" Barthes defines myth a speech. Myth is speech in that
that it is part of a system of communication in which it bears meaning. By this definition
Barthes expands on Levi-Strauss' perception of myth to include every symbol which
conveys meaning (be it a spoken or written text, and image, a design etc. and even human
actions such as sunbathing). For Barthes every cultural product had meaning, and this
meaning is conditioned by ideology, i.e. myth, and therefore any cultural product can be
the subject of mythological analysis and review.
According to Barthes, myth is a form of signification. However myth is different from
ordinary speech and language. Barthes follows de-Saussure's discussion regarding
the nature of the linguistic sign and he characterizes myth a second class of signification.
What was the sign in the first order of language (for example the signifier "cigarette" and
the signified of an object made of paper and tobacco) turns into a signifier in the second
order (signifying lung cancer). In other words, myth for Barthes is a realm of second
class signification which could be seen as a cultural association, to distinguish from denotation. Barthes, in his Rhetoric of the Image, elaborated on the difference between
denotation of the sign and its connotation and its use in cultural analysis.
Roland Barthes – Myth Today – Summary, Review andAnalysis – part 2
Myth, according to Roland Barthes in 'Myth Today" (in Mythologies) does not reside in
the simple denotational meaning of signs. With myth being a secondary system of
signification in which the sign becomes a signifier, that process of signification takes the
meaning of symbols in the myth to the realm of association, not denotation.
According to Barthes myth, as a form of speech, is not limited to lingual signs and other
types representation (visual, musical etc.) can also take part in a myth because they
convey secondary meanings that surpass their referential denotation. Bathes gives the
example of a magazine cover portraying aAfrican child in uniform saluting the French
flag. The first level of signification is the denotation one – the child saluting the flag. But
in the second level of signification, that of myth and connotation, the sign becomes a
signifier and the child hails France as a great empire.
Since myths do not convey their meaning directly but rather in a covert manner, Barthes
calls his semiology of myths "a science of forms". In the picture Barthes analyzes
everything works together, the child, uniform, flag, salutation etc. to produce the desired
meaning and to establish the myth. This is what according to Barthes distinguishes his
concept of myth from the Marxist concept of ideology, since the science of myth is
engaged with the expression of meaning through formal means.
For Barthes, meanings and myth are historically produced and conditioned, and they are
not eternal but rather constantly mutating and reforming. This means, under Barthes'
Marxist perception, that myths are always political in being the result of specific power
structures in a certain society at a certain time. But myth his the capacity to disguise its
own historicity and to present itself as objective and natur