Monday, March 7, 2011

Barthes - (i) Operation Margarine; (ii) Myth Today

Barthes, Roland. “(i) Operation Margarine; (ii) Myth Today.” From Durham, Meenakshi Gigi, and Douglas Kellner. Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers, 2001, 99-106.

Taken from Mythologies, Barthes' examination of how bourgeois societies assert values in their cultural productions

(i) Notices a trend in film, fiction, and advertising - certain things (institutions like the army, products like margarine) are first critiqued in regards to their drawbacks to the point of dismissal before being exalted at the close.

(ii) Here's how these "myths" work for the petit-bourgeoisie:

  1. Inoculation - acknowledge accidental evil in an institution to conceal its principal evil
  2. Privation of history - Remove the history of the object, leaving it to merely be enjoyed without wondering where it came from
  3. Identification - Can't imagine the Other. Can only blind himself, ignore and deny, or else transform him into something else. If he can identify with nothing in the Other, he calls it exotic, thus transforming the Other into an object.
  4. Tautology - A distrust of language, rejected because it has failed, leads to the dead and empty tautology: i.e. "because that's how it is.
  5. Neither-Norism - Stating, balancing, and ultimately rejecting two opposites, allowing one to flee from an intolerable reality.
  6. The quantification of quality - Intelligence, artistic experience, leisure have all been economized, so that their experience is balanced by the cost of a ticket.
  7. The statement of fact - Myths tend toward proverbs. Common sense provides the foundation for a truth that is formed by the arbitrary values of the ruling order.
Essences - Bourgeois ideology tends to develop the products of history into essential types thus obscuring its own historical process.
Scales - These essences are also weighed in relation to each other to support the values of the ruling order.

Big problem: if we try to locate the very meaning at the heart of an object we will liberate it but destroy it. If we acknowledge its full weight we respect it but it remains mystified.
Conclusion: we are doomed to speak excessively about reality, "seeking a reconciliation between reality and men, between description and explanation, between object and knowledge."

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