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Analysis Of Barthes' "Mythologies" Social Theory Essays

2282 words - 9 pages

Barthes' "Mythologies" is a criticism of modern consumerist society. In the 1950s, when the essays were written, there was nothing at all new about criticism directed at "bourgeois" society; Marx had written more than a century earlier of how the bourgeoisie maintained their unjust position of luxury at the top of society by exploiting the working classes. What is unique about "Mythologies" is the approach Barthes chooses for his attack on "bourgeois" society. While Marx had used devices such as rhetoric, presentation and interpretation of statistics, and affirmative repetition of supposed truths, Barthes writes in a way that seems to the reader to be more scientific and convincing. Reading his essays, one has the impression of reading an unbiased observation of different aspects of 1950s society. It is as if they were written by someone who was experiencing this society for the first time and jotting down his observations in the way someone might do so in a travel journal when in a completely foreign land. Accordingly, the reader of these essays is not aware of a propagandistic purpose in the same way as one is when reading a book such as "The Communist Manifesto".This is probably exactly the effect that Barthes wanted to create. After all, people are more likely to believe something if they reach a conclusion by themselves through observation and reflection than if they are simply told that such and such is the truth. Barthes' "Mythologies" essays appear to be neutral, un-predisposed observations that do not tell the reader what conclusion he should come to but rather just lay the facts in front of him and let him make of them what he will. Of course there is bias in the essays- Barthes chooses his topics carefully and even at times twists the truth (eg. Julius Caesar in the film is not really bald, as Barthes claims that he is; and it seems that the photo of the black soldier saluting a French flag never appeared on the cover of any French magazine, let alone that of "Paris Match" as Barthes claims). However, this bias remains very well hidden most of the time so that while the essays actually guide us towards a certain conclusion, they do not force us to this conclusion but rather we feel that we have reached a certain conclusion ourselves. Personally, this is what I find most impressive about the essays. In my opinion they are disguised Marxist propaganda and Barthes had no intention of really being neutral in his analysis of society but rather just wanted to appear to be doing so- to encourage more people to lose faith in consumerist society.His apparent neutrality is achieved by using the same style of observation that was being used at the time by anthropologists studying Brazilian tribes. By studying his own society as if it was a foreign society, Barthes is using a technique similar to the distancing technique used by the German playwright Brecht to create what became known as the "Verfremdungseffekt". This "[made] the familiar...

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