American Culture

Topics: Mythology, Mythologies, Meaning of life Pages: 6 (2114 words) Published: April 10, 2014
Explain the idea of myth and show how it is helpful to explain any American cultural form. Culture shapes the way we think. It is the society’s system of shared, learned values and norms; these are the society’s design for living. It has an influence on the way we look, our habits, our tastes and the way we relate to others. Values are an abstract of ideas which are about the good, the right and the desirable. Norms are the social rules and guidelines. The definition of myth is a “popular belief or story that has become associated with a person, institution, or occurrence, especially one considered to illustrate a cultural ideal.” Originally, we know the meaning of a myth to be “a traditional, typical ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes that serves as a fundamental type in the worldview of a people, as by explaining aspects of the natural world or a fictitious story, person, or thing.” For example, you can associate the word “myth” with the ancient Greeks. What is a myth, today? ‘Myth is a type of speech.’ Since myth is known to be a type of speech, “Everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse. Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utters this message: there are formal limits to myth, there are no 'substantial' ones. “Myth can be defined neither by its object nor by its material, for any material can arbitrarily be endowed with meaning: the arrow which is brought in order to signify a challenge is also a kind of speech. True, as far as perception is concerned, writing and pictures, for instance, do not call upon the same type of consciousness; and even with pictures, one can use many kinds of reading: a diagram lends itself to signification more than a drawing, a copy more than an original, and a caricature more than a portrait. But this is the point: we are no longer dealing here with a theoretical mode of representation: we are dealing with this particular image, which is given for this particular signification.” (Barthes, R; 1984) Ronald Barthes is a theorist who studied ‘mythology’ which also included the analysis of myths. Barthes wrote a book, called ‘Mythologies’ which was published in 1957. He divides this book into two sections, ‘Mythologies’ and ‘Myth Today.’ “The main purpose of his work in ‘Mythologies’ is to dissect the functioning of certain insidious myths.  Myth is a second-order semiotic system. It takes an already constituted sign and turns it into a signifier.” (Robinson, A; 2011) Ronald Barthes shows an example of a semiotic/myth; he uses the front cover of the ‘Paris Match magazine’ to demonstrate this theory. The cover has an image of a black young soldier saluting the French flag. Although, on the cover we cannot see the flag, sources tell me otherwise. The image does not give us any information of the young soldiers life but the magazine editor has used it to symbolise more than the soldier himself. The image is the signifier (physical materials, e.g. photographs) which denotes an event (a solider saluting the flag). Barthes suggests that the mythological view of this is that the image signifies something else and that is “the idea of France as a great multi-ethnic empire, the combination of Frenchness and militariness.” (Robinson, A; 2011)

The one who consumes a myth for example, a newspaper reader, will not see the construction of it as a myth. They will simply see the image in the presence of what it signifies. An example of this is the Paris Match magazine image, where you see the saluting black soldier which is supposably the presence of the French justice.

Myth differs from other signifiers. It is said that, they have a “contrast to ideas of false consciousness, myths don’t hide anything.  Instead, myths inflect or distort particular images or signs to carry a particular meaning.  Myth doesn’t hide things, it distorts them. It alienates the history of the sign.” (Robinson, A; 2011)

Barthes’s acknowledgement...

References: Barthes, R. (1984). MYTH TODAY. Available: Last
accessed 30th Dec 2013.
Chernus, I. (2013). THE MEANING OF “MYTH” IN THE AMERICAN CONTEXT . Available: http://
Chernus, I. (2013). ABOUT MYTHIC AMERICA. Available:
Chernus, I. (2013). THE MEANING OF “MYTH” IN THE AMERICAN CONTEXT . Available: http://
Fitzgerald, S.F (1926). The Great Gatsby. Ch 4.
Migranyan, A. (2013). The Myth of American Exceptionalism. Available:
Paris Match Magazine Cover (2013). Mythologies (book). Available:
Robinson, A. (2011). An A to Z of Theory Roland Barthes’s Mythologies: A Critical Theory of Myths.
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