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Roland Barthes and The Role of Myth in Modern Culture

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Roland Barthes is a French philosopher and semiotician from the 20th century. In his book Mythologies, Barthes tries to explain what a myth is and how it is created, followed by a few articles that contain examples of modern myths. By reading two of these stories, The Blue Guide and Toys, we will understand that a myth is a widely accepted believe within a culture. This essay will use the example of female beauty presented by fashion magazines to describe a myth similar to Barthes.

Barthes uses concepts that are developed by Ferdinand de Saussure to describe what a myth is. Saussure establishes that a signifier, a sound or image, and a signified, the concept connected to the signifier, produce a sign. Barthes takes this concept a step further by saying that a sign is the first level of signification, the denotation. Associations that are connected to the denotation is the second level of signification, the connotation. It becomes a myth, when a connotation is naturalized in a culture and widely accepted. The ideology of a culture in a certain moment in time and how to give meaning to the world becomes apparent through myths. It is the way of spreading the norms and values of the middle-class. Toys draws our attention to this by showing how French toys impose myths of adult life. They ensure that children accept this life by making them passive and not wanting to create anything else. Myths, however, don’t show the complete reality; instead, they only show stereotypes and the oversimplified version of things. This is visible in The Blue Guide, where the travel guide is “reducing geography to the description of an uninhabited world of monuments. ”

Our modern culture perpetuates the myth of female beauty. Casually looking through a fashion magazine like Vogue, we see models advertising clothes, perfume, and jewelry. This is the denotation. Eventually, we start to associate these images with something else: prime examples of female beauty. The women that are seen throughout the magazine are regarded as the epitome of beauty. Women need to be skinny and tall, have nice skin and hair, wear beautiful clothes and make-up. We start to think that this is what it means to be beautiful. The connotation of these images is so normalized in our culture, that they consequently have become a myth. The pictures of these models reveal a cultural norm, making women believe they need to look like these models to be considered beautiful. This shows that myths only present essences and not how something is like in reality. Of course you can still be beautiful even though your appearance is not similar to the one presented in fashion magazines.

To conclude, a myth is a normalized believe within a culture. The Blue Guide and Toys show that these believes are very oversimplified and allow the middle-class adults to spread their norms and values. An example of this is the myth of female beauty that is presented by fashion magazines. They present an image of beauty that other women in the culture have to live up to. This myth, however, shows a simplified norm that is unrealistic.

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Roland Barthes And The Role Of Myth In Modern Culture. (2020, July 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 27, 2021, from
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