AS a Citroën car caused sensation at the 1961 Paris motor show, Roland Barthes made links between heavenly magic and earthly merchandising. He thought modern day petrol heads could see signs of ancient gods as they gazed enraptured at the Dessus‘ divine design and angel-wing bodywork.
His most famous work, Mythologies, was published in Paris, in 1957, to become advertising’s key text. It did more than just unmask signs from mass culture: it de-mystified them, alerting us to their powerful commercial seduction.
Of the DS19 when Barthes said, ‘It is obvious that the new Citroën has fallen from the sky, in as much as, it appears at first sight as a superlative object,’ he was drawing on Roman, Greek and Christian theology.
Barthes brought his signature revelations of Hollywood, Wrestling, and the Auto industry for his one or two page essays, featuring Marlon Brando’s Roman fringe, Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo’s faces, Margarine, Wine, and Stripping, to stir our creative imaginations and examine our longings and our fantasies.
He made the worlds of the imagination, literature, and popular culture amusing and valuable for everyone’s daily use.
Fifty or so years later, 28 other teachers, writers and researchers – including me – were invited by Pete Bennett and Julian McDougall to, kind of, reinvent Barthes for today.
Their brilliance, encouraging the writers, introducing and editing the work, presenting at the Sorbonne, and being thoroughly inspired, produced Barthes’ Mythologies Today: Readings of Contemporary Culture, 2013, New York: Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies.
This blog, What would Roland Barthes’ say? will feature illustrated critiques of these new myths, over the coming months. It will begin with ‘The Face of Assange’ in which Oscar Gomez writes, ‘Julian Assange belongs to a type of celebrity whose main target is to change the world as we know it!’ Roland would be excited!