“How can dominant ideologies successfully present themselves as simply as the world should be?” Without necessarily knowing his name, we all use Roland Barthes’s methods every day to understand the world around us. In his book, Mythologies (originally written in 1957), the French literary theorist, philosopher, and semiotician, criticizes the popular or consumer culture stating that it not only mass-produces products to the society but also creates myths. By drawing examples from the everyday French life, he wanted to express that images, or as he calls them signs, would lose their original meaning once they were removed from their proper context. He believed that objects are often taken out of context, and then given different meanings.
For instance, revolutionary figures who had fought and killed to extinguish imperialism and capitalism, depict different meanings in today’s mass culture. Buying a t-shirt or a poster with the iconic photograph of (let’s say) Che Guevara could exploit the consumers’ eagerness to identify qualities that they believe represent a hatred of authority, youth, rebelliousness, etc. which has little relation to Che Guevara’s actual qualities and helping materialism. Therefore, they drain popular ideas from their real meaning and repackage them to create myths that carry new and often very different implications. Barthe believed that this resulted in a uniform, non-threatening and bourgeois ideology. Myths that could be reassuring but could very easily create oppression and constraint.
In the design world, Roland’s Barthes work has helped shape an understanding of how designs operate in a mass consumer culture as they have become less functional and more as metaphoric vehicles of collective desire. I don’t particularly enjoy reading works of Roland Barthe but he definitely helps us be aware of what is surrounding us. Making us value the functioning everyday objects rather than the myths.