book by Roland Barthes
Mythologies is a collection of 53 short rather journalistic essays on a variety of subjects and one longer concluding essay on Myth Today. The texts were written between 1954 and 1956, mostly for the magazine Les Lettres nouvelles. A majority of the shorter texts are comments on daily observations, and as such provides comment on France of the 1950s. The subject vary from advertising for pasta to wrestling, plastic, detergents and striptease. The style of the essays is the style of a journalist, it's fast and witty rather than academic and theoretic.
The most common theme in the texts is mass culture; films, advertising, newspapers and magazines, photographs, cars, children's toys, etc. Barthes was very fascinated with popular imagery such as movies and snapshots, and he was later to write substantially on the reading of (private) photography in Camera Lucinda. Barthes sees mass culture as the readable and decodeable myths of his time. By subjecting them to semiotic analyziz he is able to see beyond the surface of the cultural texts unto new levels of menaing. The text of mass culture poses as natural or 'innocent' - 'just describing reality'; Barthes decodes them, opening up layer after layer of hidden connotations and meanings. This complex, contextualised reading of the text (or object) is for Barthes the 'true' meaning of the object, as opposed to the meaning intended by its producer.
In the final, longer, essay Myth Today Barthes tries to find out what a contemporary myth is and explain it in semiotic terms. Myths are what cultural objects connote - it is not the objects/texts themselves but the way they send us a message. Myths are part of speech (parole - the act of speaking), not of language (langue - grammar and syntax). Myth is in this way the opposite of ideology - myth is a distorted message hiding behind a pose of naturalness.
"But even in the category of powders, one must in addition oppose against advertisements based on psychology those based on psycho-analysis (I use this work without reference to any specific school). "Persil Whiteness", for instance, bases its prestige on the evidence of the result; it calls into play vanity, a social concern with appearances, by offering for comparison two objects, one of which is whiter than the other. Advertisements for Omo also indicate the effect of the product (and in superlative fashion, incidentally), but they chiefly reveal its mode of action; in doing so, they involve the consumer in a kind of direct experience of the substance, make him the accomplice of a liberation rather than the mere beneficiary of a result; matter here is endowed with value-bearing states."
(Barthes on "Soap-Powders and Detergents" in Mythologies)