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Tuesday, July 4, 2006

American Mythologies

Posted by on July 4 at 9:40 AM

This image of a Sudanese immigrant was on the cover of yesterday’s Seattle Times:

This paragraph is in the last and most famous essay, “Myth Today” (1956), of the most famous book, Mythologies (1957), of France’s most famous semiotician, Roland Barthes (1915-1980):

I’m at the barber’s, and a copy of Paris-Match is offered me. On the cover, a young Negro in a French uniform is saluting, with his eyes uplifted, probably fixed on a fold of the tricolour. All this is the meaning of the picture. But, whether or not, I see very well what it signifies to me: that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, with no color discrimination, faithfully serve under her flag, and that there is no better answers to detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors. I am therefore again faced with greater semiological system: there is the signifier, itself already formed with a previous system (black soldier is giving the French flag salute): there is the signified (it is here a purposeful mixture of Frenchness and militariness); finally, there is a presence of the signified through the signifier.

The picture from the cover of yesterday’s Seattle Times says something like this: “Although things are very bad in Iraq, the US is still the land of hope for the global poor and destitute, as exampled by this happy Sudanese immigrant. So, in the face of America’s diminished international standing as the symbol of liberty, fairness, and prosperity, still be proud to be an American.”

This image of another recently Americanized African, me, was constructed by The Stranger’s art director Corianton Hale.
895918458_l.jpg For other reasons, the image is as guilty as the one from Seattle Times.

CommentsRSS icon

I'm no expert on what art is but wow, that composition really harkens back to the pre-photoshop era when designers had but a screen press and some scissors to make their statement.

The stars on the flag represent the six States that Charles considers World-Class? Isn't that overly generous?

Let me guess, those are the states where architecture libraries that serve red wine are located?

I know you're being sarcastic and a jerkass, you jerkass, but drinkin' a glass of shiraz and reading the '82 debate between Eisenman and Alexander in a public space would be pretty awesome.

Now *that's* governmental spending!

Not in this state, Pinko! (lol still)

Putting black people on the cover of publications is racist. With or without a flag they should not use black people to make a political point. Seattle is very racist, and anyone who says it is not racist is in denial. It is even more racist to say Seattle is not racist.

Wow - I thought of exactly the same passage from Barthes myself when I read this, Charles.

I was even going to dig out Mythologies and see if it had a reprint of the French photo for comparison - I was pretty sure this parallel must be intentional, and the pose a direct (if ironic) allusion to this locus classicus - but my house is in disarray and I wasn't able to find it. Maybe it was a handout when I studied this - or maybe it's in Sontag's On Photography.

I guess all us lit crit types think alike, whatever our ethnic or national origin.

Maybe we should get our own flag, and country.

Why don't you contact the credited Seattle Times photographer, and see if they're a member of the brotherhood?

But as for your own flag image - I don't get it.

To remove (superfluous) ambiguity, my first sentence should have read, "Wow - I thought of exactly the same passage from Barthes myself when I opened my Seattle Times, Charles."

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