For the students enrolled the ENG 277 section of Analyze This!!!:

Your blog assignment this week is to take one of the essays from the section of Barthes’ Mythologies that we read this week (pages 58-105), and use that essay as a jumping off point for your own analysis. You might, for example, use one of the essays that we discussed in class (e.g., “Wine and Milk”) to write an analysis of one of the advertisements you posted as an example for Wednesday’s class, or you might, if you wish, choose one of the other essays from this section of Mythologies as the starting point for your analysis.

The finished post should be posted by the beginning of class on Monday. The post should be in the 400-500 words range in length.



About Michael K. Johnson

Michael Johnson is Professor of English at the University of Maine at Farmington.

2 responses »

  1. Steak and Chips

    In “Steak and Chips” Roland Barthes shows how steak is displayed to be a delicacy, and explains how it is a “basic element” in France (63). He compares steak to wine, by stating, “It is the heart of meat” (62). Like wine, compared to other alcoholic drinks, steak is higher quality; meat and viewed to be more elegant compared to other meats. It is portrayed to be a man’s food, and “whoever partakes of it assimilates a bull-like strength” (62). Barthes shows that steak resembles a strong, high standard food, setting the bar high for other edibles.
    Barthes explains that eating steak rare is a symbol of nature and a moral of life. Back to the beginning of time, I imagine hunters and gatherers struggling to keep food on their tables. The importance of meat-eating and the food chain go back many, many years and are an important part of nature and life. Also, the degree to which the steak is cooked is as important as well. An overcooked steak is leathery and chewy having an unappetizing and colorless appearance while a rare steak has a complementing color and texture. It is much more pleasing to the palate to enjoy a moist piece of steak that does not force one to chew and chew while getting pieces stuck between your teeth as an over-cooked piece of meat would.
    In France steak is the most popular food, as a cheeseburger is in the United States. Barthes explains, “steak is in France a basic element, nationalized even more than socialized” (63). Steak and chips are not just found in some places around France or eaten by some of their citizens, but it is found throughout the entire country. France is the home to steak and chips which is a staple among the French citizens and the country will always be known for this meal.
    In Indo-China, Barthes discuses, how a general ordered steak and chips. He shows that the general knew when he was not ordering his meal that steak and chips were not Indo-China’s common dish. Barthes states that “the General understood well our nation symbolism; he knew that la frite, are the alimentary sign of Frenchness” (64). Even though steak and chips are available in different countries, the meal is known for its French heritage. Barthes explains that steak is a “redeeming food,” showing that it makes up for what the other foods do not have (62).

  2. In Barthes’ essay “Wine and Milk,” wine is explored as an expression of the paradoxical: a dry liquid “capable of reversing situations and states, and of extracting from objects their opposites”. Although water might be presumed to be the appropriate antithesis, Barthes claims that milk offers the most contrast. If this is true, an analysis of wine should lead to an understanding of the cultural significance of milk.
    Barthes claims that the purpose of wine in the working class is to ease the strain of workload, whereas in the intellectual spheres, a writer or philosopher “comes nearer to a natural virility”. In this sense, it allows an escape. For the worker, it may simply ease the spirits, and to the intellectual, “escape the curse that a century and a half of romanticism still brings to bear on the purely cerebral”. In contrast, milk offers no escape, and in some senses, may even assure a more fixed sobriety. A glass in the morning or accompanying coffee is typical, and a glass in the afternoon is more recommendable for energy than sodas or energy drinks.
    Despite Barthes inclination to ascribe the desire for wine to virtually all physical states – including hunger – wine is agreeably a “feel better” drink, and its effects are not often intuitive to such a situation. On the contrary, milk offers true nourishment and not just relief. It has the thickness to sustain an appetite and lifts the spirits. The latter statement could be challenged. At least from a cultural perspective, milk is not often associated with smiling faces (unless they are appearing in a “Got Milk?” ad). However, especially in more recent times, the nutritional perspective has moved from calcium and vitamin D to vitamin E, an essential antioxidant that is a mood-booster. I once knew a milk connoisseur (and I do not use the term lightly) who described milk as “liquid happiness.” He drank milk regularly and was one of the most content fellows I have ever come across.
    Barthes associates milk with the “innocence of the child,” and this is not an illogical association. Children are often encouraged by their parents to drink milk for developmental reasons. Specifically, the myth that milk brings strength has been perpetuated consistently. Growing up “Big and strong” is the motivation to the poor souls who do not actually enjoy it. In the 1988 milk commercial posted by GloopTrekker, a boy drinks milk and transforms stage-by-stage into a fully-grown, muscular man. This plays on both milk’s role in development as well as the implied association with strength. Whereas wine might have changed the boy into an uncharacteristically confident individual on the spot, milk is instead shown to physically alter him over time until he can succeed in his goals, which appear to involve a woman. This serves as another contrast: whereas wine proposes immediate mental alteration, milk offers gradual physical alteration. The physicality of milk sets it as “the equal of reality” as opposed to the “alchemical heredity” and inherent mysticism in wine.

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