Barthes’ “Wine and Milk” Myth Analysis and Gatorade

Ebony Hyatt

February 22, 2021

As time has progressed throughout human history, we have developed many cultures within ourselves and we have attached a special meaning to certain forms of representations. France has taken a huge liking to wine, where it has become a huge representation of the country and plays a huge role in its society. In the United States, there are many examples of foods and beverages that are seen as huge representations of many parts of its society. The items are often appreciated and praised for their benefits towards a certain portion of society as well. Although it may not be as symbolistic and significant as wine is for France, in U.S sports culture, Gatorade is consumed by most athletes and the beverage is looked very well upon due to its impact on an athlete’s performance. As we all are aware, as wine has it’s health benefits, it also has it’s negative effect on consumers. Gatorade shares the same factors as well. 

    In Barthes’ Wine and Milk, he discusses the importance of wine, it’s benefits and how it has become a part of the French culture and identity. He describes the importance of wine as “the sap of the sun and the earth” (Barthes, 58). Barthes also continues to describe wine by giving the alcoholic drink, (well for me), a familiar title. 

“This galvanic substance is always considered, for instance, as the most efficient of thirst quenchers, or at least this serves as the major alibi for its consumption, (it’s thirsty weather).” (Barthes, 58) 

Gatorade, one of today’s most popular sports drinks was founded in 1965. Although the drink is mainly used to provide extra electrolytes to assist athletes with their energy levels, the drink is often also described as a thirst quencher. The two beverages share the same qualities of adding an extra purpose to consuming the drink, for the goal of satisfying one’s thirst cravings along with the benefits that each drink carries. 

    Barthes’ myth statement continues to speak on the quality of wine and its abilities to change a persons qualities when it is consumed. For example, he mentions the effects of how drinking wine can change the character or expand limits to a person:

“It is above all a converting substance, capable of reversing situations and states, and of extracting from other objects their opposites– for instance, making a weak man strong or a silent one talkative. Hence it’s old alchemical heredity, its philosophical power to transmute and create ex nihilo…it can serve as an alibi to dream as well as reality… For the worker, wine means enabling him to do his task with demiurgic ease…For the intellectual, wine has the reverse function” (Barthes, 58). 

    Similarly, in recent years, Gatorade is often viewed as a positive energizer for most athletes to consume before intense workouts and long lasting sports games, therefore, changing their performance. 

           In a blog article titled, Is Gatorade good or bad for you? from Medical News today states that, “When a person exercises, they lose not only water but also electrolytes through their sweat. Gatorade, because of its electrolyte content, helps to restore the lost electrolytes and keep a person hydrated, during intense activity… electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium and sodium, that have an impact on a person’s muscles, brain, and nerves.”

Barthes’ also continues to add emphasis on how wine has become a major piece of symbolism in French culture and everyday life: 

“Wine is a part of society because it provides a basis not only for a morality but also for an environment, it is an ornament in the slightest ceremonials of French daily life” ( Barthes, 60).

In sport culture, due to the major reliance on the beverage for its beneficial attributes for most athletes, it has become a prominent symbol for sports events, sports games and even physical education courses. 

Lastly, as much as many would like to dismiss the idea and compare the benefits to that of water, wine and Gatorade both have negative effects on our health and should be limited in consumption. As wine is an alcoholic drink, an excessive consumption can result in blackouts, an increased risk of developing heart disease or cancer. 

According to Medical News Today, “Gatorade contains high levels of sugar and food dyes, which may increase people’s risk of certain health conditions, including weight gain and type 2 diabetes…Gatorade and other sports drinks are not inherently healthy or healthier than other beverages. When consumed regularly, Gatorade may lead to, or contribute to, problems such as obesity.” 

Here is a Gatorade advertisement, revealing its importance in the culture of sports and the athletes who drink the beverage:

https://youtu.be/rDUw_zop3Tg

Below is the blog article mentioned earlier, from Medical Health Today:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323211

Barthes’ “Toys” and the Naturalization of Society

Army toys

Roland Barthes said that “French toys are usually based on imitation, they are meant to produce children who are users, not creators.” (Mythologies, 54). The toys are mostly made up of miniature versions of the instruments of adult life. “French toys always mean something, and this something is always entirely socialized, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life” (53). The myth that the toys convey is an early level of socialization into the adult world of institutions, including the worker’s role in them which will in the future become the child’s role, and at least the ostensible functions that these institutions serve. The toys naturalize the world of armies, hospitals, schools, and science as it is in the historical moment, as well as the future roles the child will occupy in that world. This is what Barthes means when he says that the toys constitute for the child “the alibi of a Nature which has at all times created soldiers, postmen and Vespas” (53). The world that the toys create for the child is an early preparative version of the adult world of work, and it inculcates the child in that world already by defining the horizon of the child’s life as a user of previously determined instruments rather than a creator of anything original, and a performer of specialized roles and functions in society predetermined by institutions the child is conditioned not to question but to simply accept.

A lifelike doll currently on the market

Toys which are so literal and substitute creativity for mere use, for Barthes, create subjects which are content to perform functions within institutions as they exist. These toys are an active part of the process of reproducing society as it is. Barthes gives the example of the lifelike “dolls which urinate; they have an oesophagus, one gives them a bottle, they wet their nappies; soon, no doubt, milk will turn into water in their stomachs. This is meant to prepare the little girl for the causality of house-keeping, to ‘condition’ her to her future role as mother.” (53). There is an eerily unnatural quality to all of this for Barthes, as the institutional world itself is not natural but conditional. This unnatural quality is worth demonstrating. What about women who can’t or don’t want to play the role of mother? There’s nothing inherent about women that designates them to a specific social role; it is a cultural process brought about by even the toys the women play with as children. What of assumed boys who want to play with the dolls, even play the role of mother? There’s no inherent gendering of an object, nor of a role. These things are conditional and conditioned.

A diagram of the assets owned by the Walt Disney Company

There are modern day American equivalents to the French toys Barthes analyzed. Dolls such as the one he described have only gotten more lifelike over time. Toys have those bland and plastic qualities of use instead of creativity and unnatural conditioning in contemporary American culture as well, and the same function of reproducing society by naturalizing it is certainly served by them. Even the most fantastical toys exist only in the universes created by the most mass-consumed intellectual properties owned by the largest corporations in the world. In consuming toys of this type, we are conditioned to consume more, to become consumers and adopt consumer identities, to become fans rather than artists ourselves. Creativity and the role of creator is again placed beyond our grasp in this process. This serves to suffocate cultural originality further and obscure the underlying reality that large capital owners get to determine even the parameters of our children’s enjoyment.

Mythologies: Ornamental Cooking and Instagram Health Diets in America

Roland Barthes in his essay Ornamental Cooking from his book Mythologies, argues that food pictured in magazines is “fiction” (80), and serves the same purpose as “the elaboration of petit-bourgeois trinkets (ashtrays in the shape of a saddle, lighters in the shape of a cigarette, terrines in the shape of a hare” (79); which is to say no more purpose than simple decoration. Barthles examines the weekly magazine Elle which puts out issues that give the reader “a fine colour photograph of a prepared dish: golden partradgies studded with cherries…a mould of crayfish surrounded by their red shells, a frothy charlotte petrified with glacé fruit designs” (78). According to Barthles “since [Elle’s] role is to present to its vast public which (market research tells us) is working-class, the very dream of smartness” (78). 

This process, Barthles writes, “disguises the primary nature of foodstuffs, the brutality of meat or the abruptness of sea-food (78),” to the point that, “A country dish is admitted only as an exception (the good family boiled beef), as the rustic whim of jaded city-dwellers (78).” On the surface the photographs depict a nice home cooked meal. What it signifies however is that plain food is the stuff of lower classes and in order to separate yourself from this natural experience of food, in order to appear not as a family that raises its own food or works in an industry that deals with food, you must make it look nice. It speaks to economics as well, “the real problem is not to have the idea of sticking cherries into a partridge, it is to have the partridge, that is to say, pay for it (79).” These magazines do not aim to help the everyday family who needs ideas on what to cook for their family in a sensible and affordable way;however that is exactly who these magazines are targeted for. 

In America we currently have a similar ornamental food push happening that is also classist, in the form of social media and influencers. There is a societal belief in America that in order to be “pretty” you must be small and skinny if you are a girl and large and muscular if you are a boy. This belief has led to profitable markets for years. Influencers capitalize on this. As presented by them, there are two main ways to get the body that you want. Working out and eating a specific diet. Working out takes time and if you are from the working or lower class you may not have this extra time. Knowing this, many influencers push diets on their followers as a substitute for working out and as another way to look like them. These meals, while different in description, resemble the concepts of food in Elle. Instead of “golden partradgies studded with cherries” (78), you have exotic colored smoothies and avocado toast with expensive topping on them. Or you have smoothie bowls with nutritious supplements sprinkled on.

Influencers are usually a part of the wealthier class in America. This means that if they are pushing working out, they have the luxury of extra time or money to hire people to help them and so the simple quick work out they are pushing to their viewer will not actually get the same results. If they are pushing food this means they have the time and money to prepare nice fancy food. Just like Barthes calls out Elle for pushing classit food ideas on its viewers, influencers do the same thing. 

Many influencers now are also following vegan or vegetarian diets. These diets are pushed to their followers in similar ways as described above, fancy beautiful looking food. Many influencers don the belief that these diets are morally right and shame followers who do not subscribe to the diets. The issue here is that the diet is often only being shown to followers through fancy expensive additives, recipes and substitutes for meat and animal products. Influencers do not take into account the working and lower class when providing examples of how to be a vegan or vegetarian. This in turn makes these diets unattainable for many.

In America the new presentation of food as done by influencers aims to give young people ideal bodies. In doing so, influencers are leading followers to believe that if they make the food they post, then the followers can look like them. Influencers also lead them to believe that their followers will be seen as a higher class either because of the body it will help them achieve or because of the food they will eat. While it has taken a new form, ornamental cooking and its subliminal messaging is still alive and well in America.

Women Can Do More; and They Should.

Rolan Barthe’s piece, Mythologies contains a series of very interesting myths about French culture in the 1950s. He discusses a wide range of topics that I found to be rather confusing, yet intriguing. One of his essays titled “Novels and Children” spoke out to me the most. 

The key concepts Barthe introduces here are the connection between a magazine in 1950, Elle and the ways it portrays gender roles between men and women. More specifically, the roles of women in France during this time period. “If we are to believe that weekly Elle, which some time ago mustered seventy women novelists on one paragraph, the woman of letters is a remarkable zoological species; she brings forth, pell-mell, novels and children” ( Mythologies, 50). In France at this time women’s roles were to take care of the household and their men, and do absolutely nothing else. For women to even consider doing any other form of activity or job, was wrong. This included writing. Barthes highlights this concept through talking “in scene.” Rather than explaining the mythical concept, he plays to it. Speaking as if this is real and okay. He writes, “But make no mistake: let no women believe that they can take advantage of this pact without having first submitted to the eternal statute of womanhood. Women are on earth to give children to men” (50). 

Barthes is saying here that the balancing of novels and children is an indulgence and a warning. “Elle says to women: you are worth just as much as men; anf to men: your women will never be anything but women” (51). He is describing the roles of women as a condition, having little freedom in their own lives. A condition reminds one of a disease or sickness. He also says women must stay under the gaze of their husbands, the only outlet they had was writing. Which I think scared the culture, while culture was trying to remind women of their destiny–to provide children to men. Not to be given options or stray away from their predetermined lifestyle. 

This led me to an interesting search on how advertising defined women’s roles in the 50s. I think this could still translate to today’s advertising, but as feminism rises throughout culture, I think companies are more inclined to promote products using females rather than degrade them in certain ways. That’s not to say some advertisements still apply gender roles in their slogans and how they present a product, however, I don’t think the ads are deliberately portraying women as household maids and babymakers. 

For example, Joy’s Dish Soap produced an ad promoting the dishwashing magic of this soap. As you can see in the figure below, a woman is pictured in multiple places happy as can be, washing dishes in her home. As if that is where she is meant to be and is comfortable in that role. The ad slogan is, “Joy in a bottle beats anything in a box”, which Barthes might argue has some word-play enlisting joy to be relatable to the mood of the housewife. Laying out a woman’s life meaning through a soap advertisement.

Similarly, in this second image, we see a female once again feeling happy and satisfied being kissed by her husband who most likely is off to his job where he makes money for the house and she cleans the dishes.

Instead of leaving her “castle” for a paying job or enduring a daily activity, like writing that Barthes points out, the wife stays comfortable at home where she could perfect her domestic role. These ads portray women as though they are more than satisfied being servants to their husbands, and receiving that love and praise from her husband measures her self-worth. I found many magazines and advertisements emphasize this ongoing idea. The fact that although women may not have outside careers, homemaking is enough jobs for them. Is in some ways, more than one single job, therefore only a woman should do it.

Though not all advertisements look this way today, there is something more to be said about the ways society chooses to sell their products and to whom they are selling. Women during this time were nothing more than support staff to their husbands and it showed in the way household products were advertised. Now, I feel like we see ads write certain things or say particular things to hinder this idea that men are still strong and women are still weaker, or more fragile.

Barthes was on to something was he said “Women, be therefore courageous, free; play at being men, write like them; but never get far from them; live under their gaze, compensate for your books by your children; enjoy a free rein for a while, but quickly come back to your condition” (50). The condition that is, do fun things and pretend to do as your please. But always remember, you have but one purpose to life. And it’s the life these advertisements are showing you.

Barthes, Garbo, and Kesha

“Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy,” writes Roland Barthes of actress Greta Garbo. In this essay, “The Face of Garbo,” Barthes discusses the differences in appearance of Garbo, an actress in the early 1920s, and Audrey Hepburn, who rose to popularity in the ‘50s. The disparity between the two that he most emphasizes is in the way that either actress was presented. Garbo was always the exemplar of feminine beauty; she did not age (publicly), and when appearing in film she was minimally expressive but always beautiful. Her beauty was unattainable in any real sense; she was the “Platonic Idea of the human creature” in the same way that if one was to remove all defining characteristics from a person, they too would become the aesthetic epitome of humanness. Comparatively, Barthes writes of Audrey Hepburn that she “is individualized.” Hepburn here is not the epitome of humanness so much as she is the epitome of herself. Garbo represents the ideals of beauty, she is a canvas that is made to suit the aesthetic whims of the producers; Hepburn on the other hand is characterized by her own personality, and she represents an era of film that valued substance and expression over pure aesthetic. Garbo here is a prisoner to the confines of social expectations and what viewers of her generation want to see from an actress, and Hepburn, rather than falling into similar entrapment, instead redefines what feminine beauty looks like by her unwillingness to concede to societal values.

With two number one albums and numerous hit singles, Kesha is by and large one of the most prominent pop artists of our time. However, until 2016 when she was released from her contract, much of her career and music was dictated by her producer. Her first album, Animal, was released in 2009 and set the precedent for the pop genre, and the leading single from the album, “Tik Tok,”  broke the record for most sales in a week.

Animal album cover

The music is dancey, the lyrics are racy, the vocals are certainly auto-tuned, and it was with this album that Kesha’s career really took off. In a lot of ways Kesha’s early career was much like that of Garbo’s. Her music and appearance were tailored to fit the pop persona that was created for her, and she became what we could consider the “Platonic Idea” of dance-pop. As Garbo’s was the “archetype of the human face,” Animal is a perfect and defining example of early 2000s pop music. Like Garbo’s unattainable and unfaltering beauty, the astronomical success of Animal allowed the album to set the new standard for the genre. Similarly, it was not the content of either Animal or Garbo’s work that their audiences were necessarily after, but it was the image of pop music and the image of Garbo that caught people’s attention. 

Conversely, the substance that Barthes finds represented in Audrey Hepburn can also be found in Kesha’s later career. Following a drawn out legal battle with her producer, Kesha was eventually released from her contract, and in 2017 she put out her third album Rainbow, which she for the first time in her career had full creative control over.

Rainbow album cover


A stark contrast from her first release, Rainbow features far more instrumental, mellow, and often soulful tracks with introspective, vulnerable lyrics. Just as Hepburn captivated a generation that began to value expression over aesthetic, Rainbow sought to redefine Kesha’s career by being an honest and vulnerable representation of herself as an artist and person.

Today’s Toys and Video Games. To be a User and not a Creator.

It is a common assumption that toys are supposed to be objects in which a child can create and use their imagination. It may be unclear to our society how toys have actually molded children into a roles which are already preexisting for them. Roland Barthes in his book Mythologies writes an essay called Toys that has the intention of drawing attention to this truth commenting on the  “bourgeois” or capitalist society that we currently exist in and how it applies to the usage of toys. Barthes splits up the concept of toys into two categories objects that make children “users” and ones that make them “creators” (Barthes 54).  He argues that today’s toys (doctor’s play sets, baby dolls, and army men,) make children users “All of the toys one commonly sees are essentially a microcosm of the adult world” (Barthes 53). 

A current toy on the market

By being a user children are prepared for the roles that our current capitalist society is providing for them, “French toys always mean something, and this something is always entirely socialized”(Barthes 54) a depiction of some idealized perfect adult life. Compared to toys like blocks which give a child the ability to create without constraint to imagine something without boundary, outside of the current ideology that exists. Even though almost a century has passed since this article was written, can we say if anything has really changed about the way toys are made? Especially with the newness of digital age, and all the constructed worlds that exist in video games that children play, we are still feeding into capitalist views. 

Not much has changed with toys since Barthes essay on them, in fact toys have strayed even farther from the “creator” ideals he discussed. Today each set of toy that exists on the market comes with it’s own backstory or world for imagining, something that has already been made up before the child can get the chance to create their own. Toys like Barbie dolls, Care Bears,  come with characters who are already set in their roles or identities, sparing no room for children to create their own. Other toys today come from television of films that kids specifically buy so they can become their favorite hero or tv show character.

This Pokémon commercial is displaying a lot of the user ideals that Barthes discusses in his essay. The way the that commercial is shot encouraging the viewer to join the world of Pokémon as opposed to making something of their own creation. Even the terminology used to describe playing video games is mirrored in Barthes language when speaker of becoming a user. Player is a very close term to user. In this commercial we also see children lifting up their consoles to play a game that the concept is to bleed both worlds together, losing sight of creation all together. The world of Pokémon is exactly how Barthes describes, “He does not invent the world, he uses it: there are, prepared for him, actions without adventure, without wonder, without joy.” (54).  In this viewpoint a player does not create his or her own adventure they are playing a predetermined role placed upon them.

Barthes would label players of video games and extension of users, because they are merely acting a role that was created for them, instead of creating their own adventure. Capitalist culture really takes advantage of preexisting roles our identities in our culture and we slowly lose our creator selves. Capitalist culture also abuses our sense of escapism and wonder to make people always seeking another adventure in a different role. You can see in this following ad how exploits our sense of escapism and nostalgia through the lens of childhood. But that is a blog post for another time.

Street Art and Gentrification

Elle, May 1950

“Love, work, write, be business-women or women of letters, but always remember that man exists, and that you are not made like him… A jesuitic morality: adapt the moral rule of your condition, but never compromise about the dogma on which it rests.” Roland Barthes, “Novels and Children”

Elle is a lifestyle magazine that was established in France in 1945 and has since evolved from perpetuating the ideas above and is now focused on fashion, health, entertainment, and beauty in the modern world. Barthes’ discussion of these ideologies that are perpetuated and the ways that they create this cultural paradox where women are encouraged to be their own person, just as long as they’re less of a person than their male superiors. His discussion of the children’s book is important but ultimately leads to his assertion that the cultural environment that pervades the sphere of women’s interests has been created to indoctrinate women into servitude while leading them into the belief that they should follow their own, individual dreams and aspirations. The mythology and ideology Elle and children’s book has been corrupted by the culture that it existed in. Today’s Elle is much more of feminist-friendly and truly encourages the importance of female independence.

Elle, January 2021

The overall erosion of what is at the heart of mythologies can easily be connected to the world of street art. Not unlike the hypocrisy that Barthes calls on Elle for perpetuating, the world of street art has been fundamentally changed in terms of its ideological significance.

Street art is the medium of the revolutionary: it’s explosive, flashy, and meant to shock the urban world. It’s rusty spray-paint cans and masking tape strung out all along the dusty bricks. It’s designed to make an impression long after it’s sandblasted away.

“The Flower Thrower”, by Banksy

The mythology of street art is founded strongly in anti-establishment movements and the legal gray area that it functions within. There’s something that is inherently rebellious about spray painting anything on another person’s property: not only is it one of the most recently accepted forms of art, it’s also one of the only artistic endeavors that can get you in legal altercations. We can date the ideas of street art back to propaganda used during World War II against the Germans and against the groups of the perpetrated. The “graffiti boom” took place in New York City in the 1960s and has since become more and more accepted as a legitimate form of artwork in creative communities.

One such wall in New York City was used by street artists during the 1970s, and was later commemorated as the Bowery Mural, has become privately owned and is accessible to through commission or invitation.

The Bowery Mural

Some of the most famous pieces of street art have been made by Shepard Fairey. “Andre the Giant has a Posse” was a street art campaign that took place in 1989 and was responsible for explosive celebrity status of Fairey and, with him, subsequently brought street art into the world of pop culture and elite art.

“Andre the Giant has a Posse”, by Shepard Fairey

From this leap in popularity, Fairey would eventually establish his brand: OBEY. Fairey took street art from a grungy, unrefined, and impulsive form of art and forced it into imprisonment within a capitalistic environment. The iconography of street art was dampened as a result and OBEY went from being anti-establishment to being mass produced in sweatshops for a buck (not just a few bucks, either, as Fairey’s net worth is between $10 and $15 million dollars). From this, the mythology of street art was fundamentally altered and truly became myth.

“This’ll look nice when its framed”, by Banksy

What was once meant to give voices to anyone and everyone that could afford some cheap paint has entered the realm of elitist art and has become a place for profit. The mass production of works of art that would otherwise be politically resonant goes to show the negative impact that culture has on ideologies.

Mythologies: Beer and Milk in America

Barthes’s essay Wine and Milk from “Mythologies”, argues wine as a “possession which is its very own” (58) tied to the national identity of France, “corresponding to the milk of the Dutch cow or the tea ceremonially taken by the British Royal Family” (58). Barthe explains the position of wine as a social collective which creates equality between classes, making the intellectual “ the equal of the proletarian” (58), and simultaneously becomes a foundation for “collective morality” (59) and a unifying element to a “natural virility” (59). Milk and wine, although regarded as opposite substances, contain plastic powers, which “serve as an alibi to dream as well as reality” (58). Contrarily, milk is portrayed as an image for innocence, with cosmetic purposes, restoring, calm, lucid and “the equal to reality” (60).

Because grapes and vineyards did not grow precisely well for a really long time in the United States, the wine industry flourished mainly from importation, meaning that for the most part, the upper classes had the means to purchase such delicacy, and was a substance mainly reserved for those privileged enough to afford it. Nowadays, wine, and the culture around it, has become more accessible for everyone, having thousands of vineyards in the country, and at least one winery in every state. Nonetheless, the concept of wine still continues to carry certain connotations, remaining an intimidating and elitist substance for many.

We could then argue that beer is America’s wine. An accessible substance for everyone and anyone to consume regardless of class. While beer could be considered an American possession that unifies people, it especially unifies men; bringing out their natural virility, similar to wine’s effect on Frenchmen as stated by Barthe. Similarly, Bud Light’s blue can has become a symbol nationally recognized, denoting and exalting certain environments and climates, as well as certain social groups.

I think it is important to make mention of the stereotypical masculinity found within the culture of consuming alcohol. In the same way wine in France exalts one’s natural virility, the beer culture in the United States does too. Beer and wine might be a country’s national identity, but they probably wouldn’t hold such a title if they were mostly consumed by women.  It is believed that the socially constructed beliefs of masculine norms play a significant role in the consumption of beer and alcoholic beverages in general. Thus, it would make sense for most beer companies to adopt a masculine based image and take over most constructed masculine norms as a way to lure in a certain group of people.  Through commercials similar to the one below, the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial (2015), we are able to depict certain images particularly designed to attract one social group, as a way to facilitate and exalt the image and notion of masculinity in men through the act of drinking beer.

Budweiser – Super Bowl Commercial (2015)

The commercial depicts words such as “Beechwood aged”, and images of wood being cut, social gatherings between men, beers being thrown around in a wooden porch, sudden snapshots of fire and men working in trade jobs. The only women in the commercial are the waitresses who serve the beer to the men.

All these images fit with society’s stereotypical notions of masculinity, taken advantage by one of the largest beer companies in the entire country. Beer is a social image for masculinity in America. 

Bud Light’s Super Bowl Commercial for this year, Bud Light Legends, follows the same steps as Budweiser did five years earlier in the craft beer advertising campaign. This time, the plot features some of the most popular faces of Bud Light from previous commercials, now referred to as “Bud Light Legends” which help create a sense of unification through nostalgia and a sense of comfort and familiarity. It is important to make note of the fact that there are no more than five women present throughout the entire commercial, and only men are directly mentioned. An entire group of Bud Light lovers come to rescue the beer. I think we all se a pattern here: the day is once again saved by men.

Bud Light Legends – Super Bowl Commercial (2021)

Similarly to Barthes comparison between wine and milk as opposite substances, we could do the same with beer and milk, especially considering the United States holds a substantial culture surrounding the consumption of milk. While most Americans find it normal to drink milk with most meals, as well as offering small cartons of such beverages for students (even in High Schools), and offering them as purchasable beverages in fast food restaurants, there are many countries in the world where this is an unheard of habit. 

We might find it interesting how many men (to continue the previous examples), spend an evening drinking beer whilst on a social gathering with friends, and come home to drink a cup of milk with their dinner. This creates a significant contrast between the stereotypical connotations of both; beer signifying masculinity, and milk transmitting a sense of innocence often linked with children. 

For instance, if we take the Milk Mustache Super Bowl commercial (2013), starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, we can conclude that milk is portrayed as a beverage mainly for young children. By having Dwayne Johnson running around a city in his pajamas, on a mission to find more milk, while avoiding every other emergency going on. The notions of masculinity and innocence are combined all at once. Oh, the art of advertisement.

Milk Mustache Campaign Super Bowl (2013)

Mythologies: Hamburgers, French Fries, and Trump

In Mythologies Roland Barthes argues that steak and chips (or fries) are essential to the French identity. Barthes writes that “Like wine, steak is in France a basic element, nationalized even more than socialized” (63).  According to Barthes steak can be found in every kind of restaurant from the cheap to haute cuisine. Chips hold a similar place in national identity. Barthes writes, “Commonly associated with chips, steak communicates its national glamor to them: chips are nostalgic and patriotic like steak” (63).

            I would argue that the American equivalent of steak and chips is a hamburger and French fries. Like French steak, hamburgers can be found in a wide array of restaurants. From McDonald’s $3 Mcdouble to a $17 grass-fed beef burger in a high-end restaurant. If a restaurant has any interest in serving American food, you can be sure a burger will be on the menu. Of course, like steak in France, a burger is almost incomplete without French fries.  Hamburgers and French fries invoke a historic American image, the chrome-plated diner that serves this classic meal with a milkshake. The meal also holds current cultural capital, an example being hugely influential rapper Travis Scott’s meal that he designed at McDonald’s, a burger, fries, and Sprite that can be ordered for $6. Hamburgers and fries are an essential part of the American identity. Nowhere is the connection more obvious between the American identity and burger and fries than Donald Trump’s love of a classic McDonald’s meal: a Big Mac, fries, and a diet Coke.

            In this image, Trump is pictured with his McDonald’s meal on a private plane. The contrast between the wealth that it takes to be able to fly on a private plane with the less than $10 meal is a sharp one, yet not an accidental one. Despite being a billionaire and staring in a reality TV show designed to showcase his wealth and power, Trump has managed to create a relatable image. Fast food may be a part of that. A Republican strategist told the New York Times, “There’s nothing more American than fast food”. By eating burgers from McDonald’s Trump can assure his voters that he’s no different than them. He loves the American staples just like they do, and he doesn’t even go for a fancy twist on the American classic of a burger and fries.

            Like Trump’s relationship with America, there is an underlying darkness to his love of McDonald’s, he’s reportedly afraid of being poisoned. According to Michael Wolff, the author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Trump sees fast food as the safest bet against poisoning as it’s premade before anyone knows it’s going to be eaten by him. The Huffington Post has also reported on Trump’s fear of poisoning.  By eating fast food burgers Trump has taken refuge in their predictability just like many Americans do. The image he projects by eating McDonald’s is at once a true one and a false one. He loves the simple food just like any other American, and he’s afraid for his life to the point that he distrusts food from potentially infiltrated sources, an experience completely alien to the average American.

Presidential (and other) Poses

Romans in Film

“Conversely, one cannot believe in Julius Caesar, whose physiognomy is that of an Anglo-Saxon lawyer . . . and a compliant skull on which the hairdresser has raked, with great effort, a lock of hair.” Roland Barthes, “The Romans in Films”

This behind the scenes image, with Caesar in a bloody toga holding a box of doughnuts, provides an even better view of the hairdresser’s heroic efforts to give him a “Roman fringe.”

“But this very fringe, when combed on the only naturally Latin forehead in the film, that of Marlon Brando, impresses us and does not make us laugh.” Roland Barthes, “The Romans in Film.” Although we might note: “Yet another sign in this Julius Caesar: all the faces sweat constantly,” perspiration made visible on film by liberal application of Vaseline. Certainly, Marlon Brando as a perspiring Brutus (note the visible sheen on his arm and face) suggests this visible sign of “thinking,” “the enormous physiological labour produced . . . by a virtue just about to give birth to a crime.”

More impressive work by the hairdresser and make-up (Vaseline) artist.

Barthes comments in this essay on a number of what we might call “cheesy” elements of director Joseph Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar (1953), particularly the use of a hair style to transform cross-ethnic (Anglo-Saxon to Italian) casting, so that the hair becomes a “sign of Romanness” even as other physical features suggest instead “the Yankee mugs of Hollywood extras.”

We can see a similarly problematic strategy in American films of casting non-Native actors in Native American roles, with costuming performing the magic of transformation: the addition of a wig and and head band to as a sign of Indianness (the headband a practice, according to the documentary Reel Injun: Native American Portrayals in Hollywood, invented by stunt men as a practical means of preventing their wigs from falling off during stunts).

Non-Native actress Donna Reed with wig, headband, and incompletely applied make-up, as Sacajawea in The Far Horizons (1955).