The acts of consuming and generating a myth independently of each other in an open media framework are nearly impossible. A myth today is not under the control of any singular interest but rather reverberates through media networks, freely transforming in a pattern as uncontrollable as the weather. While it is some people’s job to “manage” the stock market, and it is true that there are certain strategies for manipulating the flow of transactions within it, the stock market ultimately follows no one’s individual agenda. This is unfortunate because it is also true that it is useless to formulate a discrete perception of the status of the stock market. The status of the stock market is, however, singular reality and that is not up for debate.
In the case of myth and media distribution, the situation is largely the same for it’s predictability but entirely different for how it is perceived. The perception to myth and media is left open to interpretation and negotiation. There are no constants and perception can change spontaneously on any scale instantaneously. In order to conceive accurately the sense of how myth makes its transaction, it is useful to learn the dynamics of various strategies, but the ultimate results are completely unpredictable. Any given myth today is inherently so polymorphic that a singular function can only be discerned and used as such by an individual during the timeframe of a singular moment. Therefore, it is the consumer of myth who is always the producer of myth, and in a scaled sense the same could be said about reality itself.
In his essay, Myth Today, Barthes writes a section called Reading and Deciphering Myth. In it, he describes three different types of reading in the process of receiving a myth. He states: “How is myth received? We must once more come back to the duplicity of its signifier, which is at once meaning and form. I can produce three different types of meaning by focusing on the one or the other or both at the same time.” He goes on to explain the three types of reading: To focus on an empty signifier and let the concept fill the form is the reading for that of the producer of myth, who starts with a concept and seeks a form for it. If the focus is on a full signifier that has both meaning and form and the consequential distortion that one imposes over the other, this type of reading is for that of the mythologist. He then deciphers the myth as he comes to understand the distortion. Lastly, if the focus is on the mythical signifier as an intrinsic whole, one will receive an ambiguous signification. This is the reading of the myth consumer. The problem I find is in a comment that Barthes makes in a footnote to the introduction to these three types of readings. In his footnote he says, “The freedom in choosing what one focuses on is a problem which does not belong to the province of semilology: it depends on the concrete situation of the subject.”
The concrete situation of the subject?
I take his comment to imply that the type of reading to be conducted myth will be self evidently that of which ever may be accessible to the reader at that time of reading. At the time of Barthes writing this, the manufacturing of myth was highly regulated through limited reproductive technologies. But what’s happening now in our time? All three of these readings are possible simultaneously. At this juncture we may encounter myth that we decipher and consume, or myth consumed then deciphered, emptied of all it’s meaning, and then reused as a new myth.
Barthes’ three types seem to be designed as discrete practices that could perform in a stable manner so long as they reside within an analogue environment. However, how does this system hold up when there is no longer any polarization in the distribution of myth? We live in a time now where the deciphering of the myth has become naturalized. Any individual on a momentary basis perpetually undertakes the production of myth. The individual production of myth is the requisite for the consumption or deciphering of other types of myth. In Barthes’ system, even the consumption of myth is static in a sense that there are some for who it is appropriate at this particular time to only consume myth and conversely, others at that same moment for who it is appropriate to produce myth for consumption. This type of system can only hold true under circumstances where media distribution is strictly controlled and sanctioned. In the conditions of our time, the flow of myth is completely uncontrolled and diffused. Existence of reality is dependant on the abstract and chaotic network of myth, a network that has now fully matured into its own being, complete with products and actions that are totally unpredictable. Barthes addresses the dynamics of a myth using symbols as needed and forgetting them when they are no longer needed, it is a simple extension of that to imagine that there may be multiple myths working with the same sets of symbols at the same time. But what happens when there is every myth working with every symbol all of the time? There is no meaning when there is all meaning. There is no sense to be made of a symbol or a myth beyond case-by-case individual perception. There is only a completely subjective and private perception of reality. A myth only may function in the moment it is perceived, until then it is in a pool of infinite myth waiting for use. The moment of perception therefore is also effectively the moment of manufacture.
There’s no way for me to decipher a myth if I cannot establish its origin. Or on the other hand, if no one can clearly establish a common origin of myth, it becomes the same as an empty signifier. This is something that Barthes talks about but at the time of his writing the people who would be interested and who were enabled to appropriate a myth were very few. In an age where now anyone can appropriate myth there is no way to tell who or where it came from with any sense of authority. When Barthes, in his essay, uses an example of a military advertisement and a Latin grammar exercise to illustrate the principals of his mythology, he’s using them in a way that is vary linear. He suggests that there are layers of meaning built into a symbol and that a myth is made out of a collection of symbols, so the layers of meaning in a myth is exponential to that of the symbols that are used by it. However, an unresolved issue in this system is Barthes’ assumption that a myth is going to be mostly polarized in whatever agenda it is being deployed towards. This, I argue, can no longer be true, or not any truer than pointing on a star and saying, “That’s my star and it’s going to make my wish come true.” It may be “my” star and my wish may come true, but probability suggests that it is also possessed by several others at the very same moment, and the situation with myth is very much like that.
It is not a matter of relativity it is a matter of irrelevance.