Working With Cultural Criticism

        Write a single spaced essay in which you concisely explain the basic premises of Barthes' style of Cultural Criticism and apply one or more Cultural Criticism interpretive strategies to explaining how some non-verbal cultural production is constructed or what it means, using terms found in Tyson on pages 205-8, 277-315 and in the essays by Roland Barthes.   To make your task easier in part one, I have provided this hyperlink to a description of Barthes' methodology.  Your success in part two will depend in large measure on your selection of, and your deep familiarity with, the cultural production you choose to analyze.  Though the cultural production must contain non-verbal signifiers that are important to your analysis, it also may contain verbal signifiers which you may discuss.  The point of this assignment is to direct our critical methods away from works of literature and outward into our culture.  The more apparently arbitrary and empty the cultural production is represented to be by the dominant ideological discourses of our culture, the more likely it is to reward "thick description" and analysis of its social conventions, cultural codes, and interpretive conventions.  Click here for a set of cultural productions that might serve as examples of cultural criticism's typical subjects.  Email it to me either as an attached MS-Word file (recommended for bad spellers!) or in the body of the email, itself.  If you are trying to focus your analysis and need help, try reading this sequence of emails to a former student.

        To successfully complete the assignment, make sure your essay's two parts answer, in some fashion, the following questions:

Part One:  How does the cultural critic, in the tradition of Roland Barthes, define the object of her/his interpretation for her/his purposes?  Do not merely list the terms of art used by the theory.  Illustrate or define them with a phrase so that I can discern how well you understand them.  What kinds of data must be present in a cultural phenomenon so that a cultural critic can interpret it as a system of signs?  (Hint: in order to explain this, you will have to define "non-verbal cultural sign system.")  What are the goals motivating the cultural critic's interpretation of the phenomenon?  (I.e., "Why should I be a cultural critic?")  How does the Barthesian cultural critic treat the evidence in the work?  What constitutes a successful interpretation?

Part Two: What evidence in the cultural production you have chosen makes it appropriate for Cultural Criticism interpretation?  What Cultural Criticism principles seem most effectively to explain that evidence?  What non-obvious insight does those principles help us to see in the cultural production?  (Hint: in order to do this, you will have to be able to explain some of the rules by which your chosen "non-verbal cultural sign system" works.  Do not attempt an exhaustive explanation of all the system's rules unless it is a very small, very coherent system!)  How does your insight reveal the inner workings of the culture in ways that might be liberating, demystifying, revelatory, corrective, subversive, etc. with regard to the phenomenon you are analyzing?  Beware the urge to trivialize what you have discovered.

        You do not have to develop a completely structured paper in order to finish this assignment.  Don't bother with a formal introduction or conclusion, and if it helps, you can use section headers (i.e., "Part One" and "Part Two") to eliminate the need to write paragraph transition.  As a matter of good critical practice, you should provide your paper with a proper title based on your application of Cultural Criticism theory, and a Works Cited section, but once you have explained how Cultural Criticism works and have showed how it might be applied in the case of this cultural production, you are done.  You need not explore further the consequences of that application or develop all the available evidence; only the most relevant details need be mentioned. 

        Here's the bibliographic information for "The World of Wrestling" and "Ornamental Cookery":

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. N.Y.: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Click here for the criteria I will use when evaluating the paper.