The importance of Roland Barthes on Cultural Studies, his theory of semiotics and applying it to contemporary images of Northern Thailand. The Abstract This report will investigate the importance of Roland Barthes and his relevance to the field of Cultural Studies. It will focus on his theoretical writings about contemporary myths in Mythologies and upon photographic images in Image/Music/Text to understand and interpret contemporary images of Northern Thailand, specifically those of Hill Tribes in the form of postcards and promotional material targeted to a tourist readership.
It will analyse the system of signification present in that material and discuss differing interpretations depending upon various levels of reader knowledge. The Writer, the Text, and the Reader Barthes extended and developed the field of semiotics, the formal study of symbols and signs, taking inspiration from Saussure’s theory of the linguistic sign as the basis for understanding the structure of social and cultural life (Lechte, 1995: 123-124).
His main theoretical argument is that we as innocent consumers / readers are given many signifiers (forms) which ultimately narrow down to one signified (concept) – encouraging one to see culture as unified, which in turn ignores history and actual lived situations. Barthes focuses on how contemporary myths, or cultural artefacts and events, are all forms of communication, creating a particular meaning through a system of signs. Myths in this sense are messages and as Barthes puts it ‘anything can be a myth as long as it is conveyed by a discourse’ (Barthes, 1972:109).
He was eager to point out however, that the system of myths is different from language as a system of signs in the way that myths are motivated with an intention to persuade the reader. Barthes maintains that contemporary myths are meta-languages, leveraging Saussure’s linguistic system as their foundation. (Barthes 1972: 115). In Image/Music/Text, Barthes defines three aspects of a ‘message’: the writer, the text, and the reader. These three aspects correspond to what Barthes had defined earlier in “Myth Today” as the producer, the analyser, and the reader.
However, as will be demonstrated later in this essay, the readership is complicated by various positions that can be taken up depending upon previous knowledge and/or cultural situation. 1. First there is the Producer of the myths, the ‘writer’ of the text. The Producer creates a certain concept that he fills with chosen signifiers which in turn are repeatedly communicated to his target audience. This careful practice could be seen as a manipulator of the system of signs. 2. Second is the Analyser of myths.
The analyser or mythologist understands and examines the distortions created and is able to decode the messages being created by the Producer. In “From Work to Text”, Barthes makes a distinction between the ‘work’ and the ‘text’. The work is the material, tangible expression of the producer. The text, on the other hand, is a field of methodology, the network of meanings created by the analyzer in the activity of creating meaning. As Barthes comments: “the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language” (Barthes, 1971: 157). The Analyser engages with the text as a signifying system. . The last is the Innocent Reader or consumer of the myth. This reader takes what is given and consumes it as a ‘natural’ concept, without question. If this process is successful – if the writer/producer is skilful – this reader becomes the target audience. Through myths as signifying systems, we are directed by the writer/ producer to accept this constructed reality as ‘natural’, beyond question. These producers want to elide analytical debate, so that we take what we are being shown at face value. This then leads to the question of power and what Barthes calls the bourgeoisie ideologies.
Applying Barthes’ theory to images of Northern Thailand In “The Blue Guide” Barthes discusses how culture and human life are over looked in favour of monuments and picturesque tunnels. People are reduced to decor or to a stereotype and that the real lived Spain is masked: “The ethnic reality of Spain is thus reduced to a vast classical ballet, a nice neat commedia dell’arte, whose improbable typology serves to mask the real spectacle of conditions, classes and professions” (Bathes 1972: 75). He goes on to discuss how without the understanding of the history or culture, the monuments are worthless to the traveller.
By reading books such as “The Blue Guide”, the traveller is blinded from reality bringing the experience down to a superficial level by unifying the country. Fifty years later, Barthes theory of unifying to a superficial level can still be applied to images that promote / advertise a country such as Thailand, specifically by its major promotional campaign, ‘Amazing Thailand’ and ‘Unseen Thailand’. Textual Analysis Thailand since the early sixties has been a traveller’s paradise; images of exotic people, food and landscape have been prominent in the promotion of tourism which the ‘Land of Smiles’ relies upon so heavily.
The country can be split into two areas which cater to different tourist groups 1. The Sun Seekers – a beach paradise, crystal blue waters and powder white sands all topped off with a coconut cocktail makes for a great relaxing get-away, and 2. The Adventure Tourist – the distant North of Thailand where untamed landscapes and the promise of primitive Hill Tribe villages are yet to be explored. The North of Thailand and the advertising of an authentic ethnic experience through the form of postcards and promotional material is where this study will focus. 9 things not to miss in Thailand: 10… Trek to the tribes “Once the pastime of adventurous outdoorsy types, trekking has become as de rigueur as going to the beach. The mountainous north of Thailand has been a melting pot of different cultures for centuries and a trek is a great way to experience its diversity. A few of the countless mix-and-match trekking options include a visit to a unspoiled hill-tribe village, a home stay on a isolated river or a nature hike to study the history of exotic Himalayan flowers that thrive on remote Thai mountaintops”. Sawasdee, 2004: 19) Thailand’s north is home to a great variety of ethnic communities who are either Lowlanders (people that live at the base of the mountain) or Highlanders (communities that live at altitude). Dr Prasit Leepreecha from the Social Research Institute at Chiang Mai University states that tourists (domestic and foreign) have been attracted to the Highlanders distinctive way of life and cultural exoticism for many years, starting in the 1930’s when the Royal Family and bourgeoisie of central Thailand would travel there for recreational purposes.
Over the years this type of ethnic tourism has become more popular with the domestic crowd due to films such as “Fai Si Khram” (Under the Blue Sky) and “Khon Phukhao” (Mountain People). However it is the images that are produced in the form of postcards and sent home which have had the greatest effect on foreign travellers (Leepreecha, 2005: 2 -3). It has been noted how photography has had a large impact on travel and tourism in South-East Asia.
The images, particularly postcards, influence the way outsiders perceive the people and the culture of the region, and therefore shape the expectations of that area (Hitchcock, King and Pawnwell, 1993:13). By using Barthes’ theory of the Producer, Analyser and Innocent Reader as explained in “Myth Today” and drawing from a number of other articles including “The Blue Guide”, “A Photographic Message” and “Rhetoric of the Image” this report will apply his theoretical arguments to images of Northern Thailand, in particular postcards and promotional trekking material, and delineate how the messages are precisely directed to their chosen market.
Analysis: Postcard One In Image / Music / Text Barthes states a ‘photographic copy is taken as the pure and simple denotation of reality’ (Barthes, 1977: 28) which the first postcard initially appears to be. Here we can see in the foreground two ethnic women in traditional dress, standing on a road each holding an infant. The two women are both wearing metal headdresses that are very decorative whilst the infants are wearing red fabric headdresses equally as decorative. In the background and slightly out of focus the landscape is farmed and mountainous.
To understand the process of connotation, Barthes suggests that the structure of the image can be broken down into different terms. He goes on to comment on how the connotation of these terms — ‘pose and objects’ of the image — are ‘modifications of the reality of the denoted message’ and which need to be set apart from the ‘photogenia and aestheticism’ of the image (Barthes, 1977: 21). By taking each of the above mentioned terms and applying them to postcard one, the mythologist can see what messages are being created for the target audience.
Firstly the pose: “It is the very pose of the subjects which prepares the reading of the signifieds of connotation: youthfulness, spirituality, purity” (Barthes, 1977: 22). Two mothers / care givers holding their young innocent / pure children, one child seems shy and hides behind his mother, as he peers from behind he looks curious as to what is happening in front of him. As these women are positioned at the beginning of a gravel road, which leads off into the distant mountains (a road less travelled perhaps? ) they could be seen as the gate keepers of an untamed, and yet to be explored world.
The landscape behind them looks lush and vibrant; the grass around them is vivid green. As we look deeper into the picture the colours change to beautifully terraced fields of bright red which suggests that there is in fact some sort of civilisation here, rich in resources. Moving from the fields the landscape changes again to a steep mountainous terrain of thick woodland or perhaps more exotically, jungle. Next there are the objects themselves, Bathes talks about how the connotation “emerges from all signifying units which are nevertheless ‘captured’ as hough the scene were immediate and spontaneous” (Barthes, 1977: 23). The movement of this picture supports this theory: there are no cars on the road, the women look like they are / were walking towards the photographer when they were asked to stop for the shot. Their facial expressions and lack of smiles suggests they might not be used to having their photo taken, the unsure look on the nearest child’s face and the curiosity of the second encourages the connotation of a ‘natural’ unplanned photograph.
The ethnic clothes the women wear are not rich in colour but are in textile, they look exotic and heavy to the touch suggesting that the weather in the mountains may get cold at times yet the thick cotton and silk keeps them warm. Small details such as the shell belt one woman wears suggest that she uses the resources from the land (Mother Nature) to decorate her traditional authentic costume. The exoticism continues to their decorative silver headdresses worn by both women and the delicately stitched hat’s the children are wearing are all signs that theirs is a rich culture of customs and traditions.
All these objects of clothing encourage one to assume that they wear this dress on a daily basis. The placement of all these objects within the frame could be quite easily interpreted as a spur-of-the-moment photograph, completely un-staged. In regards to the photogenia Barthes defines this, ‘the informational structure’ of the photograph, as one of ‘embellishment,’ meaning that the techniques used such as lighting, exposure and printing all have an effect on the connotation of the image.
First of all the colours of the landscape are very fresh and dramatic, again supporting the rich and fertile land. Then, too, as this is a postcard it has a glossy finish which again signifies the abundance of culture and landscape. Postcards don’t generally have much writing on them, however in this case in the top left corner is the words ‘Northern Thailand, Akha Hill Tribe’ in red and yellow (the denotation). “… the text most often simply amplifying a set of connotations already given in the photograph” (Barthes, 1977: 27).
The word ‘northern’ suggests a distant far off place and from a western point of view the word ‘Thailand’ connotes images of exotic people and land, this is all tied up with the colour of the words – red, suggesting danger and excitement. The small wording below is Akha Hill Tribe – this connotes remoteness, isolation from civilisation and inaccessibility to the fair weather traveller, in short, adventure. While this postcard/photograph certainly gives the impression of being ‘natural’ and spontaneous, it is most probably very contrived.
It is very likely that the two women have been precisely placed in this setting or, at the extreme, that the photograph has been manipulated, creating a single image from parts of disparate images. Furthermore, the colouring most probably has been enhanced to provide the reader with an impression of lushness and abundance. Analysis: Postcard Two In terms of denotation, a young girl lies on a wooden pallet, her head resting on a wooden box, her arms crossed over her lower body.
She is wearing a long green shirt and cream / gold blouse and on her head she has a brightly coloured hat with a large flower. Around her neck are twenty one gold bands and around her left wrist are four silver bracelets. She wears a cream like powder on her checks and she is smiling, her eyes looking up to the ceiling. In the background there is wooden weaved panelled walls, and hanging from in the left hand corner is a patterned piece of material. To the right of the girl and against the wall is a box filled with what looks like a comb and two large sticks.
The pose and object in this postcard are very different to the first in that the focus is more sexual, the signifiers here all connote that she is on display, an exotic spectacle ready to be visually consumed by the reader. Throughout art history women have been objects of desire for the male gaze and the same principles can be applied to postcard two. Her position mirrors that of paintings such as Manets Olympia, John Maler Collier’s Reclining Woman or that of the Vietnamese artist Mai Trung Thu’s painting on silk. All four examples suggest that the reader is in a relation of power to the women who are being looked at.
The women are all looking away from the audience in a demure yet teasing, inviting way. The position of the young Hill Tribe girl in the postcard is submissive; again strengthen the theory that she is available to the reader, and her half smile promises to obey. She is alone, isolated suggesting that this is a private experience, her traditional dress connotes that this experience is authentic. There is a strong informational structure running through this postcard – small pockets of sunlight hit the girl, which gives a golden glow to the image connoting warmth and a welcoming feel.
Similar to postcard one it is finished off with a glossy effect which gives the image a more desirable effect. This postcard is obviously staged; however the placement of the small items around her and her costume connote that this is how she lives, a very simple, content life which is rich in mystery waiting to be explored. Ultimately all these signifiers evoke the western stereotype of Thai women as sexually available. Since the 1960’s the image of beautiful, obedient, exotic girls has lead to the development of a very robust sex tourism industry and the oppression of the Thai women.
Analysis: Trekking Brochure In “Rhetoric of the Image” Barthes elaborates a relationship between text and image. He discusses three techniques that are used in this relationship: 1) the text is “designed to connote the image” meaning that the image does not support the words, the words support the image bringing it to a second-level signifieds, 2) it is the presentation of the text around the image that has an effect on the connotation and finally 3) “the words ‘duplicate’ the image” suggesting that there is an emphasis on the connotations that are already present in the image. Barthes, 1977: 26) Barthes specially makes reference to the importance of ‘anchorage’ in which the text directs and fixes the meaning of the image “a long text may only comprise a single global signified, thanks to connotation; it is this signified that is put in relation with the image”. He continues with the notion that the text helps the reader perceive the image and how it must be read “the caption… helps me to choose the correct level of perception, permits me to focus not simply my gaze but also my understanding”. (Barthes, 1977: 38-39)
In the following example of a section of a brochure, the relationship between the text and image perfectly illustrate Barthes’ theories of ‘anchorage:’ “Formally the image illustrated the text (made it clearer); today, the text loads the image, burdening it with a culture, a moral, an imagination” (Barthes, 1977: 26). In this example, the meaning of the image is imprecise, and any number of signifieds could be draw from this ambiguity. However the accompanying text elaborates and directs the reading of the image into one or two signifieds. “Thailand Top 20
Hill Tribe Trekking in Northern Thailand Nestled in the lush, mountainous terrain of northern Thailand, centuries removed from the frantic urban-mania of Bangkok and the country’s crowded coastlines, the Hill Tribes of Thailand offer a glimpse into the country’s true cultural origins. The best way to penetrate this distinct culture? Your own two feet. Trek into the northern highlands into the region’s dense jungle, crossing streams, rafting down rivers, and dipping into waterfall pools while following your local guide down elusive jungle trails.
End each day in a different tribal village, dining on bamboo, banana, peapods, green pumpkin, and rice whiskey. Then relax on the porch of a teak house elevated six feet off the ground. Wake to a rooster’s call and watch dawn push the mist off of the forest leaves before strapping on your pack and hitting the trail, ready to do it all over again”. The use of language in the above extract anchor’s the photograph to the text of a group of Hill Tribe women as they walk through a field of dense foliage. The words used, such as ‘nestled in the lush, mountainous terrain… enturies removed from the frantic urban-mania’ all connote to the reader that this will be an experience that will get them away from the usual hustle and bustle of the tourist trail. This area which is ’centuries removed’ suggests that the land and people the reader will come in contact with will be primitive and that they are yet to be explored. It goes on further by stating the reader will have ‘a glimpse into the country’s true cultural origin’ – this also supports the image of people wearing exotic clothes made of traditional textiles.
The extract continues with ‘The best way to penetrate this distinct culture? ’ suggests that the reader is going to experience this new and exciting culture on a much deeper level, one far removed from anything else that might be offered elsewhere. The fact that there is no transport or infrastructure shown in the photograph just a path that the women are making their way through again is anchored by the text ‘trek into the northern highlands into the region’s dense jungle’. Communities of Interpretation: The Readers To select only monuments suppresses at one stroke the reality of the land and that of its people” (Barthes, 1972: 76). How much does previous knowledge affect the reading? Barthes’ argument with “The Blue Guide” is that it does not take into account the complex diversity of culture and everything that makes up that culture. The true reality of the Northern Hill Tribes using postcards and their images blinds the traveller, bringing the experience to a superficial level. Knowledge, history and cultural sensitivity are indeed needed to ‘decipher the myth and understand the distortions there in’.
Support for this argument comes from Stuart Hall in Encoding / Decoding where he states that the way a message is received is usually “framed by structures of understanding” Problems only occur between motivated meaning and interpreted meaning when the codes of encoding and decoding are not symmetrical, meaning the communicative exchange depends on the level of ‘relation of equivalence’. (Hall, 1973: 510) To investigate this further, a focus group was conducted consisting of four people: two Westerners (American and Austrian) and two Thai nationals, all who have lived in Thailand for a few years.
The postcards were given with no previous explanation of Barthes’ theory, only that they were to look at the images and state what messages they got from them – the connotations that were being constructed. I understand to do a more scientific investigation a formal questionnaire and more subjects were needed, however the outcome of this group was still fascinating. The results were very interesting, when discussing postcard one, most of the members of the group picked out the importance of the care giver (the mothers) and the relation to the natural land that surrounds them.
All members pointed out the traditional dress and how in their opinion it was fake, only being worn for commercial value. They continued to discuss how their cultural knowledge of how these ethnic groups are treated in Thailand had an effect on how they looked at the image and that they struggled to be objective. The lack of smiles connoted to these readers, not that the women were unaccustomed to being photographed, but that in fact the Hill Tribe women were very uncomfortable with the commercial demand for them to pose in a particular way.
The group also made comment on the lettering on the postcard – they noted that the larger lettering ‘Northern Thailand’ was in red and suggested that this could in fact be a reference to the fact that politically the North of Thailand is predominantly Red Shirts (people support the ex Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) whereas the smaller lettering below is in yellow again this could be making reference to the other political party the Yellow Shirts (people who usually come from Bangkok and are seen as the Bangkok elite, they also follow the king and the current government).
However, a tourist, on the other hand, would be unlikely to have such a specific level of knowledge about the Thai political situation. For the focus group readers, the second postcard was more of an emotional analysis, each member having previous knowledge of the plight that the Hill Tribe women go through to extend their necks and, thus, being given the name ‘long-necks’. The members first discussed how this postcard shows the spectacle of voyeurism; one member raised the idea of the male gaze and her sexual invitation to the foreign man.
They discussed her traditional dress with one of the Thais noting that the material in the corner was in fact Karen (a different tribe) and not Padong (long-neck). This remark initiated a conversation about how the tourist would not know the difference between the two tribes, supporting Barthes’ theory of unification of a number of signifiers under a common signified. The connotations that were being provided to them suggested that the reclining woman in postcard two lived a simple, yet rich life due to the material of the costume.
Yet the group struggled with the knowledge that these women are kept in the villages (in many cases cannot leave because they have no Thai identification) as if they were a commercial commodity purely to satisfy the visiting tourists. With the tourist in mind, the postcards were then sent to someone with no experience of Thailand or Hill Tribes. The connotations were short and to the point: postcard one connoted motherhood, tradition, femininity, family, tribe, belonging.
The second was said to be more difficult for the reader with connotations of youth, femininity, tradition, sexuality (the jewellery and rings around her throat), beauty, dignity and innocence. This supports Barthes theory of “the relationship of signified to signifiers is not one of ‘transformation’ but of ‘recording’, and the absence of a code clearly reinforces the myth of a photographs naturalness” (Barthes, 1977: 44). It seems that with a little knowledge or cultural sensitivity, people move from being the Innocent Reader to the Analyser bringing a better understanding of the distortions of the myth.
However, the ‘pure’ tourist who has no knowledge will accept the created myths. The Writer But who are creating these myths? Who are the Producers? When talking about Northern Thailand, Professor Vithi from Chiang Mai University, Art Department states “We had always been told there was just one kind of Thai… The government did not want people to know about their ethnicity, they wanted a unified, centralised, Thailand; it’s the policy of the government to teach one country, one flag”. Vithi goes on to say that here has been a very successful marketing campaign promoting Northern Thailand; however the cultures have been mixed up, even a bastardisation of cultures to satisfy the ignorant tourist. And this is exactly what can be observed in postcard two: textiles from various Hill Tribes are placed together within the frame without regard to accuracy. For the producers/writers, the purpose is not to exhibit authenticity, but to create a single connotation – exoticism. In the past, businesses played a large part in presenting ethnic images to the public.
The owners of the Night Bazaar (the famous night market in Chiang Mai) brought Hill Tribe people down from the mountains to sell their ethnic products to ever keen tourists (Prasit, 2005: 4). Vithi supports this notion that it is cultural exoticism and a demand for authentic souvenirs and images that are the big attraction for the tourist. The native has turned into an actor; some might say a caricature of themselves. There are ever increasing promotional material created by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT).
The ‘Amazing Thailand / Unseen Thailand campaign has been very popular for example a large poster of an Akha woman wearing traditional dress was used at the international airport in the arrivals lounge in Bangkok and many other cities around Thailand. This image and woman represented all ethnic tribes no matter what their dialect or traditions. In reference to “The Blue Guide,” Barthes comments that whoever edits the piece will determine how that country is represented. This statement certainly supports the above and can be applied to the images created by the TAT be it posters or postcards.
As with Barthes’ three positions; Producer, Analyser and Innocent Reader, Stuart Hall goes on further to discuss three reader positions. Taking examples from televisual discourse, the same theory can be applied to that of printed material such as postcards. Hall first identifies the “dominant-hegemonic position” this is where the reader is working within the dominate code and takes what is transmitted / shown as ‘natural’, the reader then fits into the dominate hierarchical social order. This position can be applied to that of the ‘pure tourist and their interpretation of the postcards.
Position two is the “negotiated code or position” here the reader understands “what has been dominantly defined and professionally signified” and so “operate through what we might call particular or situated logics” decoding from a national and / local level. The last position is that of the “oppositional code”, Hall concludes that this reader understands both the “literal and the connotative inflection given by the discourse but to decode the message in a globally contrary way” – this could be applied to the focus group and their interpretation of the three images. (Hall, 1973: 516-517).
Contemporary Myth as Distortion “However paradoxical it may seem, myth hides nothing: its function is to distort, not make disappear” (Barthes, 1972: 121) One of Barthes’ major points is that myths do not hide the truth, but the concept distorts it – ‘created / distorted’ text vs. the ‘real’ situation. What we see in the postcards is created / distorted but without the full meaning the reader is deprived of its history. In regards to the images of the Hill Tribes the ‘real’ situation is that due to modernity the lives of these ethnic groups are becoming less authentic.
Professor Prasit Leepreecha blames this change in lifestyle on ethnic tourism and state policy stating that the government has invested millions of baht into infrastructure so that access to the Highlanders is more convenient for the tourist. If these Highlanders where not of any interest to the tourists, the roads would never have been paved. Leepreecha notes how the Thai government has forced assimilation in a number of ways; the first being that of education. The school curriculum forbids students to speak any ethnic languages, local or indigenous knowledge is not recognised and only central Thai is used.
He goes on to comment that religious conversion has also had a major affect on the different tribes. Buddhism has been imposed on them especially through the Dhammacarik Buddhism Project where it is believed that ethnic tribes and their spiritual beliefs are considered primitive. Finally the state’s registration process has been instrumental in changing ethnic identities into Thai. Having an ethnic first and last name is seen as uncivilised in Thai society, so through the registration process, a Thai name is given and must be used for all official usage (Leepreecha, 2005: 7-8).
The created images of Northern Thailand and the ‘real’ situation of how the Hill Tribes are treated supports Barthes’ theory that the myth here is not hiding anything, however, there is a distortion in the reality of it The Blue Guide vs. modern day travel guides Over the last fifty years travel books have certainly evolved. Read any Lonely Planet Guide or Rough Guide and they make a conscious effort to include the history and customs of the country and the people they are discussing; however, has The Blue Guide changed in any way?
The Blue Guide credits itself on its in-depth coverage of the country it is exploring, stating “the most comprehensive guide to Thailand. Indispensible to travellers wishing to discover the country’s rich history and culture”. However, it seems to unify this culture, still placing emphasis on the monuments of Bangkok and Northern Thailand, the art and architecture of ruins and the astonishing forests and mountains. If Barthes was to make comment on this guide now would he still have the same opinion? The answer might possibly be yes.
Barthes’ Importance to Contemporary Cultural Studies Mythologies is a collection that was written in post-war France between 1954 and 1956 for the left-wing magazine Les Lettres Nouvelles. His humorous, journalistic approach continued to question the capitalist elite by making comment on everyday myths that we, as readers, take as given. There are many definitions of the term ‘Cultural Studies’ however Robert Stam defines it as “Cultural Studies calls attention to the social and institutional conditions under which meaning is produced and received” Stam, 2000: 225). Barthes’ work is particularly valuable to Cultural Studies, as the study of Semiotics we the analyser / the Mythologist are able to decode signs and values which in turn leads to a better, clearer understanding (Allen 2003: XII). By understanding that we the readers of a text are being given signifiers, means that we can move from the ‘innocent reader’ to ‘the analyser’ enabling better judgement on what we experience. Barthes was seen by many as a pioneer in applying semiotics to determine how cultural texts produce meanings.
Barthes also influenced post-structuralism by his insistence on a de-centred concept of the author, analysis of images, and contemporary narrative theory. Tony McNeil states that Barthes’ importance to cultural studies is due to his method of analysis and how he applied it to ‘mass culture’, he continues to point out that Barthes was one of the first theorists to take ‘mass culture’ seriously (McNeil, 1999: lesson 2) After fifty years, Roland Barthes’ semiotic approach to signifying systems is still incredibly valuable particularly in the field of Cultural Studies.
This report has shown that Barthes’ ideas and concepts from Mythologies and other works can be applied quite easily to a contemporary cultural text such as in the case of tourist-oriented images of Northern Thailand. However it is apparent that extra work needs to be done to fully analysis these contemporary myths which resulted in further reading of Barthes and various other sources. Although Barthes was writing from a purely French position, this seems to have no effect on the outcome of using his theory and applying it to an Asian culture.
The concept of semiotics and the system of signs as a language is universal and can be supported by the results found in focus group. It is the level of cultural background, history, and experience which affects one’s level of reading of the signified. Upon learning these codes one is then able to move from the Innocent Reader to the Analyser, leading to a better understanding of how signifying systems direct one’s understanding of culture and society, both locally and globally. REFERENCES
Allen, G (2003) Roland Barthes, London: Routledge Barthes, R (1972) Mythologies, Hill and Wang: New York Barthes, R (1977) Image Music Text, Hill and Wang: New York Farrell, J (2009) The Lanna Deception < http://www. chiangmainews. com/ecmn/viewfa. php? id=2727> Hall, S (1992) Culture, media, language: working papers in cultural studies, 1972-79, London: Routledge, Hitchcock, M, King V, and Parnwell M (1993) “Tourism in South-East Asia: Introduction,” Tourism in South-East Asia, London and New York: Routledge
John Maler Collier (1850 – 1934) Reclining Woman Kounavudhi, V (1979) The Mountain People, Thailand Lechte, J (1995) Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers, London and New York: Routledge Leepreecha, P (2005) The Politics of Ethnic Tourism in Northern Thailand, Social Research Institute, Chiang Mai University: Chiang Mai Mai Trung Thu (1906 – 1980) Painting on Silk McNeil, T (1999) Politics of Mythologies – lecture 2, University of Sunderland:
Pattison, G (1997) Blue Guide: Thailand, Blue Guide Rutnin, J Postcard 2: Resting, Mae Hong Son – A young Padong rests in her home. Tejavanija, S, Postcard 1: Northern Thailand Akha Hill Tribe Thai Airway’s in-flight magazine Sawasdee (2004) 99 things not to miss in Thailand: 10… Trek to the tribes, Dubai Media City: Dubai Thailand Top 20 Hill Tribe Trekking in Northern Thailand (2011) Williams, C, Anderson, A, (2007) Lonely Planet to Thailand, Lonely Planet: London