Forty years ago Roland Barthes defined a mythology as those “falsely obvious” ideas which an age so takes for granted that it is unaware of its own belief. An illustration of what he meant can be seen in his 1957 critique of the photographic exhibition, The Family of Man . Barthes declares that the myth it promotes stresses exoticism, complacently projecting a Babel of human diversity over the globe. From this image of diversity a pluralistic humanism “is magically produced: man is born, works, laughs and dies everywhere in the same way....” The implicit mythological background of the show postulates “a human essence.” Barthes exhorts us instead to probe beneath the facile implications of a universal human nature implied by the exhibition’s sentimental juxtapositions. We must try “constantly to scour nature, its ‘laws’ and its ‘limits’ in order to discover History there, and at last to establish Nature itself as historical” (1972:100-102).
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