Myths, mythologies and the “myth”

Image: Wendy Wei Follow


Political myths are one of the keys to understanding politics as an instance of social life

When we talk about myth, the oldest definition of the term comes from the Greek language μῦθος (mûtos, for myth), more precisely conceived by the epic poet Homer, the fast author of the books Iliad e Odyssey, and it means word, speech, or story, or even fable, without any connotation of falsehood.

Throughout history, the word "myth” increasingly implied “stories hard to believe”, so that by the time of the iconic Plato (early XNUMXth century BC), the word “myth” had most of the connotations that our word “myth” has.

That is, lie, suspicion, falsehood. In short, basically, a myth is a story. However, a myth is a particular type of story. It can be defined as a “traditional tale”, with two characteristics that distinguish it from a legend or a fairy tale. First, a myth is adaptable to many literary genres. Second, although flexible, the adaptability of a myth is limited by the fact that a myth must be culturally relevant.

Myth, society and culture

In general, myths have been and continue to be crucial for the social, political, cultural and historical formation of all communities that inhabit or have inhabited this globe that we call planet Earth. If it weren't for myths, knowledge, stories, perspectives and worldviews would not have emerged.

Each culture has its own linguistic, political, religious, historical and geographical compositions that are based on some kind of myth. The ancient Greeks, for example, were notable for their rich tradition of complex myths. An example of this legacy is the metaphor of “The Myth of the Cave”, written by Plato, which explores the concept of clinging only to what is known as the alienation of the human being.

Corroborating the issue, nowadays, an article entitled “Myths as representations and transmission of knowledge”, written by Alan Carvalho, discussed the role of myths in the representation and transmission of knowledge. He mentions the Yoruba myths, which are the ideological and ethical basis of Candomblé, consisting of a collection of about one hundred tales, stories and passages from the life of the Orixás that contain vast knowledge about the essence of religion. The passages, which cover all the Orixás, offer teachings about their rulerships, personalities, weaknesses and domains, and these teachings are reproduced daily inside the terreiros and sheds.

Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes in his work mythologies (1957) addresses the everyday myths of French society, but which can be observed universally. Roland Barthes argues that the function of myth in the media is to naturalize and eternalize bourgeois society, enveloping a historical contingency in eternity and immobilizing the world. This idea is exposed in his book, which is a collection of small articles published in French newspapers and magazines, including the Paris Match. The narratives of these articles address the everyday myths of French society in the historical-cultural and political-social context.

In this sense, for Roland Barthes, myth is a depoliticized form of speech, produced by connotation and a distraction from reality that becomes ideology. Myth does not deny things, it just makes them innocent, attributing to them a natural and eternal significance through their imperative character. It is not defined by the object of its message, but by its form and can be represented by a fact, advertisement, report, among others.

Journalist Alexander Goulart, from Observatório da Imprensa, emphasizes emphatically that Roland Barthes carried out an in-depth study of the media, exploring its relationship with the social and cultural context. He conceived an active semiology that investigates the signs present in everyday life, encompassing both language and speech. Roland Barthes understood that the sign is relative and historical, and cannot be considered an absolute truth.

By breaking with the view of Ferdinand de Saussure, for whom the sign was absolute, Roland Barthes adopted a dialectical structuralist approach, in which the sign is understood in relation to the socio-historical context. In this way, the author is also concerned with the translinguistic, that is, the aspects that go beyond the language itself.

the political myths

When approaching the theme of myth from a cultural perspective, historian Regina Célia Daefiol highlights that political myths are one of the keys to understanding politics as an instance of social life, in addition to being a fundamental aspect of a society's culture. Regina Célia Daefiol points out that, in order to understand the political complexities of a society, it is necessary to understand its myths and how they shape the ideas and values ​​that sustain political institutions.

In this sense, Regina Célia Daefiol emphasizes the interconnection between political culture and power in society. The political culture of a society is formed by a set of practices, beliefs and values ​​that influence the way politics is exercised. At the same time, power is a central element in this process, since it is through power that political decisions are made and institutions are created and maintained.

To illustrate this relationship, Regina Célia Daefiol cites Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist and political philosopher, who in her book history and power states that political culture and power are intrinsically related in society. In other words, the political culture of a society cannot be understood separately from the power that governs it.

Thus, the analysis of political myths becomes fundamental for understanding the political culture and power in a society. Through the analysis of myths, it is possible to understand how certain political groups legitimize their power, how ideas and values ​​are transmitted and how politics is exercised in a given society.

*Vanderlei Tenorio is a journalist and is studying geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).

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