Academic journal article Applied Semiotics/Semiotique appliqué

A Barthesean Reading of Time Magazine's "AIDS in Africa" Cover Story

Academic journal article Applied Semiotics/Semiotique appliqué

A Barthesean Reading of Time Magazine's "AIDS in Africa" Cover Story

Article excerpt

Myth does not deny things, on the contrary, its function is to talk about them; simply, it purifies them, it makes them innocent, it gives them a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact.... In passing from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essences ... (Barthes, 1957/1999, p. 143).

The question that keeps arising is, what interests of whites are being served by these representations? This refers not merely to measurable economic and political interests but also to relations of a subtler nature in cultural, emotional and psychological spheres, and to the various ways in which these relations figure in the phenomenon of subordination (Nederveen Pieterse, 1992, p. 10).

This is a story about AIDS in Africa. Look at the pictures. Read the words. And then try not to care (Time, February 12, 2001, cover page).

In this essay, I attempt to analyze and read as a totality Time's February 12, 2001 cover story on AIDS in Africa, using Roland Barthes' (1957/1999) "Myth Today." (1) This spread includes the cover, a table of contents page, three pre-article pages (one on the author/photojournalist facing another of a Dean Witter ad and one on assistance opportunities), a ten-page photo essay, a nine-page article with text boxes/photos/map of Africa, two advertisements embedded within the article (a one-page Palm ad and an eight-page ad for Audi's new allroad Quattro, the latter of which I do not discuss), and a closing one-page article on paying for AIDS cocktails. So much to examine has the potential to detract from a written detailed description and observation. Nonetheless, I believe that at the conclusion of this essay, one will have a clear understanding of the operating semiological systems of myth that function in this "text." I will walk through each step of Barthes' (1957/1999) diagram of the two semiological systems of myth (p. 115) as it applies to this text, supporting my claims with reference to photos, standout text (see Appendix 1), and one ad in particular (Palm). One could, of course, analyze any one of these images or objects and potentially supply alternative readings and interworking myths. I, however, believe that treating the spread as a whole is a much more profitable exercise, especially given my sense that this cover story may be consumed by many, if not the majority of, people in settings that provide a perusal of the magazine, such as doctors' offices, waiting rooms, bookstores, newsstands, etc. Thus, I concentrate on the most obvious and standout elements of the text. I do believe, as well, that my analysis is applicable to those individuals who conduct a more thorough reading of the cover story. The Barthesian analysis I make is, at root, a nuanced critique of whiteness and white discourse. (2) In this case, I am critiquing, in part, Time's seeming constructions and conflations of the West/whites/United States and of blacks/Africa(ns). Ultimately, I argue that the myth functioning here is one that suggests black/African inferiority, their helplessness, and their dependence on superior, capable, and caring whites/West/United States. What this myth distorts is that the West/whites/United States have intentionally neglected and disadvantaged blacks/Africa(ns), have stolen their/its resources and wealth, really do not care, and consequently, will not and thus, cannot help. Indeed, as the cover tells us, "This is a story about AIDS in Africa" (emphasis mine).

The pictures we see in this cover story of Time are, with few exceptions, those of black ailing bodies. The words, written by a white author (pictured on page 6), suggest how we should read these bodies and their situations (see Sturken & Cartwright, 2000). The cover page picture is a close-up of a somber-looking black "mother" and child, accompanied by the four sentences quoted before this essay. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.