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Richard Clay - 21st Century Mythologies

Richard Clay - 21st Century Mythologies

A television documentary exploring modern mythologies written and presented by art historian Richard Clay

Richard Clay applies the myth-busting ideas of philosopher Roland Barthes to 21st-century culture.

This research project tests Clay’s ideas through the film-making process, including interviews with artists, museologists, critics, humanities and science academics - examining, analyzing, and discussing why Roland Barthes’ notion of myths remains pertinent today.

Conceived, written and presented by Clay, 21st Century Mythologies was first broadcast on BBC4 in November 2021 and is available on iPlayer until November 2021.

In the film, Clay applies the notion of ‘myths’ that was outlined in Roland Barthes’ 1957 book Mythologies to a range of phenomena, including money, street signs, WiFi, copyright, the Madonna, guns in films, and race.

Clay shows how such phenomena operate as myths that manage to go almost unquestioned in quotidian life and yet have contested histories riven with complex power relations.

Explaining and applying semiotic theory rooted in Barthes’s later writings and those of Mieke Bal, Clay deconstructs each phenomenon and, drawing on his interviewees’ insights, argues that we all need to be willing and able to challenge myths. 21st Century Mythologies shows the BBC’s commitment to commissioning theoretically engaged arts documentaries aimed at wide audiences in the tradition of Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

Film still from Richard Clay - 21st Century Mythologies.
Richard Clay - Mythologies