Roland Barthes, Inside Out, and My Lovable Captain Stack

Well, it seems I had a bit of a longer break than expected. I hadn’t been feeling well for a while, but I had thought since I was home, I may as well use that time to read, write, and binge-watch season 7 of Castle like a pro. That was the plan anyway, until my internet packed up and left me stranded. Sky, of course, was being whatever less than helpful is, and I found myself reading the entirety of David Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series, as well as a few odd books here and there. I’m still not entirely sure how that was possible in that short space of time considering all the friends I was coerced into seeing.

I picked up Mythologies by Roland Barthes yesterday, because it was the closest book to reach for without having to stand after I put down King and Maxwell.


I had brought the book back with me from university, and it was nice to read something I had genuinely enjoyed. In Mythologies, Barthes goes through several examples of how modern “myths” are used in language to signify certain ideas attached to those particular myths. In my favourite example, “The Brain of Einstein”, Barthes basically says that Einstein and his brain have become a cultural signifier for intelligence and genius. So one of his pictures, at face value, shows a man writing complex equations on a board, but at the second order of signification, the “myth” (bear with me), what he represents is his whole life’s work, an extraordinary life reduced to one equation so that we are able to communicate “brainy” without really saying it. This is a very watered down explanation of that chapter and the book, but it is an interesting concept.

Well it got me thinking (tiny spoiler ahead). I saw Inside Out last week, or at least what my mind remembers as last week, and I loved it! The first time I had heard of the film was by the posters I had seen around town, long before I saw the trailer.
inside_out_2015_movie-wideLooking at one of them again, you can tell what kind of film you’re about to get yourself into watching just from the poster. It’s colourful, with very distinctive looking characters, who are always wearing expressions that hint at the odd mixture of their personalities and the chaotic hilarity that will ensue once you watch the film. In my mind I thought, “sold”.

I love that Sadness, in her hunching cuteness and obvious depressed blue, is a stark contrast to Joy, who is almost always seen in a wide stance with her hands in the air, a huge smile on her face, and the only one not in a strange colour.Joy-and-Sadness-Inside-Out-2015-WallpaperBoth of them play to what we often think culturally – joy is good, good is normal, and everything else should probably be gently ignored or suppressed. Having said that, one of the easiest and most in-depth ways Joy can really describe herself is by her difference to Sadness: she can’t really be fully understood without Sadness, and vice versa. Even semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure said that relations between signs tend to be oppositional in nature (as in, I am happy because I am not sad…or something like that).

So, truly understanding the meaning and value of happiness requires sadness, and in the film, it was difficult for Joy to understand this at first when she kept wondering what use Sadness had in HQ. That is, until she was exposed to the wider microcosm of Riley’s mind, and so demonstrated that different environments can always have an impact on our thinking. Joy is what Sadness isn’t, and that binary alone makes them both two sides of the very same coin. Well, the signs were all there anyway: Joy has the same kind of blue hair as Sadness and glows a brilliant blue despite her constant state of Joy.


I think the film did a brilliant job of saying “it’s ok to be sad” without actually once saying it, because that’s what cultural signs and myths are for; they’re what goes without saying because they came without saying. Mind you, I wasn’t thinking all this whilst watching the film. By the end, I was still hoping Bing Bong would suddenly appear out of nowhere again.

Language evolves so quickly that we develop our own myths in our little social circles. It’s like this morning when my fiancée told me he would get the shopping on his way back from work, and I replied “yes, sir, Captain Stack”. My future hubby has a habit of buying bulk, and I often have to remind him to take it easy. We’re both gamers and stacking is a term often used for the ability to use or combine attributes or items together (especially if they have similar effects) without having to lose any of them. So the context makes itself abundantly clear to Captain Stack, and when I call him that, he either reassures me that he won’t go over the top, or tells me to shove it. It was just interesting to think that within our own little social context, I was able to say so much without having to say very much at all. Either way, it went without saying, “Don’t buy too much, please”.


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