What can Barthes’s concept of myth tell us about elections in contemporary Western culture? What aspects of myth factor into how we talk about politics and how elections are run? What might myth allow for? What could it prevent?

Barthes talks about wrestling as a mythic contest between good and evil. He might well have described elections in the same terms, creating a theatrical display of competition and democracy to prevent civil unrest.

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One of Roland Barthes's essays in Mythologies concerns the spectacle of professional wrestling. Wrestling, according to Barthes, is not the sporting contest it appears to be, but a mythological struggle between good and evil, a theatrical performance in which actors pretend to fight.

It is easy to see how...

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One of Roland Barthes's essays in Mythologies concerns the spectacle of professional wrestling. Wrestling, according to Barthes, is not the sporting contest it appears to be, but a mythological struggle between good and evil, a theatrical performance in which actors pretend to fight.

It is easy to see how Barthes might apply these ideas about myth-making theatricality to the way in which elections are run. Sometimes, the candidates are even forced to admit to the theater, as when the former presidential candidate is selected as vice-president, and has to acknowledge that they did not actually mean any of the things they said about the presidential candidate when opposing them for the nomination.

The great myth about every election is its paramount importance. By the time the voter has reached middle age, they have witnessed a number of instances of "the most important election of our lifetime." The power of the office-holder and the differences between the candidates are routinely exaggerated. These are the myths that allow all the participants to take democracy seriously, and see it as a route to change. At the same time, the myths surrounding elections prevent citizens from seeking more serious systemic change through protest, withholding labor, or even revolution. The myth of democracy in action provides a safety-valve for cynicism and civil unrest.

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