Roland Barthes writes about the importance of myth for every society in establishing different levels of meaning. Popular culture routinely relies on cultural myths as a short–cut to reaching audiences quickly. In the movies, for example, we instantly recognize the underdog fighting the organizational giant, the poor kid who will rise to the top, and the corrupt lawman that will be defeated by morality.
A few years, back while travelling up British Columbia’s sunshine coast, I asked my self how Roland Barthes would decode the role of Relic (Robert Clothier) on CBC's long running series, the Beachcombers?
|Pan searing pacific halibut while camping in beautiful British Columbia and contemplating a Barthesian analysis of "The Beachcombers".|
Throughout the series Relic is treated as a scoundrel (signified) his actions and also his attire are the signifier to his role as villain. Relic cruises up and down the coast gathering logs in a small but speedy craft designed to race the erstwhile hero character, Nick Adonidas, in his prodding vessel the Persephone. So while Adonidas putted along in his tug, named after the Greek goddess of vegetation, Relic raced ahead and combed the beaches for logs in his nameless craft. All of these add up to the sign that Nick is the hero and Relic is the Villain. Nick is steady and stable like his boat and his friendship with his first nations sidekick Jesse, while Relic is crafty, raving, scrawny, speedy and solitary. The nameless craft represents Relic's personality, swift and anonymous. Like his name he does not really belong here but to another time or place or world or culture.
Each week we are introduced to a greater villain that comes either on the run from the law, represented by John Constable the village’s RCMP officer caught between Dudley Dooright and Benton Fraser, or smuggling drugs along the B.C. coastline.
The signifiers of Relic's character are often betrayed in the TV show however when these new villains are right about to make off with the loot. In the nick of time Relic shows up and teams up with Adonidas to defeat the weekly carousel of criminals often for some financial benefit. Perhaps Barthes would show that this is a new sign. Relic who has been signified as the classic villain, having all the villainous traits betrays his own nature showing Canadians that even the most contemptible among us have the capacity in us to do good or maybe the myth becomes that good is inerrant to Canadians.