Introduction to Semiotics of Cultures, 2010
Umberto Eco:
Popular literature and culture
Vesa Matteo Piludu
University of Helsinki
1964 Apocalittici e integrati. Milano: Bompiani.
 1964 Apocalittici e integrati. Milano: Bompiani. Revised edition,
Milano: Bompiani, 1977.
 Translations:
 Apocalipticos e integrados ante la cultura de masas. Barcelona: Lumen,
Apocalipticos e integrados. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1970 (partial)
Apokalyptiker und Integrierte. Frankfurt: Fischer, 1984 (revised).
Kinsores kai therapontes. Athina: Ekdoseis Gnosi, 1987.
De Structuur van de Slechte Smaak. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 1988
Apocalipticos e integrados. Lisboa: Difel, 1991.
 Apocalypse Postponed. Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1994
 (partial tr. with other texts).
 Sunupi ieketo jolhaguin itta. Seoul T`ukpyolsi : Saemulgyol, 1994
 Skeptikove a tesitele. Praga: Nakladatelstvì Svoboda, 1995
1976 Il superuomo di massa
 1976 Il superuomo di massa. Milano: Cooperativa Scrittori. Revised
ed., Milano: Bompiani, 1978.
O uperanthropos ton mazon, Athens: Gnosis, 1988.
O superhomen das massas. Lisboa: Difel, 1990.
O super-homem de massa. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1991.
De Superman au Surhomme. Paris: Grasset, 1993.
Daejungui Superman. Seoul: T`ukpyolsi : Yollin ch`aektul 1994.
El superhombre de masas. Barcelona: Lumen, 1995.
Superman w literaturze masowej. Warszawa: PIW, 1996.
Importance of feuilleton novels
 Popular literature of the XIX century has influenced strongly all
modern forms of popular and narratives (literature, cinema,
comics, TV serials)
 Popular literature and narratives are always influenced by
commercial interest, the reader’s expectative, ideological drives
Aristotle: Poetics, Rhetoric
 Poetics (Greek: Περὶ ποιητικῆς, c. 335 BCE) is the earliest-surviving
work of dramatic theory and the first extant philosophical treatise to
focus on literary theory
 Aristotle wrote mostly about theatre
 The spectator should be able to identify itself with the
characters, even if they are heroes
 Plot: surprises, from happiness to tragedy - from danger to solution
 The tension should touch his hyperboles
 Resolution of the drama: prodigy, divine intervention,
revelation, punishment
 Catharsis: the spectator is deeply touched and his emotion
purify his soul
Ancient theatre is clearly different from modern
popular narrative
 Ancient theatre was a religious experience (Dionysus), extremely
popular (a city festival: Dionysia)
 The plot were mythological
 The heroes were often imperfect and they commit sins of hybris
– act of extreme haughtiness or arrogance, generally against Gods
 The sins are herded (grandfather-father-son)
 The heroes are punished, often with death
 The end is problematic, often unclear
 The tragedy is about the mystery of existence, Fate
 The tragedy includes deep elements of self-reflection
Popular narrativity
 The hero is mostly positive, a super-human with exceptional
capacities and some weak points (identification)
 The opposition Good-Evil is quite clear
 The Evil characters (Villains) are ugly and well characterized
 Some women are victims, saved by the hero
 Other women are femme-fatales (beautiful, lustful, dangerous,
 There is tension, surprising plots, dramas, killings
 There is often a happy end (the hero won the villain, save the
lady or the victim)
 Another possibility is some solution of the tension: the crime
mystery is solved, the lost son is found
Pop narrative: idelogy
 Ideology of consolation
 The society is full of Evil, dangerous.
 But there are always exceptional individuals that could resolve
some acute situations in simple ways (violence, clear solutions)
 There is a flame of hope in the darkness: the catharsis should be
 Heroes are reformers or policemen, not revolutionaries
 The heroes aren’t resolving all the problems of society, the
status-quo remain untouched: they fix only particular situations
 The current morality is defended ideology by the hero, even
using unconventional ways
Dostoyevsky: The Idiot
 This novel is quite the opposite of typical popular literature
 The characters are complex, there aren’t “heroes”
 quite all the character failed in a real, total denounce of society
 There is no happy end or easy solution of mysteries : the question
are opened to self reflection
 More similar to Ancient Tragedy
 Aristotle (Poetics):
 Theory of Anagnorisis or "recognition", "identification“: valid for
tragedy… but also for popular literature
 Is a revelation, relevant in the plot: the hero recognize his lost
daughter, the true identity of someone is revealed
 Popular narrative is obsessed by secrets: secret identities, dark
dungeons, secret services, masked heroes, secret sons, secret
 was originally a supplement attached to the political pages of
French newspapers, consisting chiefly of non-political news and
gossip, literature and art criticism
 In English newspapers, the term "feuilleton" instead came to refer
to an installment of a serial story printed in one part of a
 New readers: middle class, proletarians, women
 In contemporary French, feuilleton means also TV soap opera
Democratic phase of feuilleton-narrative
 Dumas and Sue
 The serial novels were also interested to denounce social
problems, but the ideology is often paternalistic and pathetic …
 The plots are clearly commercial
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
 First serial novel in 1844
 The Musketeers are typical pop heroes: they have an elementary
sense of justice and democracy ("all for one, one for all" ("tous pour
un, un pour tous") but they true love is the freedom and pure
 The Evil is represented by Cardinal Richelieu
 The Cardinal represent the cold State authority, the Reason of state
 The paradox is that he is the real protagonist of the novels, the one
that has the most complex psychology
 Sometimes in popular literature the Villains are at the very centre of
the attention
The Three Musketeers (1993):
D'Artagnan Meets the Cardinal
 The Three Musketeers (1993) Final Battle 1/3
The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas
 Typical vindicator: he search for revenge against his enemies
 Again, we found a personal concept of justice
 The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) Part 1
Les Mystères de Paris
 The Mysteries of Paris (French: Les Mystères de Paris)
 serial novel by Eugène Sue which was published serially in Journal
des débats from June 19, 1842 until October 15, 1843.
Eugene Sue (1804 –1857)
 Originally a dandy: exhibitionist gentlemen, scandal lover
 Later strongly affected by the Socialist ideas of the day, and these
prompted his most famous works:
 Les Mystères de Paris (10 vols., 1842-1843)
 Le Juif errant (tr. "The Wandering Jew") (10 vols., 1844-1845)
 Les Mystères du peuple
 The Mystères de Paris has a Christian-Socialist “reformist” attitude:
injustice can be solved by charity and reforms
 Even so, it was considered “dangerous” by conservatives, especially
after the revolution of 1848
 Sue was exiled in consequence of his protest against the coup d'état
of 2 December 1851
 Les Mystères du peuple was more revolutionary and was
suppressed by the censor in 1857
The Mysteries of Paris
 The Mysteries of Paris entranced thousands of readers for more
than a year … even illiterates who had episodes read to them
 The hero:
 the mysterious and distinguished Rodolphe
 He is really the Grand Duke of Gérolstein but is disguised as a
Parisian worker (mask, secret identity)
 Strong fighter, intelligent, compassionate for poor people
 He understand the problems of all social classes
The good ones in the Mysteries
 Generally are poor, but honest proletarians
 Or even ex-villains or sinners
 Are regularly saved or helped by Rodolphe and even joined
together in a “model farm”
 Pietism and charity are the solution of social problems
Villains in the Mysteries
 Are regularly punished by Rodoplhe
 The Schoolmaster, brutal and dangerous, who hides a terrible
secret, is punished by Rodolphe by blinding
 It’s a “democratic” reform: it was considered better than the death
 Prison reform: separate cells (more useful for self-reflection and
Some typical Villains
 La Chouette (The Owl), an old woman with diabolical schemes
 Polidori, an abbot with a dark past
 Cecily, mulatta: beautiful but dangerous
 Bras-Rouge (Red-Arm), an underworld boss
The revelation of the secret:
 Rodolphe is searching for his lost daughter
 He met and save a prostitute: Fleur-de-Marie
 After various adventures, Sue declared: “Well, at this point the reader
had understood that Fleur-de-Marie is the lost daughter …”
 Extremely weak revelation of the secret, declared without any
tension or pathos
 Fleur-de-Marie ”became” what she should be by birth: a princess
 But she died, stressed by the weight of her previous sins
The death of Fleur-de-Marie
 Fleur-de-Marie died because the morality of the time couldn’t accept
a prostitute-princess
 She was however marked
 The novel is full of notes: reminders of past events or anticipation of
future events
 That’s typical of serial narrative and comics (superheroes)
A ”weak” return home
 Dumas considered the novel's ending quite strange
 Rodolphe goes back to Gérolstein to take on the role to which he
was destined by birth, rather than staying in Paris to help the lower
Riancey Amendment 1850
 Riancey Amendment set out to impose a stamp tax on all
newspapers that published the type of roman-feuilleton, or serial
 It had killed the democratic serial-novel, that was considered
socially dangerous by the new conservative government
After the democratic period the
popular novel become more conservative
 After 1850
 More attention focused on heroes and villains or pure adventure
Typical example:
Rocambole by Pierre-Alexis Ponson
Fast action, 26 identity revelation in 300 pages
No social critics
Gothic novel: the fashion of the Monster
Dracula 1897
 In Gothic Novels (Dracula) there is a clear division Good-Evil and at
the end the Good Hero win
 But the central figure is the Monster itself, that is clearly terrible,
but interesting and fascinating
 As in Stoker’s Dracula
 The female vampires (sensual-deadly) become more and more
DRACULA’s films
 Bram Stoker's DRACULA (Coppola)
 Horror Of Dracula (1958) Trailer
Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
 The Hero is a genial, but also strange and complicated, antisocial
and drug-addicted
 Holmes is the grandfather of the detectives of the noir novels and
 The Arch-Enemy Moriarty is a real second Hero, genial as Holmes
New drive: Evil is the Hero
 Gothic and Dedtctive novels influenced popular literature in which
the real hero is the Bad guy: Lupin and Fantomas
 Here the reader is interested to know how the Villain succeed in
the crime
Arsène Lupin
 The character of Lupin was first introduced in a series of short stories
serialized in the magazine Je Sais Tout, starting in No. 6, dated 15
July 1905.
 Lupin is egocentric, interested in fame and power
 Is a criminal, but not a killer
 He met Sherlock Holmes
 He was originally called Arsène Lopin, until a local politician of
the same name protested, resulting in the name change.
Arsene Lupin (1932) - John Barrymore
 Fantômas
 created by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre
 32 volumes
 as a sociopath who enjoys killing in a sadistic fashion: a real serialkiller
 He is totally ruthless, gives no mercy, and is loyal to none
 He is a master of disguise, always appearing under an assumed
identity, often that of a person whom he has murdered
 Fantômas makes use of bizarre and improbable techniques in his
crimes, such as plague-infested rats, giant snakes, and rooms that fill
with sand.
 Loved by surrealists
A poster for an early Fantômas film. There are
various versions of this poster
Louis de Funès - "Fantômas"
Tarzan, 1912
Edgar Rice Burroughs
22 novels, 56 languages
More than 50 films
 Return of the Positive, but Wild, Hero
Good Savage of Russeau
Kipling’s Mogwgli
Educated by monkeys, but superior: Lord
As Defoes’ Robinson Crusoé, he dominate nature with basic
technology (knife), he learned rapidly to read and write
 He is a Colonizator-Policeman, that put in order the problems
between groups: monkeys, Africans, Asiatic
Tarzan and the women
 In the novels Tarzan is quite disinterested in the Beauty Queens of
the Lost realms … he has, as Batman, a superior mission …
 But he is most interested in fight with musclemen
 This created a suspect of homosexuality, resolved in the Hollywood
 Only in the films and TV-serial he have a normal “family”: Jane and
the little monkey Cheetah
 Tarzan influenced clearly: the Phantom (comic)
 And the film A Man Called Horse
 Johnny Weismuller Tarzan Call
 U Jane Me Tarzan
 Trailer - Disney's "Tarzan" (1999)
A Man called horse (1970) Tribute
Western films: Stagecoach by John Ford 1939
 John Wayne: Hero and Vindicator Ringo
 Internal conflicts in a Western community interrupted by the
Indians attack: tension and danger
 The Community is saved by the U.S. Cavalry at the last minute:
resolution of the crisis
 After that Ringo kills his enemies and flee with the beautiful exsinner Dallas: American happy end
 Stagecoach- part 1
James Bond – Fleming 1952
 Ultra Conservative and quite racist
 Importance of the Villains
 German, Jews, Russians, Slavs, Mediterranean, Afro, Latin
 Ugly, Sadist, Genial
 Le Chiffre
 Mr. Big (Haitian – Vodoo freak): Eaten by a swarm of barracuda and
 Hugo Drax
 Dr. Julius No
 Goldfinger
 Opposistion British-Non British
 Opposition Free World – Communism/Nazism/Spectre
 We know the result of the story: who is the killer/terrorist that will be
punished by an horrible death
James Bond – Fleming 1952
The Bond ladies are essential:
They are the victims of the Villains, as in the fairy tales
Saved by Bond
Sexual/erotic adventure
After that the lady disappear (at the end of the novel or at the star of
the new one) and appear a new lady
 They are often non-British and: Colonialist exotic erotic imaginary
 Bond can make love with the ladies, but not marry them: the pure
British nation is saved
Bond myths
 Documentary: Bond Girls Are Forever pt. 1 of 5
 Best Bond Villains
Superman – 1938
 is an omnipotent Alien
 Basic morality of a boy scout
 He has a Arch-Enemy: Lex Luthor
 He has a weak point: kryptonite
 As Clark Kent he is a common American: first a farmer’s boy, later a
 Kent provokes identification with the readers
 Romance with journalist Lois Lane
 Superman provokes identification with what the reader will like to be
Supeman II
 Superman II ( Trailer ) 1980
 Superman Returns "Do you know the story of Prometheus?"
Batman 1939
 Vigilante, Violent morality
 Batman generally doesn’t kill enemies
 No superpowers but extraordinary athletic skills
The dark aspect derivates from Gothic novels
Male young Pal:, suspect of homosexuality
Solutiona: Robin was killed, became an independent superhero or is
substituted by a more macho Robin
 In the films Robin is clearly macho and interested in Batgirl
 Relation with women: short adventures
 Bruce Wayne - Journalist Vicki Vale
 Ambiguous relation with the Sexy Villain Cawoman
Batman - Bruce Wayne
 Is a traditional Dandy
 Rich but Caritative
Batman’s Villains
 As in many popular narratives in Batman the Villains are more
relevant than the Hero itself
The Riddler
Batman films
 Joker vs Joker (Jack Nicholson vs Heath Ledger)
 Catwoman: "How could you?I'm a woman!"
Batman: "I'm sorry...I..."
Steve Canyon
Lord of the Rings
 The novel and the films have all the stereotypes of popular
 Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the ring trailer
 Trailer
 The Battle for Pelennor Fields

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