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,
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1969.
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
(revised).
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.
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Translations:
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,
lethal)
 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
optimistic
 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
Anagnorisis
 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
treasures
Feuilleton
 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
newspaper
 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
adventure
 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
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuKudT1bM68
 The Three Musketeers (1993) Final Battle 1/3
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6mWnsIpJMs
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
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRy5SEXUgtA&feature=related
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
penalty
 Prison reform: separate cells (more useful for self-reflection and
redemption)
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:
Fleur-de-Marie
 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
Notes
 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
classes
Riancey Amendment 1850
 Riancey Amendment set out to impose a stamp tax on all
newspapers that published the type of roman-feuilleton, or serial
number
 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
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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
popular
DRACULA’s films
 Bram Stoker's DRACULA (Coppola)
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xw2-ZMhxTUs&feature=related
 Horror Of Dracula (1958) Trailer
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZUlClqrTjA&feature=related
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
films
 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
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLCWkAzxolU
Fantômas
 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"
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9BevMqTwgc
Tarzan, 1912
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Edgar Rice Burroughs
22 novels, 56 languages
More than 50 films
Comics
 Return of the Positive, but Wild, Hero
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Antecedents:
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
films
 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
Tarzan
Tarzan
 Johnny Weismuller Tarzan Call
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwHWbsvgQUE&feature=related
 U Jane Me Tarzan
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwHWbsvgQUE&feature=related
 Trailer - Disney's "Tarzan" (1999)
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwU5ZqyhV5Q
A Man called horse (1970) Tribute
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGu4Ycp655U
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
 Stagecoach- part 1
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fvn1WP2JMA
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
sharks
 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
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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
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2gzrOZs3LA
 Best Bond Villains
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIZcChkEs5k
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
journalist
 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
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68hRt0Pz7HI
 Superman Returns "Do you know the story of Prometheus?"
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-f04lznji0&feature=related
Batman 1939
 Vigilante, Violent morality
 Batman generally doesn’t kill enemies
 No superpowers but extraordinary athletic skills
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The dark aspect derivates from Gothic novels
Robin
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-Vale
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
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Joker
Penguin
Double-face
Catwoman
The Riddler
Batman films
 Joker vs Joker (Jack Nicholson vs Heath Ledger)
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqAvubu70Yc
 BATMAN RETURNS - CATWOMAN VS. BATMAN
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGZnDtxVuwY&feature=related
 Catwoman: "How could you?I'm a woman!"
Batman: "I'm sorry...I..."
Steve Canyon
1947
Lord of the Rings
 The novel and the films have all the stereotypes of popular
narratives
 Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the ring trailer
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pki6jbSbXIY
 Trailer
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7YllAOqpF4
 The Battle for Pelennor Fields
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY-hYw9iYQc
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