In this collection of semiserious semiotic essays, Rome (Travel for STOICS, 2018) examines symbols in everyday American life.
Myths, symbols, and archetypes are often associated with the study of dusty works of literature, but they’re also part of our daily existence. Rome aims to point out a few highlights in this new collection, which explores the not-so-obvious symbolic meanings of objects and activities in contemporary American culture. Indoor skydiving, for example, may be an attempt to recreate the ancient dream of flying—whose meaning remains much debated—in waking life. Fidget spinners, she conjectures, could simply be the latest manifestation of a triskelion motif that has appeared in cultures worldwide since the Stone Age. The ancient Hindu concept of the avatar—a material manifestation of a god—has been borrowed by movies, video games, and social media, she notes. As the author writes in her introduction, the book “aspires to be the early third millennium’s answer to [Roland Barthes’] insightful and funny work Mythologies” from 1957, which analyzed the processes of modern mythmaking. But although Rome’s prose can sometimes feel academic, it more often reads like good magazine journalism: “The 3-D archery course is strewn with life-sized, self-healing foam models of common game animals, such as deer, elk, boar, and rabbits. Other not-so-common targets include velociraptors, cobras, carp, alligators, baboons, jackalopes, and even zombies.” Winking essay titles, such as “The Roller Coast Ride as Aristotelian Narrative” and “The Eyelash Curler as Monument,” reveal the author’s sense of humor, but she backs them up with well-considered arguments. The essays are short—some are only three or four pages long—and they vary in quality; one, about Segway scooters, for instance, feels closer to a product review than a piece of cultural criticism. Overall, this isn’t a collection for everyone, but those with analytical predilections—and perhaps a liberal arts degree—will find much to intrigue and amuse them.
An often diverting analysis of the deeper meaning of some odd cultural artifacts.