The Rhetoric of the Moggcast

Introduction

panzani-preview

Roland Barthes’ classic 1964 The Rhetoric of the Image was the founding essay  of semiology (Fr. semiologie, also known as semiotics, the usage employed by Umberto Eco and among US academics.)  The essay centres on an advert for Panzani Italian pasta products, with an image of a string shopping bag containing ingredients for an Italian meal.  The essay is easy to find online but if you are unfamiliar with the basic concepts of semiology I recommend the summary of Barthes’ essay on Hugh McCabe’s photography blog, where he provides the following handy checklist of the semiology of the Panzani advert, which contains:

1. The linguistic message (text)

Barthes sees two kinds of linguistic messages at work: a denoted message comprising of the caption and the labels on the produce, and a connoted message – the word ‘Panzani’ connotes Italianicity.

2. The symbolic message (or connoted image)

Four signs are then identified from the non-linguistic part of the image and they constitute the symbolic message, or connoted image:

  • The half-open bag signifies return from market
  • tomatoes and peppers signify Italianicity
  • the collection of objects signifies a total culinary service
  • the overall composition is reminiscent of, and therefore signifies, the notion of a still life.

3. The literal message (or denoted image)

This is non-coded in that the image of the tomato represents a tomato, the image of the pepper represents a pepper, and so on. He remarks that in this case we have a signifier and a signified which are essentially the same – this is a message without a code.

Please refer to the link above if you want to see this in more detail, but I think the above checklist will be all you need.  So let’s explore the semiology of the Moggcast and see if we can arrive at a rhetoric of this deliberately contrived propagandist image.

mogg-cast

1. A deliberately contrived propagandist image

Jacob Rees-Mogg is a Conservative MP who is on the extreme right-wing of the party and is a key advocate of Brexit.  He is a money man, with a hedge fund and has recently shifted his operations from London to Dublin so he can maintain a European base when the City of London is damaged by the Brexit he wants to see.

It goes without saying that the professional illustrator who constructed the image intended to convey to the viewers of the Moggcast an overt political message.  We can therefore identify the category of this image by definition as political propaganda.

What is the Moggcast? As the Guardian says, ” Jacob Rees-Mogg is the nearest thing the party has to a cult figure.” The regular podcast. on the blog ConservativeHome is described as “a fortnightly conversation with Jacob Rees-Mogg about the topics of the day.  In these slots, he monotonously explains government policy and euphemistic “difficult choices”, etc.  I shall not link to it here, as we are not interested in his propaganda but in analysing the Moggcast image.

One key factor which needs to be stated here: the Moggcast is sound only, so the rich collection of signs and symbols in the Moggcast graphic is something that may engage the listener during the half hour of listening to Mogg’s pronouncements on the political scene.

2. The composite image described

In the study of a remote country house Mogg sits at a desk which is drawn very small, which makes him look imposing. He has a microphone in front of him and he is referring to some notes. He gazes out of the picture directly meeting the eye of the viewer, in an expression which quizzically seems to demand some response from the observer, who is facing across the desk, as if maybe a pupil who has been sent to the headmaster’s study.

There is a chintz curtain tied back to reveal an idyllic unspoilt landscape; a cluttered wall with deliberately placed symbolic elements; a bookcase to lend authority to the central figure; and a green-glass period brass lamp of the type one might see on the theatre set of an Edwardian play.

3. Signs, signifiers & connoted message: the symbolic interpretation of the Moggcast image

The first sign is the grey double-breasted suit, as it is the largest visual item in the picture and fills the central area. It is buttoned up, worn with a Tory blue striped shirt with the right amount of cuff protruding from the sleeve: not too much and not too little: it is a tailored shirt.

This signifies a man who is exactly the same when he is in his own home as his public appearance in the street or in Parliament: this is a man who never wears pyjamas in bed, or swimmGlassesing trunks on a beach; but always a double-breasted suit, buttoned up. His moral superiority is impregnable and you will find no skeletons in his wardrobe, but only a row of grey double breasted  suits, buttoned up. Similarly, the round lensed glasses are deliberately chosen for their bank-manager / headmaster look.  Nothing in Mogg’s appearance is left to chance. The accessories are all part of the armour strapped on every morning together with the self-conscious plummy accent and an air of ruthless superiority, with not a hair out of place beyond the perfect parting.

The appearance – while intended to protect himself against the scary modernity that threatens to invade his world – it actually consists of a very precarious set of signs. This whole ensemble is just soooooo close to being entirely camp; hence the desperate need to display his large Catholic family in that portrait on the wall above the crucifix (but we will come to that later).

Chintz & rural landscapeThe window

The chintz curtain of the quality indicating it was purchased in a London department store is tied back with ornamental rope, revealing through 18th century multi-paned glass of the type found in a country house, an idyllic parkland country estate. It seems to continue to the horizon without a fence in sight.

The sign clearly connotes wealth and privilege: here is a man who owns a significant property.  It is a symbolic nod to the painting tradition of Gainsborough and others of the 18th century whose subjects were pictured in their rural estates to show off their wealth.

 

Thomas_Gainsborough_-_Mr_and_Mrs_Andrews
Thomas_Gainsborough:_Mr and Mrs Andrews (1750)

 

Either that wallpaper goes or I do

The wallpaper or wooden panelling

It was Oscar Wilde on his deathbed who said, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do!”  If this is wallpaper, it is of that kind. But it may be wooden panelling.  If the former, this is a proclamation of the ghastly bad-taste for which the upper classes are very proud and reknowned.  If wooden panelling it adds to the connotation of a substantial country house, soundproofed against the cries of the poor and the revolution in the distance.

Union flag

The Union flag

The sign of the Union flag connoting patriotism will be the most obvious semiotic device in this picture, so we won’t dwell on it for long. But the fact of it being in touch with the Moggface, and the way the diagonal in the flag follows exactly the line of his carefully tailored shirt collar, signifies his total connectedness with the realm, this England, this UK.

Bookshelf

The bookshelves

A bookshelf laden with heavy tomes is a very common sign in portrayals of persons in positions of authority, and the connotation is clearly a kind of proclamation, “Look I have read all these books, so I jolly well know what I am talking about…”

But here on these bookshelves must be the book that Mogg Junior knows we know Mogg Senior wrote. The handbook of disaster capitalism  called Blood in the Streets: Investment Profits in a World Gone Mad because you do not buy cheap in a social and political disaster until that horrendous stage has been reached.  And that is how you make a profit. The book quotes 19th-century financial trader Nathan Rothschild: “The best time to buy is when blood is running in the streets.”

 

Large familly and crucifix

The large Catholic family

With a mixture of ostentation and moral superiority, the self-portrait with six children above the Catholic crucifix is an obviously contrived conjunction of signs, and we note that like the Union flag, the line of the left sleeve follows the angle of the line of the crucifix from the crossbar to the foot of the cross and the head of the Christ is inclined in the direction of the Mogg-devotee as if the suffering little Jesus is looking to the great leader in hope of salvation.

Note that the same grey double-breasted suit appears in the photograph, still buttoned up, with baby Sextus (yes even his sixth child must be named symbolically) on his lap, reaching up to him.  The deliberate conjunction of crucifix and Moggdonna with Child is unmistakable.

The connotation here is an appeal to Old Catholic England, to the mysticism of Julian of Norwich and the myth of  Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail in the swirling mists of Saint Mogg’s west country constituency.

The desk and the 1930s microphone

Desk

There are papers, pens, a teacup and saucer (no milk or sugar we see, as it is dark and there is no spoon) The mobile phone is a necessary concession to practical need but placed next to more reliable Guternberg technology, an old-fashioned hardback book.  The green-glass brass lamp we already referred to above is known as a “banker’s lamp” (*credit to Charles Turner: see comment below.)

But the central object in this composite image is worth focusing on as the final sign. It is a very 1930s style microphone and even the curly flex suggests that cloth-covered wire that would be of the period. The 1960s media guru Marshall McLuhan – in his discussion of hot and cool media – explained that Hitler and Mussolini would not have come to power using television, for it was a ‘cool’ medium.  Radio was a ‘hot’ medium, in which a demagogue could mesmerize a crowd, or a whole nation.

Yesterday, before I wrote the above semiological analysis of the Moggcast picture, I asked what you might see in it. Thank you to Alys Thomas for suggesting Charlie Chaplin standing at the microphone in The Great Dictator.  Thanks also to reader Neil Maybin who sent the above photograph of Mussolini’s study and his desk.

Conclusion

When you put together all of the signs in the Moggcast picture its connotation is overtly fascistic but at the very least is a symbol of the kind of authoritarianism that the younger generation of voters in the United Kingdom must arm themselves against.  Our fathers fought a war against them, but now the barbarians are within the city gates, and falsely waving our Union flag.

Tommee
As in the 1930s, the upper class jingoist voice is at the microphone and the boot boys are always there to implement fascism on the streets.

 

Footnote: what do we mean by fascism?

My definition of fascism in the above essay is based on the postmodern definition offered by Umberto Eco in his seminal 1995 essay on the subject in The New York Review of Books, “Ur Fascism” (the eternal fascism).


11 thoughts on “The Rhetoric of the Moggcast

  1. Gosh, there is far more to read into this image than I realised! Neil Maybin’s photograph makes for a striking visual comparison also. Frightening! It is bizarre that Mr Mogg has a moggcast in the first place and the more overt symbols, together with other more subtle signs, which you see and understand, but don’t consider very much, overall do penetrate without you being aware of it. It is quite disturbing reading through your detailed analysis of all the elements. The image of the Moggdonna is particularly grotesque. Rotten tomatoes in this image, I think…

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  2. ‘… buttoned up.’
    Phrasal verbs at their untranslatable best. How I longed for stage directions between ‘suit. and ‘suits’. It’s crying out for a Pinter pause.

    Which reminds me. I bumped into Pedalo yesterday. He was perfecting his English by listening to the TMS commentary on the second test from Kingston, ‘…they norty blackmen for making the bouincings al equipo inglés’, he observed. I asked him what he made of the moggcast. ‘He very good man. He go drink Guinness with executed director en Dublin. He say me go buy cricket batting to hanging on walls in oficina con retrato familiar.’.

    Does episode twenty two imply 1922?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Curtain fabric pattern is paisley, more or less. Associated with India, East India Company and trade in luxuries late 18th /early 19th c. Women’s paisley shawls very fashionable. Empire and trade connotations. Also perhaps a bit fussy and feminine though have seen it today on ties.
    Chintz usually more floral. Not sure if term refers to glazed cotton fabric type.

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  4. I heard him described as a Victorian pencil! A very very dangerous man. He bears a HUGE grudge against ANY government, but especially the Tories for what happened to his father: who tried to revolt against Major, and was seen off. Moggs junior, as a boy, witnessed the disgrace and public humiliation. I maintain that a lot of what he does is ‘for daddy’ and to make sure the ideas is daddy’s books are finally put into practice. He is in regular contact with Steve Bannon, the white supremacist and anti-Semite, and features copiously on Breitbart. Hitler was a small man with a big grievance. Moggs is a small man with an equally big grievance and a lot of money. Anyone who thinks we are not seeing the beginning of the first UK Reich is fooling themselves. ‘It can’t happen here’ ~ damn well can.

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  5. SL, thanks for the Paisley correction: I was struggling to identify it (I was thinking William Morris fabrics and then opted wrongly for chintz.)

    Carol, it’s great to see you commenting here and please do so in future. I have always been enlightened and led to interesting places by your tweets both while working as Veterans for Europe Twitter coordinator, and when tweeting occasionally from my own account (now closing). Some of us were involved in the fight against fascism going back to the 1970s, but even then we didn’t see this coming. All young people should read the Umberto Eco essay referenced above.

    When I was teaching in a British schoo here in the Costa Blancal, a Spanish teacher asked me to deliver two lessons on the Spanish Civil War (as she had never learned much about it.) I began with the way that an MI6 operative flew Franco from the Canaries to Spanish Morocco to begin the army uprising against the democratic Republic in 1936. The DeHavilland Rapide was paid for by Catholic interests in Spain working together with wealthy Catholic collaborators in London. (I do not mention this in a partisan manner: I am Catholic.)

    When we see the role of the upper classes in attempting to take the UK into fascist rule, and taking Spain into it for a conflagration causing a million deaths; I do not think our young people in the UK are sufficiently prepared for even that possibility of autocratic rule. It seems so unreal. In a sense May is already leading that change. Margaret Beckett said the present govt. is an “elected disctatorship.” The problem is, the word fascism has been thrown around so flippantly, people won’t notice that the real thing is poised and ready for action. The key conspirator is Moggolini.

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  6. Folks, I am so grateful for the contributions here. The blog began long ago as a simple diary about a life with donkeys. I lost my whole donkey audience when we had fewer pics of fluffy donks in their winter coats and the fight against the fascist Brexit bastards began. Now, we have a blog that is still a donkey blog, in a Europe fighting for survival, and we will play our part. #IamEuropean

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  7. “…with baby Sextus (yes even his sixth child must be named symbolically) on his lap, reaching up to him.”

    Not Sextus, but Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher. Fabulous names after some great saints who will no doubt intercede not only for JRM’s sixth child but for the whole family.

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  8. Sixtus, I stand corrected. Thank you.

    After the horrendously ignorant post about Brexit on CP&S (re-posted from Regina in the USA) I shall obviously not be spending much time reading CP&S for a while, but I wish you well. What we launched in 2010 was a traditional Catholic blog. We did not envisage it being used a few years later as a mouthpiece for Trumpian politics or the fascism of Steve Bannon: and some of us will resist that to the death. I explained to Marion today why my offer of a Lent series of articles on Saint Clare was withdrawn after I read the Regina article. That kind of political extremism was not what we set up CP&S for in 2010. We intended a Catholic traditionalist *spiritual* blog, not an invitation to the Fatherland.

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