The Hollywood Sign stands as more than a landmark; it embodies a complex narrative of American identity, championing the antihero over the conventional hero. Robert Beverley Ray’s analysis prompts a deeper examination of this preference for ‘good bad boys,’ reflecting a broader cultural embrace of autonomy and defiance against authority. This paper ventures beyond the surface, employing linguistic and semiotic analysis to unravel how the Hollywood Sign, and by extension, American cinema, communicates core national values rooted in the freedom of choice.

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To begin with, it is necessary to provide the reasons for the further argumentation and the main thesis of the paper. First of all, linguistics, as well as semiotics considers the connection between a sign and the related concept to be irrational but natural (de Saussure, 2013). There is no explanation why a certain sign designates a particular concept. It is essential to note that dichotomy is not a deviation from a normal conceptualization and identification. Therefore, there is no need to explore the essence of the irrational connection, while it is more important to distinguish what information the related concept can render. It is increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that language is a system of signs that are used for communication, hence, any concept is used in such a process, which is typical of human society. In such a way, the concept of national identity obtains its form via communication within the U.S. society.

It is necessary to mention that language is based on certain oppositions. Language is a social phenomenon so that changes in society cause corresponding changes within a particular language. Grammatical, lexical, and phonetic perspectives of language are changed. As a consequence, certain oppositions change their dominance within this language making a stronger element of opposition the main determinant of grammatical and lexical form. Provided that language addresses a social context, it is worth saying that the social conceptualization of identity is also based on the oppositions. That is why society chooses between some concepts. Likewise, U.S. society determines its concept of national identity. It can be traced in the given article Hollywood Sign that describes the positioning of good bad boy and good good boy (Ray, 1985). Both concepts can be referred to as the national identity, but society chooses the strongest element in such opposition.

Besides, it is worth mentioning that factors of extralinguistic reality make their impacts. Needless to say, good bad boys have become an object of a mass culture so that they render sympathy among the majority of the U.S. citizens. It can be explained by the fact that psychologically, the majority of people are dreaming of obtaining such a cool image, but an implication on being an outlaw prevents them from doing that. That is why they subconsciously support and admire such characters. Besides that, good bad boys render an image of an ideal man for contemporary females as long as such characters are commonly associated with being cool and trendy. Taking all the external factors into account, it is to be said that the described attitudes towards good bad boys are caused by a particular process of cognition that can be referred to as a language, as well. In fact, expressing a certain attitude can be presented as the shaping of a message that the related concept renders. Thus, a message can be different for various people, while the concept remains to be the same. That is why the Hollywood sign cannot be replaced with some other sign.

Unstated Assumption

Regarding the first reason, the phenomenon of linguistic and social dichotomy can be presented at the socio-cultural level. The given binary opposition good good boy versus good bad boy is one of the key determinants of a natural national identity of the United States and the connection between sign and concept is not logical but natural. Needless to say, the good bad boy is more popular nowadays. There is no direct logic in admiration of an outlaw, but a sudden positive behavior of American character makes one regard that character as a good bad boy. As a consequence, a concept of good bad boy implies a message of democracy as a freedom of choice, which can be considered as a real feature of the U.S. national identity. Any good bad boy chooses when and how to act without any respect for the law and government. In such a way, a linguistic and semiotic rule of dichotomy makes its impact on the social identification, while the society influences the related language (de Saussure, 2013).

To speak about the oppositions in a more specific way, it should be admitted that opposition exists even at the level of society and culture. Initially, any society is a dynamically developing system and that is why contemporary American society has reached the state, which values democracy as a freedom of choice. As a result, the related dominance of concepts has switched on good bad boy that has become the strongest member of the opposition. It has made the concept of good good boy different and no longer regarded as a trait of the national identity. Such evidence presupposes the fact that grammatical opposition, which is related to language, addresses such a large socio-cultural context because language and community are mutually related and influence each other. As it has been mentioned in the previous section, language is a means of communication and concepts obtain their form through the given process. That is why socio-cultural concept obeys a linguistic-semiotic rule.

Regarding the influence of extra lingual factors, it is necessary to note that it does not have to be regarded as negative. Such influence is wrongly considered as a negative impact of mass culture, but the admiration of a good bad boy is based on the personal choice of every single individual. The choices are also referred to as the process of cognition that influences the concept in a certain context. The creation of a particular attitude depends on the personality of the individual and inference knowledge regarding the related concept (de Saussure, 2013). That is why the choice of a good bad boy as a feature of national identity is a personal choice that cannot be rendered by mass culture. Besides that, mass culture is aimed at obtaining control over citizens’ behaviors, while the concept of a good bad boy is based on images of outlaws that contradict obedience to the government.

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Regarding the reasons for the related unpredicted assumption, it is to be admitted that the linguistic-semiotic dichotomy can render the concept of freedom of choice as a comprising trait of the U.S. national identity. In such a way, Hollywood and literary characters, which are presented as outlaws, are regarded as generally positive images. They presuppose a concept of freedom of choice as long as such typical characters choose how they will act themselves. It is real freedom of choice that is not regulated by any governmental institution. Besides, overall traits of good bad boys character cause certain sympathy from the side of the U.S. citizens. As a result, linguistic, semiotic, and cognitive perspectives of the concept address the context of a socio-cultural level (de Saussure, 2013). It is a natural phenomenon even though a choice of an outlaw refers to a representative of national identity. Provided that the described concept is a result of a natural phenomenon, the Hollywood sign designates a real feature of the U.S. national identity.

Consequently, the image of a good bad boy can be considered as a current focus of society in terms of its national identity. Hence, it will change under a wide range of circumstances so that the language will be changed, as well. The change of the strongest member in conceptual oppositions proves the relation between society and language. Actually, a Hollywood sign is invariable itself (de Saussure, 2013) and society, on the other hand, changes its attitude towards the concept. In other words, the same concept can be regarded differently depending on certain social, cultural, and historical settings. To the largest extent, attitudes towards a particular concept are changed at the level of social context and that is why determinants of social identity can be changed in the described way. Thus, people are not influenced by mass culture from such a perspective because a change in national identity is a natural response to a current situation. To put it more simply, people change their national identity due to their own will.

Concerning changes in cognition, they can be directed to the alternations in the interpretation of the same concepts. It can be explained by the fact that society is supplied with new actual inference knowledge that addresses the current state of society and a particular country. As it has been mentioned before, the main source for inference knowledge is such external factors as historical, economic, political, and cultural changes. That is why the changes in the strongest member of opposition should be also regarded as natural. Taking the above points into consideration, it should be noted that forming of certain attitudes towards the concept is a temporary contextualization of it. It is a true statement, while inference knowledge and internal factors of an individual create a custom context for the perception of a message of a particular concept. Thus, such fact proves that concept is a static phenomenon, while context, in which it is perceived, is dynamic.

Counter Argument

On the contrary, an assumption regarding dichotomy is debatable. Provided that good bad boy renders freedom of choice, the following questions still emerge: why a logical connection between a sign and a concept cannot render the same or any other message even though it is not tied to a linguistic and semiotic theory? Needless to say, that dichotomy is a linguistic term. It is not appropriate to apply a linguistic term to the extralinguistic reality. Thus, dichotomy cannot be applied to the concept of American good bad boy. It is possible to deliver a similar message without the involvement of linguistics and semiotics but still address the level of society and culture. In other words, the dichotomy is hardly applicable to such cases and creates unnecessary complications, while a real essence of Hollywood sign is rather explicit. Generally speaking, an excessive complication of issues can be referred to the rest of the assumptions and claims.

As for social and linguistic changes, it is worth saying that the concept is not affected by such changes. It remains the same, as well as its contextualization from the perspective of inference knowledge. In other words, a change in attitudes towards a particular concept is not connected with a linguistic paradigm. In the same manner, a particular language cannot be changed entirely under social circumstances of the various extent of strength. Instead, a certain social group may separate from its former community due to the different attitudes towards the key concepts. Still, the emerging of a new identity does not mean that it will replace the previous one. For that reason, a theory of oppositions should be also denied. The concept of a good boy may become strong for a certain part of the society so that they will consider that as a part of their own identity. Hence, the term of oppositions is obviously vague and cannot be applied to the studies of American culture.

Speaking about the perspective of cognition, it should be noted that any human being needs a certain source of information to process it via cognitive processes. That is why mass media and culture make their impact on people. According to the outlined claim, people are capable of choosing what content to perceive. In fact, it is not completely true as long as the majority of people do not refuse to perceive mass culture content. It is not actually possible because mass culture obtains the major part of a contemporary media space. About the image of an outlaw, it is proactively promoted on purpose as long as mass culture intends to render the society a fake feeling of freedom of choice. As a result, people consider that they make their choice without the influence of a third party, while it was the main purpose of mass culture.


In response to the counterarguments, it is important to admit that a logical connection between a sign and a concept can render a certain message though. To the largest extent, every concept contains a message. In fact, the concept of the good good boy also delivers a particular message, but it is not commonly accepted as a message and related concept, which can be associated with traits of the national identity. As for dichotomy as a term of linguistics and semiotics, it is essential to note that language and society are closely related (de Saussure, 2013). That is why such connection is also natural and dichotomy can be applied to the explanation of Hollywood sign as a socio-linguistic phenomenon. Therefore, the connection between the concept of a good bad boy and its social admiration is not logical but natural. Additionally, language is a communicative tool and that is why it cannot be omitted as long as it is one of the comprising aspects of society.

Further, it is worth saying that the concept of national identity is stable. Instead, its context is changeable and it can be referred to as linguistics and semiotics, as well. As it has been mentioned in the previous section, inference knowledge of an individual is formed by historical, social, cultural, and other external settings. Actually, it is the main linguistic rule regarding contextualization. The same concepts and their message may have various connotations depending on the context that is created by optimization of certain inference knowledge (de Saussure, 2013). In such a way, linguistics makes its impact on the contextualization of any concept. The main drawback of the related counterargument is based on the fact that it does not consider a depth of linguistics impact on the sociocultural conceptualization. However, the new inference knowledge should influence the majority of a particular community. In case some percentage of people still do not share the same contextualization of the national identity concept, they usually attempt to create their own context and separate.

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It should be admitted that the concept of a good bad boy can be traced not only in mass culture. For instance, such characters as Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, Alex (Clockwork Orange), Jordan Belfort, and others can be regarded as good bad boys as long as they are outlaws, but their further behavior makes people sympathetic towards them (Ray, 1985). All of them act on their own following their free will. Also, mass culture does not presuppose its audience to run any cognitive processes regarding the content, while a concept of the good bad boy is provoking. Besides that, shaping a concept is a reflexive process and as a result, every individual receives its message via his or her personal shape of perception. Finally, it is important to admit that fake freedom of choice can be rendered only via a mass culture. Despite that fact, a message of the good bad boy concept means freedom of choice without any respect to the concept itself. In other words, the main idea is based on the fact that an individual may choose any concept to be his or her feature of identity. In such a way, one may choose a concept of a good boy or some other, but it will be still his or her own expression of free will.

All in all, the Hollywood sign that designates the concept of good bad boy renders a message of the national American identity, which is based on democracy and freedom of choice. The article Hollywood Sign by Robert Beverley Ray outlines the idea that contemporary U.S. society strongly admires outlaw characters, who act positively and are presented as the main protagonists. The article lingers upon the description of such a phenomenon, while the current paper gives an account of it from the perspective of linguistics and semiotics. To be more exact, the paper proves that such a choice of the feature of the national identity is based on the linguistic-semiotic term of dichotomy that means that a connection between a sign and a related concept is not logical but natural. Moreover, the paper assumes that people choose a concept of a so-called good bad boy because it is the strongest member of opposition between that concept and a concept of a good good boy. It is also a term of linguistics so, as a result, the paper claims that language is closely tied to society. Besides that, the study pays attention to the external factors that influence human cognition as a comprising factor of relationships between the system of signs and society. Eventually, it is necessary to make further research, which will linger upon Hollywood signs from the perspective of pragmatics.

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