Sign of Life in US Assignment | Get Paper Help
1. From your SL book, select two essays from Chapter 4 (“The Hollywood Sign”). For your two selected essays, write an 8-sentence summary for each with at least 2 cited quotes for each. Be sure the essay “Title,” author, and thesis are in the ﬁrst sentence.Of Myths and Men
As we have seen, in a semiotic analysis we do not search for the meanings of
things in the things themselves. Rather, we find meaning in the way we can
relate things together through association and differentiation, moving from
objective denotation to culturally subjective connotation. Such a movement
commonly takes us from the realm of objective facts to the world of cultural
values. But while values often feel like objective facts, from a semiotic
perspective they are subjective points of view that derive from cultural
systems that semioticians call cultural mythologies.
A cultural mythology is not some fanciful story from the past; indeed, if
the word mythology seems confusing because of its traditional association
with such stories, you may prefer to use the term “value system” or
“ideology.” Consider the value system that governs our traditional thinking
about gender roles. Have you ever noticed how our society presumes that it is
primarily the role of women — adult daughters — to take care of aging and
infirm parents? If you want to look at the matter from a physiological
perspective, it might seem that men would be better suited to the task: in a
state of nature, men are physically stronger and so would seem to be the
natural protectors of the aged. And yet, though our cultural mythology holds
that men should protect the nuclear family, it tends to assign to women the
care of extended families. It is culture that decides here, not nature.
But while cultural mythologies guide our behavior, they are subject to
change. The cultural myths surrounding sexual relationships in America, for
example, have changed dramatically in your lifetime. Not only do these
myths no longer presume an orientation toward heterosexual marriage, but
even the rules that once governed the American dating game are changing.
Once, it was the role of the male to initiate proceedings (he calls) and for the
female to react (she waits for the call). Similarly, the rules once held that it
was the male’s responsibility to plan the evening and pay the tab. Today, in
the age of hookups and digital socializing, these rules may sound not simply
antiquated but quaint.
A cultural mythology or value system, then, is a kind of lens that governs
the way we view our world. Think of it this way: Say you were born with
rose-tinted eyeglasses permanently attached over your eyes, but you didn’t
know they were there. Because the world would look rose colored to you, you
would presume that it is rose colored. You wouldn’t wonder whether the
world might look otherwise through different lenses. But in the world, there
are other kinds of eyeglasses with different lenses, and reality does look
different to those who wear them. Those lenses are cultural mythologies, and
no culture can claim to have the one set of glasses that reveals things as they
The principle that meaning is not culture-blind, that it is conditioned by
systems of ideology and belief that are codified differently by different
cultures, is a foundational semiotic judgment. Human beings, in other words,
construct their own social realities, so who gets to do the constructing
becomes very important. Every contest over a cultural code is, accordingly, a
contest for power, but the contest is usually masked because the winner
generally defines its mythology as the truth, as what is most natural or
reasonable. The stakes are high as myth battles myth, with truth itself as the
This does not mean that you must abandon your own beliefs when
conducting a semiotic analysis, only that you cannot take them for granted
and must be prepared to argue for them with valid evidence. The need for
such evidence suggests that while humans construct their own social realities,
there is an extra-social reality that places limits on what human beings can
construct (to take an uncontroversial example, a culture that insists that
humans can fly unaided off cliffs is not going to exist for very long). This
belief in an extra-social reality underlies the semiotic position of this book.
Thus, if you hold a contrary opinion on a topic, it is not enough to
presuppose the innate superiority of your own perspective — to claim that
anyone who disagrees with you is being “political” while you are simply
telling the truth. This may sound heretical precisely because humans operate
within cultural mythologies whose invisibility is guaranteed by the system.
No mythology, that is to say, announces, “This is just a political construct or
interpretation.” Every mythology begins, “This is the truth.” It is very
difficult to imagine, from within the mythology, any alternatives. Indeed, as
you read this book, you may find it upsetting to see that some traditional
beliefs — such as “proper” roles of men and women — are socially
constructed and not absolute. But the outlines of the mythology, the bounding
(and binding) frame, can be discerned only by first seeing that it is a
mythology, a constructed scaffolding upon which our consciousness and
desires are constituted.
Mythology, like culture, is not static, and so the semiotician must always
keep his or her eye on the clock, so to speak. History and the passing of time
are constants in a constantly changing world. Since the earlier editions of this
book, American popular culture has moved on. In this edition, we have tried
to reflect those changes, but inevitably, further changes will occur in the time
it takes for this book to appear on your class syllabus. That such changes
occur is part of the excitement of the semiotic enterprise: There is always
something new to consider and interpret. What does not change is the nature
of semiotic interpretation — whatever you choose to analyze in the realm of
American popular culture, the semiotic approach will help you understand it.
It’s your turn now. Start asking questions, pushing, probing. That’s what
critical thinking and writing are all about, but this time you’re part of the
question. Arriving at answers is the fun part here, but answers aren’t the basis
of analytic thinking: questions are. Always begin with a question, a query, a
hypothesis — something to explore. If you already knew the answer, you’d
have no reason to conduct the analysis. We encourage you to explore the
almost-infinite variety of questions that the readings in this book raise. Many
come equipped with their own “answers,” but you may (indeed you will and
should) find that such answers raise further questions. To help you ask those
questions, keep in mind the elemental principles of semiotics that we have
1. Cultural semiotics treats human behavior itself — not what people say
about their behavior, but what they actually do — as signs.
2. The meaning of signs can be found not in themselves but in their
relationships (both differences and associations) with other signs within a
system. To interpret an individual sign, then, you must determine the
general system to which it belongs.
3. Things have both denotative meanings (what they are) and connotative
meanings (what they suggest as signs); semiotics moves beyond the
denotative surface to the connotative significance.
4. Arriving at the connotative significance of a sign involves both
abduction (a search for the most likely explanation or interpretation) and
overdetermination (the multiple causes behind a cultural phenomenon).
5. What we call social “reality” is a human construct, the product of cultural
mythologies or value systems that intervene between our minds and the
world we experience. Such cultural myths reflect the values and
ideological interests of their builders, not the laws of nature or logic.
Perhaps our first principle could be more succinctly phrased “Behavior is
meaningful,” and our second “Everything is connected,” while our third
advises “Don’t take things at face value.” More simply, always ask yourself,
whenever you are interpreting something, “What’s going on here?” In short,
question everything. And one more reminder: signs are like weather vanes;
they point in response to invisible historical winds. We invite you now to
start looking at the weather.
WRITING ABOUT POPULAR CULTURE
Throughout this book, you will find readings on popular culture that you
can use as models for your own writing or as subjects to which you may
respond, assignments for writing critical essays on popular culture, and
advice to help you analyze a wide variety of cultural phenomena. As you
approach these readings and assignments, you may find it helpful to review
the following suggestions for writing critical essays — whether on popular
culture or on any subject — as well as some examples of student essays
written in response to assignments based on Signs of Life in the U.S.A.
Mastering the skills summarized and exemplified here should enable you to
write the kinds of papers you will be assigned throughout your college career.
As you prepare to write a critical essay on popular culture, remember that
you are already an expert in your subject. After all, simply by actively
participating in everyday life, you have accumulated a vast store of
knowledge about what makes our culture tick. Just think of all you know
about movies, or the thousands upon thousands of ads you’ve seen, or the
many messages you send whenever you post to Facebook or Instagram. Your
very expertise in popular culture, ironically, may create a challenge simply
because you might take your knowledge for granted. You might not think that
your knowledge of popular culture can “count” as material for a college-level
assignment, and it might not even occur to you to use it in an essay. But that
knowledge is a great place for you to start. To write a strong essay, you need
to do more than just “go with the flow” of your subject as you live it —
instead, you need to consider it from a critical distance.
Using Active Reading Strategies
Your first step in developing a strong essay about any topic happens well
before you sit down to write: You should make sure you accurately
understand the reading selections your instructor has assigned. In other
words, you want to engage in active reading — that is, you want to get more
than just the “drift” of a passage. Skimming a selection may give you a rough
idea of the author’s point, but your understanding of it is also likely to be
partial, superficial, or even downright wrong. And that’s not a solid start to
writing a good paper!
Active reading techniques can help you detect the nuances of how an
author constructs his or her argument accurately and precisely. You should
question, summarize, agree with, and/or refute the author’s claims. In other
words, imagine having a kind of conversation with the author. Studies have
shown that such interactive learning simply works better than passive
learning; if you read actively, you’ll gain knowledge at a higher rate and
retain it longer. With any reading selection, it can be helpful to read at least
twice: first, to gain a general sense of the author’s ideas and, second, to study
more specifically how those ideas work together to form an argument. To
read actively, you can use formal discovery techniques, or what are called
heuristics. One of the most famous heuristics is the journalist’s “five Ws and
an H”: who, what, where, when, why, and how. By asking these six
questions, a reporter can quickly unearth the essential details of a breaking
story and draft a clear account of it. For your purposes, you can apply the
preceding questions to reading selections you will discuss in your own
Active Reading Questions
What is the author’s primary argument? Can you identify a thesis
statement, or is the thesis implied?
What key terms are fundamental to that argument? If you are not
familiar with the fundamental vocabulary of the selection, be sure to
check a dictionary or encyclopedia for the word’s meaning.
What evidence does the author provide to support the argument? Is it
relevant and specific? Does the author cite reliable, authoritative
What underlying assumptions shape the author’s position? Does the
author consider alternative points of view (counterarguments)?
What style and tone does the author adopt?
What is the genre of the piece? You need to identify what kind of
writing you are responding to, because different genres have
different purposes and goals. A personal narrative, for instance,
expresses the writer’s experiences and beliefs, but you shouldn’t
expect it to present a complete argument supported by
Who is the intended readership of this selection, and does it affect
the author’s reasoning or evidence?
As you read, write annotations, or notes, in your book. Doing so will help
you both remember and analyze what you read. A pencil is probably the best
memory aid ever invented. No one, not even the most perceptive reader,
remembers everything — and let’s face it, not everything that you read is
worth remembering. Writing annotations as you read will lead you back to
important points. And annotating helps you start analyzing a reading — long
before you start writing an essay — rather than uncritically accepting what’s
on the page. If you are using an electronic version of this text, you can do the
same with the highlighting and annotation tools available in most e-readers.
There’s yet another reason to annotate what you read: You can use the
material you’ve identified as the starting point for your journal notes and
essays, and since it doesn’t take long to circle a word or jot a note in the
margin, you can save a great deal of time in the long run. We suggest that
you not use a highlighter. While using a highlighter is better than using
nothing — it can at least help you mark key points — writing words in your
book goes much further in helping you analyze what you read. We’ve seen
entire pages bathed in fluorescent-yellow highlighter, and that’s of doubtful
use in identifying the important stuff. Of course, if you simply can’t bring
yourself to mark up your book, write on sticky notes instead and put those in
So as you read, circle key words, note transitions between ideas, jot
definitions of unfamiliar terms (you can probably guess their meaning from
the context or look them up later), underline phrases or terms to research on a
search engine such as Google, write short summaries of important points, or
simply note where you’re confused or lost with a question mark or a huh?! In
fact, figuring out exactly what parts you do and don’t understand is one of the
best ways to tackle a difficult reading. Frequently, the confusing bits turn out
to be the most interesting — and sometimes the most important. Responding
to what you read as you read will help you become a more active reader —
and will ultimately help you become a stronger writer.
Before you start writing, you’ll find it useful to spend some time generating
your ideas freely and openly: Your goal at this point is to develop as many
ideas as possible, even ones that you might not actually use in your essay.
Writing instructors call this process prewriting, and it’s a step you should