The Sons of Anarchy: A Gang Profile
Staff Writers, The NGCRC
The gang members of Sons of Anarchy (SOA) are part of a made for television series representing a fictional and fictitious identity, the creation of Hollywood film industry writers. This is a fantasy universe where biker gangs oppose neo-Nazis, police officers get life advice from biker mamas, and SOA members are the manliest men in town. It is a gang based on absurd assumptions about the real world of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs (OMC's). A century after the racist cinema classic "Birth of a Nation", Tinsel town has offered us the more loveable white racist extremist gang, purged of anti-black, anti-Semite bias. As will be demonstrated in this review, this series represents gang apologia at its most extreme.
WHAT IS THE SOA SERIES
It is a fictitious made for television series about an OMC called the "Sons of Anarchy" (SOA) aired on the FX network. It is a very popular television program according to statistics compiled on viewers. When Season 2 premiered on September 8th, 2009 it had 4.3 million people watching the program and a 94% increase among adults in the 18 to 49 age group (Stanhope, 2009).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE IMPORTANT IN HOLLYWOOD AND THE REAL WORLD
SOA gang members are stylish, hip and follow a higher level of hygiene than normally found in OMC members. All of the SOA members have pearly white, silky smooth, kissable baby faces that are not pitted from hitting insects on the highway. They boast million dollar smiles with glistening, perfect teeth. Their tailored clothing is perfectly crisp, shiny and new. The president of the gang, Clay, has blow dried hair; it is artfully tousled with a salt and pepper look you would expect of the coiffure of a bank executive. So, in terms of first impressions, the first impression you get of SOA members is that they are very likeable images.
In the real world we do not see the kind of Utopian SOA-style gang member with perfect hair, perfect complexion, perfect teeth — all wearing new clean clothing. So the first impression is that there is a real problem ---- from the perspective of the gang specialist ---- in believing anything we are seeing in the SOA series.
A COMPARISON OF THE SOA AND REAL MOTORCYCLE GANGS
The SOA is clearly portrayed as a “whites only” club that has only white members, it is therefore a factor in common with real gangs — they tend to be racially homogeneous. But there are a host of major differences comparing real OMC’s to the SOA.
In real OMC’s, the members routinely exhibit neo-Nazi symbols such as the pair of lightning bolts and/or the swastika, and they also commonly wear the confederate flag symbol. But in the SOA, none of their members wear these common symbols internalized by white racist extremists such as white OMC’s. The SOA gang is therefore a contrived gang that may bear no resemblance to any actual gang in America.
THE ILLOGICAL FALLACY AS A MAIN PREMISE OF SERIES II
In the second season of SOA, the SOA gang fights a Neo-nazi group. This is a logical impossibility as OMC’s and Neo-nazis are both white racist extremist gangs. Hollywood’s portrayal of the SOA is that they are therefore different than other OMC’s, they are not racist and they do not identify with Nazi symbols.
In fact, in the real world, OMC members routinely exhibit neo-Nazi symbols including the swastika.
The ridiculous premise of the second series of the SOA gang is that this gang must have had a heavy dose of cultural awareness or sensitivity training and thus the SOA members lack the general hatred of racial minorities found in white OMC gangs like the SOA.
THE DENAZIFICATION OF OMC GANG MEMBERS
`Denazification refers to the purging of all representations of Nazism in the public image of the SOA gang. The position taken here is that this denazification of the SOA gang appears to be intentional because it is not consistent with any history of American OMC’s and it venerates the white OMC’s operating today by implying the SOA model is the norm.
The SOA gang members eschew hate filled tattoo symbols normally found on outlaw motorcycle gang members such as the swastika. In the SOA we are led to believe that the members have found a kinder and gentler type of white gang that is no longer a white racist extremist gang. However, most white outlaw motorcycle gangs are also white racist extremist gangs (WREG’s) is the true and correct history about biker gangs and One Percenters. However, the Nazi symbols and Neo-Nazi identity has been deleted from the SOA gang members. Somehow we are expected to believe that the SOA gang members are not racists like all of the white OMC’s that really exist.
By deleting the Nazi identity from the SOA gang the program achieves a small propaganda victory by misrepresenting the truth about white OMC members and thus portrays the SOA member as some kind of “good guy” who would and could in fact fight against the Neo-Nazis. In the SOA series, none of the SOA members wear the common symbols found in white OMC’s such as the pair of lightning bolts or the swastika.
In fact, there are not even any confederate flag symbols used by the SOA. Why? The Confederate flag is interchangeable with neo-Nazism. Thus, the purging of the Confederate flag symbols commonly found in white OMC’s is just another illustration of the intentional denazification of the SOA.
Finally, the SOA series stretches beyond the boundaries of being preposterous when one of the only scruffy looking members is portrayed as “the Jew in leathers”. The heavy-set character named Bobby is portrayed in the second series as being an Elvis impersonator who specializes in singing at Bar mitzvahs, perfectly fluent in Yidish. Bobby is also a gifted accountant by trade. Who doesn’t want an OMC member singing at their Bar Mitzvah or preparing their tax returns.
GANG MEMBERSHIP IS STATUS-ENHANCING IN THE SOA SERIES
A fatal flaw of logic is represented in the SOA series in terms of the social status of gang members and in particular their social network. While not uncommon for a physician to treat an OMC gang member, it is ridiculous to assume that a female physician would fall in love and bear a child by a OMC gang leader. But it is the illogical premise for adding sex appeal to the SOA series, the Vice President of the SOA gang (Jax Teller is played by actor Charlie Hunnam) enjoys the favors of a female pediatrician (Tara Knowles).
THE GLAMORIZATION OF LIFE IN THE OMC
The SOA series makes it look fun, cool and exciting to be a gang member. It is the perfect recruiting tool for OMC’s. One prediction would be a spike in prospects, persons seeking out membership in OMC’s, as a result of this series. The SOA series glamorizes gang life by means of moral relativism, it basically portrays the SOA gang member as a “good guy”. This is true for example, when the SOA gang is fighting a Neo-Nazi organization — this is just not going to happen in the real world, in the real world the SOA gang members would already know the Neo-Nazis. They might both have the same Swastika tattoo from the same tattoo artist. In the real world, OMC members have the same kind of white racist philosophy as Neo-Nazis.
Because the SOA series tends to glamorize OMC gang life, it is reasonable to predict as well that there will be some mass media contagion effects — in other words, it is reasonable to expect copy cat incidents arising from this series.
REAL OMC AND PLAIN BIKERS GENERALLY ENJOY THE SOA SERIES
The SOA series generally has a high level of appreciation by real bikers and real OMC gang members. This is easy to understand and explain by the fact that the SOA series tends to elevate the social status of One Percenters ---- in the SOA a gang member can mate with a female physician and instantly elevate their social economic status (SES).
Interviewing a gang specialist who does intelligence work on biker gangs, it became clear that another way to measure the positive ratings among One Percenters and citizen bikers to the SOA series is through sales of the SOA t-shirts. The SOA t-shirts are sold at motorcycle swap meets, and it is customary for OMC members or One Percenters to routinely make their presence known at motorcycle swap meets. The report we got for this profile of the SOA is that the SOA t-shirts are currently selling very well to citizen bikers and One Percenters.
THE POSSIBLE CONTAGION EFFECT FROM THE MASS MEDIA
The contagion effect means that when gangs are presenting as having an appealing identity that people will want to join the gangs (reference mass media material published in the INTRO book, etc). In other words, after watching the SOA program, there will be some people who will take it so seriously there will be copy cat incidents. People will emulate what they see on the SOA series is the prediction made here.
The writers portray the SOA members as the salt of the earth and very likeable, even charming. The message this sends to frustrated white boys is that if do not have a sexy job you can be a gang member with integrity by joining the SOA.
In early September 2009, in Miami Beach, a mother was almost killed when a 13-year-old stabbed her repeatedly. The young teen assailant had been promised he could join a "Sons of Anarchy Club" for his role in the murder plot concocted by a 15-year-old. It is easy to understand how the SOA series could impact on young, impressionable minds.
THE SOA SERIES PANDERS TO WHITE RACIST HATE GROUPS
That the SOA series also panders to racist hate groups is a recurring theme. We will examine two of these troubling scenes below.
1. The scene involving Bobby, "the Jew in leathers", in the second series, where he sings dressed as Elvis Presley at a Bar Mitzvah panders to racists. The subtext of the bar mitzvah scene is that the Jewish people lack the mental ability to properly vet performing artists hired to entertain their children. The gang member character Bobby was also just recently released from jail.
2. The scene also involving Bobby, in the second season, where the SOA confronts a porn studio, and there is a near altercation is also a scene that caters to racist imagery. Bobby becomes beligerant to a Black man, and then unleashes a massive amount of vomit on the Black man. Then the white SOA members just casually walk away.
WHY THE SOA SERIES IS ANTI-LAW ENFORCEMENT
Like many other films and made for television programs about gangs that have originated in Hollywood, the SOA tends to over-identify with the ideology of the gang member by portraying police officers as inept and corrupt. Police in the SOA series are portrayed as being corrupt or inept. The Deputy Police Chief would negotiate with the SOA gang right outside of the police headquarters, and the Police Chief would smoke marijuana in uniform on the grounds of a hospital. The police chief is portrayed as routinely committing felony crimes on behalf of the SOA gang. For a much more detailed analysis of how Hollywood has promoted the gang problem, through irresponsible treatment of such a serious issue, see the analysis in Knox (2009).
A consistently negative image of law enforcement officers in the SOA series is illustrated in the theme that police officers are little more than errand boys for the SOA gang. A good illustration of this can be found in the scene where the police chief stages a crash of Gemma’s car shortly after she is a gang rape victim. In doing this, the police chief engages in automobile accident fraud to provide Gemma with a plausible cover story for her facial injuries. Rape in the SOA series, while depicted graphically, is portrayed as being as easy to recover from as a cold.
Another example of how the SOA series can be expected to reduce respect for the law is in how it depicts police leadership and command officers. In one program in the second season, the police chief responds to a aggravated assault crime, Gemma pulls a gun and points it at a motorist in town, taking the gun from Gemma and telling her “I’ll return it later”. And indeed the police chief does return it later, noting further that it was a type of handgun where the serial numbers had been sanded off the weapon. Gemma just brags that she likes to have an anonymous gun while we witness the police chief commit a major federal felony crime.
Another example of the way the SOA series erodes respect for the law is in the negative way it portrays correctional officers. In one scene where an SOA member is attacked by three Aryan gang-affiliated inmates in a prison hallway, the correctional officer is portrayed as someone who has obviously been bribed or paid off in order to facilitate the attack and torture of the SOA member.
People who work in criminal justice professions such as law enforcement do not deserve the castigation and demonizing treatment they receive in the SOA series. It might be possible for criminal justice organizations to pass resolutions calling for a boycott against advertisers on the SOA program. Some of the potential groups and organizations that could be called into play are the Fraternal Order of Police, International Chiefs of Police Association, a variety of gang investigator groups and associations — in short, there are many groups that could potentially declare an objection to the SOA series.
MAJOR ADVERTISERS FOR SOA
It is worthy to note here the major advertisers for SOA in that the series does attract a number of mainstream advertisers. Another prediction is that the SOA series could easily become subject to a national or international boycott from the thousands of people who work in the field of criminal justice.
Among the larger advertisers for the SOA series are the following:
Bud Light Beer
Buffalo Wild Wings
Crown Royal Whiskey
Ketel One Vodka
Marine Mechanics Institute (mmitech.edu)
Michalob Ultra Beer
Miller Lite Beer
Nation Wide Insurance Co.
Samuel Adams Beer
Teeter hangup equipment
Universal Technical Institute (uti.edu)
Vonage phone service
In addition to the featured advertising there is significant product placement in the SOA series. Jack Daniels whiskey is used conspicuously in scenes where SOA members consume this product.
SUMMARY OF PREDICTIONS ABOUT SOA
A number of predictions can be made about the SOA based on the profile developed here.
1. Because of the fact that the SOA television program series presents a “cop hater” viewpoint, the program portrays cops as corrupt and evil, it is possible to predict the program might become a target for criminal justice organizations to seek a boycott against SOA advertisers.
2. Because of the fact that the SOA television program generally glamorizes gang life, it is possible to predict that there will be an increase in regular citizen bikers seeking out membership in One Percenter Outlaw Motorcycle gangs.
3. Because of the way the SOA is presented by the mass media to be so appealing, a ready-made identity, it is reasonable to predict contagion effects whereby persons will copy or simulate the SOA identity and engage in real crime and violence.
4. And when people do simulate the SOA, perhaps by wearing SOA “colors” when they ride, real OMC’s can be expected to confront them about their wannabe and claimer status. And as any confrontation with a real OMC can easily result in violence, it is reasonable to predict that some of these claimers using SOA clothing items might be the victim of gang violence.
In the normal course of developing a “gang profile” of any real gang, it has been the tradition of the NGCRC to provide a summary “threat rating” for all such gangs. As the SOA is, after all, a figment of the imagination of Hollywood script writers, it has no real crime tradition to analyze and summarize. The fact that it glamorizes gang life reminds us that a giant dog turd in gold foil is still after all just dog doo.
Knox, George W.
2009 An Introduction to Gangs. New Chicago School Press: Peotone, IL.
2009 "Sons of Anarchy on FX Engrossing in 2nd Season", Chicago Tribune, section 3, p. 6, Tuesday, September 8, 2009.
2009 "Sweet Success for 'Big Brother', 'Sons of Anarchy' ", Sept. 9, 2009, Entertainment Section, Los Angeles Times.
Copyright 2009, NGCRC.
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