Five days ago, affirming a racketeering conviction in Florida, Ed Carnes who is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit wrote an amazing sentence that would have been unimaginable six years ago. Carnes wrote: “In a case of life imitating art imitating life, Maynard Kenneth Godwin was inspired by the fictional motorcycle gang in Sons of Anarchy, itself modeled on the real life Hells Angels, to form his own band of brigands called the Guardians.”
“Under his leadership, the Guardians terrorized the citizens of Jacksonville, Florida, through a steady onslaught of home invasion robberies, armed bank robberies, and other crimes,” Carnes explains.
“As often seems to be the protocol with criminal gangs,” this wondrous document continues, “the members of the Guardians were given monikers befitting their roles. Godwin bestowed on himself the apt title “Boss.” Bill Harper and Billy Hesson were the Lieutenants; Andrew Wilkie was the Enforcer; Frank Godwin was the Road Captain; and Brock Skov, owing to his computer savvy, was called Tech. The members wore dog tags inscribed with the organization’s name, their nicknames, and their rank; some sported ‘Guardian’ tattoos; and several rode motorcycles, used steroids, and lifted weights. Although Godwin did not formally name and officially organize the group into the Guardians until early to mid-2009,2 its members were involved in criminal activities together before then. Godwin sold various drugs, principally cocaine and oxycodone, and fenced stolen merchandise from his home and later from his store, ‘Guardians of Jacksonville,’ which he opened in 2010. At Skov’s residence, Godwin stockpiled a cache of body armor and firearms for Guardian members and associates to use with his permission. Jonathan Hart and David Hicks were two such associates; Eric Ellis was a third. Like Guardian members, Ellis used steroids, lifted weights,
and spent time at Godwin’s house. He knew that the Guardians were a gang that did ‘goon stuff,’ were ‘heavy into drugs,’ and were led by Godwin. On one occasion in June or July of 2010, Ellis, Wilkie, and Harper convened at Godwin’s house bedecked in black and carrying backpacks. Godwin called Skov at home to tell him that he was sending the three men ‘over there to get something from you,’ and then turned and asked the men, ‘Do y’all want the one with the extended clip on it?,’ obviously referring to a firearm.
“Stockpiling guns, dealing drugs, and peddling purloined products were not the most serious of the Guardians’ illicit endeavors. In a span of only fifteen months, beginning in May 2009, Guardian members and associates committed a slew of violent crimes, including four armed home invasion robberies, two armed bank robberies, one attempted bank robbery, and a savage beating. On May 21, 2009, Ellis, Harper, and Wilkie, acting at Godwin’s command, thrashed Dillon Burkhalter to within an inch of his life, repeatedly hitting and kicking him in the face until he began choking on his own blood. Burkhalter, who rented a mobile home located next to one owned by Godwin, had been ‘messing up (his) trailer,’ owed back rent to the owner of the trailer park, and apparently owed money to Godwin as well. When he was transported to the hospital with multiple facial fractures and cranial bleeding, Burkhalter was barely breathing, barely conscious, and utterly unresponsive, eventually lapsing into a coma for a period of three weeks.”
Wait There’s More
Last January, a producer named Dan Abrams from a show on the Sundance Channel called The Writers’ Room asked me to help him find fans who were so moved by the television show that they got Sons of Anarchy tattoos.
“We need photos of real people who got real tattoos inspired by the show (with tattoos of the SOA logo or key characters from SOA). And, of course, we need those people comfortable signing ‘materials & appearance releases.’ We can’t just get a photo off Google. We gotta be in touch with the actual person and, or, tattoo artist.”
Abrams asked that I screen the photos and forward them to him. As it turned out the show never ran the photos but they have continued to trickle into me anyway. About three weeks ago, one of the show’s fans sent me five shots of the Sons of Anarchy tattoo that covers his back. It features a top rocker and the Sons logo but no bottom rocker.
I knew I had at least one more Sons of Anarchy story to write so I asked the fan if I could run his photos. He replied: “Well if you ever have use for them or more let me know and we can discuss it then.”
Impressed though I was by his tattoo I thought I might still be able to run a story about the television show without illustrating it with his fine ink.
Kurt Sutter Informs Us All
To be a motorcycle outlaw, and to a slightly lesser extent to be a “biker,” is to subscribe to a common set of values, fears and ideals that define a way of being a man. “I don’t trust the government, I don’t trust no cops,” Whitey Ford raps. The strange tale of the Guardians and the curious subculture of people who decorate their bodies as if they belonged to a pretend motorcycle club only begin to hint at the ways Sons Of Anarchy has corrupted the most dramatic niche culture among men who dress in denim. During its six years on television, Sons of Anarchy has gone from being what Producer Kurt Sutter has called an “homage” to outlaw motorcycle clubs to being a cynical, shallow and remarkably stupid redefinition of the idea of motorcycle outlaws.
Beginning with the very first season, Sutter has insisted that naïve people should watch the show in order to gain an inside look at the motorcycle club world. The show has trumpeted its connections to members of the Hells Angels. Sonny Barger has appeared on the show, as a character called Lenny the Pimp. Several current and former cast members including Chuck Zito and Rusty Coones, have ties to the Angels. Sutter, his wife Katey Sagal and other cast members have gone to Phoenix to help Barger celebrate his club anniversary run.
One version of the show’s creation myth proclaims that SOA was born in producer John Linson’s imagination after he hung around with the Angels for some indefinite period of weeks, months or years. Sutter has described Linson as a “method producer.” During the first season, Linson performed his outlaw imitation at publicity events, which is to say he disguised himself as a passive aggressive thug who wore big, sharp rings and rarely deigned to speak.
An alternative creation myth says Sutter and FX stole the show from former New York Angel Zito who, unfortunately for Zito he did not have the advantage of being the heir of the royal Hollywood producer Art Linson.
Wherever Sons of Anarchy came from, I have always been candid about my reaction to it. For example after watching the show for the first time I wrote:
“There is not a moment of truth in the FX television networks new costume melodrama, Sons of Anarchy. Not a moment. Not a second. Not a breath.
“The show was proceeded by such an avalanche of hyperbole that even cynics hoped it might be better. A cogent show about bikers is theoretically possible. HBO’s series The Wire came close to telling the truth about the black ghetto for five years. Why not a show about scooter trash?
“The Wire even featured a biker played by the singer Steve Earle. But The Wire, because of the moral and artistic ideals of its producers was trying to tell the truth. Sons of Anarchy doesn’t need no stinking truth. Sons of Anarchy only needs its piece of the mega-billion dollar, Harley-Davidson aftermarket.
“The SOA don’t ride motorcycles so much as get on and off them. They prance around like pimps. Their cuts are their mink jackets. They rush to hospitals. They glower. They rarely laugh. They search their souls and ask themselves, “Why oh, why? How did our happy, hippie commune become a motorcycle club?” None of these outlaws has ever been shaken or stirred. None of them has calluses or scars.
“In the one distracting moment, halfway through a deadly hour, Charlie Hunnam busts a pool cue over a guy’s head and stabs him in the balls with the jagged end. That was almost amusing.
“But, mostly the SOA are shadows of cutouts of sketches of bikers. The show stinks and shines like dying grunion in the moonlight. And, it is made for the people Paddy Chayefsky called ‘humanoids,’ people who know the world only from watching it on TV.”
That first review, and literally every story here about the show since, has always provoked the same reaction from the mouth breathers: “Don’t you know this is a TV show? How can you be so fucking stupid as to not realize this is a TV show?!”
I’ve tried to answer that question dozens of times. Yeah, I realize it is a television show. It is a television show that attempts to define – not interpret or observe but define – the motorcycle club world. Sutter, who seems to be a genuinely bright and personally pleasant man, told me years ago that for him the show represented “vicarious badassary.” He was, he said, a fat, suburban kid from New Jersey who always wanted brothers who would stick up for him. And, he has succeeded in creating an interesting piece of art year after year that reflects his unusual mind.
The problem is that so many people over the last six years have taken the show as a guide book about how to be a motorcycle badass. Like for example the Guardians of Jacksonville.
Three years ago Jason Nark and William Bender of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “Authorities say that the soaring popularity of the Sons of Anarchy TV show – the most watched in FX’s history – could be contributing to a disturbing trend: Weekend warriors, no longer content to simply ride together, are forming small motorcycle clubs and dabbling in the outlaw lifestyle.”
Sutter, whose interpersonal style compels him to bully like bad weather on social media, replied to the article by saying, “people are going outlaw because of oppressive economic times not because of a fucking TV show. Don’t blame me for your inability to protect.”
I didn’t like the show any better when the second season began. But I hadn’t yet taken it seriously in the way I should have taken it seriously – although all the signs were already there. Then I wrote:
“That ridiculous thing, Sons of Anarchy, begins its second season – of a proposed seven seasons – tonight, Tuesday, September 8th, at ten o’clock Eastern.
“And apparently, 5.4 million of you have had this day marked on your calendars for ten months.
“Three weeks ago, according to the Manteca Bulletin, a ‘mind-boggling’ number of the show’s fans waited in ‘the mid-day heat’ at a Lathrop, California Harley dealership to beg autographs from six members of the show’s cast. Some signature seekers actually waited in line for two hours before being turned away.
“Last month in Sturgis, publicists for the show built a pretend biker clubhouse at one end of Main Street. The interior featured mug shots of actors with jobs on the show; two sets of ‘club colors’ framed behind glass like a couple of Kobe jerseys; and plaques commemorating the 25th or 30th or 35th anniversaries of imaginary chapters in Sturgis, Laconia and Milwaukee. One of the cuts even sported a ‘Men of Mayhem’ tab. You know, like the ‘Filthy Few.’
“The Sturgis clubhouse gave away bandannas. I demanded and got two of those because my bike had rain spots and I wanted it to look nice and just one bandanna would not do. I was going to stick around and see what else I could demand. But then I saw grown men with tattoos, bellies and beards buying Sons of Anarchy tee-shirts. So, then I ran away because I was afraid.
“I still don’t get it. Personally, I would rather watch The Terror of Tiny Town, the musical western with the all midget cast that is usually considered to be the worst movie ever made. For that matter, I would probably prefer to watch the new Sandra Bullock stalker ‘hit’ All About Steve. Instead this weekend, before I started to write whatever this is going to turn out to be, I watched two episodes of Sons of Anarchy. It took me fifteen hours. I kept falling asleep.”
About six weeks later, after somebody pretending to be Sutter started harassing me, I wrote:
“I am riding up through the high desert into the Eastern Sierras a week or so ago. The ride is always plagued with bugs. And, I have never owned a motorcycle with a windshield or a fairing or any of that crap so I am very aware of the bugs. At ninety miles an hour they explode like kinetic weapons all over my sunglasses, inside my nose, inside my mustache, on my teeth, on my hands, on my leathers and clothes.
“I ignore them mostly. Because I am riding the bike. The bike doesn’t ride itself. And, every so often I make a silly, high-pitched noise. But, I can’t tell you whether I am cursing or praying when my face meets the bugs that might actually be small, hard birds.
“When I came home and stripped off my clothes I found a horsefly under my scrotum. It seems that one, determined bug had somehow survived the collision with my cowboy boot, crawled up the leg of my jeans, struggled into my underwear, curled up under my balls and died. My old lady laughed. And, then she went on to imagine out loud all the species of insects it could have been. I took a shower and after I got out I more or less forgot about that fly.
“I only remember it now because I am writing yet again about Sons of Anarchy, the brilliant, gritty, critically acclaimed, astounding work of sheer-fucking-genius currently running fifteen or twenty times a week on the FX Cable Network. The show’s creator and principal propagandist is the prosperous actor and scrivener Kurt Sutter.
“And, I have made the artistic choice of beginning this essay with a dull anecdote about a bug by way of explaining to you that, as a general rule, anything Kurt Sutter might say is to me as the buzzing of a fly. Not even a fly that would lose its life on account of me but just another fly.”
Another year passed without me fully realizing the impact of the show. I had never heard of the Guardians, I had never heard of a little, family club in San Diego called the Laffing Devils and all I knew about the Iron Order was that it was a rude cop club that wore black and white. That year I wrote:
“The third season of the FX Network’s most successful show just debuted.
“It is called Sons of Anarchy and last year’s conclusion featured 4.3 million viewers rooting for an outlaw motorcycle club. Maybe that is the best thing about this show. Maybe there is more. I am still sort of glancing at the television out of the corner of my eye as I write this so not even I yet know.
“Hey! Is that Long Beach or San Pedro?
“The club in the show is poetically inspired by the Hells Angels who are, apparently, not yet famous enough. The Sons’ fiercest enemies are called the Mayans but when you hear Mayans you are supposed to think Mongols. Some of the motorcycle extras who work on the show are actually Vagos. I cannot begin to guess how many of those 4.3 million viewers know that Loki is the Norse god of mischief.
“I am pretty sure that most of the people who will read this do not give a damn about the Byzantine subtleties of the outlaw world. Most people will read this because they can’t get enough of the show. A month from now or a year from now they will surf around and eventually they will stumble upon this. Most of you – believe me I know – simply yearn to get your outlaw on and you call the show SAMCRO.
“The rest of you need to know that SAMCRO is the acronym for the “Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals” and that is the name of the mother charter for this club. It is the charter to which the lead actors all belong. The Sons of Anarchy call them “charters” in the manner of the Angels, not “chapters” like almost everybody else.
“Welcome SAMCRO visitors! Please wait patiently while the people who do not watch your show catch up.
“Sons of Anarchy is produced by an interesting man named Kurt Sutter and is based on an idea for a show by John Linson. Linson has great Hollywood connections and a deep admiration for the Angels. The show stars Ron Perlman as the Vietnam Vet, Charlie Hunnam as the sexy beast and Sutter’s wife, Katey Sagal, as the GILF with a heart of stone.
“SOA is a soap opera, heavily marbled with poignant musical interludes, but it is sold as an inside look at what it is really like to be an outlaw biker. The show hit the air less than two months after Dave Burgess was framed on a child porn charge; the same summer John McCain showed up at the Buffalo Chip to campaign and pledged to carry Sarah Palin to Washington on the back of his bike; the summer of the celebrity of Doc Cavazos; about the time Mark Papa Guardado died in a street fight in San Francisco; and, a month before Manual Vincent Hitman Martin was assassinated on the Glendale Freeway at the conclusion of Operation Black Rain. So naturally, the first season of SOA chose to shoehorn its characters into a reworking of Hamlet.
“That reimagining of Hamlet seemed grandiose then. Two years later, a week after Mama Sarah Palin explained her mispronunciation of repudiate as “refudiate” by comparing herself to Hamlet’s original author – that Shakespeare guy – Sutter’s artistic choice seems almost reasonable.”
The next year, I was still pretty clueless about the impact the show was having on the little slice of Americana I write about. It was all right in front of my eyes but I refused to see it. I wrote:
“That incredibly marvelous, wonderful and important television show Sons of Anarchy debuts tonight. Again.
“I know. I still can’t see how important this “Shakespearian inspired drama” is but I am starting to catch on. I am trying. My ‘problem’ may be, as casual readers who love the show frequently tell me, that I am too stupid and crazy to understand the difference between reality and a television show.
“And look, I have absolutely no intention of arguing with them because sometime I might want to use that as my legal defense.
“But, consider these recent, true events related to this Fox Television phenomenon. Reader Discretion Is Advised:
“On August 11, a 27-year-old Chandler, Arizona man named Joshua Seto accidently shot a hole through his penis while carrying his girlfriend’s pink pistol in his waistband. After perforating his penis the bullet lodged in Seto’s thigh.
“‘The movies and TV shows, like Sons of Anarchy, that show tough guys with guns shoved into their jeans are not realistic,’ The Arizona Republic quoted Chandler Police Detective Seth Tyler as saying after the incident. The detective went on to explain that no matter how Jax does it, would be outlaws should always use ‘a holster.’
“A few days later, The San Jose Mercury-News reported that cops there were harassing members of The Henchmen Motorcycle Club. ‘If the Henchman have nothing to hide, then why should they be concerned to be legitimately stopped by police?’ the Hayward Police Chief , a woman who is not a Constitutional scholar but who is named Diane Urban, said.
“ ‘If they were not involved in criminal activity, no one would give them a second look,’ a man named Jorge Gil-Blanco, who the Mercury-News identified as an ‘expert on outlaw motorcycle gangs,’ explained.
“In defense of the Henchmen, patch holder and founder Ed ‘Big Ed’ Aki said, ‘We’re not choir boys but we’re not the Sons of Anarchy, either.’
“Meanwhile in Laconia, New Hampshire, the Talons Motorcycle Club has been having its own problems with police harassment. Local authorities accuse the Talons of ‘having ties with’ the Hells Angels.
“Producers and others affiliated with the Sons of Anarchy television show have stated numerous times that the club in the show is meant to represent the Angels. And, I have personally seen series show runner Kurt Sutter and lead actress Katey Sagal at Hells Angels sponsored events.
“And after the club was accused of ‘having ties’ a Talon patch holder named Jim Maimone tried to explain to the Portsmouth Herald, ‘We’re not the Sons of Anarchy.’”
The Growing Iron Order
This summer I asked a member of the Iron Order what effect he thought Sutter’s show had had on the growth of his motorcycle club. He said:
“I don’t think the Iron Order could have flourished the way it did without the show. I know the club itself formed before the show started but it hit its major stride on growth about 2008 or 2009 and the show was growing in popularity then.” That growing popularity was certainly coincidental to the growth of several new and non-traditional motorcycle clubs.
The Iron Order member talked about how he joined his club. “I was new to the biker life and I knew some things but was largely in the dark. I knew that approaching a club out of the blue was generally frowned upon and that there was a process to interactions but I live in something of a dead zone for MC’s and did not know how to get my foot in the door with any of them. When I looked at the Iron Order they welcomed inquiries so I figured why the hell not and sent them a message. I did not hear back at that time and let it go for awhile. Then I started thinking about forming my own club, and in doing some of the leg work I decided that joining an established club would be a better way to go. I turned back to the Iron Order and sent them a message asking about forming a chapter. I received a response immediately. I found out I did not have the number of members they wanted me to have. But a nomad (Iron Order nomads act as recruiters for the club) put me in contact with the nearest chapter. I met with the chapter president and two members from the other state chapters. I had a sit down with them for a few hours. I was offered two options. I could join an established chapter and prospect and learn the ins and outs and work on getting a chapter started nearby. Or I could work on getting a new start-up chapter going.”
The realities of joining a motorcycle club are often harsher than Sons of Anarchy viewers anticipate. The Iron Order member said, “I recall seeing far too many times where people patched in and then left when shit got real. A good example is a Florida chapter that folded overnight last summer when they got on 23’s (the Warlocks) radar and bad side and they quit instead of standing up because the said that they didn’t think it would be that way.”
Incidents like that seem to be regular occurrences with the Iron Order. Joining and belonging to a motorcycle club often requires a life changing commitment. Joining the Iron Order is more like changing channels or changing clothes. The club has about 4,000 members and may be the largest motorcycle club in the world. About half of those members are sworn police officers and a quarter are active duty military personnel up to the rank, according to club president Ray Lubesky, of full Colonel. Sometimes these members act like police. Sometimes they call the police.
Last week in New Port Richey, Florida, where Lubesky is said to maintain a residence, a group of Iron Order members in full costume staked out a table in the Winghouse on Highway 19. When a group of Black Pistons, who were not wearing colors, showed up the Iron Order called 911. Six police responded to the emergency call and stood guard as the Iron Order members warmed up their bikes and rode away to safety.
It has often seemed to me that the most polite men I have ever met are motorcycle outlaws. Real motorcycle outlaws often moderate their words because they know their insults, or perceived insults, will be replied to with violence – a punch in the nose or something worse.
One of the lessons Sons of Anarchy has taught its fans is that fights are won, rather than started, with insults. During the short-lived lawsuit between Zito and FX, Sutter wrote a blog post titled “Douchebaggery Is The Greatest Form of Flattery” in which he called Zito a “half-talent” and called his lawsuit “bogus.”
“Here’s the problem with his plan,” Sutter wrote. “When it comes to parting with cash, there’s one badass outlaw that makes Zito look like a pussy – his name is Rupert, and Rupe don’t sway. Trust me, Chucky could firebomb our lot and Fox wouldn’t fork over a fucking dime to this guy. That’s why I love them…my parent company is as stubborn and aggressive as I am.
“So here’s my bi-monthly reminder to every delusional bitch who thinks that they’ve come up with the idea for SOA –
“HAVING THE FUCKING IDEA IS NOT THE SHOW. THERE HAVE BEEN DOZENS OF OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE TV DRAMAS PITCHED IN THE LAST TEN YEARS. NONE OF THEM HAS MADE IT TO SERIES, EXCEPT SOA. BECAUSE THEY SUCKED. The same way there were dozens of mob family pitches before the Sopranos and crime scene pitches before CSI.”
“I guarantee you, the only similarity between Zito’s pitch and SOA is that they wear cuts, do illegal things and ride Harleys.”
Enter The Laffing Devils
Sutter’s delusion that Rupert Murdoch is “one badass outlaw” because the media mogul is greedy, selfish and very rich seems genuine and indicates the depth of Sutter’s insight into the outlaw code. There is certainly nothing wrong with Sutter confusing Simon Legree with Jesse James. The problem is that Sutter has apparently taught a whole generation of neo-bikers to rant like maquereaux.
When The Devils Ride, another show that promised to give viewers the vicarious experience of being a motorcycle outlaw debuted, Sutter tweeted: “watched DEVIL’S RIDE. probably get in trouble for saying this, but I’m pretty sure my SOA actors could kick the shit out of this ‘real’ MC.”
True to form, one of the Devils tweeted back, “I am concerned that Kurt’s creative mind is stuck in make-believe land with his recent comment on Twitter. Here’s a reality check for ya Kurt…. I am sending a personal invitation to your pretty-faced Kurt Cobain look-alike star Jax (portrayed by Charlie Hunnam) to come down to San Diego and prove your point. And tell him to wear those shiny white kicks too. I hope he’s a size 11, I could use some new shoes.”
“The reality is that Hunnam is probably the toughest fucking dude on my set,” Sutter replied to a perfect stranger. “Newcastle street kid. He’s the last guy I’d ever pick to fight.”
Sutter, who by then seemed to think he had invented motorcycle clubs, accused the new show of “exploiting” his television show. “I know devil’s ride has exploited SOA and is now using me for more exposure,” he tweeted. Which was followed by, “LACTATING DEVILS, fake MC is now threatening actors. wow, they are so fucking BADASS. gigiddy. TMZ you complete me.”
Sutter explained in a YouTube post that his argument was really with the Discovery Channel rather than the motorcycle club. “No one at the network (Discovery) ever mentioned this outlaw motorcycle project they had in development,” Sutter complained. “not to me, not to my producing partners at Studio Lambert, nobody. Nothing was ever said. And I didn’t hear about it honestly until somebody started tweeting about it and I guess some of the trailers had already come out.
“And suddenly I’m watching the promos for this show and I’m seeing scenes that were taken directly from, you know, the Sons of Anarchy pilot. You know, a guy in a barbershop watching bikes go by. And, suddenly it all felt a little covert and quite honestly a little duplicitous. And, I just felt like, you know, when suddenly the network is billing this show the, you know, real life Sons of Anarchy and stealing the concept in terms of…uh…not stealing the concept but going after clearly the audience that watches Sons.
“And because I was associated with the network (Discovery) because I had this project going on the obvious assumption, and I think it makes sense, is that people would assume that either that was my show or I had something to do with that show. And, I just felt like the network had to be aware of that and perhaps that’s why they never mentioned it. And it was just, you know, it just felt like kind of a shitty thing to do. And you know, obviously that’s what happened and people assumed I had something to do with that show and I didn’t. And, now I feel like, well, did they only get in business with me on Outlaw Empires because they knew they were doing that and it was somehow, some way of doing this…you know… branding thing so…and tapping into the Sons audience.
“So, suddenly I just felt like, I don’t know, I just felt like duped, quite honestly. And, pissed off you know? So, then I felt like that’s, that I need to, uh, I need to distance myself from that. You know, that’s not a show I’m associated with. It’s not a show I want to be associated with. I don’t do that kind of reality TV. Outlaw Empires is a documentary series based on the lives of real people. So I just felt it was important for me to distance myself and I do that by how I usually do on Twitter by making some sort of snarky, absurd comments.
“And then what happened, as usual, is that comment got fed back to the guys that were doing that reality show. And they said some things about me and that got spun out in a certain way that I’m sure wasn’t the truth either because it was fucking TMZ so it is what it is. And of course these guys are gonna respond in a big way when they have some fucking douche bag with a camera calling them out in front of their friends. So, it just went ugly which is fine if the blowback is only on me. But, then they started harassing Charlie (Hunnum) and emailing him. And then, once again, I’m always taught the hard lesson of that when it comes to Sons of Anarchy it’s not me, man. I’m not the show. The show’s this bigger entity that impacts the lives of hundreds of other people.”
“So that’s what went down. I don’t know those dudes (the Laffing Devils). I don’t want to know those dudes. And I know they are a support club for a bigger club and I guess inroads have been made to clean things up so everyone feels like they’re being heard and respected and that’s fine. That should all be done. And I support that and will do whatever I need to do to make that happen. So that’s what went down. And for me the biggest culprit in all this is Discovery. I hate to be the guy that goes, ‘Oh the evil empire network did it.’ But, you know, I don’t know what else to say.”
Sutter may not have invented motorcycle clubs but he certainly invented the notion that any accountant could go out and start his own motorcycle club and that the way to earn respect was with insulting rhetoric. It is a lesson the Iron Order has certainly embraced. Anybody who has read even a portion of the comments that Iron Order members have posted on The Aging Rebel can see that with their own eyes.
By last season I had decided that Sons Of Anarchy was a chick show that hardly offended me at all. Last year I wrote:
“Whatever you do, don’t forget to watch the sixth season premier of that life-changing and important wonder, Sons of Anarchy tonight at ten on FX.
“Charlie Hunnam is in it. This is Charlie Hunnam’s world so it is now pretty much Charlie’s show. It was recently announced that he will star in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. The Guardian reported just yesterday that ‘the upcoming adaptation of EL James’ bestselling ‘mommy porn’ literary sensation, in which he will star as kinky billionaire Christian opposite Dakota Johnson’s blushing virgin Ana, would be a walk in the park when compared to shoots for (the) Channel 4 drama Queer as Folk 14 years ago.’
“Harvey Levin of TMZ reports that Hunnam is about ‘to be such a big star!’
“It is also impossible not to know from television that Hunnam rides his motorcycle all the time and that he sometimes rides wearing flip flops. Miraculously, that doesn’t make the top of his left foot hurt. Maybe he just keeps it in first. Maybe Hunnam doesn’t have to use his engine at all, let alone his transmission. Maybe adoring fans carry him and his motorcycle aloft.
“Hunnam has also said that real bikers ride in sneakers and guys who wear cowboy boots are ‘dentists.’ See you around Charlie. Small world. What do you think of guys who wear cowboy boots and knives?”
Understanding SOA’s Popularity
I spent many words in 2012 and 2013 on the legal woes of friend and former Hells Angel George Christie. So, I wrote:
“It is common now, in biker racketeering cases, for prospective jurors to be interrogated about the basic cable soap opera Sons of Anarchy. ‘Do you now, or have you ever watched the television show Sons of Anarchy? Do you understand it is fiction? Do you understand the difference between fantasy and reality?’
“The juror questions are ironic because the television show bears little likeness to even the most corrupt chapters of any of the brand name motorcycle clubs. The club in the show is an unabashed crime syndicate that derives its money and status through the shared commerce of guns, drugs and women. The characters, presumably, are all zillionaires. They only dress down. None of them even tries to hide his criminality – although it might be a more interesting show if one of them, now and then, did. But none of them ever do, so defense attorneys must go through the motions of trying to convince jurors that the show is written in the sky in smoke like an expensive and fleeting Valentine.
“Jurors always believe what the show’s creators claim over and over – which happens to be exactly what prospective jurors wish was true – which is that Sons of Anarchy is an artistic vision, not the commercial hallucination of liars and fools
“The federal trial of George Christie early this year got as far as the second day of voir dire – and the questions about the television show – before Christie agreed to plead guilty. In the last five years the show has prejudiced jury pools all over the country. And, that is ironic because the show knows nothing about and has nothing to say about the motorcycle club world. The show seems to have evolved into something that doesn’t even need motorcycles. All it needs now is Charlie Hunnam, a dozen or so beautiful and crazy women and some bang-bang. Hunnam could play an IRS agent who moonlights as an accountant for whores and the show would still be a hit.
“In the beginning, SOA was the recollections of some adventures that producer John Linson had with the Hells Angels and it was obviously conceived to appeal to disaffected men – the kind of men who wish they were Hells Angels or who like to daydream about being motorcycle outlaws. It is hardly news, except maybe in Hollywood and Washington, that American masculinity is in crisis and that outlaw motorcycle clubs suggest a cure.
“Outlaw clubs are outposts of what the late Tim Hetherington called ‘Man Eden.’ James Brabazon, who collaborated with Hetherington and Sebastian Junger on the documentary Restrepo thinks, ‘War is the only opportunity that men have in society to love each other unconditionally and it’s understanding the depth of emotion of men at war that Tim was fascinated with.’ Motorcycle clubs simulate the emotions and values of men at war. They manifest what William James called ‘The Moral Equivalent of War.’
“During its first couple of seasons SOA seemed to pander to the emotions of otherwise competent and proud men who could no longer survive, let alone raise a family, by selling only their labor. Modern men are compelled to feminize themselves to either earn a living or secure the credentials that now symbolize an education. And, some percentage of American men and boys, probably around 20 percent, simply find that feminization to be too humiliating to endure. For whatever reasons of class or psychology or macroeconomics that big fraction of all men long to be what James called ‘hunting men, and to hunt a neighboring tribe, kill the males, loot the village and possess the females, was the most profitable, as well as the most exciting, way of living.’ In the same brief essay, written in response to the horrors of the Russo-Japanese War, James went on to describe the virtues all motorcycle outlaws embrace today: ‘Martial virtues…intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command….’
Carnes Was Wrong
Five days ago Ed Carnes, the Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit wrote that the Guardians case exemplified “life imitating art imitating life” but Carnes was wrong by two words. Much of what would otherwise be unexplainable in the motorcycle club world in the last six years can be described as “life imitating art.” The art is Sons of Anarchy which is not based so much on life as it is founded in whatever demons drive Kurt Sutter to create and have guided him to success.
The show has never interpreted what motorcycle clubs are. It has always reflected what Kurt Sutter thinks motorcycle clubs should be.
The show’s final season begins tomorrow night at ten o’clock on FX. It will be one hour and forty-five minutes long and at least ten million people will watch it. The entire season that follows will feature plot lines that appeal to women realized by a multi-racial cast it will all be punctuated by cartoonish cruelty. Last season, for example, the character played by Sutter’s wife, Katey Sagal, executed her grandchildren’s mother by stabbing the woman over and over in the head with a fork. This season the son will murder his mother. Hunnum’s character, Jax, will survive until almost the very end before dying in the final episode.
Kurt Sutter’s utter lack of compassion for his characters may be his most notable quality as a writer. The final episodes will feature lots more of that sort of violence as Sutter murders off his characters one by one. A couple of weeks ago, in a glowing tribute to the show, the Los Angeles Times enthused that, “Relentless scenes of over-the-top mayhem and maiming have placed the series in the top ranks of TV’s most violent dramas.”
The Times also reported that Sutter seems to think of his television show as a brotherhood like a motorcycle club. “He has choked up at premieres when praising Hunnam,” the paper said, “calling him a true brother: ‘We’re at a place where we’d take a bullet for each other.’”
It is a curious hyperbole. It begs the questions of whether Sutter has ever been shot, has ever seen anyone shot or has ever known anyone who was shot.
It also recalls a murder this past summer in a parking lot in Jacksonville Beach. A Black Piston named Zach Tipton was shot in the head by a man following his own vision of what a motorcycle club should be. The shooter has not yet been named lest he be harmed by friends of the victim. Apparently he is being protected in exactly the same way his club brothers were protected last week in New Port Richey.
It seems likely that the shooter talked to Tipton in about the same way that Sutter talked to Zito and that Tipton reacted by punching his insulter in the nose. Then acting in great fear for his life the shooter fired at least five bullets from a pistol at least one of which killed Tipton. By many accounts the shooter was in the military and a drama about the motorcycle club world might consider and dramatize whether his actions epitomized what James called the “Martial virtues…intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command….”
None of that would be worthy of Sons of Anarchy. It is doubtful that Tipton’s murder was sufficiently dramatic to appear in an episode of Sons of Anarchy. It is hard to imagine that either Sutter or Hunnum would have ever voluntarily put themselves in the parking lot where Tipton and his killer found their fates. It is impossible to imagine that Sutter would feel any responsibility for what happened to Tipton. And that sums up Sons of Anarchy.