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.
The Masculinity Crisis
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….”
This eagerness to speak to real and potential outlaws everywhere probably explains the show’s self-proclaimed authenticity. Over and over for half a decade the producers and the stars of this show business confection have insisted that they are not portraying characters but rather revealing their own, true, edgy, dangerous, free, hyper-masculine selves. That illusion of authenticity was the premise of a couple of SOA knockoffs, particularly the ludicrous The Devils Ride. Kurt Sutter even complained that The Devils Ride had stolen its opening from his show and he got into a bitchy twitter war with some of that knockoff show’s cast.
SOA has also striven to sell its purported authenticity to the disaffected and clueless by hiring Hells Angels in need of a showbiz boost. Sonny Barger has appeared in the show and has spoken glowingly about it. Last year, after former New York Angel Chuck Zito lost a lawsuit in which he claimed Sutter had stolen the idea for Sons of Anarchy from him, Sutter gave Zito a recurring role. The Devils Ride responded by hiring former Mesa Angel Ralph Randolph as one of its stars. In last night’s SOA premier, current Hells Angel, and so much more, Rusty Coones appeared as the club’s official refrigerator mover. Coones previously played himself in The Devils Ride.
There were outbreaks of primitive masculinity in last night’s episode. A club brother named Tig Trager, played by the actor Kim Coates, beat a bad Iranian pornographer to death then pissed on his body. It was a manifestation of primitive masculinity stolen from the headlines.
In September 2012 United States Marines were widely described as “inhuman” for urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban. All combat veterans, and virtually every man who has lived in the last 200,000 years, would have found the conduct of those Marines to be at least understandable. Some percentage of men would find pissing on the bodies of their enemies to be laugh out loud hilarious.
But Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, a member of Congress and a rising political star, speaking on Bill Maher’s television show on HBO, condemned the men fighting her war for not fighting it correctly. The same week a Marine Staff Sergeant was being court-martialed for “desecration of human remains,” “posing for unofficial photographs with human casualties,” “failing to properly supervise junior Marines” and not reporting misconduct, Shultz, speaking very obtusely, said “Let’s remember that this is the United States of America. The greatest country in the world that is the country that we hold ourselves up as a shining example. That conduct, and I represent a lot of wonderful 18-year-old kids in the Twenty-Third District in South Florida, and I wouldn’t expect that conduct out of any of them no matter what their level of maturity is and it’s unacceptable in any way shape or form.” The entire population of the television studio, which might not have contained a single combat veteran, enthusiastically cheered.
A Woman’s Show
The Iranian villain in last night’s show might as well have called himself the Iron Sheik. He was so loathsome that even Debbie Wasserman Schultz might have been tempted to piss on him. And, his most grievous sin was his exploitation of women.
Sons of Anarchy is now blatantly a chick show. Even Wasserman Shultz might like it. There is still much cartoon violence in SOA but to say it is a show about motorcycle clubs is like saying China Beach was a show about Vietnam.
While men strut around in their flannels and cuts, the central characters in scene after scene are women. There are long scenes of women talking, sharing their feelings and watching their adorable children. Jax Teller, the show’s lead character portrayed by the English actor Charlie Hunnam, is constantly surrounded by and fussed over by adoring women. The show should be called Jax And His Bitches. An entire subplot was devoted to Jax and his boys rescuing whores from the evil Iranian porno kings. Obviously, FX has some research that indicates that women viewers long to be possessed by the males from the neighboring porno studio. Those beautiful whores live lives of leisure in whorehouses that look like Victorian mansions.
Into its sixth season, the show retains both its artistic pretensions – this is, after all, a show that unabashedly compares itself to the best of William Shakespeare – and its gutless acquiescence to political correctness. The sixth season premiere opened with a long soliloquy of self-reverential blather as Jax, the dreamboat no woman will ever resist, writes in his “journal” to his son. These journal entries are obvious plays by Sutter for some critic somewhere to laud his narrative skill but they don’t do much to advance either character or plot. Unless all these pretentious reveries embarrassingly surface in a future RICO trial what they all amount to is Kurt Sutter showing off.
The dramatic climax last night occurred just after a creepy, little blonde boy pulled a fully automatic TEC-9 out of his back pack. Then, off camera, the boy blew away some unknown number of his innocent schoolmates. The gun, of course, will be traced back to the Sons of Anarchy and much soul searching and philosophizing are sure to result.
On the way to this epic shark jump many fearsome male characters were punked or allowed themselves to be punked. Clay Morrow, the ruthless former club president, a Vietnam combat veteran and an outlaw for 40 years, betrayed his life long friends because he was afraid he would be raped and murdered by black inmates. There were racial and sexual incidents throughout the show that suggested at least masochism, if not some darker and weirder corner of the postmodern soul, like cuckold fetishism. The dramatic tension in last night’s Sons of Anarchy was indivisible from the neurotic terrors of the American middle class.
After the creepy kid went postal there was a long, sad song so we could all mourn and heal, each in our own way, for a full three minutes, over a clip montage that was sure to provide closure.
The blessed anticlimax arrived after an hour and a half, as Jax rode one of his many women. The camera pulled back to frame his full patch tattoo. The shot suggested that this season Jax will be endlessly sandwiched between his club and his bitches – between his primitive masculinity and his domesticity. Very many people, particularly women, will watch to learn which way his heart will go.