Sons of Anarchy

Rebels and Bad Subjects with a Cause?

by Joseph Natoli

8 April 2010


The Most Dangerous Gang of All

The Most Dangerous Gang of All

“Oswald land goes commercial, Charming goes Disney, and in the end it all goes to Old White Money, the most dangerous gang of all.”

“We all want Charming to grow and prosper.” A couple of Charming business men say this to Hale, the Deputy Sheriff, who stands like us, caught between knowing his moral position and increasingly coming to doubt it. His is not an overly discriminating moral compass: “I know the greater Devil when I see it.” To the Charming businessmen, Deputy Hale says: “It’s mostly the prospering you’re all about.” It’s prospering, indeed, that has a privileged spot on our social grid. Some argue that it has taken us to Iraq – twice—and now to Afghanistan, that it took us years before to Viet-Nam, that US “prospering” grew and nurtured the seeds of the 9/11 attack, that “prospering” has led to the “Great Recession” of 2008 that only the shareholders seem to be rebounding from.

Clay, the leader of the Sons, is in the view of Charming businessmen, “anti-expansion”. Clay explains his position this way to Jax, who is the acolyte son, the one who, like us, needs to know: “Oswald land goes commercial, Charming goes Disney, and in the end it all goes to Old White Money, the most dangerous gang of all.” “Outlaw justice,” Deputy Chief Hale tells Cohn, the ATF agent, “keeps away the corporate Boogey Man.” Franchise development is non-existent, Hale tells Cohn, who has “been jones-ing for a Starbucks since I got here.” True freedom, Jax reads in his father’s journal, demands sacrifice and pain, not a yearning for the bondage of social order or religious laws or materialism. Or a Starbucks double mocha, half caf, cappuccino. True freedom, however, has been abandoned by all but the Sons. For them, comfort does not replace freedom.

How appealing is this fringe attitude toward Money and Growth? On our real world social grid the claim that Old White Money is not now dispersed equally across racial, ethnic, gender, class, and sexual preference borders is, at the very least, out of date. It seems the obscenely greedy behavior of the Wall Street investment community and its darkly masked financial chicanery has not made a Boogey Man of any of these players, including Bernie Madoff who enjoyed pent house detention while his partners in crime fled to their off shore havens. “God’s business” continues to be done by Goldman Sachs.

We are post-everything now in the New Millennium: post-postmodern, post-feminist, post-socialism, post-racism, post-history, post-regulation, post-unions, post-analogue, post-class warfare, post-market collapses… Well, perhaps not that. Now in a world threatened by Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism why would we believe that “Old White Money” is the “most dangerous gang of them all?” Don’t we have bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists, hiding somewhere that hi-tech American drone surveillance can’t find, to fit that label?

Isn’t a Castro gang in Cuba still threatening our free enterprise? Isn’t the most dangerous gang somewhere in South Central L.A.? Or Detroit, the murder capital of the world? Is Old White Money the target of Ann Coulter’s venom? Is FOX news, the most watched news program in the US, giving us minute-by-minute updates on the “most dangerous gang” of them all: Old White Money? Do the Tea Partiers have any beef with predatory capitalism, or is it the socialism of Social Security and Medicare that form our “most dangerous gang”?

So what is Clay’s idea of business? “Men take care of business” is a mantra of the Club. “Grow a dick,” Opie’s father tells him, “and take care of business.” The Club’s ideas of ways to earn money is, in every episode, being questioned by Jax, the son who is finding a path of rebellion against the father, his step-father and leader of the Club, Clay. “What would happen if we didn’t rebuild?” Jax asks Clay when the talk comes around to rebuilding their destroyed meth factory.

When Jax’s girlfriend, Tara, is troubled by the Club’s porn industry, its gun running, and its meth lab, Jax promises Tara that he is working on freeing the Club from all the stuff that troubles her. How he will rebuild the Club into what his father’s text describes as the justice of the “True Outlaw” he does not know. Personal justice collides with social and divine justice and the True Outlaw must find a balance between the two. He must somehow meld the passion in his heart and the reason in his mind.

Gemma and Clay suffer from no such confusion. Personal justice extends to the Club and not beyond. The True Outlaw in their view follows the passion in his heart and that passion is enough to kindle her passion, her “outlaw” love. However, there is a muddling of this relationship: we see this in Chief Unser’s face when an angry Gemma gets up close, her hands where we cannot see. Gemma clearly can squeeze a man’s testicles until he cries. She wouldn’t last a day under Taliban rule. She has, however, no patience for her dead husband’s “softness”, a dangerous softness she feels will contaminate Jax. She wants him to be ruled by the “Right Father” – Clay Morrow.

How to find ways of earning that do not corrupt this melding of personal justice, social justice and divine justice? How not to join the Club that rules, the most dangerous gang of them all: “Old White Money?” If the “True Outlaw” lives on the fringe of the social grid and is not a sociopath and is not a sexist and does not bend to greed and uses brains and not bullets and both respects the wrath of the Old Testament Father and the healing of the New Testament Son – is a new regime, a new order of things delivered?

That Jax, who bears the word “Son” on his t-shirt is to lead the Club, first, to a healing and then to “new ways of earning” and a reconciliation of passion and reason is something Bobby Munson, the only Jewish member of the Club, understands. “This Club needs a healing and you’ve got to be the one to deliver it,” he tells Jax, acting now as not simply Clay’s consigliere but the whole Club’s, as well. Violence, thoughm is at the heart of doing business, whether it be violence of “might is right” or the violence of revenge and retaliation, it is a business that the Sons are on the fringe of in certain ways and deeply into in other ways.

They are on the fringe of the violence wrought by a globalized technocapitalism which does violence to those who do not share the wealth through stock ownership but work for wages, to those whose traditional lifestyle fails to privilege endless consumption, to those who have no protection against the cleverness of branding, and violence to every living part of our environment. 

When Clay and Jax get into a terrible fight in prison, it is Bobby who urges the fight to go on. This is a clash that, like the opening of an oozing wound, needs to happen. It fits in with the Club’s whole approach to confrontations—wring it out in the ring, violently, a la Fight Club. At the bottom of this violent clash, when animosity spends itself, is a purified bonding, violence accelerating a dark night of the soul and leading to a purification. That violent acts minister to justice is an outlaw credo. This is what will put you on the fringe and this is where we are placed when we step on the set of Charming. When Elliot Oswald, patrician, refuses to geld his daughter’s rapist and Clay steps forward and does the job for him, Jax’s face registers the disbelief and horror that we feel. Perhaps the most haunting part of Sons of Anarchy lies here, in its capacity to take us off guard and reach a subliminal awareness of what we use, defend against, hide and fear: violence.

With anarchy comes violence; the one breeds the other. We don’t tune in these outlaws to watch them sing or dance. Sex and violence sells movie tickets. That much is indisputable. The haunting aspect, however, is not in that. It’s in the resonance of all violence in Charming to all violence here where we are. The violence of the Sons of Anarchy spills over into our world or, if you will, our violence is something those on the fringe are trying to work their way through – and Jax’s role is to lead the way. The Sons sell guns to the IRA just as Americans sold guns to the Iraqi we now fight, to the Afghans we now fight.

The violence of the IRA disgusts us while any violence we commit comes packaged with a justifying alibi. Photographs show there has been some sickening violence done to supposed terrorists at Guantanamo; all manner of physical and psychological violence is packaged as justified. We argue endlessly over the meaning of the word “torture”. Suicide bombings are cowardly acts of violence while drone missile violence triggered most likely by government contracted private services safely ensconced thousands of miles from their target is needed defense. Someone will receive a bonus or a medal.

President Obama receives the Noble Peace Prize while his hand is to the wheel driving a very confused, on every level, campaign of violence in Afghanistan. This violence, one claims, will preempt any future violence against us. We are being preventative by employing prior constraint by means of violence to enemies we cannot clearly distinguish for reasons we cannot clearly define. Perhaps the haunting aspect of any encounter we have with violence has to do with the ambiguity of our own Christian ethics. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) Christ’s rebellion against all prevailing regimes cannot be viewed simplistically as a bloodbath but rather as a paradigm change that goes all the way to the bottom of society and therefore will set a new way of thinking and being against what holds sway. This is rebellion and revolt against the fraudulent peace of material comfort bought at any price. This is violence to the false and hypocritical, to empty words that mask nothing more than the expansion of power. 

Here in Charming, Clay Morrow is an anti-expansionist. Charming will not become a new market for entrepreneurial and commercial development but what the Son, and not the Father, will lead them to is not, and cannot, be revealed in any episode because we have not yet—caught as we are in the celebration of our technocapitalist globalization—able to conceive it. What we have in Sons of Anarchy is a yearning that makes an effort to make conceivable what has yet no existence for us. The effort is more often than not wrapped in the branding tactics of commercialization itself, from Hollywood biker outlaw rifts to regular feedings of porn, mayhem and perversion to satisfy the sensationalist hungry.

“What did you tell Jax? I told him some of the truth. What did you tell Lowell? A little more. That’s good. The rest is buried.”—Conversation between Clay and Gemma.

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//Mixed media