Sons of Anarchy: Rebels and Bad Subjects with a Cause?

Joseph Natoli

Our present 'social grid' -- the stage Sons of Anarchy plays upon – is one that most on the planet have fallen through; life outside of that grid may offer some hope, some new regime.

“[I]t is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to.” -- Emma Goldman, “Anarchism: What it Really Stands For”

The Existing Conditions

I believe this is mandatory – to set the surrounding scene of present existing conditions – even if one is dealing with a TV show about a Hell’s Angels-like club of bikers who, week after week, give us plenty to object to. What attracts me is the fact that the bikers object to... well, in the words of Marlon Brando’s Johnny in The Wild One, “Whatya got?” This, of course, is but another way of asking us to describe “the existing conditions”, which are, unfortunately, neither transparent nor uncontested, and fully dependent on whether one is Tea Party, or, the nemesis of the Tea Party -- a Socialist.

The Unobservers, meaning those who trump social context with personal choice of “the existing conditions”, outnumber both, which does not imply they might not be the most avid viewers of the TV show, Sons of Anarchy. There are angered folks in all three groups so I’ll do an “existing conditions” sketch from an angry perspective, one which our Sons of Anarchy seem to be responding to:

A self-correcting, elegant technocapitalism with global outreach has looted the country. The government has quickly rushed to throw whatever wasn’t looted to the fleeing looters. Such an expeditious act is one of the very few of a government whose democratically elected legislators represent millionaires way beyond the proportion of the society represented. It’s the sort of legislative body oligarchy puts forth. The Highest Office in the Land is either corporate sponsored – candidly flocking with the Haves and Have mores -- or seeking corporate sponsorship – disingenuously mouthing mantras of Hope and Change.

The promises of a globalized technocapitalism have overwhelmed all manner of regulation, unionized solidarity, consumer and environmental protection. The People display all signs of the long looted, in the fashion of medieval peasants who, locked for eons in illiteracy and degeneracy and false illusions and heir to the normal slate of deadly sins inherent in human nature, give proof to the Oligarchic Winners that The People are Losers, deserving only a “tough love”, a call to be entrepreneurial and “win”. The People adopt the Oligarchic view and disdain The People, hurling the abuse of the day at the lazy and corrupt miscreants – themselves.

A very peculiar state of affairs to dramatize, or even conceive. Incivility covers the land like L.A. smog. Family values, the Dow Jones, privatized prisons, and ceaseless warfare do what they can to merit the boast of a “civil society”. Foreign monsters and their monstrous regimes are so clearly monstrous that our civility, our lawfulness, our family values, our humanity, our sanity, our justice, our democracy and our freedom are clearly more than words and phrases. Rebels in this scene rally around a Libertarian banner: If we had less government and more free play of technocapitalism, everyone would enjoy the bounties of individual freedom and personal choice without ... without restraint or constraint from others? From the world outside their own “free” choices? From Government?

A very peculiar state of affairs to dramatize, given the scene we set. What anarchic impulse is not corralled by Libertarianism can be found in Cyberspace, that infinite domain of self-creation, that battlefield of endless blogging, blogs in response to blogs, links to links to ever more links, that Youniverse of You and You alone that tells the world once and for all that the world is your oyster, that the world is no more than what you choose it to be, that the Secret of the Ages is that all things bend to your will. All this cyber rebel needs to do is say “Whatever.”

In this scene being set, this is what passes for rebellion, this is the revolution, this is where you will find the mood just to tear it up, this is the fringe where you will find the outlaws, the masterless men who set out in the rubble of a looted, deluded, exploited order of things to make their fight, wave the black flag of anarchy. Well, mostly this is what passes for rebellion. Charmin’ ain’t it?

We’ve globalized so let’s set the global scene: national corporations, unleashed from governmental regulations, including Anti-Trust, inspired by the hearty American maxim of “bigger is better”, and financial institutions, unleashed from SEC regulations, and enjoying a recombinant status thanks to the removal of Glass-Steagall have all “transnationalized” and proudly wave the banner of “globalization”, “multi-culturalism and “diversity”. Pre-Cyber generations could only conduct their “globalization” in a boots on the ground, occupying manner, something that earned the name of “imperialism” and not “globalization”.

The new millennium, however, offers a cyber facilitated imperialism by which not only currency but workers and products can now be tracked each and every nano second. Boots on the ground management gives way to steady computer monitoring, screening, and surveillance.

A recombinant form of capitalism, call it technocapitalism, has enabled a globalization that itself is enabled by our postmodern recognition of “difference” and “otherness”, our postmodern attack on a privileged cultural “reasoning” and our postmodern understanding of the broad cultural shaping of “realities”. In short, we have shifted to a paradigm in which a reaching beyond our own identities toward difference is quite the thing. A fine thing.

We therefore see our new computerized imperialism as not simply benign but commendable. The word “globalization” once uttered wipes out all critique. A grand delete. A very peculiar state of affairs and hard to dramatize had reality not made all this clear. Thus, a global divide between a miniscule percentage of shareholders, profiteers, pirates and looters and a growing percentage of Having Less Each Day and Have Nots raises no one’s hackles and is somehow corrigible and remediable sometime in the future by the very system – a transnationalized techncapitalism -- which exacerbates the divide.

Senseless surges of violence can go on in the name of “democracy” and “freedom” while the limited resources of Mother Earth are both exhausted by our globalizing urge and corrupted. The most telling challenge to this we now short-hand as “terrorism”. It is not permitted to say behind this lurks anger, rebellion, and a revolutionary desire to overthrow a perceived enemy, to retaliate against a dominating force. It is permitted to say that the dark impulse to tear it up which is the modus operandus of Evil has made yet another assault on Goodness. After all, Satan and his minions strive to turn the Order of the Divine into the Chaos of Hell. Anarchy will reign on the Earth in place of the Goodness of Globalization. This is the global stage. Charmin’ ain’t it?

The stage has to be expanded to accommodate a TV show, The Sons of Anarchy. Well, perhaps the blueprint for expansion of rebellion, or more precisely, the removable of rebellion to more plausible ground, is here.

Yet the difference here is of scale not matter. There’s a sort of tribal warfare going on in the town of Charming: the Mayans, a Mexican gang, the Nords, white supremacists, the Niners, a black gang in Oakland, and a motorcycle “Club”, our Sons of Anarchy. Government is riddled with fault, personified in the cancer riddled Sheriff who wants to retire but is propped up by the Sons who needs him where he is. The Deputy Sheriff is like a babe wandering in the woods, slowly realizing that there is no Manichean moral order in Charming, that the Sons are sometimes the bad guys and sometimes the good guys; they sometimes look like Satan’s crew and sometimes the Saviour’s.

The Feds – ATF and FBI – play a Machiavellian politics that can never show its true face or mission, or, they abuse their authority as they pursue aberrant desires. There is no firm order of things, either political or moral. “Everything bends finally to greed,” Elliott Oswald, a country Club patrician, tells Gemma, the outlaw matriarch, who stands at the war-torn center of the Club itself. “You want to do the right thing by your family” is Gemma’s creed and the Sons of Anarchy are her family. She won’t allow her conscience to get in the way of doing the right thing for her family.

What to make of this when we consider what power the phrase “family values” has on our present American stage? What to make of this when we consider how problems resulting from the savagery of an unbridled and rapacious economics coupled with a deferential and “do-nothing” regulatory government have all been laid at the doorstep of personal and familial degeneracy? Of “bad” personal choices in a world where there are no constraints on personal choices, where the “will to win” is all? Is Gemma the heart of such a degenerate family? Her sons no more than the white trash a conservative politics is treating with a remedial cocktail of “tough love”? What we can be sure of is that Gemma is on this dramatized set the heart – and soul – of Charming.

Ah, a puzzling mystery, a dilemma for the fascinated but repelled, something too real on the stage of moral sham where the “will to win” has collapsed into a Ponzi scheme. This is life off the social grid, to quote the sacred text of anarchy which Jax, the “golden Son”, “the Little Prince” of the Sons of Anarchy, has found among his dead father’s things. The jump to be made is this: that our present “social grid” -- the stage set Sons of Anarchy plays upon – is one that most on the planet have fallen through and that any life off that grid may offer us some hope, some new regime. The dead father’s text here sets out to explain “How the Sons of Anarchy lost their way” and we, like Jax, are interested.

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