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Life lessons from the Sons

Off the wall with Padre JAMES BHAGWAN
Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Surfing the internet to catch up on all the news from Fiji, I came across a promotional piece on one of the new television shows to air on FBC TV, Sons of Anarchy.

According to the FBCTV website: "Sons of Anarchy is an American television drama series, about the lives of a close-knit outlaw motorcycle club operating in Charming, a fictional town in California's Central Valley. The show centers on protagonist Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the then-vice president of the club, who begins questioning the club and himself."

Having already watched a number of episodes of this series, which is now in its fifth season in the United States, I must say that while I enjoy the show in terms of the story line and the themes that come out of each episode, it is a dark and gritty show about a group of people that live outside of mainstream society and the law. There are moments of extreme violence, including sexual assault that reflect the world in which the Sons (and daughters) of Anarchy live.

Having said that, I found the story and relationships of the characters to be very interesting and on occasion deeply moving.

The paradox of a series about a "outlaw motorcycle gang" is that not only is there the action and drama of a series about, well, outlaw motorcycle gangs, but there are stories of the people within the gang, who are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, friends, brothers.

There is also the underlying tension of a group of people who started out trying to live as an alternative community in the period of disillusionment of post-Vietnam war America and ended up resorting to illegal means to survive.

A group that while condoning arms smuggling and pornography stands against drug trafficking and sexual assault. In Charming, the fictitious Californian town in which the show is set, they assume a role of protecting the town from the greater evils — being the lesser evil themselves, often dishing out their own brand of justice.

The show paints an interesting contrast between the obvious love and affection these men have for each other and the scorn they feel for people who aren't part of their brotherhood.

The heart of the show is Jackson "Jax" Teller (played by Charlie Hunnam), who has a newborn son and is starting to question his lifestyle. His mother Gemma, (played by Katey Sagal of "Married with Children"fame) is now with Clay (Ron Perlman who acted as Hellboy), the head of the gang. They're both devoted to both the biker lifestyle and its underground business and are threatened by the idea that Jax might be considering a new direction.

Writer, director and producer Kurt Sutter, the show's creator, and executive producer recently wrote, "For the record, SOA is an adrenalised soap opera, it's bloody pulp fiction with highly complex characters. Often, I think the depth of the characters, the emotionality of the writing and the amazing performances is what confuses critics."

Sutter who also plays a SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) member "Otto" on the show shared why, while the Sons of Anarchy are so dark and gritty, there is also humour, romance and poignant moments

"When John Landgraf (currenty President of FX Networks that produces Sons of Anarchy) wanted to move ahead with SOA, he went to his then boss, Peter Chernin, and told him he was going to greenlight the show. Chernin told him it was a mistake. No one would watch a show about a bunch of dirtbag bikers.

He thought it was a nasty, unpleasant world. But Landgraf knew the operatic Hamlet approach of my pitch might be able to avoid the ugly, meth-reality and deliver the thematic attractiveness of the subculture. Yes, the MC (motorcycle club) world can be a dark, brutal place. It doesn't have the glamor of the Mafia or the urban sway of street gangs. Chernin was right, a straight up drama, no matter how well done, wouldn't have lasted more than a season. I knew instinctively, as did John Landgraf, that dark humor and pulp operatic storytelling would be the best way to open up this world to viewers. That to balance the danger and brutality of the world, the show needed to be entertaining and, dare I say, fun."

Make no mistake: These men are all vicious, hardened criminals who will do whatever it takes to protect their lock on the Southern California arms trade.

Guns, threats, and violence are their most useful tools, and no matter how much the show tries to humanise them, they're simply not nice people.

But they are human beings who have to deal with issues of trust, loyalty, greed, and leadership and live by a code, moral by their standard if not ours.

The series is about people on the wrong side of the law, but also people in relationships which, while different from most of us, have to make many choices which in essence are very similar.

A critical way to watch this show, and others like it on television, is to discuss not just the action and plot but also reflect on the issues around the plot and the characters. Critical reflection, of course is what makes us more than mere sponges of whatever is dished out to us on television.

"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity"

nReverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology Student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. Visit the blog or The views expressed are his and not that of this newspaper.

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