Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sons and Daughters of Anarchy

If this show is anything, it's fraught with testosterone, and sometimes the chicks are doling it out more than the dudes. It follows a fictional motorcycle club based of course on some composite of the Hell's Angels. They're called the Sons of Anarchy, men of mayhem, and the plot centers around the 'Redwood Original' wing of the charter in a Hamletesque narrative focusing on the heir apparent Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the matriarch of the club, Teller's mother Gemma (Katey Sagal) and the pretender to the throne Gemma's husband Clay Murrow (Ron Perlman) who is just a little more tough than the rest of his crew.  
He's never shed a tear, hugged a puppy, or said a baby was cute, and his wife knows how to keep up with him. You won't see her at a tea dance handing out cupcakes, and trying on dresses. To be the mamma to her biker boys, she's had to grow a pair of rather large and hairy balls herself. She throws a punch as devastating as Indiana Jones back in his heyday and never shies away from a little confrontation if it means she gets to choke a bitch. She's so tough she could stare down the most hardened member of SAMCRO (the abbreviated term for the Sons) and make him beg for his life on his knees. 
Then we have Dr. Tara Knowles, the doctor girlfriend of Jax played by the incredibly talented and versatile Maggie Siff who slowly takes more and more lessons form Gemma on how to properly inflict pain and intimidate inferiors and get what she wants. Those healing surgeons hands of hers quickly pick up on the art of firing a semi-automatic and the occasional hair-pulling debacle, and she quickly earns the respect of the men not only for that but because she constantly ends up patching them up after they carelessly get shot and can't go to the hospital. 
Then there's the main antagonist through the 2nd and 3rd season, ATF agent June Stahl (Ally Walker) who will stop at nothing to bring down SAMCRO and make the world safe for democracy again...or something like that. At first glance, she looks like she could be Gemma's younger sister, but she goes above and beyond in the masculinity game than any of the other chicks on the show. Where Gemma loves to wear low-cut tops, lipstick, and styles her hair to add to her female aesthetic rather than demeanor, Agent Stahl is a 300 pound WWE wrestler in a 120 pound gangly woman. She's aggressive, crude, intimidating, and inherently macho. She's that bully in high school that everyone feared. 
At times it seems that the 'manly' aspects of Sons of Anarchy are actually represented by the women. Sure there are some femme chicks in the series, but they are used more for set dressing and plot devices more than anything else. If we look at the big three female roles, we see a definitive new-woman emerge. It is that of the woman that wants to stand toe to toe with the men and level the playing field, therefore she has to somehow adapt a lot of male characteristics including behavior, language, and mannerisms, but she gets to keep her aesthetic appeal. They also keep the very essence of their femininity. 
Keep in mind, this is not just a show about the men, though on the surface it seems that way. They definitely approach a lot of serious issues such as rape, abortion, prostitution, and others. But that's not to say that there isn't a level of sexism on the show but it's just as sardonic as it is on a show like Mad Men. I mean, who honestly thinks that a bunch of leather-clad gun-wielding  motorcycle thugs would treat women respectfully and gently all the time? The show introduced us to the term 'sweet butt' which is apparently what a girl is called when she decides to hang around the boys in the club, bringing them shots of Jack Daniels and swabbing their wounds with rubbing alcohol. When she gets officially inducted into the tribe is when she starts getting referred to as 'so and so's old lady', it's an old school practice, and if i've learned anything about motorcycle clubs by watching this show is that they are highly dependent on traditions. Also, that I would rather not watch Ron Perlman have simulated sex with anyone, but you take the good with the bad. 
The show's creator Kurt Sutter (who is married to Katey Sagal) clearly started the premise with the character of Gemma and then worked around her to create the rest of the troop. Her contribution to the Sons has far more impact than anyone else that's 'officially' in the club. In the end, even though the cast is mostly men, and the title connotes a male influence of the premise, the show is clearly more about the women who's struggle to be peacemakers amongst warlords is the most interesting aspect of the narrative. 
The typical woman on the show gets the best of both worlds; The admiration and attraction from the male characters, as well as mutual respect and equality from the same group. The Sons may be a boys-only kind of institution, but these girls have proved that they are just as important if not absolutely vital to the show's visual and representational style. 

Below are some videos for you to enjoy. 

Katey Sagal and husband Kurt Sutter make an appearance on The Soup 

Katey Sagal wins Golden Globe last year for her portrayal of Gemma Teller

A youtube video collage that actually happens to be not bad. 

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