Sons of Anarchy, despite appearances, is a fitting lens through which we can analyze our nation under Trump. The show distills the conflicted American identity down to its core, and because it continues its life on Netflix, and will soon return in the form of a spin-off series, Sons of Anarchy remains just as relevant as ever. The show’s interrogation of white supremacist groups is still, unfortunately, relevant, and the impending spin-off has the chance to readdress that subject.
Sons of Anarchy follows a wildly un-PC culture, one predominantly white and surging with a fraternal culture of bravado and violent masculinity. In other words, the show features characters based on the very real men on whom countless thinkpieces and news stories are now being written.
To be clear, this isn’t to say Jax (Charlie Hunnam), Opie, and their brothers would have voted for Trump. Sons of Anarchy is largely uninterested in its characters’ political beliefs, because the whole point of their lifestyle is a feeling of estrangement from the system. As Jax reads from his deceased father’s journals, “Most of us were not violent by nature. We all had our problems with authority, but none of us were sociopaths. We came to realize that when you move your life off the social grid, you give up the safety that society provides.”
While only a small portion of American men are involved in outlaw motorcycle club culture, like all good fiction, the show offers a heightened depiction of reality. Most people don’t don kuttes and motorcycle boots, but the sensation of alienation in rural communities with few job prospects is all too truthful.
Now, it would be easy to assume the SoA characters are stereotypes, and at times they are. The pilot alone shows one character — Tig, of course — referring to sex with two Mexican women as “kind of a taco twofer thing.” SoA never shies away from queasy racial dynamics, but it also never simplifies them or makes them feel stale, or unearned. In one breath, Tig (Kim Coats) will have lines like “taco twofer,” yet in the next, he’ll join the club in waging a guerrilla war against white supremacists. The Neo-Nazis in Season 2 call themselves the League of American Nationalists and are lead by a well-dressed businessman, which sounds all too familiar lately.
Right now, the world is grappling with questions like, “Is half of America filled with hate?” The election shined a light on the ugly truth that there the land is populated with more objectively deplorable humans like David Duke and Richard Spencer than many would like to think. But far more are more along the lines of Tig. Is he racist? Looking at lines like that, yes. Is he mean-spirited or unable to change? Absolutely not. In the final season of the show, he enters a shockingly well-depicted romantic relationship with a no-op trans woman.
The white supremacists of Season 2 are the show’s best antagonists the for two reasons. On a visceral level — the place where your inner teenager yells “fuck yeah!” at the screen — it’s immensely satisfying to watch bikers beat the shit out of white supremacists.
But on a more serious level, if you live in a city and have never encountered any Tigs or Clays (Ron Perlman) in real life, fiction is of the utmost importance for bridging the gap of understanding. Just because these characters aren’t real, it doesn’t mean they can’t help you see a different worldview. In this particular case, fiction might even be better, because it affords these characters depth, whereas you might dismiss a Tig as just an asshole if you meet him fleetingly on the street.
The weird, messy, conflicted American identity — a place that elected Barack Obama and then Donald Trump in the span of a few years, a place that landed the first man on the moon yet is handing the future of space exploration to a man who doesn’t believe in science, a place that’s had figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Ruth Bader Ginsburg but seems unable to conceive of a woman in its highest office — is encapsulated in Sons of Anarchy.
These men live violent lives but have philosophical musings; they live in fearful respect and awe of club matriarch Gemma (Katey Sagal) yet she’s never officially part of the club; they make carelessly racist comments yet leap to defend minorities; occupy a dusty little town where nothing ever happens and yet they perpetuate its evolution.
The SoA spin-off show, Mayans MC, will be about the Mayans, the Latino motorcycle club featured prominently over the course of the show. They initially struggled because the White Supremacist didn’t want to do business with them but eventually settled on an alliance with SAMCRO. Now, more than ever, the world needs commentary about racial dynamics, rural america, and societal estrangement. As unlikely as it sound, it might just fall to the Sons of Anarchy story to be the crude, blood-soaked, and old-splattered truth-teller.