Sons of Anarchy took the audience into the world of motorcycle clubs through the title MC – but how accurate the show’s portrayal of motorcycle clubs was? Created by Kurt Sutter, Sons of Anarchy premiered on FX in 2008 and came to an end in 2014 after seven seasons. The series was very well received throughout its whole run, with critics and viewers praising its story, themes, and the performances of the main cast, particularly that of Katey Sagal.
Sons of Anarchy tells the story of Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), VP of the motorcycle club Sons of Anarchy in the fictional town of Charming, California. The series is kickstarted when Jax finds a manifesto written by his late father, John Teller, one of the founding members of the MC, and in which he shared his plans and vision for the club, which were very different from those of the current President (and Jax’s stepfather), Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman). This sends Jax on a personal journey that makes him question his path, role in the club, relationships, family, and more – and, of course, with that comes a lot of conflict and drama.
Click the button below to start this article in quick view.
The series addressed themes like brotherhood, corruption, racism, and more, and in order to bring a portrayal of MCs as accurate as possible, Sutter counted on the help of some experts. In fact, Sons of Anarchy had some members of Hells Angels in its cast, most notably David Labrava (Happy Lowman), who served as a technical adviser – but how accurate was the show’s portrayal of MCs?
Motorcycle Clubs’ Hierarchy
Throughout Sons of Anarchy, viewers learned there are ranks within every club, the most notable ones being President, Vice-President, Sgt. At Arms, and Men of Mayhem, and each rank has a different role within the club. This is one aspect that Sons of Anarchy got right about real-life motorcycle clubs, as they do have a very specific hierarchy. According to Cycle Fish, the ranks and titles in MCs are Founder, President, Vice-President, Sgt. at Arms, Road Captain, Secretary, Treasurer, Enforcer, Prospect, Member or Rider, and Chaplain or The Wise One, and all of them are identified with patches.
Although these same ranks and more were included in Sons of Anarchy, the tasks of each one were slightly different. Viewers have pointed out that a lot of the things Clay and Jax did during their time as Presidents and VP are tasks that in the real world these ranks wouldn’t, and would normally be left for the prospects to do. The President of an MC takes care of building and maintaining relations between the club and any outside person or organization, as well as holding meetings and keeping order. The VP coordinates all committees and supervises plans for all events of the club, and serves as an intermediary between the President and the rest of the members. Prospects, on the other hand, are tasked with a variety of duties that sometimes include illegal activities, so most of the activities Clay and Jax got involved in in the series would have normally been left for a prospect to handle.
Outlaw Clubs and The AMA Rules
SAMCRO is considered an outlaw motorcycle club in the universe of the show, and while they would also be such in the real world, outlaw clubs operate differently than what the show might imply. An outlaw club is not considered as such for breaking laws, murdering, stealing, and committing other crimes – in reality, for an MC to be labeled as an outlaw club it has to make its own bylaws instead of following those of the American Motorcycle Association. Outlaw clubs have earned the term “1%er” as they are the 1% of riders that don’t follow the AMA’s rules, and while many engage in criminal activities, just like SAMCRO, this isn’t what defines an outlaw club.
Prospects and the Initiation Process
Viewers met a couple of prospects throughout Sons of Anarchy, with the most memorable ones being Kip “Half-Sack” Epps (Johnny Lewis), Filthy Phil Russell, V-Lin, and Ratboy. While those interested in joining an MC do have to go through the prospecting phase, the initiation process is a lot longer than the show suggested, and it can actually go to extremes sometimes. Among the things prospects normally do for the club are retrieving bikes from police impound lots, guarding all the bikes during club meetings, and some menial tasks from time to time, and they have to endure hazing by the club members. However, some go through a couple of initiation rituals that can be quite brutal, depending on the club. According to the book Biker Gangs and Transnational Organized Crime, these rituals can go from being thrown in a frozen lake to being urinated by patched members or even being forced to cook and eat excrement. Once a prospect is voted in the club, he must pledge his loyalty, and only then he becomes a full patch member.
Racism In MC Culture
Racism was one of the biggest topics addressed in Sons of Anarchy, especially when all the trouble with Juice (Theo Rossi) began, and that’s, sadly, a reality in motorcycle clubs. Most outlaw motorcycle gangs are almost entirely white and admit they are racist, and there are links between outlaw bikers and white supremacists. Of course, and just like in Sons of Anarchy, there are Hispanic and black MCs too, but unlike what the series showed, white clubs (as would be SAMCRO) are highly unlikely to work with outsiders, as they are known to be “outwardly intolerant”. According to some sources, Juice’s storyline about racism in Sons of Anarchy, in which he was blackmailed, manipulated, and tricked into ratting on the club so his mixed heritage wouldn’t come to light mirrors a true story where an MC member was “violently assaulted when his ‘brothers’ learned of his ethnicity”.
Women and the MC
Speaking of tolerance and acceptance in motorcycle clubs, one aspect from Sons of Anarchy that has been pointed out by many real MC members as completely fictional is how the club treats women, and especially Gemma’s (Sagal) role in the club. Gemma Teller-Morrow (Jax’s mother and Clay’s wife) is the matriarch of the club and is actually quite influential, offering her point of view, opinion, and even trying to manipulate some of the club decisions made by Clay and Jax. Traditionally, women are not allowed to join MCs and are seen as the property of patched members, though they can party and hang out with the club, but no more. However, some MCs have an auxiliary club for women, but they don’t offer any privileges into the MC itself. Some have pointed out that Gemma’s position in the club would never happen in real life, and if it did, she would have been “taken back and ‘corrected’” right away and as many times as necessary.
Domestic violence is, sadly, also part of this culture. Some sources explain that “brutality to women is accepted and sometimes encouraged”, and as most are seen as “prostitutes” even after getting married to a full patch member, some of them are sometimes pimped out to support their husbands’ MC lifestyle. Although this is not the case in every MC, there are many testimonies from “old ladies” that confirm there is aggression and misogyny in some clubs.
Motorcycle Clubs vs Motorcycle Gangs
Although they sound similar and are sometimes interchanged, a motorcycle club is not the same as a motorcycle gang. According to Charles Falco, author of Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws: My Infiltration of America’s Deadliest Biker Gangs (via WNYC Studios), members of motorcycle gangs have to be “willing to kill, maim, seriously hurt or purport other acts of violence” to protect their territory, and they must be willing to do anything to back up their brothers. He adds that, when it comes to violence, motorcycle gangs are “more sophisticated than other street gangs”, with an organized structure, keeping files, and conducting counter-surveillance against enemies so they know absolutely everything about them – but when it comes to other criminal acts, they are “less sophisticated than other organized crime groups”. With this in mind, SAMCRO would have been a motorcycle gang rather than a motorcycle club, though there are also some who explain that there are only motorcycle clubs and gangs exist only in fiction.
Sons of Anarchy did various things right when bringing motorcycle culture to TV, but it also changed and added many elements in order to tell an engaging story, which it definitely did. As for the reaction of real MC members to the show, some enjoyed it even though they did criticize how exaggerated the violence was and Gemma’s completely unreal role within the club, while others definitely didn’t like it for those and more reasons.
Next: Sons of Anarchy: Why The Planned Prequel Show Never Happened
Juggernaut vs Thor: Who’d Win in the Comics
About The Author