Biker Knights: Identity and Posthuman Medievalism in Sons of Anarchy
Valerie B. Johnson (Georgia Institute of Technology)
The medievalism of the FX television series Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014) is not inherently obvious. Set in Northern California, the series follows a fictional outlaw motorcycle club (MC) modeled on real gangs including the Hells Angels. Critics, fans, and creators alike discuss the series as an extended adaptation of Hamlet, and the broad narrative of the series is indeed a family tragedy. However, Sons of Anarchy establishes deeper connections to the past by delineating clear connections to medieval chivalry and knighthood through the relationships the biker cultivates, as the knight did, with key technologies and objects that create and visually mark him as a member of this ideologically-driven and far-flung brotherhood.1 This essay will argue that posthumanism offers an opportunity to connect Sons of Anarchy to medievalism through the exception-oriented ideology and practice of medieval chivalry.
A benefit of this connection for audiences is one of intellectually-justified enjoyment of stories which occur in the liminal zones characterized by a cultural state of exception. The bikers often speak of the spiritual experience of arming themselves, mounting their steeds, and seeking out whatever fate will bring them on the open road in the spaces between towns; the parallels to a medieval knight on adventure, whose travels are primarily within the wooded spaces of adventure, are established through a common feeling of freedom from the petty constraints of society while adhering to an (often violent) ideology shared by other men who engage in similar acts of wandering. The series offers an opportunity to experience narrative pleasure through the bikers’ attempts to experience what they define as freedom even as they paradoxically tie their bodies and their identities to external objects like their motorcycles, leather jackets, and guns, much as the medieval knight established deep relationships with horse, armor, and sword. “Posthumanism is a praxis,” as Francesca Ferrando notes, because the “ways the futures are being conceived and imagined are not disconnected from their actual enactments: in the posthuman post-dualistic approach,the‘what’isthe‘how’.” Consequently,this essay will first outline the “what”of the Sons of Anarchy—a brotherhood created and guided by a cultural system with exceptionally strong ties to both the practice and ideologies of medieval chivalry—through the concept of interconnected chivalric systems outlined by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen in “The Inhuman Circuit.”