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VILE ‘SONS OF ANARCHY’: What’s Wrong With America?

I’m putting aside the topic I’d planned for this column. A rant’s suddenly rumbling inside me – so, for a moment, here goes:

I’m NOT a regular viewer of FX’s Sons of Anarchy (SOA). Like much on that frequently foul network’s menu, it’s television trash, plain and simple. I figured that out pretty quickly. Since I try to let my Christian convictions shape every aspect of my life, I determined years ago SOA would NOT land on my regular TV-watching schedule. 

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Last winter, I heard all kinds of breathless effusing about the series’ shocking season six finale. I’d caught enough SOA excerpts (plus some full episodes) to understand its narrative’s bones, the original main characters, etc., so I was intrigued as to what happened and why. Curious, I tuned in this past Tuesday to see what the hub-bub had been all about, and what would turn up for this season’s opener. 

I’d no intention of reversing my Sons of Anarchy embargo — and season seven’s maiden bow confirmed every reason why that’s a policy I’ll need to maintain. It was one hour and forty-five minutes of seething, small-screen putrefaction: Dialogue larded with obscenity of the most odious kind. Ironically, even the artistes at FX disallow the use of the f-bomb, but most anything else goes — including bubbling-over, blasphemous uses of God’s name. These geniuses don’t get, for oodles of church going Americans,  that dialogical infraction is the worst they could perpetrate — deeply off-putting to those of us who’ve decided the Third Commandment matters. 

Apparently, regular doses of just-this-side-of-soft-core-porn sex scenes are also a staple of this depressingly scabrous drama. Ditto for this newest eppy: a threesome involving a groaning woman and two men, one of them morbidly obese and shirtless. Oh, yes, it develops the two naughty boys are both “pastors” of a local church. Hypocritically corrupt clergy? How original is that plot twist! That tidbit is discovered after the SOA nitwits ruthlessly shoot the lascivious trio. 

Speaking of violence? So show-offy and inescapably unrelenting it borders on parodical — except it’s undeniably meant to be taken seriously. Tuesday’s offering wrapped with SOA’s main figure, ” ‘Jax’ Teller” (Charlie Hunnam) , in a torture-murder montage so self-indulgently gross it’s stunning, even by Sons of Anarchy standards. Then again, it’s hiply set to a Forest Rangers’ cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody”– so I guess we’re supposed to be oohing and ahhing, rather than repulsed. 

Make no mistake: I apologize not a whit for my “stuffy” convictions; but I’m no enthusiast for syrupy, Hallmark Channel ROM-com fare, either. The last time I woke up thinking, “I can’t wait to watch the newest Veggie Tales DVD!”? Somewhere around never. Most “Christian” dramatic fictional offerings hold not the slenderest attraction for me. Regrettably, by my lights, the knocks God-haters acidulously level at “Christian” films are all too frequently deserved: corny, thump-you-over-the-head story-lines, wooden dialogue, mannequin-level acting, shabby production values, ploddingly boring. 

If you favor that kind of entertainment, God bless you; enjoy it; no offense intended. You just, candidly, can’t count me among your ranks. 

My aesthetic preferences? Gritty, realistic, stylistically impressive storytelling — that also has something worthwhile to say. My favorite films and literature are, uniformly “non-religious” — that is, not explicitly generated by professing Christians or for “Christian” motivations; yet, with genuinely redemptive, inspirational value. As with most of “getting -by” in a fallen world, I can put up with some objectionable material if the end result is meaningfully elevating. 

But wallowing in a steaming, rancid cesspool in order to find an undigested corn kernel? I’ll pass, thanks. 

Does Katey Sagal have zero personal, artistic standards? She portrays the series’ Lady Bathory-esque skank “Gemma Morrow” — and seems to have signed a contract clause requiring her to degrade herself at every turn. You thought her stint as Peg Bundy was unsettling?  Does she really need the work that badly? During one of Tuesday’s exchanges, she tosses off a sexual remark of such slap-in-the-face lewdness it’d make a locker-room full of male, teenage truckers avert their gazes. Ain’t it lovely watching a middle-aged woman abase herself that way! 

A while ago she had a supporting role a in few episodes of ABC‘s Lost. She skillfully carried that out a) while keeping her clothes on; and b) without spouting crudities like a drunken trollop. Remember that, Katy? I’m confident you can do it again; if you care to try. 

Sons of Anarchy is a program showcasing a gaggle of unshaven, hygiene-deficient losers, period. While a few of them, periodically, come across as canny, they’re all actually an aggressively stupid bunch; at best, lethally foolish.  FX’s powers-that-be obviously expect fans to nurse a kind of anti-hero admiration for these fists-first/brains-last louts. Lamentably, it looks like a dependable, weekly audience of millions isn’t letting them down. 

Some of you may have previously read my raves for AMC‘s magisterial Breaking Bad, which unforgettably closed shop almost one year ago after five, celebrated seasons. I’ll admit BB pushed my media standards to their limits — the profanity bothered me lots, the outbursts of bloodshed needed not be as searingly graphic, the occasional sexual interludes were largely, structurally unnecessary. This award-wining series easily could have achieved all it’s stylistic pizazz and moral oomph while throttling back on all the above. That being said, Breaking Bad culminated as a parable of vivid biblical truth, perhaps without  peer in this modern television age.

Nonetheless, at some point, levels of visual and aural brutality, vulgarity and explicitness overwhelm even the most well-intentioned media project. Not that Anarchy‘s creative spirits are well-intentioned. There’s some really twisted ruminating going on behind the scenes of this feculent mass of muck. 

A few years ago, another FX atrocity paved the sleazy way for SOA. I’m talking about the creepy, repugnant-in-it’s-own-bizarre-way Nip/Tuck. That show was so unpleasant I took to automatically losing respect for any actor I’d find out was associated with it — including one player widely known around Tinsel Town as a “born-again” believer. If someone showed up on Nip/Tuck, no matter his personal reputation or her previous body of work, my evaluation of them plunged, immediately. 

I’m at that place now with Sons of Anarchy. If their are any self-respecting, decent operators in Hollywood, I’m hoping they’ll steer clear of this waste of broadcast space.  

And I’m hoping decent, self-respecting TV viewers will do the same. Every Tuesday for the next several months, SOA will be defecating into pop culture’s mainstream — let’s all make sure we’re not present to watch it happen. Let’s contact those in FX’s corner offices and this series’ advertising sponsors and notify them it’s an affront to honorable folks, that we’re turning the channel on it.  Let’s vocally encourage those around us to do the same. 

How could a nation as once great as America consistently serve up viewership – repeatedly record making viewership – meriting seven seasons of this fly-blown television tripe? That ratings fact makes me ashamed of our society, deepens my heartbroken concern for this beloved land. Certainly, a squalid evening drama about a low-life motorcycle club doesn’t sink to the horror of a million abortions per year or the nationwide perversion of marriage or rampant, real-life, inner-city bloodletting . 

But Sons of Anarchy‘s resilient popularity remains a baleful indicator of America’s spiritual condition. That’s alarming — and saddening.



Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.

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