Hell's Angel

Introduction

The distinctive norms and values of various subcultures are often considered as deviance from the common norms. While the common views of the citizens regarding the subcultures can be narrowed to simply good or bad, sociology offers the ways to understand these subcultures rather than simply estimate them. Sociological perspectives provide a deeper understanding of various deviances in human behavior and possible related means of social control. The motorcycle subculture is the obvious deviance of the generally accepted norms mostly due to their tendency to take risks, behave in a rude way and be different according to their appearance. In addition, bikers are usually perceived as criminals and commonly evoke negative attitude or even condemnation among people. The attitude towards Hell’s Angel is not completely the same as far as the book by Sonny Berger represents the bikers in the light of the founder’s vision and shows it as a separate community with some definite norms. In such a way, this paper focuses on Hell’s Angel motorcycle representation from the sociological perspective. Referring to the classical, social disorganization and critical perspectives, it emphasizes the roles of fraternity and loyalty as crucial in supporting the above-mentioned subculture and making it deserving the positive attitude rather than simply naming it outlaw.

Hell’s Angel

Barger’s book reflects strong influence of the war on the American society. In particular, it is a story of Sonny Barger as a person whose life views were under considerable impact of the situation in the country as well as family problems. Having lost his mother in the early childhood, Barger was brought up by the alcoholic father and an elder sister (Barger, Zimmerman, & Zimmerman, 2001). Hence, his closest environment could not be estimated as exemplary to form a personality respecting all the social norms. Therefore, he confessed that he violated social norms since childhood when he could initiate fights with students or even attack teachers (Barger et al., 2001). However, such attitude to school norms did not make him stupid or illiterate. He liked reading books and served in the American army as a patriotic American citizen. Afterwards, as he returned to the civilian life, he has changed several jobs. However, the motorcycle club has become a real devotion of his life. Although it was a strange and even mysterious organization for many Americans, Barger represents it from the new perspective. With the main focus on the fraternity and loyalty that unify the club members, Barger offers that people “have to literally fight to be free” (Barger et al., 2001, p.11). In such a way, he offers the idea that the social norms restrict the human will considerably and thus need to be changed for something ruled by the freedom of choice and inner devotion. Lack of unity and prevalence of selfishness instead of fraternity and brotherhood were the reasons of his leave from the Oakland Panthers, which was also a motorbike club (Barger et al., 2001). Consequently, another club called Hell’s Angels was established by Sonny Barger with regard to the values that he considered as crucial: truth, fraternity, devotion, clearing up “all lies and distortions” (Barger et al., 2001, p.11). Even though hiss mission seems to be noble and brings mostly the positive message, it was perceived quite ambiguously in the society. The underlying reason for that was the deviant behavior it defended. While deviance is defined as actions that violate formally-enacted rules and social norms, Barger was obviously a bright representative of the oppositionists to the existing norms. However, one can see that he opposed not all of the existing rules. Consequently, personally Barger did not recognize his behavior as deviant. From the book Hell’s Angel, one can see that he believed that he was doing “normal” things as well as following the “normal” beliefs. Hence, it is quite interesting to analyze his behavior and environment more deeply, and find out the explanation of his behavior from different sociological perspectives.

Classical Perspective

Classical perspective of understanding the deviant behavior is widely spread among sociologists until nowadays. It explains the connection of human choices with their desires and consequent pleasure. Beccaria and Bentham initially offered the classical perspective of social deviance explanation in the 18th century (Pfohl, 2009). More importantly, the theory does not consider a person with deviant behavior as someone who is different emphasizing that all citizens are similar. However, they follow the main aim – maximize their pleasure. As far as social control cannot be strong enough to make people choose rules over pleasure, sometimes the deviant behavior occurs. In regard to this, deviant behavior appears to be strongly dependent on human desires and conditions they have to live in.  In addition, the definition of what is deviant is also based on some human beliefs and wisdom. Consequently, the notion of deviant is to a great extent predetermined by the common good and necessity to keep the social rules in a way that would make the majority satisfied.

According to Pfohl (2009), the classical perspective is based on three major elements. Among them, one should point out rational choice, deterrence and just desert (Pfohl, 2009). The first notion is strongly predetermined by one’s understanding of what is rational and irrational. Such understanding is shaped throughout lifespan development and is considerably dependent on the environment and personal beliefs of a person. Deterrence from some actions that may bring pleasure is to a great extent predetermined by the moral values and fears of a person. Finally, just desert predetermines the readiness to perform various deeds.

From the classical perspective, one should consider Bager as a usual American citizen of the post-war American society. Obviously, his choice was favorable for him. His interest in creation of a motorbike club could be observed since his school years. Hence, the desire could become even stronger in the adult age. In addition, he emphasized brotherhood and loyalty as the crucial qualities that have to be present in the club. Consequently, primarily these qualities have led Sonny Barger to the way of life he depicted in Hell’s Angel. While this should be estimated as a personal choice, it becomes clear that following the personal aims and searching for freedom contributed considerably to Barger’s perception of rationality. With respect to the fact that people can choose any type of behavior regardless whether it is estimated as deviant or rational in the society, Barger’s case shows that personal choice prevails over the social demands. For Barger, deviant behavior was more favorable than following the norms. Although the fear of punishment should be influential to shape the behavior and limit the pleasure from some actions, in Barger’s case, understanding of the possible consequences does not stop from loving the bikers’ subculture above all. Consequently, this man was not deterred at all from his initial choice.

Lack of the deterrence that should be influential for Barger’s choice can be considered as both the limitation of the classical theory for this case or representation of Sonny Barger as a peculiar person whose choice is not governed by the fear or social rules. Having put his beliefs above all, he literally neglected the possible perception of the motorbike club and its actions as inappropriate. This confidence can be either the result of the person’s character or outer influences. However, it is the point that rejects the view that all people are similar. At the same time, it shows the failure of the classical perspective to explain how the attitude towards the social norms and the fear of punishment appears.

Social Disorganization Perspective

Social disorganization theory is quite interesting to provide understanding of the deviant behavior, especially in a definite historical period marked by some changes in the society. Being forwarded by Chicago School, the theory links the environmental influences to the crimes’ rates (Pfohl, 2009). In particular, the scholars have showed that ecological characteristics play a great role in the behavior formation. In such a way, the representatives from the disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to become criminals after all. The social and cultural environment of people has a considerable impact on their values formation and choice. In particular, social interaction should make people borrow the samples of behavior from others and become involved in the legal or illegal activities under the influence of friends, family or neighborhood representatives. Along with that, the economic problems that are also associated with troublesome neighborhoods are also the triggers for the further delinquent behavior of people. Very often, being in need makes people not consider their actions as bad (Pfohl, 2009). Instead, they can justify selves and show that some definite circumstances can make the illegal actions absolutely appropriate and even the best decision.

With regard to the theory, Sonny Barger could not become a sample to follow primarily due to the place he was born, the parents’ attitude to life and the period of his birth. In his book, he wrote that his family life and the entire childhood was related to a criminal neighborhood (Barger et al., 2001). According to social disorganization theory, this would definitely mean that his future was destined to be connected with criminals and criminal activities. Life without a mother and with the alcoholic father is very likely to alter the perception of normal and rational in the child’s head. Obviously, this is what happened. The perception of Barger does not correspond to the one that had to be taught at school or among the children from aristocratic families.

According to the beliefs of Sonny Barger, Hell’s Angels had nothing to deal with a criminal organization or anything bad at all. He considered it from some other perspective focused mostly on the relations between the group members. With respect to the actions that are normally regarded as criminal, Barger does not consider them as something critical. The criminal records of the members include card-carrying felons, usage and selling of drugs, forging driver’s licenses and other illegal activities (Barger et al., 2001). Interestingly, according to Barger, these actions seem to be absolutely normal and the organization lets the free people unite together.

In regard to the economic troubles’ factor, it should be highlighted that it was influential in Barger’s case not only because the father could not earn enough due to his alcoholism but also because World War II and post-war period (Barger’s childhood) was marked by the damage in the country’s economy and Oakland industries in particular (Barger et al., 2001). Hence, the economic instability did not let people find good and well-paid jobs. Financial instability and absence of the job led Barger to creation of his own business, which was not financially profitable, but satisfied his need for friendship, protection and even family. From this point of view, Hell’s Angels Motorcycle club is a great example of fraternity, devotion and unification of people with the common interests.

Critical Perspective

In regard to the critical perspective of deviation and social control, one should refer to both practical and theoretical perspectives. The first perspective is closely interconnected with the possibility to analyze the human struggle in history and further construction or reconstruction of the normative social boundaries (Pfohl, 2009). In the matter of the practical one, people apply various efforts to ensure social justice and uproot the hierarchical social forms. As a result, the critical approach provides the ability to examine the relationship between social control and resistance.

One of the essential critical theoretical concepts of the deviance is power. Power is a strong dynamic category, which implies the ability to do some things. This category has a huge influence on the relations in society. However, it is important that it often leads to violence. In addition, powerful people who resort to violence are trying to protect their control from the outside threats and actions against their authority. Social control and deviance are two sides of the power (Pfohl, 2009, p. 407). The next theoretical concept is the knowledge.  According to the critical perspectives, the social control of the deviance is led by ideas of the most powerful people in the hierarchical power society. Therefore, the deviant behavior appears when the privileges of the powerful people are threatened. This is supposed to lead to the knowledge of the world, which is influenced by the power. This knowledge helps understand the deviance as a social construction of power (Pfohl, 2009, p.410). For critical theories, historical and symbolic material is of great importance. Historical materiality is supposed to give an access to knowledge that will show a connection of the historical issues and the deviance, as well as the economic relations among people. The symbolic knowledge has a huge meaning for humans. Due to it, people differ from animals because the language is the main part of symbolic knowledge. Language makes the symbolic knowledge increase the power. Therefore, knowledge and power are two symbolically, historically and economically connected categories where one cannot exist without the other. The last part of critical theories is hegemonic ritual actions. In society, rituals are extremely important because they are constructing symbolic or material relations. They help control daily life and understand the expectations of the society. Exactly, rituals are producing imaginary solutions as if they are natural. People who deny rituals and choose deviance are doomed to feel themselves outside of society and home. The rituals are called hegemonic because they can be adopted in society by the powerful element. However, they are not serving interests of others in the reality (Pfohl, 2009).

The main goal of the critical perspectives is to confirm the connection between historical organization of power and daily life rules, and to show what role hierarchal power aspects play in the deviance. The bright example is Hell`s Angels organization, which reflects the values of the bikers’ subculture. The book about Hell`s Angels describes not only life of Sony Barger but the background for his searches for a purpose of his life. Hell`s Angels club has become an organization with its own autonomy, rules and hierarchy. From the book, one can see that Sonny broke the law and created the organization that was absolutely out of social norms and rules. However, Barger did not recognize his actions as wrong or deviant because he was sure that the things he was doing were totally acceptable and normal. After all failures, he understood that the deviant attitude makes him more satisfied and self-confident.  According to the critical perspective, this organization was powerful and set its own rules for others. In case of threats toward the club, the use of violence was extremely high. In addition, Barger destroyed the rituals of society, which pushed him outside and did not accepted his actions. Therefore, it brought him on the criminal and violent way.

However, there is a limitation of the critical perspective to understanding of Barger`s deviance behavior. It is knowledge. Person has to recognize own behavior. Barger did not consider his actions as deviant because he was sure that the things he was doing were normal. While he recognized the actions of members as crimes, Barger did not believe that the ideas of the organization were wrong. He did not have knowledge and understanding that his own goals and actions were illegal.

Conclusion

The story of Sonny Barger is a good example of how the norms of the subcultures are predetermined by the social and personal challenges. It is also a good example of how the deviance and control theories can be applied in the real life. The classical social disorganization and critical perspectives are effectively applied to the Hell’s Angel story in order to understand the ideology more clearly. The reasons behind the choices of Barger are strongly dependent on the accompanying historical facts and situation in the post-war American society as well as the family problems that young Sonny had to face. Out of the three above-mentioned perspectives, it can be admitted that all of them predetermine the proper understanding of the Barger’s motivation and can be used to explain deviance as the inseparable part of the life of any society.

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