Ángeles Martínez-García and Antonio Gomez-Aguilar, University of Seville. Visiting Scholars at the University of Southampton. July, 2018.
Why do people feel so engaged with cinema? One of the main reasons is that cinema often feeds from ancestral stories that can really hit home. Ancient stories can be found everywhere, although we cannot always see them at first glance. We have chosen a TV series, Sons of Anarchy, (2008-2014), in order to explore if there is a mythologema (that is the word used by K. Kerenyi to call the smallest unit in a myth) inside. This American drama TV series created by Kurt Sutter received excellent feedback from the public. It focuses on the story of a band called SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original) and its crimes and dirty business. One of its most important members is Gemma Teller, a woman who is obsessed with power.
When we approach this TV series, we realise that its story is very similar to a true story: of the Roman Empress Agrippina and the turbid relationship with her son Nero. Figure 1 shows Agrippina’s family tree.
Figure 1. Family tree
Agrippina the Younger was an example of getting power at the expense of everything. She killed her own husband and the legitimate heir so that her son, Nero, could become Emperor. Something similar happens in Gemma Teller’s story, a main character in Sons of Anarchy TV series, whose soaring ambition makes her commit atrocities in order to keep her influence over her son. She is a killer, an extortionist and an overprotective mother and grandmother. Gemma wants her son Jax to be the leader of SAMCRO and the moment she achieves it is one of the most important in the TV series. It is very similar in the true story: the moment that Nero is crowned by his mother is crucial (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Sculpture of Nero being crowned by his mother. This is meaningful moment in their relationship.
Source: Carlos Delgado; CC-BY-SA
In this case, we find that the TV series reconstructs a specific mythologema: the contempt of the paternal / maternal figure towards the son, which has been expressed many times through the myths of Tantalus, Saturn devouring his children, Hera and Medea, among others. The main topic in the TV series is a mother’s obsession with his son and her final matricide. There are certain parallels between the true story and the fictional one depicted in the drama TV series, as it is represented in the table below.
|HISTORICAL CHARACTER||TV SERIES CHARACTER|
|Agrippina the Younger||Gemma Teller|
|Nero (Agrippina’s son)||Jax Teller (Gemma Teller’s son)|
|Claudio (Agrippina’s third husband)||Clay Morrow (Gemma Teller’s second husband)|
|Enobardo + Pasieno Crispo (Agrippina’s first and second husbands)||John Teller (Gemma Teller’s first husband)|
|Claudia Octavia (Nero’s first wife)||Wendy Case (Jax’ s first wife)|
|Popea Sabina (Nero’s second wife)||Tara Knowles (Jax’ s second wife)|
Table 1. Parallels between the true story of Agrippina and the fictional story of Gemma Teller.
This table shows that there is a deeper meaning in this case study, as usually happens in other audiovisual products. In unravelling the architecture of the myth, we find out that the existential concerns of the human being find in the art, in this case the cinema, an appropriate channel to update and adapt to contemporaneity. There are also a lot of parallels between the two sons depicted in the two stories: both of them kill their mothers (and none of them offer resistance to death) and both of them kill themselves. Both Agrippina and Gemma go beyond Ethics and are an example of veiled power inside a patriarchal system. Eventually, the same stories once and again…
If you want further information about this case study, you can find it in the book Hernández de Santaolalla, V. y Cobo Durán, S. (comps.) (2017): Sons of Anarchy: Estudio ideológico, narrativo y mitológico. Barcelona, Editorial Laertes, pp. 159-170. ISBN 978-84-16783-33-5.
Ángeles Martínez-García (email@example.com) is a professor at the University of Seville, Faculty of Communication, with more than ten years of experience in university education. Her goal is to meet standards through students´ engagement. She teaches on Film Studies and Film Image and she is developing current research on myths and cinema, as well as on the analysis of film image.
Antonio Gomez-Aguilar (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor with more than ten years of experience in university education and vocational training. He has been working on analysing the Andalusian Audiovisual Sector. He teaches on Studies, Technology and Communication. He is developing current research on a new television concept, as well as on technology of communication.