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Sons of Anarchy Merchandise for Kids Elicits Condemnation

Posted on Dec 13, 2013

Sons of Anarchy is the most successful show on FX ever, averaging 5.5 million viewers each week. Depending on who you talk to, its the greatest mini soap opera to hit the airwaves, or it's a disgraceful, over exaggeration of the world of motorcycle clubs.

It's been said that any real motorcycle club members scoff at the weekly series, yet some very real motorcycle club members are involved in the production of Sons of Anarchy. Afterall, it's only entertainment, much like the Soprano's mini series was. A more critical eye is turned toward the minions of weekend warriors who don the Sons "colors" for a ride around town in a pseudo-masculine ritual that somehow elevates them above the mundane life they actually live.

Almost as successful as the show is the online sales of merchandise connected to the show. In fact, a large percentage of online consumers is said to be non-riders who have a love affair with the rider counter-culture. Like the old saying, "There are two kinds of people out there; riders and those who wish they were riders."

Because of the success of merchandise sales, 20th Century Fox Consumer Products has expanded the merchandise line to include, besides the jacket and shirt offerings emblazoned with the grim reaper logo of the show, a line of barware, home decor items, toy motorcycles, games and even infant clothing. It's the items targeting children that has brought complaints from the Parents Television Council (PTC), an organization that monitors programs and rates companies who advertise on these programs.  The PTC has condemned a licensing deal between Harley-Davidson and FX channel because Bartels' Harley-Davidson of Marina del Rey is selling Sons merchandise under the category, "Gifts for Kids."  PTC says in its December newsletter, "With Sons of Anarchy rated as a show for mature audiences only, the blatant intent to lure young audiences through such marketing is yet another example that companies like Harley-Davidson completely ignore their moral responsibilities and continue to play a huge role in glorifying violence and the people who commit it."

In all fairness, parents should have the duty of monitoring what their children see on television, so luring young audiences shouldn't be dropped on FX or Harley-Davidson. Still, one does have to question the use of the reaper logo on infant clothing and toys. The PTC intends to continue reaching out to Harley-Davidson and the creators of Sons of Anarchy and urge them to discontinue all production of "Gifts for Kids."

Taking the marketing strategy one step further, Bartels' Harley-Davidson produced 100 Limited Edition Sons of Anarchy motorcycles. These bikes, pre-owned 2010 Dyna Street Bobs, have special SOA graphics on the gas tanks, seat and  belt drive. Finished in matte black with the now famous SOA mini-fairing, this limited number of bikes have an asking price of $24,995, plus tax, title, freight and licensing.

Enter the ongoing discussion/debate over who these people are who would wear/ride anything with the SOA logo. After much research into the question, the best response we were able to find came from The Aging Rebel, who has a popular motorcycle blog. Rebel said, "I had to ask myself if there was any real news here. After all, during the Davy Crockett craze of the 1950s lots of little boys bought coon skin caps so they could dress up and pretend to be their hero. So what is the difference between coon skin hats and SOA cuts and underwear?  I think the difference is that grown men, not little boys, will be buying the SOA stuff. I don't think the news in this story is that Fox has found new revenue streams to maximize their profit from this television show. I don't care that Bartels gets to sell an extra 100 bikes this year. I think the news in this story is that Fox expects grown men to buy this stuff."

"I think this news points to a couple of social trends. One is the infantilization of American men-or at least the American men who count. I think the other trend is that pretending to be motorcycle outlaws makes these men feel less out of control of their fates in an increasingly despotic, crazed and failing nation. This is an example of how bad America is getting. People don't believe in America anymore. They believe in Sons of Anarchy."