Sons of Anarchy and the Manly Art of Hugging

Perhaps no other show on television includes as much hugging in it as does Sons of Anarchy. Over the last few episodes, “The Push,” “Widening Gyre,” and the just aired “Turas,” there’s been a lot of hugging. At times, it seems that every episode includes at least ten minutes of hugging. A renegade member of a rival gang is executed in a public bathroom, and members of both gangs hug one another afterwards, just to show there are no hard feelings. SAMCRO members stow away and fly to Ireland and meet up with the Irish chapter of the Sons of Anarchy, and we have multiple scenes of men hugging men.

Lest you think the Sons are going all soft and fuzzy, these hugs represent displays of manliness rather than affection. For the most part,  the hugs in Sons of Anarchy are highly ritualized carefully choreographed man hugs. The man hug, otherwise known as a “pound hug,” a “bro-grab,” a “hetero hug,” a “thug hug,” or a “hip-hop hug,” is an important contemporary ritual of manliness. A man hug begins with a handshake. Once the hands are clasped, the two “bros” pull toward each other for a firm half-embrace (the shaking hands remain clasped as a barrier between bodies–otherwise, a full hug might ensue), and the hug ends with a firm slap on the upper back or shoulder with the free hand. As Matt and Kate McKay note in their “Mechanics of the Man Hug” post on The Art of Manliness Blog, “The back slap is key. Somehow hitting your fellow man makes the hug more manly.”

Although there are plenty of guides to the fine art of the man hug published online, there is some disagreement about the closing slap. Everyone agrees that it’s essential to making a hug manly, but there’s wide disagreement about the number of the slaps. Some guides insist that the etiquette of manliness requires precisely two taps, but others are equally adamant that fewer than three slaps is positively girly, and still others insist that a single firm tap on the shoulder is sufficiently manly, and, in fact, any more than one is excessive and contrary to the value of manly restraint.

In Sons of Anarchy, the slap is most often a single solid tap, which makes quite a nice sound against a leather jacket, and, if the man hug conveys particularly intense emotions, there might be a double tap. Even Kellen Ashby, the Irish priest (and IRA leader), engages in man hugs, despite his calling, which you would think would give him a reprieve from rituals of manliness. However, he does end his man hugs not with a single slap but with several gentle pats. A priest can do that sort of thing and still be considered manly.

In the recent episodes, SAMCRO has finally crossed the border, not into Mexico as the traditional western would have done, but overseas to Ireland, and into the arms (much hugging ensues) of the Dublin chapter of the Sons of Anarchy, who thoughtfully provide their American brothers with motorcycles for a picturesque ramble across the Irish countryside. The Sons also have a sort of hugging reprieve here, as they haven’t seen their Irish brothers in years, and some of the hugs here are full hugs (no barrier created by the clasped hands), and there’s even a bear hug or two.

As might be expected in a western, our outlaw heroes are set upon by Federales—or, wait, not Federales, since this is Ireland, but by the Irish equivalent of Federales (or, more correctly, the Irish equivalent of Hollywood western Federales:  corrupt, incompetent, easily bribed state-sponsored policemen). Fortunately for SAMCRO, Gemma has escaped from the hospital and incipient imprisonment, hitched along on the plane ride to Ireland, and she quickly dispatches the Irish cops with some well-timed bad driving.

When it comes to true manliness, no one does it better than Gemma. And it’s a good thing she joined the sons, because all the hugging going on between the Irish and American chapters seems to be softening them up some.  I keep thinking that Gemma is the tough woman that so many female Republican office seekers seem to want to be this election cycle.  I’ve seen clip after clip of Republican women taking their Democratic male opponents to task by telling them to “man up.” Gemma does the same here. After all, the Sons are kind of like Democrats, in that they have club meetings and hold votes and seem to believe in a sort of democratic process.  That’s all well and good, of course, but Gemma knows that sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. At one point she tells Jax, “Now is not the time for soul searching. You focus on the hate you need in order to kill all these Irish pricks.”  In other words, man up, and start killing and stop hugging.

As is often the case when the outlaw heroes cross the border, things go all sorts of wrong for the Sons, as they find themselves entangled in an internal IRA power struggle that they don’t quite understand, and the simple solution to getting Abel back—killing Jimmy O’Fallon—isn’t quite so simple after all.

Not every problem can be resolved with a man hug—or a gunshot.

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