Monday, February 23, 2015

The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers

The Rebels: A Brotherhood of Outlaw Bikers
© 2000 Daniel Wolf
372 pages

Ever wonder what  it's like to ride with a biker gang? They held a certain fascination for Daniel Wolf, who decided to turn a local gang into an anthropological study.  The idea of an outlaw biker gang allowing an college student to hang around them, let alone record their actions during a three-year study, is apparently not as dangerous as you would think. Perhaps there's something special about Canadian gangs, or the Rebels in particular, for one of their members listed his occupation as an IBM Technician/Bouncer. A world where computer geeks double as bar muscle is surely worth getting to know. Unlike other exposes of outlaw biking (Under and Alone, say),  The Rebels isn't out to point the finger at bikers and take them down for their dastardly deeps. For an 'outlaw' biker gang, the Rebels here seem oddly peaceable; though professedly devoted to living beyond the pale, their crimes seem limited to bar brawls and smoking marijuana.  Wolf writes out of curiosity and genuine interest, not condemnation; he wants to know why this subculture holds the attraction for the men it does, and how it works. Although various chapters examine practical aspects of club life, in essence this is a book about relationships, of men relating to one another and the world at large. Wolf sees the gang as the members' way of creating a meaningful tribe in a world shot through with alienation. Although these groups define themselves by their lawless, internally they're quite cohesive, bound by club charters that control their behavior for the good of the unit as a whole. The Rebels, for instance, are forbidden from using hard drugs that would draw unwanted heat on the group, and made to keep their motorbikes in working order and in use for most of the riding season.  (Not biking results in fines and eventually expulsion.)   The brotherhood becomes a tribe unto itself, the polity that \claims most of the bikers' innate clannish instincts. The loyalties of square civilians are infinitely divided, except in times of war; we are attached to abstract notions of states and provinces, as well as numerous institutions like our bar buddies, Rotary clubs,  and church. For the rebels, abstracts fall away:  effectively isolated from mainstream society by their embrace of the 'outlaw' ethos,  the gang is allowed to become The Tribe. The most successful clubs, Wolf notes, are those that restrict themselves to under thirty members; beyond that, the men's ability to be significant actors within the clan is diminished.   At the heart of the Rebels is an itch to be plugged in fully to life, to be engaged with it, not pacing like a caged rat;  their greatest compliment is that a brother is 'righteous',  completely genuine.  Although dated by this point (the research was done in the early 1990s, and the Rebels have seen been absorbed by larger gangs), The Rebels is a standout -- not as an inquiry into criminal organizations, but as a study of what tribal man yearns for and will insist on building even if it denied him.

Under and Alone, William Queen

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