We often think of the “Old English” time as an era filled with mighty pagan warriors gathered in a dark wooden room, drinking ale to celebrate their victory in a brutish bloody battle. Or maybe we picture brawny Vikings with dirty faces wearing animal skins while sailing in large wooden ships. You may even imagine the crude but lovable Hagar the Horrible from the popular comic strip. Regardless to which of these views you take, we always think of the “Old English” as a time far in the past. Even though we may not notice, the strong brutal men of this past era infiltrate our everyday lives.
These barbaric warriors are found in our society as street gangs. Although they have different appearances, weapons, and transportation, these two civilizations conduct their lives in the same way. Street gangs are so prevalent that they are all over the media, appearing in films, music, and television. Although street gangsters and pagan warriors lived at very different times, both groups embody the same ideals: strength, violence, and loyalty to their group. In the “Old English” epic, Beowulf, the pagan warriors were proud of their physical strength and abilities. Beowulf himself was well-known for his great trength and prowess.
These warriors were large men with great muscular power who won many battles with brute force. Many battles were fought with manual weapons, such as clubs or swords, that required great power from the arms. The strongest men, such as Beowulf, were the ones that were the subject of stories told in many lands. Similar to this, street gangsters are also quite proud of their strength and abilities. But their strength does not primarily come from physical attributes. Their strength is measured by the amount of weapons, money, and power they hold. The strongest man is not the one with the biggest muscles.
He is the one with the most guns and the most influence over other gang members. Whereas Beowulf has remained a legend for years now, gang leaders come and go in a matter of months. Just as Beowulf longed to be a legend, street gangs also strive for that same notoriety, wanting to be well-known in many places. In Beowulf’s time, most warriors were quite violent. They often engaged in battles with enemies until death, or with opponents until the end of the match. The pagan warriors are remembered as brutal, killing those necessary to protect their village or steal another’s.
They were also known to use violence to obtain iches or ships from other warriors. Similar to pirates, they used brute force to take what they wanted. Street gangs also use such violence. Whether it be to protect their property or members, or to steal from others, gangsters use various weapons to obtain what they want. Just as pagan warriors fought battles with rival villages, street gangs also engage in battles with rival gangs or sometimes with police. Gang violence can vary from street fights to drive-by shootings, often involving innocent victims. This horrible violence is evident in the media. It varies from gansta rap such as 2Pac or Dr. Dre, to movies such as New Jack City or Juice, and can even be seen in such TV shows as “New York Undercover” and “NYPD Blue”. A less obvious example of gangs is in the new version of Romeo and Juliet. In this rendition of the old Shakespeare classic, the Capulets and Montagues are no longer just rival families, but now rival gangs who engage in tremendous violence against each other to keep the two lovers apart. But gang violence is also felt quite close to home. The guard for NC State’s basketball team, Anthony Grundy, experienced gang- related violence, causing him to carry a gun to his high school in Louisville.
Both gangs and pagan warriors found violence necessary to maintain individual and group status. A third similarity between these two societies is their loyalty to their groups. Beowulf fought for his kingdom and his fellow warriors. They were a group, a family of sorts, that stuck together for support, enjoyment, and love. Gangs also stick together for these reasons. Beowulf’s loyalty ran so deep that he put his life on the line for his king many times, and eventually died for his kingdom. Similarly, gangsters are extremely loyal to their gangs and leaders. They remain members for life and are willing to acrifice their lives for their fellow members. An example of this bond is a record company which is infamous for violence and gang-relations, “Death Row Records”. Although it is a recording company and not a gang, its members including 2Pac, Snoop Doggy Dog, and its CEO, Marion “Suge” Knight, are a tight-knit group whose loyalty runs high. Gangs and pagan warriors share many similarities. Both thrive on strength, violence, and loyalty to their groups. Today’s street gangs seem to take the “Old English” warriors’ ideals to a farther, even more violent extent. But all the same, street gangs exemplify the ideals of the past “Old English” times.