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Literature: Beowulf

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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
strength 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
riches 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
sacrifice 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.
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