Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Breaking Bad SUCKS.

Why the program isn’t just merely overrated, but detrimental to U.S. society as a whole. 

One of the old standbys when it comes to anti-censorship rhetoric in the U.S. is the idea that pop culture -- i.e., entertainment such as television, film, music and video games -- doesn’t have a profound psychological impact on viewers, listeners or players.

Funnily, empirical evidence seems to point otherwise.

Perhaps it was just coincidence that James Holmes elected to shoot up a movie theater screening the loud and violent “Dark Knight Rises,” only to identify himself as “The Joker” -- the homicidal, anarchistic pop culture icon whose visage was as commonplace as Barack Obama’s in 2008 -- when police finally ended his dozen-corpse shooting spree two years ago. Similarly, perhaps it is just “coincidence” that Anders Breivik was a fan of the hyper-popular “Call of Duty” games -- so much so, that he said he used the game as a virtual simulator for his unprecedented rampage in 2011 that left 77 individuals dead…not to mention an additional 300 whom were seriously injured or critically wounded. Perhaps we can also chalk up a would-be mass shooter’s plans to decimate his high school in 2013 as “mere coincidence,” despite the fact that said perpetrator intended on carrying out said rampage while music from the infamous “No Russian” level in “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” played on his iPod. Similarly, the number of “copycat” crimes based on Oliver Stone’s super-overrated 1994 pseudo-opus “Natural Born Killers” is so high, it has it’s own tally sheet on Wikipedia.

Of course, media has very little impact on individual psyches and their personal decision-making, which is exactly why navy recruit numbers skyrocketed after “Top Gun” was released. Nor can that be the reason why, in the wake of made-for-cable “reality” dreck like “Storage Wars,” auction attendance numbers across the U.S. have exploded. And of course, lawyers and judges across the country aren’t complaining about something called “The CSI Effect,” in which “Law and Order”-weaned jurors keep demanding non-existent technologies be used to “solve” actual criminal trials.

When “Breaking Bad” -- the unexpected AMC mega-hit, starring of all people, the dad from “Malcolm in the Middle” -- concluded last fall, it wasn’t just a television event, it was indeed a generation-defining moment. That evening, my apartment complex -- itself, a glorified student housing project -- was literally overflowing with cars. The communal Wi-Fi was lagging, because so many people were on Twitter and Facebook and texting each other back and forth about the final episode. Many acquaintances later told me that the “Series Finale” parties they attended were more densely populated than any sports-centric get-together they had ever seen. The grand finale for the program was a mass cultural experience, something more akin to the Super Bowl or even a Presidential election than just some sliver of pop cultural ephemera.

And of course, I didn’t watch a second of it.

When it comes to modern-day pop culture, I admit that I am something of an aberration. Simply put, I don’t know what the hell’s going on, since I have refused to own a television since 2007 and haven’t turned on my car’s radio since 2009. As such, pretty much all of my pop culture intake comes from Facebook chatter and other Internet-borne phenomena, which I usually ignore until it becomes absolutely impossible to scroll three centimeters up, down, left, or right without being bombarded by massiveness of whatever contemporary pop culture thing is going on at the juncture.

In regards to “Breaking Bad,” I avoided it for quite some time, primarily due to spending my free time doing stupid things like being outside, hanging out with my loved ones and writing about four bajillion things simultaneously instead of watching a non-stop, 12 hour block of TV programming in one sitting like God intended us to do as a species. Alas, my curiosity finally got the best of me, and I decided to skim my way through a couple of episodes. And after all of the nonstop media bombardment, with people endlessly celebrating it as the best thing since sliced bread, you know what my reaction was?

“Well, that’s pretty unremarkable.”

Simply put, “Breaking Bad” -- in my eyes -- sucked as a drama, a television program and a work of fiction. As is, television is pretty much the lowest form of “art” there is -- being the only self-censored media format, designed solely for the sake of unabashed commercialism and all -- but even in a world glutted with “Dance Moms” and “Duck Dynasty,” I found “Breaking Bad” to be especially lackluster.

For years, I was told that “Breaking Bad” was a deep, humanistic work of art, with character portrayals of criminals so real, it felt less like your standard TV tomfoolery and more like a Scorsesian drama -- not that films like “Goodfellas” or “Casino” completely romanticize the mob or anything like that, but alas, such is an aside for a different day. This was, allegedly, a gritty, psychologically rich tale about life after the recession, and how far desperate people are willing to carry on in the face of inevitable destruction. The way the pop cultural wehrmacht posited it, you’d think “Breaking Bad” was scripted by the resurrected corpse of Erich Remarque himself.

Alas, such was not the television program that I saw. Instead, what I saw was a downright pandering, fantastical program that once again glorified criminality as a reasonable way of life and a just response to adversity. Told that “Breaking Bad” was the definitive post-Recession pop culture construct, I was actually offended by what I saw: instead of focusing on the real-life degradation of the American family (and with it, an entire generation’s sense of optimism and belief in self), “Breaking Bad” was a borderline fascistic show that, with the lung cancer skeleton key, completely exonerated its characters from any sort of moralistic retribution for their own doings. Very few television programs I have viewed have had such a nihilistic, and socially destructive, mindset: the main character’s just going to die, anyway, so why not break the law and fuck up the lives of countless others as some sort of bizarre, sociopathic riposte to one’s personal setbacks?

I’ve written dozens of stories about real-life human beings aversely impacted by the Great Recession, and not a single one has been analogous to Walter White -- the meth-cooking, unconscionable protagonist who has since become the unofficial icon of an entire generation. Faced with their own financial doomsday -- and among some, their own impending mortalities -- none of the people I interviewed seemed to port about attitudes as vicious and unprincipled as the “hero” of “Breaking Bad.” Instead of seeking an “easy way out” by getting into illicit trade, the people I’ve seen have worked like crazy in menial labor to support those who they love, and of the people starring into the economic abyss, the ones I have talked to have spoken about entering poverty gracefully; that is, instead of going into despair with an anti-social disposition, they’ve tried to pattern their old ways of life around being poor.

The story of real American life, post-recession, has been one of sacrifice: families taking the deep cuts to support themselves. However, the story of “Breaking Bad” is almost the complete inverse: instead of focusing on a family man who sacrifices his own wants for a greater good, he more or less goes on a rampage, engaging in sundry antisocial behaviors, with the needs of his family serving as a convenient “excuse” for his own sociopathic, criminal behavior.

With all of the corpses piled up on the show, defenders of “Breaking Bad” claim the program doesn’t glamorize the drug trade, to which I call bullshit. At the absolute best, “Breaking Bad” is a program that philosophically argues that extreme conditions (such as financial insolvency and terminal illness) provide one with a moralistic carte blanche, that with self-destruction imminent, the moral guidelines people follow under “normal conditions” no longer apply. “If you suffer an injustice,” the show’s mantra seems to be, “it’s OK to perpetrate more injustices to get back to square one.”

You see this kind of shit all the time. How many rappers, many of whom have been convicted of felonies and/or been the victims of homicide, have cited “Scarface” as an influence? The underlying theme of that film, similar to the theme of “Breaking Bad,” is that if you get wronged or marginalized, it’s completely reasonable to do what most people would call “unconscionable actions” in order to “fix” said problems. How many gangster rappers sing the exact same song and dance? They were born poor, in crappy environments with few educational or occupational opportunities; denied those “legitimate” opportunities by “the man,” is it really that “wrong” if they turn towards criminal enterprises as way of “making it” as others do?

The key “life lesson” in oh so many a gangster rap classic is the same virtue that’s promoted in “Breaking Bad” -- do unto others, as others have done unto you. Note that such is not “as you would like others to do,” as the Golden Rule postulates, but “as other have already treated you.” Everything an individual does, then, is not an action, but a reaction -- not individual choice, but reciprocity stemming from an event the individual has no control over. If “wronged,” in any way, shape, or form, the individual has no moral restrictions on doing whatever it is that he or she believes is necessary to right that perceived injustice. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s the law of the jungle --  “and the wolf that shall keep it may prosper,” as Rudyard Kipling once penned, “but the wolf that shall break it must die.”

If there was ever a program that so vigorously defended the literally inhuman construct of survival of the fittest, “Breaking Bad” would personify it. Why not turn towards meth-making, and the murderous drug trade, if it meant “survival?” Who cares if you create a monster that destroys the lives of oh-so-many families and relationships, if it’s done solely for the sake of “survival?” Why not turn on your best friends and align yourself with absolute miscreants, if it’s just for “survival?”

Walter White is pretty much the antithesis of what served as a protagonist half a century ago. Whereas the pacifistic, morally-guided Atticus Finch was once deemed the cultural depiction of heroism, the principle-less White has become this generation’s de facto icon. We’ve no time, nor patience, for self-sacrificing, virtue-driven heroics anymore; it’s much more entertaining to watch conscience-less anti-heroes do as they please, with the auger of “past injustices” serving as a universal “justification” for their doings, of course. Resiliency and moral high grounds, it appear, went out with landline phones and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

“Breaking Bad,” as such, may not glorify methamphetamine use, per se, but it does something that’s actually far worse: it rationalizes the methamphetamine drug trade as a “just cause” in times of personal tribulation. Throughout the episodes of “Breaking Bad” that I scanned, I wondered about the clientele that Walter poisoned, and if their home lives were anything like the home lives of actual methamphetamine-impacted families that I’ve interviewed over the years.

Were there seven kids in one mobile home, with pink insulation falling out of the ceiling? Were there squalling kindergartners abound, whom lacked the cognitive ability to fully grasp what their daddy’s 20-year-prison sentence actually meant? Were there any 28-year-old kids, with more fingers than teeth, literally foaming out of their mouths due to withdrawal? “Breaking Bad,” you say, is drama, sheer entertainment. I’d highly recommend those same individuals, whom find the program so “enthralling,” actually participate in a Functional Family Therapy session, and watch the decades and decades of loving bonds disintegrate before your very eyes, thanks to the demon of meth addiction. That, my friends, is the TRUE face of methamphetamine, not the guns-blazing, made-for-cable bullshit that “Breaking Bad” represents.

Of course, I’m not going to change anybody’s opinion about the program. After all, it’s just
“entertainment,” you’ll tell me, and nothing more than mock dramatics with an engaging storyline. What’s so bad about a show, after all, that completely trivializes one of the nation’s greatest health epidemics, turning the real-life suffering of hundreds of thousands of families into action-movie bravado? What’s so bad, you’ll tell me, about a show that makes a “hero” out of a character who destroys so many lives with the justification in mind that it’s “OK,” because he too has experienced his own difficulties? What’s so bad, you’ll say, about an entire culture embracing a show so decisively nihilistic, and fascistic, and antipathetic to any and all forms of selflessness?

It’s not like “entertainment” has any impact on culture at large, after all


  1. you have no idea what you are talking about.

    1. Whoa, I guess you told HIM.

  2. -- being the only self-censored media format, designed solely for the sake of unabashed commercialism and all --
    Said the blogger with a web page full of ads.

    Jason is right you have no idea what your talking about

  3. Breaking Bad SUCKS. Why the program isn't just merely overrated, but detrimental to U.S. society as a whole. One of the old standbys when it ...

  4. Seen like a total of 5 mins of the show everyone around me raving about it........,fuck i don't get it absolutely looked like shite did not entice me in the least must be just me walking dead as well im just not a follower not a sheep.

    1. Wow you watched five whole minutes of the show and you don't get it?

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Throughout the series, Walter is shown degrading from a morally conscious man into a nigh-remorseless monster as he falls deeper and deeper into drug trade. He's given various chances to get out, but he keeps going back out of his selfishness. This is literally one of the major themes of the entire show that you completely misinterpreted. He is presented as heroic, yes - at first. The show literally makes it a point to show just how low he has fallen morally especially in the last two seasons. The moral ambiguity of Breaking Bad as a series is literally one of the most readily noticeable aspects of the show especially past a certain point. So, no. Walter White is not a "hero". He falls from that status into depravity before finally redeeming himself - to the best of that ability - in the end. It is very much so a character study, with the meth business being more or less the template for it rather than what the writers truly wanted you to see.

    You also claim that the show glorifies the meth business. Yes, because watching your family be destroyed by your own selfishness of selling destructive, horrible drugs, tormenting and ruining the life of your young, low-class business partner who you forced into working with you, and having the lives of hundreds killed or ruined totally shows just how glorified the meth trade is in this show. Oh, give me a break. It's not even just in Walt's main storyline, either - have you seen the episode "Peekaboo"? How in any way, shape, or form, is that episode glorifying the horrors of drug addiction and the lives destroyed by it?

    You really do have no idea what you are talking about. Seems like this article was just written to be controversial and edgy and cherry picking things or at worst completely misinterpreting them to fit the anti-drug agenda you were clearly going for here, without actually looking deeper into what was going on in the show itself. Next.

  7. You lost me at "As is, television is pretty much the lowest form of “art” there is." I suppose you watch movies, though, because pretty much everyone who loves to deride television doesn't seem to see anything wrong with the big screen. You are wrong, wrong, wrong about television. Yes, it is the medium that supports the awful crap that is reality television but as a whole it has far, far more potential for great storytelling than any movie does. Because you can only ever spend a maximum of a few hours with the characters and stories in a movie (with the exception of epic film series like Harry Potter), but you've got hours over seasons with television stories, which allows you to fully explore characters and situations like you just can't do with film. Unless you watched all five seasons of Breaking Bad (and it doesn't sound like you did), you indeed have no idea what you're talking about. Your flat refusal to even acknowledge the potential of television ("I have refused to own a television since 2007!!! Aren't you impressed???") is telling. If you don't watch TV, you aren't qualified to critique it.


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