Breaking Bad is Breaking Me

Last week AMC had a “Breaking Bad” marathon, broadcasting every episode from its wildly successful five seasons.  My DVR was instructed to record every one of them.  I had been told by many people that I would just love the show.  This seemed like a good way to find out if they were right.  While watching 60+ episodes of any show is a daunting task, I am on winter break from my university job, and this seemed like a good time to give it a shot.

I am now in the middle of Season 3, and I’m not sure I can finish the series.  Maybe it’s a result of the binging, but the show has seeped into my psyche, causing me to think more violently and more…criminally. If it has this effect on me, I wonder how it affects others who don’t have feminism as a guiding ideology.  ”Breaking Bad” and shows like it do not promote feminist values.

“Breaking Bad” is uber masculine, and the characters show very little value for humanity.  There are very few dyadic relationships in the show where the characters seem to nurture and care for each other.  Walter, the main character, has many destructive relationships, including his relationship with his wife Skyler.  They lie to each other through most of the episodes.  He also forces sex on her multiple times.  Walter’s other main dyadic relationship is the one he has with Jesse, his former student and current business partner.  There is no nurturing relationship holdover from when they were teacher-student and their current relationship is all business.  They say very hurtful things to each other and have an on-and-off again relationship.  Hank, Walt’s brother-in-law and a DEA agent, has a close work associate who is Latino.  Hank constantly makes racist jokes at the partner’s expense and tells him he speaks “Beaner” language.  Even Skyler’s relationship with her baby daughter (who cannot even speak) is damaged.  Skyler smoked while the child was in the womb and keeps her from a relationship with her father.  We see zero interaction between the two children of Skyler and Walter. The most positive relationship on the show (so far) is probably between two brothers in a Mexican cartel, and they’re murderers.

Besides the lack of positive relationships, there is an absolute dismissal of human life.  In the first few episodes we see two people killed and disposed.  There is a lot of blood and guts.  Throughout other episodes, we see people (drug users and innocent bystanders) murdered as if their lives and their families don’t matter.  The violence is numbing.  As the seasons go on, the viewers get farther and farther removed from the users of the drugs and the lives that are destroyed by drug use.  There is one episode where Jesse spends a lot of time with a couple on meth and their child.  We can see the physical, emotional, and financial effects of drug use.  But in the end, it’s an episode built for the audience to laugh at those silly methheads.

Masculinity is both overtly and covertly tested in the series.  In an episode from the third season, Walt gets back into the meth cooking business because he is told by another middle-aged man that it is a MAN’S duty to provide for his family–no matter what.  There are just a few women on this male-dominated show, and most of them are portrayed as weak, manipulative people who need men to straighten them out.  At first, it appeared that  Jesse’s girlfriend Jane would be an exception.  When we first meet her, she is strong, independent, and career-minded, but she quickly ends up losing 18-months of hard-earned sobriety in order to participate in the day-to-day of Jesse’s sad life.

I can see why “Breaking Bad” has been popular.  The camera angles and cinematography are compelling.  The plot twists keep a viewer on the edge of his/her seat.  I just worry about the damage it does with viewers who may become desensitized to the violence or don’t recognize how destructive the relationships are on the show.  ”Breaking Bad” encourages uber masculinity in a society that needs more love, compassion, and empathy.

I will finish the marathon because I have a hard time quitting anything, but I will definitely have to watch it in small doses and come up for feminist air from time to time.

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