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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Things I Don't Understand - Episode 4: The Success of "Breaking Bad"

Season 4 Promo Pic
For the record, I do not personally know a meth addict, and other than making it difficult to buy sinus medication for my allergies, my life has not been directly affected by the meth epidemic. I have, however, met several people whose worlds have been upended, and who have endured years of chaos, sleepless nights, and mental anguish due to a family member's addiction.

I admit I have never watched Breaking Bad, mainly because the premise bothered me. A lot. I acknowledge that everyone I speak with who has watched Breaking Bad claims it's really good ... but I have a problem with a show that glorifies cooking and selling meth. Thinking I was "missing something", I read the synopsis for each episode on AMCTV's website. All. Five. Seasons. What I read sickened me. It was worse than I had expected. I realize the man has terminal cancer and wants to make sure his family is financially taken care of after he dies, but is ruining the lives of thousands of other's worth it? That, to me, is the epitome of selfishness. What that man is doing should not be glorified or celebrated ... he should be despised. People should not be hoping he gets away with it, they should be disgusted by it and praying he gets what he deserves ... in prison ... at the hands of someone who cares less for him than he does about the lives he's destroying. This show was billed as a "contemporary western" by it's producers. (Oh, give me a break!). I find it very troubling that this series was wildly successful and critically acclaimed.

In order for this show, or any show, to be successful, you have to like the protagonists. No one will tune in week after week to watch a show if they don't care what happens to the people. So they have to make Walt a sympathetic figure that people like and want to see succeed. And that bothers me. I know it's just a show, but it's a very distasteful subject ... and they want us to accept that his horrendous actions are somehow justifiable because he loves his family so much. Well, no one can love their family more than I love mine ... you might love them as much, but it's impossible to love them more. I've gone through some pretty tough times, and I never once thought of doing something illegal, much less becoming involved in something with the power to destroy as many lives as meth. I love my family too much to do anything that puts them, or myself, in any danger ... and everything involved in meth is dangerous.

I find it unconscionable that a series wants us to root for a "loving" family man who knowingly produces a substance that kills millions and ruins millions upon millions of lives every year. We are expected to care about a man who is willing to kill and methodically plot murders ... repeatedly ... to keep his crimes from being discovered. And he doesn't care because he wants to leave his family a lot of money when he dies. That's not touching or sweet ... that's sick ... and selfish.

Addicts aren't the only victims of meth. Scores of honest, hard-working people are robbed, raped, and killed every day at the hands of an addict. Innocent children who had the bad luck of being born to an addict are neglected and abused, then shuffled from foster home to foster home when their parents die or are incarcerated ... or worse ... like when their parents sell them for a fix. Family members, out of self-preservation, may turn their backs on addicts, but they will happily welcome them back when the addict is dedicated to staying clean and sober. Hard-core addicts have probably come to terms with the fact that they will die from an overdose, and dealers that they will likely meet an unpleasant, violent end ... but it's their families who have to deal with the fallout.

Sadly, a lot of people watched this show ... and they do/did root for the success of a man who rightfully deserves to rot in prison. What he is doing is despicable. The fact that he failed to earn enough money to leave his family financially comfortable after his death should not be paid for by the lives of others. The fact that his intentions are noble does not in any way justify his actions. Besides, he was offered a very lucrative job, with excellent benefits more than capable of covering his medical expenses, and he turned it down. His callous disregard for human life borders on sociopathic. He is portrayed as a good man, simply desperate and motivated by love. Had they downplayed his plight and intentions, and portrayed him as the vile, evil man he is (was), this show wouldn't offend me so much ... but somehow, the producers were able to elicit sympathy from viewers for this sleazeball. Maybe that's why this show won 65 awards ... that's the only reason I can fathom anyway.

The fact that a show with a premise as disturbing as Breaking Bad can be so successful does not speak very highly of our society. I am shocked that anyone would propose a show like this and think it is in any way acceptable ... and I'm even more appalled that it was.

At it's core, Breaking Bad suggests that this narcissistic man has the right to put his family's financial security above that of everyone else's, regardless of the cost on society. I realize his family is more important to him, but the safety and well-being of the world in general ... and my family specifically ... are more important to me! The world does not revolve around him, and he does not have the right to pay his mortgage, buy food for his family, and put his children through college with money made by inflicting heartbreak and misery on countless others.

What's next? A show about a man who needs money for his sick child, so he kidnaps innocent women and children to sell to sex traffickers? Would that be acceptable? I suspect everyone is saying "No", but why not? It's the same premise ... to hell with everyone else ... my family needs something that your destruction can buy. In the end, this man dies a painful death ... alone. Good. He put his wife and kids through hell, was personally responsible for a number of deaths, and was indirectly responsible for many more.

What was the point of this show? Was it to show that people who cook meth are not necessarily all "bad people"? (If that was the point, then they didn't make it ... it actually proved that meth cookers are bad.) Was it to show how good people can do bad things? (Most people are good people, and most of us have done things we're not proud of. All I learned was that some people will do anything to make money, regardless of the cost to others.) Was it to teach us that cooking meth is bad and will destroy you? (I'm not aware of any decent person who thinks cooking meth is a good idea!) Whatever the "moral of the story" was, surely there was a better way to tell it.

Shame on "Hollywood" for creating this series ... and shame on viewers for making it profitable. I'm not saying anything less wholesome than Leave It To Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show should be banned from the airwaves, but there has to be a line ... doesn't there?

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