Saturday, October 26, 2013

Still Not Interested

Back before Breaking Bad was Breaking Bad (before even the pilot aired, actually) I had some interest in seeing the show. I admire Cranston as an actor and Gilligan as a writer and I thought the combination would be good. But then I read the plot of the show and knew I'd never see it. Now it's over and despite its enormous critical success, and never ending word-of-mouth recommendations, I have still not seen the show.

My list of reasons is short but vehemently felt (not least of which is being a member of a family that has felt the very real and serious effects of meth addiction). I was thrilled to come by this article by Malcolm Harris that not only hits on all my reasons but adds a few more, lays out an excellent and educational pop culture critique*, and does it much more eloquently than I ever could.

*Including 100% nailing why I had no interest in Savages as a book or film.

I've included a few quotes below that particularly struck me while reading but do click on over and read the entire article, whether or not you like/watch Breaking Bad it's an article worth reading. 

The point of critically examining cultural objects like Breaking Bad isn’t to place them in categories good or bad, to predict the ending, or even to decode what’s “really” happening; the point is to pay attention to our attention, to look at how it’s being held, on what, and how someone’s making money on it. If pop criticism is to be good for anything, it’s that.

The idea that people will always pay more for purer or small-batch products makes a lot of sense to demographics used to paying more for quality gimmicks — conveniently, the same demos advertisers pay a premium for. But it doesn’t make sense for the consumers Breaking Bad so sparingly depicts. When we do see White’s ultimate customers, they’re zombies: all scabs and eroded teeth. We’re not talking about impulse buyers or comparison shoppers here; it’s a textbook case of what freshman economics students call inelastic demand. As Stringer Bell told D’Angelo Barksdale in another show about drugs, in direct contrast to what Walter claims, “When it’s good, they buy. When it’s bad, they buy twice as much. The worse we do, the more money we make.”

Breaking Bad in which the street dealers were diluting the product would have had Walter and his partner Jesse Pinkman competing with every local operation, struggling to set up a larger distribution network without costly middlemen and, well, interacting with meth users a lot. But The Wire on Ice isn’t sexy enough to sell a Dodge, and a teacher slanging to his fucked-up former students would turn stomachs, not open wallets. Suffice to say it would be a darker show.

In Savages, another recent story of Mighty Whitey getting people stoned, Berkeley-educated botanist Chon (maybe the only name whiter than “White”) and his war-vet buddy Ben combine exported Afghan seeds and a public-Ivy STEM degree to create a strand of superweed. A narrator asserts Afghanistan is the source of the best weed on earth with the same revelatory reverence that Anthony Bourdain might declare Iberia the source of the best pork. It’s not enough that these two 20-somethings grow and sell weed; they have to do it better than anyone else by a huge margin.

White-washing the illegal drug market involves depicting it like markets wealthy viewers are more comfortable and familiar with, namely those of the farmers market or the local pharmacy. Walter White combines the ostensible moral complexity television audiences demand in a post-Soprano protagonist with a cleanliness that allows him to market expensive cars.

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