Breaking Bad is considered one of the most successful and critically acclaimed television shows of all time. With a viewers rating of 9.6 out of 10 on IMDB, Breaking Bad has become a landmark in the history of television series, ultimately becoming a very significant element of this current third golden age of television. Not only did it get great reviews as a whole series, but it is the only show that has ever gotten a perfect score on an episode’s rating on IMDB. With Ozymandias holding the first place (10/10) and Felina holding the third (9.9/10) it is impossible for the show to go unnoticed. Growing by an astonishing 10 times the amount of viewers from the series premiere to the last episode, Breaking Bad‘s popularity sky rocketed in only 5 seasons. Besides, the show nearly double its viewers in the last eight episodes alone! It is safe to assume that Breaking Bad has reached, and influenced, the homes of many viewers in United States and worldwide. But it’s popularity raises several issues.
Creator Vince Gilligan, former writer and producer for The X-Files, pitched the show to AMC as “You take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface.” The successful pitch took Gilligan to the creation of the show and its airing in January of 2008. “Breaking Bad follows protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher who lives in New Mexico with his wife (Anna Gunn) and teenage son (RJ Mitte) who has cerebral palsy. White is diagnosed with Stage III cancer and given a prognosis of two years left to live. With a new sense of fearlessness based on his medical prognosis, and a desire to secure his family’s financial situation, White chooses to enter a dangerous world of drugs and crime and ascends to power in this world. The series explores how a fatal diagnosis such as White’s releases a typical man from the daily concerns and constraints of normal society and follows his transformation from mild family man to a kingpin of the drug trade. (AMC, “About the Show”) At first, the show did not do as well as AMC had hoped. Close to being cancelled after the second season, Breaking Bad took full force once it was released on DVD and uploaded on Netflix. Breaking Bad‘s success has proven that it is one of television’s best series ever made.
The question is: What kind of message is the show sending to its audience? This show deals with the subjects of drugs, drug addiction, murder, rape, drug trafficking, money laundering, drug production, gang wars, and corruption as if they were mundane occurrences in the lives of their glorified criminals. So what happens after a viewer watches the show? Is it expected that every watcher will become a kingpin like Walter White and Gus Fring? Absolutely not! The show does portray its criminals in a superhuman way and drugs as an everyday occurrence, but it is unrealistic to think that because of watching Breaking Bad we will become criminals or drug addicts. The problem is that it does introduce and normalize these elements for its viewers. Although it might not be the only and sole reason of why someone might turn their life into a life of crime, it might be the catalytic element that pushes someone who was already considering these possibilities and gives them that little push. I, for example, can’t watch an episode of Mad Men without having to step outside to have a cigarette.
Now, there is no doubt that Breaking Bad has created a new pop culture icon. With its depiction of the family man turned drug dealer, Walter White became one of the most recognized faces in the world. If you put together silhouettes of glasses, a mustache, and a pork-pie-hat it is likely that most adults, or people within the viewing age, will recognize the image as the infamous “Heisenberg”. With thousands of Breaking Bad themed products being sold worldwide, his story has captured the attention of millions of spectators. From t-shirts (I personally own two), to mugs, to fan art, fan theories, Lego meth lab sets, posters, and even blue rock candy that mimics the aspect of the methamphetamine cooked and consumed in the show, Breaking Bad’s popularity has made this fictional character into one of the most famous drug dealers in the world. These can be proven by a simple Google image search. When searching the name “Heisenberg” in the Google image search engine, the first, and majority of the images showed are pictures of the character Walter White. Forty-four images of the fictional character appear before a single picture of the scientist who the character was named after comes to view. It’s undeniable that Breaking Bad has impacted the life of many viewers and pop culture as a whole, but it also had its side effects.
An example of these effects are the crimes committed that mimic the show’s crimes. In England, 37-year-old Kuntal Patel…
(HUGE SEASON 5 SPOILER AHEAD! )
…attempted to poison her mother in what was a very similar plot to the murder of Lydia Rodarte in the fifth season of the series!…
(END OF SPOILER )
Patel administered Abrin poison to her mother due to her controlling and abusive ways. The FBI discovered that Patel had even admitted to watching Breaking Bad, and that the murder was inspired by the show in one of the emails she sent to the Arbin vendor. Although the attempt was not successful, it’s alarming to think that viewers are trying to imitate the crimes portrayed by the show. Not only does this demonstrate that the show is influencing its watchers in a negative way, but it also serves as proof that even when it is not certain that violence in media causes violence in real life, the ideas or ways to commit said crimes serve as inspiration for the audience, and the crimes they plan to execute. Here in the United States, 27-year-old Jason Hart tried to dissolve his girlfriend’s body in a plastic tub with sulfuric acid, just as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman disposed of Crazy 8’s and his partner’s body in the show. The police even found the season one DVD loaded in Hart’s DVD player while searching his home, in which Walter instructs Jesse how to properly dispose of said bodies. These and many other crimes based on the show’s depiction have occurred around the globe. This is why the portrayal of crime and the glorification of violence and drugs in television shows is such an important matter. This should be addressed, and the audience should be educated as to what real consequences might occur if these actions are carried out in real life. With the show being as violent as it is, it has many opportunities to inspire crime and violence in the real world.
Not only were murders inspired by the series, but even drug dealers gave in to the Breaking Bad craze. With the portrayal of the incredibly pure blue methamphetamine Walter was cooking, drug dealers decided that they could not pass up this opportunity. They used the show to their advantage as a marketing tool! Police in Kansas City, Mo, arrested several drug dealers who had tainted their methamphetamine with blue food coloring in order to imitate the methamphetamine cooked by Walter and Jesse. Although the methamphetamine was not any stronger than any other methamphetamine in the streets, it sold for 50 percent more money than the rest! The true concern was that children could get hold of it thinking it is candy, as blue rock candy is sold due to the show’s popularity (Patrick Ryan, 2013). Thus creating the opportunity for children to become addicted to this horrendous drug. Breaking bad as a whole serves as advertisement for methamphetamine, drug dealing and a life of crime.
At this point you might believe that I am opposed to violence, sex and drugs in media, but that is absolutely not the case. After all, the excess of violence, sex and drugs in media is a mere opinion of each individual viewer (Gunter, Harrison, and Wykes 15). I am all for Breaking Bad; I am a huge fan of the show, but I do believe that producers, networks, show runners, actors, and everyone involved in the production of these magnificent series and films share a sense of responsibility when it comes to educating the public about the elements they include in their shows.
Does this mean that television should be more strict with censorship and control of the contents of violent and drug related media? Of course not. Censorship is not the answer. Violence, drugs and sex will always be part of movies, shows, and music, just as they a part of life. The key lies in the necessity to address the issues being provoked by violent and crime related shows and movies. If a bigger effort was made to prevent crimes based by media through education, charities, seminars, and simple consequential realism, maybe the glorification and portrayal of criminals as larger-than-life characters wouldn’t be such an issue in today’s society.
- Gunter, Barrie, Jackie Harrison, and Maggie Wykes. Violence on Television: Distribution, Form, Context, and Themes. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Print.
- Ryan, Patrick. “Real-life Crimes Echo “Breaking Bad”” USA Today. USA Today, 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 03 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fstory%2Flife%2Ftv%2F2013%2F09%2F19%2Fbreaking-bad-real-life-crimes%2F2782635%2F>.
- “About the Show.” Www.amctv.com. AMC, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. <http://www.amctv.com/shows/breaking-bad/about>.
- Gilligan, Vince, Karen Moore, Dave Porter, Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, R J. Mitte, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, and Raymond Cruz. Breaking Bad: The Complete Series. Culver City, Calif: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2009.