Breaking Bad is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon at present. A television show that has captivated the nation, as friends, family and coworkers band together to try and figure out what Walter White will do next.
Working in marketing, I suppose I always have an interest in anything that captivates mass audiences, I mean isn’t that what I’m supposed to do anyway? I may get mocked for my love of “mainstream” music, but I’ll be honest I admire an artist’s ability to go mainstream. It’s not easy pleasing everyone, and still managing to create something new. It’s really something that a single show of complete fiction can evoke such vivid emotions in people, so much that we wonder if Walter White lived on our very street, ran our local car wash, or taught us chemistry at some point in time?
Breaking Bad captivates audiences because it is incredibly real. The show depicts OUR lives each Sunday night on the screen before us with a sick twist. And as one becomes more involved in the show, tormented as the characters time and time again struggle to survive, we vicariously ‘break bad’ though them. If a 50 year-old chemistry teacher can become a legendary drug manufacturer in less than a year, what’s stopping us from pushing the boundary in our own lives.
Walter White manages to be real enough for us to relate to, yet risky enough for us to seldom attempt to replicate. The show as a whole is also unsettling in many respects, think about the fact that one of your local fast food restaurants could be a meth enterprise?
But in all honesty, don’t most of us hope that a real Walter White does exist? We all love seeing a regular guy succeed, of course only when he is motivated by extradordinary circumstances. What fascinates me is why we don’t perceive Walter White as the criminal he truly is at the end of the day. One might argue it’s because we know him, we have an emotional connection. That’s a great point.
Hank though, despite his two decade long-relationship with Walt feels no sympathy in trying to bring Walt to justice. So why do we knowing Walt for considerably less time feel more for him than his own brother-in-law? Especially considering all the crime shows the average American watches, wouldn’t it make more sense for us to identify with Hank as a detective?
I theorize it’s because the average American viewer respects Walt’s sheer genius. Sure his ability to cook is one thing, but his ability to build his drug empire fascinating to watch. I’m also willing to bet a lot of people like Gus Fring, probably because he was a briliant businessman and criminal. Gus and Walt share the same good intention. Walt wants to provide for his family, and Gus wants to bring his friend’s killers to justice (which according to him is murder). Does the end justify the means? In the minds of Americans, at least for Walt, it does. And as he breaks all the rules to do so, as viewers we become more and more impressed with him.
In Walt’s case the means overpower the endgame. I can conclude thus far that the reason this series is so successful is the fact that the audience is able to like someone so bad, so taboo. The show draws viewers in with a relatively good man as he develops though the viewer sees the logical progression. So even as bad as Walter becomes because the audience understands why he did what he did, they are able to root for him. He is a man who uncovers his hidden potential he’s had all this time. He’s a man with a dream that was crushed by a failed business endeavor previously and he found a way to gain fame and fortune decades later. Breaking Bad is the American Dream, Americans love the American Dream.
The real question now is will this American Dream become a nightmare?