Impossible Choices? the Conservatism of "Breaking Bad"

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"Breaking Bad" is a fascinating show. But efforts to compare it to "The Wire," which systematically analyzed American institutions and the American experience, are misguided. "Breaking Bad" is fundamentally a conservative show that is all about the individual. This Sunday (September 2) AMC will air the final episode of part one of it's fifth and final season of "Breaking Bad," an immensely popular and critically acclaimed show about a down-on-his luck high school chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, starts a life as a crystal methamphetamine manufacturer. The high praise of the show is largely warranted: the premise is fascinating, the photography and acting is superb and the drama intense. Some have even dared to suggest that "Breaking Bad" represents the best that modern television has to offer, even surpassing HBO's the "Wire" as the greatest show of its time. This, it must be said, is to give the show too much credit. As entertaining as the show is, it is important to understand what it is not: a serious analysis of the drug war, the health system, middle-class drug culture or the American experience at all. In fact, the show is very much a demonstration of a very conservative worldview that posits that life is but a series of individual choices. The show, rather simply, attributes the consequences of these choices squarely on the women and (mostly) men who make them. As Chuck Klosterman wrote for Grantland, in a 2011 essay praising "Breaking Bad" as the greatest show of the modern era, the show presents a world where "goodness and badness are simply complicated choices, no different than anything else." This, he adds, is in contrast to "The Wire," where (emphasis in original) "everyone is simultaneously good and bad" and "[t]he conditions matter more than the participants." Klosterman, in trying to explain why "Breaking

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