Gender and agency in Breaking Bad

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Abstract

Breaking Bad has a rich narrative that provides media and cultural theorists with many avenues for formal and textual analysis. As a crime drama, the series is a particularly fecund source of material for those interested in crime, deviancy and depictions of the moral and social order (Work:2014). The series clearly shares an affinity with a range of recent American dramas that have focused, in one way or another, on the lives of troubled men (The Sopranos, 1999-2007, The Shield, 2002-2008, Dexter 2006-2013, Sons of Anarchy, 2008-2014). Lotz (2014) in Cable Guys argues that such ‘male-centred serials’ enable us to “interrogate submerged sentiments about gender scripts that lurk beneath the surface of largely reconstructed masculinities” (2014:57). These reconstructed masculinities are an amalgam of traditional and post- feminist constructions of gender, holding to the idea of man as provider as well as equal partner and committed father. Lotz goes on to argue that in such narratives “women are spared blame, but gender roles are nonetheless implicated as a cause of men’s problems” (2014:87). These problems “emerge from the realignment of gender norms that has connected with unintended or unrelated adjustments such as decline in the family wage and a considerable growth in basic fixed costs for US families”. (2014:88). She goes on to reinforce the point that Walter White is a “family man who isn’t dealt the hand in life that American mythology and American television typically affirm” (2014:97). If, however, we view the series from Skyler’s perspective, we see that “Breaking Bad becomes a very different gendered tale, offering a melodramatic account of deception, adultery and ultimately an abusive, dangerous marriage” (Mittell 2015:254). Both interpretations of the narrative are valid, but it is important to recognise that the production of gendered meaning emerges in the relationships between the characters and in the shape of the narrative as a whole. This means that Walter White’s actions may only be ‘made to mean’ through the presence of the ‘other’, both masculine and feminine. It is clear that gender is a site of tension within Breaking Bad, evidenced by the misogynistic paratextual discourse that surrounds the character Skyler White. This paper will try and provide some insight into the possible roots of such hatred and provide a contrapuntal discourse that allows us to add nuance to the dominant reading of Walter as the “decent, well-intentioned, by-the rules” (2014:97) family man who is pushed to the extreme
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalMedia Education Journal
Volume60
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016

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narrative
gender
drama
masculinity
offense
anarchy
discourse
mythology
social order
gender role
wage
television
father
marriage
interpretation
cause
costs

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title = "Gender and agency in Breaking Bad",
abstract = "Breaking Bad has a rich narrative that provides media and cultural theorists with many avenues for formal and textual analysis. As a crime drama, the series is a particularly fecund source of material for those interested in crime, deviancy and depictions of the moral and social order (Work:2014). The series clearly shares an affinity with a range of recent American dramas that have focused, in one way or another, on the lives of troubled men (The Sopranos, 1999-2007, The Shield, 2002-2008, Dexter 2006-2013, Sons of Anarchy, 2008-2014). Lotz (2014) in Cable Guys argues that such ‘male-centred serials’ enable us to “interrogate submerged sentiments about gender scripts that lurk beneath the surface of largely reconstructed masculinities” (2014:57). These reconstructed masculinities are an amalgam of traditional and post- feminist constructions of gender, holding to the idea of man as provider as well as equal partner and committed father. Lotz goes on to argue that in such narratives “women are spared blame, but gender roles are nonetheless implicated as a cause of men’s problems” (2014:87). These problems “emerge from the realignment of gender norms that has connected with unintended or unrelated adjustments such as decline in the family wage and a considerable growth in basic fixed costs for US families”. (2014:88). She goes on to reinforce the point that Walter White is a “family man who isn’t dealt the hand in life that American mythology and American television typically affirm” (2014:97). If, however, we view the series from Skyler’s perspective, we see that “Breaking Bad becomes a very different gendered tale, offering a melodramatic account of deception, adultery and ultimately an abusive, dangerous marriage” (Mittell 2015:254). Both interpretations of the narrative are valid, but it is important to recognise that the production of gendered meaning emerges in the relationships between the characters and in the shape of the narrative as a whole. This means that Walter White’s actions may only be ‘made to mean’ through the presence of the ‘other’, both masculine and feminine. It is clear that gender is a site of tension within Breaking Bad, evidenced by the misogynistic paratextual discourse that surrounds the character Skyler White. This paper will try and provide some insight into the possible roots of such hatred and provide a contrapuntal discourse that allows us to add nuance to the dominant reading of Walter as the “decent, well-intentioned, by-the rules” (2014:97) family man who is pushed to the extreme",
author = "Hazel Work",
year = "2016",
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Gender and agency in Breaking Bad. / Work, Hazel.

In: Media Education Journal, Vol. 60, 31.12.2016.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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