Does “Breaking Bad” Glorify Meth Use?

I work as a felony prosecutor in a town where our biggest narcotics problem is methamphetamine. I’m also a big fan of the show Breaking Bad, but whenever I ask colleagues (particularly law enforcement officers) whether they’ve been following the show, I invariably get the same answer: “Absolutely not. I refuse to watch any show that glorifies that lifestyle.”

Now, it should be noted that I fully sympathize with their concerns about the glorification of meth use. Meth is pure evil. Meth …

  1. C. U. Douglas

    I haven’t seen most of it, but I’ve seen enough so far. I want to see more!

    I see this a lot like discussion of The Godfather versus Goodfellas. Both are great films about organized crime, but the former comes off as almost romanticized while the latter presents a brutal and dark picture. Both, I believe, attempt to be honest in their portrayals. However, after watching The Godfather my colleagues and I would chat about how cool it would be a mobster, while after watching Goodfellas we all decided that organized crime wasn’t the career choice for us.

    Breaking Bad, to me, comes off more like the latter. It is honest for a fictional portrayal, but does not make one decide that this is a valid career choice.

    It has elements of Shakespeare’s Scottish Play, it is a picture of a humans in a downward spiral of moral decay even as they rise in power. From the beginning we realize this path cannot end well, and we are riveted, waiting to see how the protagonist’s end will come — when he loses it all, how utter will this loss be?

  2. Franco

    I think your first instincts were correct. TV and movies ‘glorify’ all kinds of bad behavior. If your law enforcement friends follow that logic with other shows then there is nothing they should be watching at all. It’s sad because Breaking Bad would actually inform them more about humanity. Too many police officers are becoming like drones and this bit of anecdotal evidence further confirms this view. Do they watch COPS? In my view that glorifies arresting toothless petty criminals for bench warrants. 

  3. Duane Oyen

    Doesn’t a show with a hero who is a meth dealer take the edge off of the “Now children, don’t do meth” issue a bit?

    Or are we less sensitive to the horrors of meth because it is the white man’s entrepreneurial, non-ghetto drug crime, like smoking MJ is for baby Boomers?

    Something can be well done and very entertaining, and still not positive for society.

  4. Doug Kimball

    If anything, it does the opposite.  It opens the curtain on the ugliness of drug and meth use and the drug trade.  First we get glimpses, then, as things progress, we watch the world become an unending nightmare, one heinous psychopathic act after another, each more shocking than the last.  Whatever humanity and human dignity that exists among the traffickers and users is shredded in favor of the highs that come from money, ego, power and drugs – any drugs.  It is evil that seems to know no bounds – Tuco, when high, kills on a whim.  Gus risk’s his own life to poison an entire cartel as revenge for the ruthless murder of a friend years before.  And Walt sees that a dozen men in several prisons die within seconds to protect his secrets and his gains.  Children are depicted as the most innocent of victims – killed, abandoned, abused and poisoned.  There is no glorification; only the sickest of minds would find glory in Walter’s world.  The rest of us see nothing but evil; evil about to find an ugly, fitting, end. 

  5. robberberen
    Franco: If your law enforcement friends follow that logic with other shows then there is nothing they should be watching at all. It’s sad because Breaking Bad would actually inform them more about humanity. Too many police officers are becoming like drones and this bit of anecdotal evidence further confirms this view.  · 2 minutes ago

    Well, slow down.  This issue matters deeply to them.  Most of them have their lives and the well-being of their families threatened by some crazed meth-head on a weekly basis. 

    Trust me, they understand humanity much better than most.  It’s just that the proliferation of dangerous drugs directly affects their lives much more than it affects yours or mine.

    They are not drones.  They are thinking and feeling people who deal with the dregs of society all day long so we don’t have to.

    *stepping down from soap box*

  6. Lord Humungus

    Breaking Bad most certainly does not glorify meth use or sales. Until now, the ugliness of meth has been delivered by secondary characters (e.g. Jesse). Walter is just now beginning to pay for his sins in a way that easily influenced viewers will relate to.

  7. robberberen
    Duane Oyen: Doesn’t a show with ahero who is ameth dealer take the edge off of the “Now children, don’t do meth” issue a bit?

    · 4 minutes ago

    But in Breaking Bad the “hero” becomes the villain.  So it’s not quite that simple.

    Or are we less sensitive to the horrors of meth because it is the white man’s entrepreneurial, non-ghetto drug crime, like smoking MJ is for baby Boomers?

    Um…meth is not the “white man’s entrepreneurial drug”.  Nothing like it.  It’s almost impossible to use it and be a functioning member of society.

    Something can be well done and very entertaining, and still not positive for society.

    Agreed.

  8. Ryan M
    Blake

    Trust me, they understand humanity much better than most.  It’s just that the proliferation of dangerous drugs directly affects their lives and safety much more than it affects yours or mine.

    They arenotdrones.  They are thinking and feeling people who deal with the dregs of society all day long so we don’t have to.

    I’ll argue with you a bit, here…  I interned w/ the Dallas pros. office, but didn’t get to know many of the cops.  But the ones here really disappoint me.  They tend to de-humanize and abuse their power, and it is pretty scary.  I’ve read a lot of reports and watched a lot of video… I wouldn’t minimize the jobs they have to do, but I also find prosecutors teaching cops ways to get around the law, I see them doing things that … well, it’s almost like they watched some cop show, where that sort of behavior was “glorified.” 

    I think the knife needs to cut both ways.  It may be a good thing to humanize criminals as a reminder, just as cops need to be reminded that they can’t do whatever they want.

  9. robberberen
    C. U. Douglas:

    I see this a lot like discussion ofThe GodfatherversusGoodfellas. Both are great films about organized crime, but the former comes off as almost romanticized while the latter presents a brutal and dark picture. Both, I believe, attempt to be honest in their portrayals. However, after watchingThe Godfathermy colleagues and I would chat about how cool it would be a mobster, while after watchingGoodfellaswe all decided that organized crime wasn’t the career choice for us.

    Goodfellas is a great analogy.  I think very few people finished Goodfellas thinking “That’s the life I want.” 

    But consider this:  The main character in Goodfellas ends with a monologue talking about how boring his life is now and how badly he wants that old mobster life back.  Because that’s when he really felt alive.

    That’s the effect I worry about with Breaking Bad.

  10. Frozen Chosen

    It is a common fallacy to think that we need to view evil to understand it.  I suspect that most people who view this program do so for entertainment, not to come to a greater understanding of evil.  Those who think that viewing such evil does not effect them are fooling themselves as it is bound to have a negative effect.  Subtle perhaps, but negative just the same.

  11. Franco
    Frozen Chosen: It is a common fallacy to think that we need to view evil to understand it.  I suspect that most people who view this program do so for entertainment, not to come to a greater understanding of evil.  Those who think that viewing such evil does not effect them are fooling themselves as it is bound to have a negative effect.  Subtle perhaps, but negative just the same. 

    A common fallacy? Let’s look at the history of theater going back to its origin in Greece. We as humans seek to understand everything and evil is part and parcel to our human situation. Perhaps you don’t realize how informed you are by the whole of theater and tragedy. Breaking bad is a tragedy and it really isn’t about ‘meth’, but some people who are kinda dim think every one else is too. The Bible and many many religious types talk about and explore evil continually.  

  12. Ryan M
    Frozen Chosen: It is a common fallacy to think that we need to view evil to understand it.  I suspect that most people who view this program do so for entertainment, not to come to a greater understanding of evil.  Those who think that viewing such evil does not effect them are fooling themselves as it is bound to have a negative effect.  Subtle perhaps, but negative just the same.

    Agree.  I don’t really watch movies or television – not on principle, but because I just have other stuff I’d rather do, and I refuse (ok that’s a principle) to pay for TV – and he is one of those people who argues that we need exposure to everything in order to gain understanding and find beauty and blah blah nonsensical blah.  Another friend of ours says he doesn’t want to watch some movie w/ loads of cursing or sex or whatever else, and this friend gets all worked up as if he’s denying himself some massively important part of life.  I’ve always thought that was ridiculous.  Filling your mind with garbage does not make you a better person, even if avoiding it doesn’t either.

  13. C. U. Douglas
    Blake

    Goodfellas is a great analogy.  I think very few people finished Goodfellas thinking “That’s the life I want.” 

    But consider this:  The main character in Goodfellas ends with a monologue talking about how boring his life is now and how badly he wants that old mobster life back.  Because that’s when he really felt alive.

    That’s the effect I worry about with Breaking Bad. · 13 minutes ago

    I wouldn’t forget that monologue, because that’s the end where you look at what happened and go, “That’s really the life you want?” It’s the point part where I know the man is truly sick.

  14. C. U. Douglas
    Franco

    Frozen Chosen:It is a common fallacy to think that we need to view evil to understand it.  I suspect that most people who view this program do so for entertainment, not to come to a greater understanding of evil.  Those who think that viewing such evil does not effect them are fooling themselves as it is bound to have a negative effect.  Subtle perhaps, but negative just the same. 

    A common fallacy? Let’s look at the history of theater going back to its origin in Greece. We as humans seek to understand everything and evil is part and parcel to our human situation. Perhaps you don’t realize how informed you are by the whole of theater and tragedy. Breaking bad is a tragedy and it really isn’t about ‘meth’, but some people who are kinda dim think every one else is too. The Bible and many many religious types talk about and explore evil continually.   · 3 minutes ago

    Totally agree. Again, going back to the Scottish Play — Shakespeare is not advocating killing and usurping one’s superiors then doing away with any who might challenge you — he’s portraying a man’s dark descent.

  15. Z in MT

    Breaking Bad doesn’t glorify meth use.  None of the characters that use the meth (Jesse, his friends, his girlfriend, Tuco) wind up with very pleasant experiences when using meth.   

    There might be a case that it glorifies meth dealing, as Jesse and Walter do end up with a lot of money for very little work.

  16. DocJay

    I’ve never seen an episode (mostly because I don’t watch TV much).  

    The fact that the guy deals meth is bad enough though, however he’s painted.   That drug kills!

    I knew a doc in a little bitty western town who would find out who the new dealer was in town and show up on their door with a shotgun.  Crazy but highly effective.  Soon there was no meth in town and the sheriff was happy he’d looked the other way.   

    The problem with meth, and often heroin, is that the drug is bigger than the person using it.  There’s no such thing, as you point out, as the casual user.  Just an empty toothless soul on their way to a personal hell. 

  17. Frozen Chosen
    Franco

    Frozen Chosen:It is a common fallacy to think that we need to view evil to understand it.  I suspect that most people who view this program do so for entertainment, not to come to a greater understanding of evil.  Those who think that viewing such evil does not effect them are fooling themselves as it is bound to have a negative effect.  Subtle perhaps, but negative just the same. 

    A common fallacy? Let’s look at the history of theater going back to its origin in Greece. We as humans seek to understand everything and evil is part and parcel to our human situation. Perhaps you don’t realize how informed you are by the whole of theater and tragedy. Breaking bad is a tragedy and it really isn’t about ‘meth’, but some people who are kinda dim think every one else is too. The Bible and many many religious types talk about and explore evil continually.   · 1 hour ago

    I don’t think the ancient Greek tragedies were quite as graphic as the modern ones…

  18. mikeInThe716

    Frozen Chosin: Those who think that viewing such evil does not effect them are fooling themselves as it is bound to have a negative effect.  Subtle perhaps, but negative just the same.

    There is some truth to this: “The things we dwell upon become the shape of our minds.” h/t writer Gary Taubes.

    BB doesn’t really glorify an evil drug dealing. It does what most television does; make something more exciting by removing day to day drudgery.

  19. Klaatu

    Breaking Bad does not glorify meth use. No one could watch an episode with Wendy the meth whore or the episode in which Jesse goes to recover the money stolen from one of his dealers and finds the little kid living in filth because his parents are addicts and conclude meth use is glamorous. It does the exact opposite.

  20. robberberen
    Klaatu: Breaking Bad does not glorify meth use. No one could watch an episode with Wendy the meth whore or the episode in which Jesse goes to recover the money stolen from one of his dealers and finds the little kid living in filth because his parents are addicts and conclude meth use is glamorous. It does the exact opposite. · 21 minutes ago

    Wendy the Meth whore certainly isn’t glamorous…but Jesse is. Wouldn’t you say?

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