Tag: Breaking Bad

Breaking Boring


In 1982, I was an Albuquerque Police Department (APD) recruit working with a training officer (TO).  One day, we were dispatched to a hit-and-run crash.  The victim had a description of the vehicle, a very distinctive description of the driver, and a license plate number.  We ran the plate through the state Motor Vehicle Division, and it came back to the same make and model described by the victim, belonging to a Jimmie Joe L____.

We went to the address from the registration and found the vehicle in the driveway.  It exactly matched the victim’s description and had damage consistent with the crash.  The house, or I should say the property, was very strange.  There was an eight-foot wooden fence around the entire border except the driveway.  We walked past the vehicle and knocked on the gate, receiving no answer.  As we were walking back down the drive, one of us looked into the vehicle and saw a revolver lying in plain sight on the front seat.

Both front windows were open, so one of us simply reached in and picked up the weapon.  The gun was loaded, but the most distinctive thing about it was a strong chemical smell emanating from it.  Neither I nor my TO recognized the smell at the time.  We took the gun.

ACF Critic Series #29: Breaking Bad


Here’s my new podcast with Paul Cantor, on the Macbeth of Meth! We talk about The Dark Side Of The American Dream — go buy the book, folks. It’s about tragedy in pop culture, from Huck Finn to The Walking Dead (which we’ll get to next week). We talk about the American Dream — especially the middle-class suburban dream of the post-war era–and what happens when it doesn’t work out. Especially during troubled times, like nowadays, people turn to darker stories and are more interested in the tragic side of life. So all of a sudden mere villains ascend by the path of the anti-hero to the full status of tragic hero, trying to out-American America, so to speak.

ACF Critic Series #9: Paul Cantor


We’re adding a new critic to the ACF podcast: America’s eminent Shakespearian, Paul Cantor! He’s a writer I admire and from whom I have learned much on Shakespeare–much to my surprise and delight, he’s getting into film criticism in a big way and he’s in the mood to talk about it. We have a long interview to offer you, the first in a series of discussions about pop culture in America. We go from Godfather to Breaking Bad, we get to super-hero movies and ancient mythic heroes–to tragedy in Greece and in Shakespeare’s England–and lots of other things about TV and movies in-between. Also, we do more than a little talking about Mark Twain. Listen and share friends, join the conversation in the comments, and read more Cantor!

Scale and Scalability: Some Thoughts on a Common Problem


shutterstock_322776359“Scalability” problems arise in the context of certain kinds of manufacturing and industrial processes, as well as computer databases, start-up and growth-stage businesses, and some other kinds of complex systems. You can think of scalability in terms of Breaking Bad, which was basically a show about the problems and challenges of scalability. A high school chemistry teacher and his junkie wastrel former student attempt to scale up their boutique, small-batch blue meth business and turn it into a giant multinational conglomerate, while grappling with the attendant problems of production, distribution, administrative, financial, geographic and moral scalability. Hilarity and horror — in equal measure — ensue.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that analogous problems of scale come up a lot in social and political contexts. Clearly, some things in society work well on a large scale, while others don’t, and it would be helpful to know why and how to distinguish the one kind of thing from the other. For example, in an earlier post I observed that — though I am more or less an atheist, and that it seems to work okay for me — I would prefer not to live in a society of atheists, because the large-scale application of the atheism principle leads to nasty social outcomes and is destructive of the kinds of political values I like.

Unfortunately, there is no simple rule that tells us whether a system is or is not scalable; one has to look closely at its inner workings. But maybe there are some patterns to point us in the right direction.

“America Hates Dark”


Fantastic_Four_2015_posterOne of the most successful network executives ever laid down this maxim to a producer who insisted that a new cop show be “dark” and “real:” “America,” he said, “hates dark.” He’s right, of course. When audiences sit down to watch something, they rarely want to be depressed. Gripped, thrilled, grabbed, amused, scared, any or all of those things (and more) are okay … but plunged into a depressing and dark vision of the world? Not so much.

Sure, yes, a few “Dark Knights” may achieve escape velocity and make some real money at the box office, but — for day-in-day-out television viewing — it’s hard to make money that way. And it’s getting harder to make money in the movie theater that way, too. I write a bit about this in my column for The National, the English-language newspaper of Abu Dhabi:

There’s more than enough dark and depressing content on the front page of the newspaper, and audiences – at least in the United States – are expressing their bad-news-fatigue by changing the channel.