Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Walter White's Saga: Why Would a High School Chemistry Teacher Go Bad?

'Breaking Bad', the fantastic AMC series is now in the can as far as television history is concerned. On Sunday night, the finale grabbed no fewer than 10.3 million viewers, as former chemistry teacher Walter White went down in a blaze of glory. He also showed he knew plenty of physics, in devising an electronically-triggered,  high caliber, rotating machine gun in his car trunk,  to annihilate most of the Nazi meth makers.

But the question that really emerges is: How did this one time high school chemistry teacher mutate into the greatest meth maker the southwest had ever seen, and even to the level of taking out Mexican cartels?   As a former chemistry teacher myself (in the Peace Corps) I enjoyed it as much as teaching physics later.  Probably the titration of weak acids with a strong base were my favorite experiments, though the students were more enthralled by the ones that created small, vigorous 'eruptions' in their test tubes, like adding magnesium metal to dilute hydrochloric acid, see e.g.

Anyway, when I began watching 'Breaking Bad' five years ago, I was interested to see how it was that Walter White would want to go to the dark side. The answer arrived when he found out he had lung cancer, late stage lung cancer. Being in his late forties, this wasn't good news, because the health insurance he had provided a capped amount which would expire in no time with necessary chemotherapy treatments.

Walter probably knew even then that his treatments would ensure that his family would either go bankrupt or into massive debt. He'd also likely know that most bankruptcies in this country are medically -based. Either people lack any health insurance and they are afflicted with cancer or have a serious accident, or their insurance is inadequate to cover the costs over time, usually because most policies are capped at a maximum.

Faced with this stark choice, Walter - in cahoots with former student Jesse Pinkman- ends up making some of the purest meth ever seen. (Mainly because Walt is a chemistry task master, always imposing his high standards on his young apprentice who, if he had his way, would churn out any barely passable crap.)

Now, the rub arrives when he has "enough". Enough moola to cover his treatment costs with more than enough left over. But he - like many Americans, once they get the taste of newfound riches - doesn't want to stop at "enough". He wants more. At this stage, he transforms into the  quintessential American CEO, always spouting  figures and formulas to justify further expansion.  Alert viewers also would pick up on White's incessant citation of the 1 percent, and his insatiable drive to be part of it.

Well, from here it's all downhill, because to rise to the top Walt is forced to ruthlessly take out competitors, including the head of a Mexican cartel (Gus Fring) with one foot in the southwest U.S. By the end, in compiling his multi-millions, Walt has left a pile of bodies behind. As one blogger has put it aptly:

"It’s all there: the ego, the entitlement, the testosterone-fueled drive to come out on top, and the sense that money, not character or relationships, defines a person’s worth."

Walter White then has transmogrified into the epitome of the one percenter who scoffs at the little people and believes wealth defines worth. It is primarily this dynamic that fuels his unquenchable yen for ever more wealth, at great cost to his family and other relationships.  I would argue a similar dynamic is at work in wrecking the relationships of the wealthiest, as they grab for ever more - not to mention wrecking the country itself.

For make no mistake it is the wealthiest,  so many 'Walter White' clones - like the Koch brothers - who have brainwashed a third of the country into believing using a shutdown to get their way is the right thing to do.   As blogger Thomas Hartmann has put it:

"...despite the complete takeover of our political landscape by corporations and billionaires like the Koch brothers, the mainstream media has remained dead silent about the devastating effects of the disastrous Citizens United decision.

As a result, the majority of Americans have no clue what Citizens United is, let alone the damage it's done to our democracy and way of life."

At least, at the end, Walter White did the right thing and took out all the scum attempting to enslave Jesse Pinkman to make their meth. He also disposed of all his money, in his family's (son Flynn's) best interests.

Don't look for anything analogous (politically) to happen to the scum attempting to enslave Americans and hold them hostage to an Oligarchy wherein health care is denied and massive debt arising therefrom is the norm.

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