Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sociopaths on television: Breaking Bad

Our time is now (!), as suggested by this review of "Breaking Bad":
When, and why, did American television and cinema viewers first fall in love with the Sociopath protagonist? Perhaps the audience was always there, nascent and ready to be born. My current favorite Sociopath television show is AMC’s Breaking Bad, the story of an ordinary, albeit resentful and self-loathing, married man who breaks out of his bourgeois cocoon to become a Methamphetamine dealer. His bourgeois name is the aptly constructed “Walter White,” representing the plain vanilla nature of his high school Chemistry teacher life in small town New Mexico. His alter ego name is “Heisenberg” (after Nobel winning German physicist Werner Heisenberg), chosen by White, to represent his genius in making the purest and best “Meth” ever seen in the Southwest and Mexico.

I think Coppola’s Godfather series created the modern heroic Sociopath. We rooted for Brando’s and Pacino’s characters, although Michael Corleone became unlikable by the end of Godfather II. Coppola was the first to romanticize the familiar character of the gangster in movies. But Quentin Tarantino perfected the generalized concept of the protagonist Sociopath. His breakout film was, of course, Pulp Fiction, a so-called dark comedy with such a wide variety of watchable sociopaths one could probably make a television series around virtually every major character in the film. In fact, the two strands of modern Sociopathic television and films can be plausibly traced to either Coppola or Tarantino. In the organized crime motif, for example, there is of course The Sopranos and the unfortunately canceled series Brotherhood. But shows like Dexter and Breaking Bad are in the dark comedy mode consistent with Tarantino’s sensibility.

Breaking Bad has 2 million viewers. Stuck on AMC (I have 150 HD channels but AMC is not one of them) this is a pretty big audience. Going back to my opening question, why are these shows appealing? For me, the theme was repulsive. Then I watched it. I root for Heisenberg/White, even though he has been directly and indirectly responsible for many deaths. In real life I would want him dead yesterday. But in my sometimes fantasy life, I somehow identify with him. What’s that all about? Maybe “between the dust and love that hangs on everybody, there is a dead man trying to get out.” Or a Sociopath.

18 comments:

  1. I can't wait until they come out with the show about the likable serial rapist.

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  2. Walter white is far from a sociopath. He repeatedly feels guilt for things that he does. He is terrible at lieing. He is pretty humble on all things besides his product. His only act against society is that he starts making meth, which he only does because he's desperate and dieing of cancer. He couldn't even kill till that guy tried to kill him after he pussy footed around for days because he felt too guilty to do what was neccessary. Every character, maybe even his wife, around him could probably be arguably sociopaths, but he is not. I think we are pinning the tail on the donkey and ending up with nothing but wall.

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    1. A psychopath doesn't feel guilt or empathy and typically takes large risks without regard for consequence. A sociopath simply does what he or she has to in order to continue to a goal. Wall-street banking CEOs are commonly psychopaths, while soldiers tends to turn into sociopaths. There are varying levels of each.

      I'd say Walter is a textbook sociopath.

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  3. I completely agree with the commenter above. How on earth did you classify Heisenberg as sociopath? He does what he does because ho wants to provide for his family. He will eventually die from cancer and he just wants to secure them financially. This shows the greatest empathy ever. He loves his family more than everything. He is loyal, considerate and compassionate.
    Your post is very superficial and doesn't justice this character at all.

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  4. UKan B. A. SociopathMay 28, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    Next thing you know Bugs Bunny will be a sociopath.

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  5. What?

    I always thought ol' Bugs Bunny was a sociopath...

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  6. Yo! Yo! Yo! (My impression of Walter's idiot partner, Jesse)

    I agree about Walter not being a true blue sociopath, but he, like some many characters on that show has developed a major case of moral ambiguity.

    I think the only REAL sociopath on that show is the chicken man and by that I mean the guy who is currently employing Walter and Jesse. That guy seems like the only truly sociopathic character on the show: He's a cold, calculating, strictly for money, he had a drug cartel kingpin killed so he could control the meth in the US…plus he is slightly off setting, that void vibe so many people claim sociopaths have. There are moments where that vibe comes through the screen and freaks me out.

    I do think that Walter is crossing that line where, by circumstances in life, one becomes a sociopath.

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  7. His shaved head look, pierced eyes, self-centered, condescending attitude just reminds me of BTK killer Dennis Rader. Creepy!

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    1. I always thought they looked uncannily similar.

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  8. LOL WALTER WHITE? A SOCIOPATH? I THINK NOT! Defnitely not a sociopath. Ugh.

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  9. Before any of you pretend to know anything about what makes a psychopath or sociopath, learn the proper diagnostic characteristics. In my view, Walter fits firmly into the definitive traits of psychopathy. Look them up and it should be easy to see the similarity.

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  10. Why do we allow these psychiatrists to label us with ANYTHING? Seriously, WHY? Why the FUCK? They're just differences, and the world would be boring without them. So just stop dwelling on needless shit. We can do what we want. We're free. So act as free as you can, without seriously hurting anyone. The whole "Morality" shit is bullshit anyway. It's stupid, whether you're NT or a sociopath or whatever. I mean, we can still show kindness to one another. I'm just saying things should be a matter of what's beneficial or harmful, not these loaded terms such as "wrong" or "right." And not all things are a "moral" issue. NTs are fucking nuts. They just follow like sheep, and that IS the truth, and they can seriously hurt others with the mob mentality, and they do so all the time. Why be a part of a hive-minded collective when you can be a TRUE individual? And NTs are generally average in everything that they think and do. They are not superior to other neurologies. Really, they're not. Not even close. I don't believe something is a "disorder" just because it's not the "majority." I mean, is that really how illnesses work? Most illnesses are illnesses regardless of whether or not the majority is affected. But not in psychiatry. In psychiatry it's all just subjective value judgments. How ridiculous. And even if the differences can be detected through brain scans, that doesn't conclude that one's brain is "wrong," just different.

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  11. Walter White was not very high functioning though if you ask me. In the sense that he had no friends, and always caused messes that he would have to clean up and then double over in pain and clean up more messes and did I mention he had no friends. He had money but whats the point in money if you can't relax and enjoy it? Oh and he had no friends and everyone hated him. Could have used his love of science to benefit himself in some way..

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    Replies
    1. I'm sorry he was just a very stressed man. Didn't know how to cope with his stress and that's what happens.

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  12. The character may have evolved toward being somewhat sociopathic towards the end, but was decidedly not so in the beginning. He felt remorse and had empathy for others.

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  13. If Walter White was BLACK, the show would fail. No, it wouldn't get made at all.

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