(Attention: contains spoilers. Don’t read if you want to enjoy this series.) As a series junkie I am of course a big fan of Breaking Bad, the characters, the story telling, just brilliant. But even more interesting than the series itself is what is currently going on in its after math in popular and business media. Revealing the real art piece and criticism on the zeitgeist the character Walter White truly resembles.
It struck me the first time as slightly odd when The Economist ran a piece on the school of “Breaking Bad” proclaiming the drug lord Walter White being a great case study of modern business entrepreneurship. Which I found very funny, at this time: they were dissecting and analyzing a completely fictional business, with the arguable question whether the usual buyer of Meth would actually be willing and able pay for a higher quality product being just the tip of the ice berg. But with analysing fictional business having become main stream in this field – how often did business mags talk about the latest strategies companies are supposedly doing at the moment – I didn’t put much thought into it.
It wasn’t until after I read another piece about Walter White on pando daily and the numbers of his business published by CNN Money before I went to the state of “wait a second”. We aren’t only acting as if that character has been real, we are also acting as if he hadn’t done, what he did. The obituary posted in the Albuquerque Journal is probably the most revealing case of this, as it totally leaves out that the whole city in the end knows and hates Walter White as the drug lord he was. And if a paper would have published a similar piece in a real case, it would been shut down by now already. But it goes beyond that. By praising him as a great business man and entrepreneur The Economist and Pando Daily are doing the same far less obvious.
Because this isn’t the story about a great entrepreneur, it is the story about a man, who out of circumstances goes off the honest path and into a shady and disastrous business. And the way that character justifies this is with the shady, overly common, super-american argument that it was all just “for the family”. The very family he looses three times during the run of the series, only gets back through threats and it takes him up to the very last episode to eventually admit that he just did it all for himself and himself only. The story of Walter White is a story of a power-hungry man, who can’t get enough and goes over bodies to get there (“I’m the one, who knocks.”). And not only a few times were these deaths easy to prevent. Like when we watched the girlfriend of his partner die in front of him and did nothing but knowing that it would benefit him and his business. No, this guy went over bodies for business, screwed people over, worked by threatening and killing people. But The Economist and other entrepreneurial papers completely ignore this when praising him.
And this makes them part of this great art piece. Walter White indeed is a result of our time: not only the initial circumstances but also the way he is doing business and more over how this is perceived. He always has good reason for every threat, attack and kill and can always go to sleep at night. But the piece wouldn’t be complete if it was only him having this distorted way of seeing the world. No, by praising Walter White the very same way these papers talk about any other business person, they reveal the fundamental way they are working: Just praising, in total ignorance of a companies bad impact, willingness blindness in the light of the entrepreneur — even if he was the biggest jackass of all times.
Uncovering this in such a brilliant way is what makes this character the greatest criticism on our zeitgeist, the way we do business and we think about business in our time. It is a great mirror how we are willingly looking the other way and ignore everything bad some people are doing because “they are good business people”. And we do that to such an extend that there are industries now in which it is impossible to climb the latter without being a jerk or jackass at least a few times. And I’m not talking about drugs. Neither is Walter White: “I’m not in the drug business, I am in the empire business.”
(Courtesy to defecz for this great banner picture published at theTVDB)