Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Belated Sympathy for the Devil We All Could Become

"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime"

Even with my son and several acquaintances giving it rave reviews I didn't become engrossed in the now concluded American Movie Channel series “Breaking Bad” until the last five or six episodes. I knew the basic premise though, that it was about the corruption and fall of the main character Walter White. A struggling high school chemistry teacher who was forced by circumstances to start producing methamphetamine to provide for his family after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

By the time I started regularly watching the show old Walter was already sliding down that slippery slope of good intentions pretty damn fast and had become just as inhuman as the other professional monsters involved with drug underworld. At the end of the series' last episode Walter's ultimate fate was just as many expected with most, if not all, the loose ends tragically tied up.

Being that I came late to the series, seeing Walter die on the floor of a neo-Nazi meth lab didn't have quite the emotional impact it did for my son who was left speechless. While I understood the abstract reasons why Walter became a drug producer and eventual kingpin I never “felt” the financial hardships and corrosive uncertainty that forced him down that path.

This changed a couple of days ago. As I cruised Netflix looking for something new and different to watch I saw Breaking Bad listed and watched the pilot episode. It was then that I got know the good Walter White.

In one of the first scenes in the pilot episode Walter is seen giving a clearly passionate lecture on chemistry to a new batch of students. Halfway through it not only does Walter realizes that they give less than a damn about science he gets into a pissing contest with a teenage douchebag named Chad eager to embarrass him in front of the others. For poor Walter the embarrassment goes off the chart later that day when at his second job, a car wash, he discovers Chad and his bimbo girlfriend standing over him as he cleans the tires on Chad's Corvette. Just to throw a little more salt into Walter's wounds Chad quickly snaps a picture of him with his cell phone while the bimbo uses hers to report who they have found working at the car wash.

After that we the viewers quickly learn that Walter and his wife, Skyler, are juggling bill collectors, dealing with their son's cerebral palsy, and getting ready for their second child who Skyler is pregnant with during the pilot. That would be more than enough problems for most people but Walter soon learns he has inoperable lung cancer. For those who don't know, Walter gets the idea to start cooking crack after watching a television news report with his DEA agent brother-in-law about the police raiding a meth lab.

Yeah, while at this moment I have not watched the second episode of the series my son has informed me Walter's fall from grace is pretty steep. When you willingly step across the line to the Dark Side for whatever reason you not only surrender the moral high ground but do a reverse, somersault into the proverbial cesspool of society.

The trouble I am having though is that from my sorry ass, bleeding heart liberal perspective society put Walter into the position where he had no other option than making drugs to leave something for his family. Not only does Walter have to deal with disrespect from his students to make financial ends meet he has to work at a freaking car wash! I have been called strange, and curiously anti-American, for expressing this out loud but I just can't wrap my head around the fact that our society finds it “normal” to pay someone tens of millions of dollars to chase some damn ball.

Hey, I like to watch football and baseball but in my humble opinion I don't give a rip how talented Drew Brees or A-Rod are at playing their respective sports they ain't worth all those millions. A hundred years from now no one will remember their names other than various sports trivia types. In a far better, and unfortunately totally unrealistic world, scientists, teachers, and social workers who work very long and unforgiving hours would be paid a proper salary. Since they for the most part are attempting to advance human knowledge, teach our kids, and are trying to make our society a better place. Part of me is sure that a thousand or so years from now when all the crap that seems vitally important to us has been forgotten our descendants will look with disdain on how we ran this society much the same way we look down upon the societal flaws of the ancient Greeks or Romans.

But I understand, some people look down upon teachers because they, wrongfully, believe they get these huge summer vacations while all the other slobs have to toil through the year for a single week off. The trouble is that salary mobility here in the United States has decreased to the point that we have the HIGHEST income equality in the industrial world. Yes, you read me right, no matter how teary eyed certain hyper-patriotic types get it is totally unrealistic to the point of fantasy to believe that the poor here in the United States can simply left themselves out of poverty.

The main reason for the increasing gap between the rich and the poor appears to be education. If some kid comes from a rich or well-off family that lives in a decent school district and has the money to go straight to college their respective ticket is punched for a better life. Curiously enough the proven government programs that provides some help to those not lucky enough to be born on second or third base are the ones conservatives are hell bent on destroying.

My ultimate point in all this is that while many in the middle class think they are doing okey dokey and the working class folks like to bitch about those lazy organized labor types getting all those free benefits the relative social position of both is not to far from the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. The middle class folks finance their lifestyles on high-interest, revolving credit while the working poor are kept distracted with propaganda telling them their increasingly dire situation is because of some nefarious socialistic boogieman.

This brings me back to good old Walter White. In Breaking Bad his character tried to play the game we have been taught all our lives. That you work hard and in America you will get ahead. The trouble is that is a lie for the most part. Sure, if you're careful, keep your nose clean, and get a little lucky you might be able to build yourself a relatively nice sand castle. But realistically speaking unless you are already in one of the upper tiers of income god help you and your family if some tidal wave like an economic downturn, outsourcing related to globalization, or health care disaster hits you.

It's in times like those when good people get desperate that despicable and criminal actions become their only way to stay afloat. 

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Jim said...

Nailed it.

Pixel Peeper said...

Yup. I read an article a few months ago that described how it was easier to move upward in society in Great Britain (a country that always was considered having a rigid class structure) than in the U.S., the "land of unlimited opportunity."

Mr. Charleston said...

I don't believe education is the difference between rich and poor. It may be a factor in placing you among the "right" people but basically, it's a matter of luck more than anything else. Being in the right place at the right time, beginning with your place of birth.

Red Nomad OZ said...

I'd go a step further than Mr Charleston (above) & say that it's not good luck, but an absence of bad luck! This was so intriguing and thought provoking (haven't watched the show) that I don't even dare to wish you a Happy New Year!!!

Cirze said...

You're always among the most thought-provoking writers around, buddy.

Now I'm wondering how one makes meth.

Guess I gotta watch that show.

Love you.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Beach Bum said...

Jim: Thanks!

Pixel: There is a line in the last Batman movie that I feel sums everything up. The villain Bane tells Batman as he is kicking the Caped Crusader's butt that "Victory has defeated you."

We have become so soft and unaware that we ignore all the evidence that our mountain of superiority and prosperity is collapsing.

Charleston: We maybe splitting hairs but I believe you are wrong to a certain extent. I've partied with a guy who works at NASA, it was on a Disney cruise, but my piss ant associates degree will not get me a job there.

Yeah, knowing the right people opens door, and always will, the main problem revolves around the unaffordability of many colleges and inability of many kids to even gain admittance because their elementary and high school educations sucks.

Red: While there are many exceptions America is about as screwed up a country as they come. We got this way from a general lack of imagination brought on by the belief our shits doesn't stink and that we rule the world.

Cirze: Thanks!

lime said...

i've never watched an episode of the series but, like you, was familiar with the basic plot premise.

i am middle class. my inlaws are well above that. i work in an urban school district making barely above minimum wage. i serve students in school where the public school population is 90% low-income. i am utterly appalled at what my students are provided. now, my degree is in special education. going through classes we had seared into our brains 1974's public law 94-142 which guarantees a free and appropriate education for all students regardless of handicap and that no student may be denied such without due process. now granted, this was intended specifically for those with diagnosed disabilities affecting school performance....but i'd love to see the school boards/admins sued who think my kids at school are getting a free and appropriate education. my own children, born to two teachers, we're not sure how we're going to get them through college without all of us taking on crippling debt. i could rant at length. but instead i will say thank you for "getting it."