[For reasons unknown, it seems intrinsic to the form that any article mentioning or discussing Breaking Bad must begin with some warning that there are spoilers ahead. This isn’t an entire post about Breaking Bad, however, if you’re saving yourself from public knowledge of the show’s conclusions, I suggest that you revisit this post once you’ve completed your Breaking Bad experience. (More about this later).
In a nutshell: BREAKING BAD SPOILERS AHEAD. You are warned thusly.]
If you’re a fan of AMC’s Breaking Bad, you’ve no doubt been following the show, reading about it, thinking about it, feeling about it, and so on. This post isn’t so much a detailed investigation of the show’s plot, symbolism, or meaning, but rather a kind of insight that I’d like to offer you based on my response to the show’s conclusion. If you want the former kind of analysis, I suggest you look to the recent articles in the NY Times (Style Section), Slate, Reddit, or really anywhere else on the World Wide Web.
If you want to see some other musings about Breaking Bad and rollerblading, I’d urge you to check out Brian Krans’ recent post over at Blader Digest. I’m a huge fan of Brian’s stuff, and he really did some thorough work to get his shit together for that post. Click here if you want to link to the connections he’s uncovered.
Okay. Now, on to business.
I’ll begin this by taking for granted that Walt’s megalomania is well established. I was never really a member of “Team Walt,” as they say, and I think it’s a pretty tall order to believe that Walt was a poor do-gooder, down on his luck doing what he could for his family in the face of his gloomy prognosis. I believe, in fact, rather the opposite. But I should take a second’s pause really quickly here to say that believing the “opposite” doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to abide to some (false) dichotomy. To get where I’m at on this, you don’t need to believe that Walt is a pure monster, selfish, corrupt, and sadistic. You don’t need to have concluded that Walt “won” or “lost.” If there is a truth to be had in this matter, it’s the same sort of truth that exists in all other matters: complicated, situated, resistant to simplicity, and, for all other purposes, unlikely.
Given that, the show, the character Walt, and writers who created Walt’s behavior are really exemplars of something called “White Privilege” (and no, this is not a pun on Walt’s surname), and, as always, I think there’s a good connection to be had there with rollerblading.
So, as the Roman philosopher (and emperor) Marcus Aurelius would have us do, let’s treat the first things first.
In order to do that, I want to be clear about what I mean by “White Privilege.” It’s not racism. It’s not something absurd like “reverse racism,” and it’s not a simple (and moronic) matter of suggesting some dumb generality like “all white people have it easier than everybody else.” Lots of people have it easy. Lots of people have a really hard time with things. Having it easy isn’t what it’s about. What the concept of “white privilege” seeks to address is the ways the white races are normalized as standard, the ways other races are marginalized as being somehow “non-standard,” and what the consequences are when those two ideas interact.
If you want to read about White Privilege, I suggest you take a quick peek at the Wikipedia page (click here) because I’m not going to go into great detail here. But it is pertinent that we treat things in their due order.
So, the deal with Walt, his situation, the writers, and the others involved with his creation, is that his view of things is centralized. We expect that, because we readily understand him as the show’s protagonist (or maybe antihero?). We’re shown most things from his point of view because we’re meant to see things from his perspective. It is always Walt’s issues that we’re told to be primarily concerned about: what HE knows, what HE thinks, what HE does, etc.
But, don’t get me wrong. It’s a show about a white dude, written (largely) by other white dudes. We’re bound to have to see things that way because the situation somewhat demands it. But having a show about a white dude (again, written largely by white dudes) does not necessitate the inclusion of “white privilege.” What makes it a show about “white privilege” is the fact that Walt and his creators view his circumstances and needs as being both more immediate and more important than all others—often to the detriment of those others.
Any time Walt is in a tough situation, it is HIS version of reality that gets primacy above everything else: above what his wife wants, above what his partners want, above what his son wants, etc.
The tidy end to the show — and by that I mean that Walt basically gets what he wants — could easily be viewed as charitable. Many of us who have watched the show all the way through feel like we’ve really been through a kind of emotional trauma, and giving us a shred of hope in the end (for instance that death for good-guys is at least somewhat dignified) provides us with a kind of relief that the story has basically ended and no further traumas are coming our way.
On the other hand, that’s all part of the mythos of “white privilege.” White people, in many ways, are taught to believe not only that they CAN win, but also that winning (or getting what you want) is the inevitable outcome of being a good guy.
As a white dude, Walt expects to win — he’s been trained to by his socialization. Perhaps the only thing more pernicious than that is the fact that Walt thinks he DESERVES to win. He manipulates everyone around him to get what he wants, regardless of what others want for themselves. Again, his needs are privileged above all others and he thinks that he deserves for it to be that way. And that’s where the connection to rollerblading comes in.
Over the years, I’ve heard a whole lot of talk about what “rollerblading deserves.” This is likely a very unpopular thing to say, but I honestly don’t believe that rollerblading “deserves” anything — or, at least, that it’s very pretentious to think somehow that it does deserve something. It’s the white privilege in us that leads us to think so. (I recognize the fact that many rollerbladers (regardless of race) feel that rollerblading or rollerbladers somehow deserve more than we’re getting, but let’s at least acknowledge that rollerblading is largely an international group of white dudes substantially bound by the needs, wants, and expectations of white dudes).
Many of us — like Walt — both expect and demand that being a good guy should net positive results. The problem there is twofold. The first part is something of a delusion, and the second part is something of a non sequitur. As for the delusion, Walt isn’t a good guy. He just isn’t. Only HE sees himself that way, and virtually no one else could reasonably agree to such a crazy notion. If we somehow concede the idea that we can somehow be simultaneously “good guys” AND people who take everything we deserve, we still can’t rectify that with simple causality. Being a good guy doesn’t guarantee a dignified death any more than doing huge 540s earns rollerbladers a nightly spot on ESPN’s “Top Ten” shows. It’s only the mythos of white privilege that could lead you to such a conclusion.
The problem, as I see it, is that many rollerbladers are haunted by something like the “Ghost of Rollerblading Past.” We used to have money, we used to have respect, we used to have centralized (-ish) leadership, and somehow, for some reason, we fall victim to a false notion that because we used to have those things that we’re somehow entitled to have those things again.
I want better skate technology and more (and by more I mean “any”) money for people working their ass off, but I think it’s a bridge too far to think that we somehow “deserve” it.
A few weeks ago, I was talking online with a gal I know about feminism and she offered one of the best summaries of that enterprise I’ve so far heard, which is this: It’s usually not about you, it’s usually about someone else. And every now and then, you need to quit thinking about yourself and just shut up and listen.
Walt couldn’t do that. He couldn’t just shut up and listen. He wouldn’t listen to his wife, he wouldn’t listen to his son, he wouldn’t listen to his partners — he wouldn’t listen to anybody.
When it comes to rollerbladers, we are often in the same situation. I’ll just speak for myself here, but I suspect that many of you will know instantly what I’m talking about. A day or two ago a dude posted a video of himself somewhere on the Internets doing a what he called “torque soul” down a long balance rail. I studied the video at length and concluded that at no point was the dude ever really doing a torque soul. Almost immediately I thought to myself something like “Well Jesus Christ this kind of dumbfuckery just cannot stand. This is an injustice and I must, in the name of all that is holy, disabuse this fool from his errant ways.” I can’t say that was word for word, but I bet you know the feeling.
That feeling is exactly what is meant by “white privilege.” It’s the pretentious feeling that I have when I feel the need to demand things be “my way” or somehow in keeping with my notions of “the right way.” The dude who posted that video doesn’t “deserve” to call a trick something any more or any less than I do — and it would be rather unsettling if I thought I did have such a special privilege. Rollerblading belongs to everybody who does it, and no one “deserves” more than anybody else. Some people take more, some people demand more, but it’s really delusional to think that giving and taking is some kind of entitlement.
As a final thought to point out how embedded in our psyches these kinds of things are, consider where this post started — with a disclaimer about “spoilers.” The very notion that we somehow deserve to go about our Internet surfing free from any knowledge we don’t want to have is absolutely crazy. We get all pissed off because we saw something we didn’t want to see. We didn’t want our own experience ruined by “careless jackasses who can’t just shut up about it.” It’s all about ME, ME, ME and FUCK YOU IF YOU TRY TO TAKE FROM ME WHAT’S RIGHTFULLY MINE.
Ugh. Think about that for a minute or two.
The best thing, in my view, is to take my friend’s advice and to realize that most of the time it’s not about you; it’s about someone else.
As always, thanks for reading.