What Christians can learn about morality from “Breaking Bad”

This is a great post from Wintery Knight:

I found this post about the TV series “Breaking Bad” through J.W. Wartick’s “Really Recommended Posts“.

The author of the post argues that most of what you see in the arts and entertainment field tries to give us the idea that there is a dichotomy between small choices and big choices. But Breaking Bad rejects this by trying to show how small choices add up to your character.

Take a look:

I think Breaking Bad is a great show because it rejects this line of thinking [small vs big choices], because its running time is a five-season rebuttal to the idea that there are choices that matter and choices that don’t. Walt’s pride at a dinner table is ultimately as important to the villain he becomes as his murder, his lying as corruptive as his violence. In Gilligan’s eyes, there’s no differentiating between Walt’s pride and his rage and his enviousness and his determination to succeed at all costs, to be the Kingpin, the only one. Telling the story of how Walt chose to become the villain takes every minute of all 67 episodes aired so far.

You do not accidentally end up a drug kingpin, says the show. And the story is a five season long a fortiori argument whose conclusion is that you, viewer, also have a choice, in what to watch, or say, in how to treat people, in who to be. To echo James K.A. Smith, there are very few, if any, “morally neutral” practices. We get shaped by the things we do, or don’t do, even unintentionally, even if you’re not paying attention.

Breaking Bad echoes that not only in content, but in form. In the critical importance of little decisions (Walt’s wined-up boasting in front of Hank; his lying to his wife, Skyler; Marie’s shoplifting; Hank’s pride and arrogance affecting his job) that all compound in the direction of calamity.

“I just feel like I never had a choice in any of this,” Walt argues early on in season one, after he’s declined cancer treatment. “I want a say, for once.” When you first watch the scene, not knowing the kind of person Walt is going to choose to be, it’s a poignant moment. Walt wants to spend his last months with his wife on his own terms, rather than as a powerless and weak and hollowed out shell of who he used to be.

But as flashbacks inform the choices Walt made in the past, and as time and time again Walt refuses to stop cooking meth, to stop feeding his own pride, the scene is recontextualized as an ironic echo—as just another excuse for Walt’s behavior. The paradox central to Walt’s nature is that if you deny him a choice, he becomes furious. Because of this, most every conflict in the show stems from the interplay of Walt’s staggering intelligence and his equally impressive capacity for stupid, pride-motivated decisions.

But if you empower Walt, when he comes into real responsibility, he shirks it, he self-sabotages; he pretends he doesn’t have a choice, or never did have a choice. He becomes paranoid, and self-aggrandizing, and manipulative, until he’s relaxed from the tension of having responsibility—and as soon as that happens, he’s out looking for it again.

When all Walt has are choices, he demands a CHOICE; and as soon as it is presented to him, as soon as the danger of responsibility is there and real and able to hurt him, he denies it, labels it meaningless, and continues to victimize himself.

Walter is us. And that is a dangerous message, and it hurts. It hurts to be awakened to choices you didn’t know you were failing to make, or making poorly. It is always, always easier to deny choice than to accept it, to want to brush things off until it’s really important, until it’s a choice, and then perform well, and go back to the status quo of being a-volitional. We want to be fully ourselves already, and for our actions to be extrinsic, non-reflective. To keep separate who we are, our identities, and what we do in our everyday life.

To read on, click here:

 

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