Debating if Breaking Bad is Racist?

Ww-383x270First, Malcolm Harris in New Inquiry:

If you judged by TV and movies alone, you’d think “pure” drugs were seeping out of American society’s every pore, along with hot doctors and secret agents gone rogue. Even if suburban 15-year-olds don’t ask their dealers for THC percentages after seeing Oliver Stone’s Savages — and smart money says some of them are — craft beer isn’t the only boutique intoxicant buzzing around the nation’s subconscious. In the shadow of the high-fructose-corn-syrup backlash, everyone from the Olive Garden to the proverbial Brooklyn popsicle startup is trying to cash in on craftsmanship. Meanwhile, screenwriters (clever advertisers in their own right) have found that the easiest way to hook viewers on drug-dealer protagonists is to sell crack as small-batch artisanal rock cocaine.

Would AMC’s Breaking Bad be as popular if high school chemist turned meth cook Walter White made an average product instead of his “99 percent pure” blue glass? From the pilot on, the quality of White’s output has driven the show’s narrative arc. As a careful midgrade cook with DEA connections, he could have flown under the radar in a community overrun with the stuff and taken care of his chemo costs and family just fine. But what makes White more attractive than your garden-variety tweaker to both international cartels and viewers alike is his craftsmanship and attention to detail. He brings class to the New Mexico meth scene.

Second, Lindsay Beyerstein in In These Times:

Breaking Bad is a fish-out-of-water story: A disgruntled white chemistry teacher applies his scientific genius to the manufacture of methamphetamine, discovers a revolutionary new synthesis, and claws his way to the top of the Southwest drug trade.

Harris sees the whole premise of Breaking Bad as a Mighty Whitey trope, wherein the white lead immerses himself in a foreign culture and beats his hosts at their own game, thereby proving that white guys are the best–the best Mohicans, the best Samurais, the best aliens, the best breakdancers….

That’s a premature accusation. It’s only a Mighty Whitey if the white guy wins. If the white guy barges in where he doesn't belong and falls flat on his face, it's not a Mighty Whitey. Walt inserted himself into a unknown world, but he hasn’t won yet; and judging by the flash-forward at the beginning of Season 5, in which he’s a fugitive buying a machine gun in a Denny’s bathroom, his odds don’t look good.