Where Is Our Female Walter White?
By far, one of the most popular recurring themes in cinema and television is of a down-on-his-luck working class white male who is doing his darn best, but is suffering because the system is failing him. The first time I remember noticing this was when I saw Falling Down, a 1993 Michael Douglas film about a fairly average man gradually unwinding throughout the day, challenging the everyday stupidity no one bothers to deal with and becomes an anti-hero because he realizes he has nothing to lose. In 1999 Fight Club, the movie based on the Chuck Palahniuk book came out. This film shared the same idea of the everyman attempting to beat the system.
In Fight Club, an idea posited is the concept of masculinity has become obsolete in our society, and everyone is supposed to be unquestioning consumers. Further, in 1999 American Beauty, the movie peeled away at the visage of the “perfect American family; ” especially, when the patriarch began to do what he wanted to do, which upset the balance (and subsequently the illusion of) the family.
Breaking Bad is the next in the generation of stories about ordinary men who decide to start breaking the rules because the system has failed them. In regards to each of these movies and the show, there are other elements to the story that are important and unique, but the theme is consistent. The audience identifies with these protagonists because they see themselves in them. We work hard and generally “do the right thing” and often times feel very unrewarded. Therefore, when they “break the rules,” it’s morally OK for them to do so. The question I posit is: Why are there more shows like this about men than women?
The closest show I can think of that is somewhat comparable to these stories is Weeds, because it’s about a woman who deals pot. However, not only is that subject not much of a rebellion, given how small the stigma of marijuana is today, the show quickly devolves into over-the-top and unrealistic scenarios. On top of that, Weeds begins with the protagonist selling pot. You don’t see the transformation of her becoming a dealer, which I actually find to be the most compelling part of these stories. Then there’s the Desperate Housewives show, which is about women sexually “misbehaving,” but it’s more scandalous and titillating than philosophical. For the most part, the show begins with the characters in the act of “breaking rules.”
Maybe because most of these characters have children, the idea that a mother would do some of these things is more taboo than a father. There’s something about a mother leaving her children or not putting them first that seems more damaging than a father doing the same thing, even if the motive for these illegal or socially unacceptable acts is for the betterment of the family. The concept suggests there is something irreplaceable in motherhood, but not in fatherhood. Possibly, the concept communicates something is owed to males not necessarily owed to females.
If you have trouble believing this, take a look at the vitriol Anna Gunn (who plays Skyler White, the wife of the protagonist on Breaking Bad) has encountered from people unable to separate her strong female character from her acting. On the other hand, Bryan Cranston has (rightly so, but very differently than Gunn) received accolades for portraying Walter White and not audience hatred despite his deplorable character.
I’m ready and hopeful to see a show about a woman really unwinding and breaking the rules without the show being a prolonged sexual fantasy or an emotional breakdown. I want her to be cerebral, calculating, and rebellious. Additionally, I hope the other gender roots for her the way all have been rooting for Walter White since the pilot episode of Breaking Bad.