Sunday rolls in and it’s time for the newest episode of Breaking Bad. No force on Earth, whether it be simple commitment or apparent catastrophe, will come between the viewer and the program.
For the unsuspecting audience, the harmless pleasure slowly transforms into a serpentine vice grip, choking away time, commitments, relationships and the like. But how does this happen? Can this obsession really be that dangerous to the maturing college student? Does any of this even matter? The famous Romantic English poet Lord Byron set the precedent for our fascination of characters like Walter White (the main character of Breaking Bad). What draws us to him? It isn’t his shining character, highlighted by a moral righteousness unparalleled by another human being. It’s quite the opposite.
Romanticizing the morally deficient, yet nonetheless likable, Lord Byron brought fame, or perhaps infamy, to the archetypal anti-hero. Think Batman. Think Jack Sparrow. Flawed as they are, they still seek to do what’s they believe is good—an attraction that draws us to delve deeper into their character.
Forget the action. Forget the drama. Forget the suspense. What we want isn’t to follow a stunning plot filled with heartbreak, trauma, and eventually victory over the wiles of the enemy. What we want is to understand the character, to see through their eyes, to live their lives.
And thus, we arrive back at Walter White, a man facing a modern remake of the classical Heinz dilemma. We all remember Heinz’s situation, right? He was the man whose wife was dying of cancer but couldn’t afford the only cure there was. Should he steal the cure? Does an unethical act become valorous in certain scenarios? So fascinated are we with this ethical dilemma that we are willing to devote hours upon hours rooted in front of a television or stuck behind a computer screen to follow the lives of those weaved into our Byronic hero’s life. His actions become so important to us that we spurn our homework, deny spending time with friends and family, and in some cases, invest what money we have to watch another obtain his money illegally. As this cinematic drama’s venom oozes into our bloodstream and we melt away into catatonic silhouettes of ourselves for a set period time during a set day. We become the ones who are programmed, not the computer nor the television.
Though this description of the effects that such programs have over us may seem overdone (as it may well be), there is some merit to the discussion. What could we be getting done if it were not for our devotion to these programs?
Perhaps we would find that our procrastination habits would decrease, empowering us to put more effort into our work. Perhaps we would find that our seclusion from the social world would also decrease, and our most valuable friends would feel a little more valuable to us.
We live in a heavily individualistic society—we either praise this or talk about its downfalls. But for every time we gripe about how much social media has lessened our ability of human-to-human interaction, or every time our inner existentialist shudders in the face of our aloneness while with others, remember how much we devote to such things.
If we invested in ourselves and others the way we invest in our viewing pleasures, what would be the result?
Brandon Karugu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org