A Life Not Worth Living

In David P. Pierson (ed.), Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Contexts, Politics, Style, and Reception of the Television Series. Lexington Press. pp. 103-118 (2014)

Jami L. Anderson
University of Michigan - Flint
What is so striking about Breaking Bad is how centrally impairment and disability feature in the lives of the characters of this series. It is unusual for a television series to cast characters with visible or invisible impairments. On the rare occasions that television shows do have characters with impairments, these characters serve no purpose other than to contribute to their ‘Otherness.’ Breaking Bad not only centralizes impairment, but impairment drives and sustains the story lines. I use three interrelated themes from Disability Scholarship to analyze Breaking Bad. The first theme, Bodily Control, is that good bodies are controlled bodies and that uncontrolled, messy bodies are frightening, bad bodies. Indeed, the messiness of impairment and disability is so bad, that impaired and disabled individuals are excluded or shut out or excluded from many areas of public life. The second theme, Normalcy, is that the effect of hiding away impairment, of attempting to conceal disability, is that society becomes defined by, and structured around, the concept of normalcy. Normalcy, being normal, attaining and maintaining normalcy, is the preoccupation of most in society. To fail to be normal, or to fall from what is considered to be normal, is a source of tremendous anxiety for most people. These two themes, Bodily Control and Normalcy are conceptually connected: impairment, disease and dying are so feared because they are socially invisible and, therefore unknown and unknowable. They are the undiscussable taboos. The third theme, Bodily Realism, is that having a realistic view of the body, which would at minimum require accepting the fact that human bodies are fragile things, prone to disease and accident and are ultimately destined to die, makes one more at ease in the world, and able to live better lives and live as a better person. Indeed, so the argument goes, our lives would be richer, more rewarding—emotionally and morally—if we cared less about normalcy because of a dread of abnormalcy, but instead learned to accept if not positively value the physical variability of human existence.
Keywords disability  death and dying  parenthood  cultural studies
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