The Representation of Drugs Via Microfeatures in Breaking Bad

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The Representations of Drugs through micro features in modern American television - Breaking Bad and Weeds "Yes, there is a Blacklist—a code of censorship imposed by Washington—that nearly everyone in Hollywood religiously adheres to. The Blacklist is so ubiquitous that most people are not even aware of it any more. It just is. What is on this Blacklist? The D-word. Drugs. Specifically, any mention of illicit drugs as enjoyable, productive, illuminating, or healing. " - (Drugtext. Anonymous. (2008). An Open Letter To The Entertainment Industry.)

Over the last 50 years drugs have cemented their place in popular culture as one of the ‘big issues’ of society, a subject covered daily in public news and media and the prime object of countless films, TV shows and books, from the assault rifle-wielding kingpin Scarface to the gritty streets of America in The Wire. In recent years, American TV has seen a wave of high-budget critically acclaimed dramas influenced by such shows as criminal dramas such as The Sopranos or The Wire, and in recent years led by successes like Mad Men and, in turn, the drug based drama Breaking Bad. The thesis of this study is to compare and contrast the construction of Breaking Bad's drug representation against that of the modern US TV series Weeds, both with their own takes on the drug issue.

Breaking Bad has become the most successful of all drug focused TV shows, and indeed one of the biggest in modern TV as a whole. Premiering in 2008 on the US cable channel after a 3 year unsuccessful campaign of pitching by writer Vince Gilligan (The Telegraph. Martin Chilton. (2012) Breaking Bad: Vince Gilligan Interview), the show has progressed to a total run of 5 increasingly critically acclaimed (the first half of season 5 receiving a 99% positive reception, as based on Metacritic) and highly-viewed seasons, the final episodes scheduled to air in early 2013.The show portrays Walter White, a chemistry genius turned high school professor who is diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. He meets previous student Jesse Pinkman, now a drug dealer on the run from Walt’s DEA brother in law Hank, and decides to use his chemistry knowledge to partner up with Jesse and cook meth in order to gather money to leave his family after he’s passed on. Placing such a heavy focus on drug manufacture and both sides of the trade, Breaking Bad has an ambiguous representation of drugs that dips in and out of the moral spectrum, but leans heavily towards negative anti-drug connotations. The Showtime and Lionsgate comedy drama Weeds takes a different spin on the middle-class drug serial however, making it a good match for a contrasting study. Created by US TV writer Jenji Johan and running from 2005 before concluding on its 8th season in 2012, the show follows single mother Nancy Bodwin in her bid to support her two sons via marijuana selling after her husband's death. The show has parallels to Breaking Bad in the narrative idea of selling drugs for the family, portraying deeper levels of the drug business as the series goes on.

The world of Breaking Bad is gritty and offbeat, portraying a vast array of colourful characters and settings across the social spectrum while remaining a high degree of realism. Vince Gilligan constructs a mix of dark humour and moral conflict in the show that contrasts the dangerous and lethal underworld of drug culture with the everyday world of lawful life, resulting in a setting that holds both positive and negative connotations to the drug issue. One of the key features of representation used in the show is that of colour, an essential element in the visual construction that connotes specific meanings throughout the entirety of the programme - a detail to which Gilligan takes almost an obsessive level of care (NY Times. David Segal. (2011). The Dark Art Of 'Breaking Bad'). In the beginning of the series, the world of Walter White is both visually and narratively mundane. Walter is living a dead-end...
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