How the Visual Elements of Breaking Bad Provide Both a “Real” and “Stereotypical” Portrayal of Meth Addiction


According to Adorno, television viewers are “shrewder in their demands for perfection of technique and for reliability of information” (161). Breaking Bad uses visual techniques to try to portray the lives of drug dealers “realistically,” thereby the show’s content is considered reliable. The seedy lifestyle of meth dealing is portrayed in such a way that viewers already associate with drugs (perhaps this is a stereotype, though, which is an issue that Adorno addresses). Though the aesthetic choices are interesting (more severe lighting, shaky cameras etc.), these visual choices confirm the elements of chaos and baseness that we already assign to drug dealing. The “realism,” though, mostly stems from the unstable camerawork and the notion that we are seeing everything from Walt’s perspective and therefore can see things more accurately.

The ways in which the characters are portrayed also aim to give reliable insight into this sordid world. Though Jesse appears to be young, well-dressed, and comparably healthy, characters like Spooge and his wife are portrayed as the ultimate meth addicts: sickly, dirty, and emaciated. They have a child that they cannot provide for and they live in a disgusting and dangerous home. Seeing a child living in squalor (dirty, hungry, and watching the home-shopping network) may be a bit cliché but it serves to show the consequences of meth use. Spooge and his family serve to reveal the implications of immersing oneself in this world. On the other hand, there is Jesse who is, compared to Spooge, merely dipping his toes into this world. Then there is Walt, who seems to be on the borderline between his family world and his drug world. All of these characters, though, are heading down a bad path, some just faster than others. Adorno says, “Some of the stereotypical messages…may prove to be quite legitimate. However, it may be said with fairness that the questionable blessings of morals…are largely over-shadowed by the threat of inducing people to mechanical simplifications by distorting the world in such a way that it seems to fit into pre-established pigeonholes” (172). Through the visual elements of the show, we see the overt message, or moral, that immersing oneself into the world of meth proves to be dangerous and destructive.


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