The Problem With The Internet’s Brand Of Fandom And Breaking Bad

This is a new teaser poster (whatever THAT even means) for the upcoming final season of Breaking Bad about which we are all very excited, I’m sure. As you can see, it features Walter White in his trademark glasses with his hands tightened into fists, and in big, blocky, LOLCatz letters it says “Remember My Name.” And this, in my opinion, is the whole problem. In the Internet age, everything has to be the best to the nth degree. Every video you see on-line is the Funniest Video You Have Ever Seen. Every charismatic child with a delightfully specific hobby is The Coolest Kid On Earth. Once a week someone cobbles together a collection of platitudes smash-cut-edited against an Explosions in the Sky song to “make you cry” and “follow your dreams.” That’s just where we’re at! The fact of the matter is that the Internet really came into its own almost exactly at the same moment that the future started to feel rather precarious and life, which was actually always complicated, reclaimed its “it’s complicated” status. And if that is how we want to use it: to glorify and uplift, however much we’re kind of pushing it with the glory, or however unearned the genuine inspiration may be, that’s OK. And so it is. But this brand of unrelenting positivity and perpetual deification doesn’t allow for gradients. You are either Mindy Kaling or you are Paula Deen*. (And today’s Mindy Kaling may be tomorrow’s Paula Deen.) Meanwhile, the Internet has become The Most Important Place to Advertise. Everyone is so savvy. You’ve got to go viral. You’ve got to trend. #HASHTAG #GAMES. Suddenly, old media dinosaurs are printing entire newspapers in IMPACT. Suddenly, Walter White, one of the more despicable characters of recent memory, who has so devolved into a murderous, drug-dealing, black hole of misanthropic greed and violence is made to look like a superhero.

Well, fuck that.

It’s not JUST the Internet’s fault. Tourists in Albuquerque where the show is filmed are buying “blue meth” candy and bath salts. Which, in terms of straight up disgusting, is way more disgusting than a slightly misguided poster. Even without the show, meth is a pretty categorically nightmarish drug that ruins people’s lives and wreaks havoc on communities. When you do take the show into account, then the idea of “blue meth” candy and bath salts makes you wonder if there’s even any point to any of it. Like what is Vince Gilligan’s well-written, powerfully acted, emotionally gripping show trying to say? “BUY MORE GAG GIFTS”?! That can’t be it. But even this cottage industry of “blue meth” candy and bath salts, while being a thing that exists in real life, outside of the Internet, has a real ETSY feel to it so I’m going to lump that in too.

Guys, I recognize that I’m being a bit of a scold here, but I don’t mind. Someone has to. I AM THE ONE WHO SCOLDS. At a certain point, we are going to have to collectively grow up and take this whole Tumblr thing to the next level. There has to be a way to appreciate something for what it truly is: in this case a dark, deeply depressing portrait of the incredible almost impossible depths to which human misery can drag you if you’re willing to hold your breath long enough. And enjoying a show like that for what it is will, if we do mature in our thinking and behavior, necessitate that we whole-heartedly, every single one of us, reject the very idea of a BREAKING BAD NAME LAB whereby a Facebook app simply pulls your marketing metric information for advertisers and in return you get a Blingee GIF of your name in the green-tinged periodic table of elements. GAH. Name Lab, get it? LIKE METH LAB?! Neat. So fun. Are we having fun? Are we having The Most Fun Ever?

Breaking Bad returns for the final eight episodes on August 11th. Enjoy it responsibly.

*I’m obviously making a somewhat blunt argument that fails to adequately acknowledge the toxic nightmare that is the Internet’s flip-side, namely YouTube comment sections, and Chris Brown’s Twitter fans. This is a very real part of the world under discussion, so it at least bears mentioning. But even this is in line with the Internet’s “all or nothing” stance on the world. If something on the Internet is going to be the worst then you know it is going to be The Worst Ever.