Every Thursday in Rambling Dispatches, Quinn McGee talks about whatever feels most relevant in a given week. This week, the media’s coverage of real-life meth manufacturer Walter White.
So I have a confession to make. I just recently started watching Breaking Bad, about a week ago. I feel bad about it, especially now that I realize just how awesome the show is. It allows me to nerd out on chemistry stuff I actually understand. It scares me a bit, because I understand the chemistry and I almost feel criminal because of it, like all of my teachers have been secretly molding me into a meth-making sleeper agent like a tweaked-out Jason Bourne.
Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about, because I totally missed the water cooler conversation surrounding the show. I actually want to talk about the real Walter White. If you haven’t heard by now, there is a real meth dealer named Walter White. The guy is 55 and one of the most wanted men in Alabama. Oddly enough, he’s been on probation for meth production since 2008, when Breaking Bad debuted on AMC. It’s funny, and trust me when I say the irony is not lost on me, but it the reporting rubs me the wrong way.
Would this guy even get attention if Breaking Bad was not on television? The answer is a resounding “hell no.” He is a simple meth dealer. The guy would have been a big deal in his community, and maybe even the county in which he’s one of the most wanted people, but I can almost promise that I wouldn’t get even the slightest notification about this guy here in Chicago. I Googled images of Walter White, and the guy wanted in Alabama was the second image listed and the top news story. I’m finding this hard to stomach, regardless of how ironic the whole thing is. As I’m writing this article, I’m reading a few articles and reports about this, and am shocked by some of the things I have read. I have seen a report that the real Walt and AMC’s Walt have similarities between the two of them, but the only similarity is that they both have a beard. The story is being treated as life imitating art.
Reporters are calling White’s case “life imitating art,” because in both the art and the real, the men in question are meth dealers and they share a name. Have you seen the two side-by-side? The real-life Walt looks haggard and sickly. And is this something that should really be celebrated as life imitating art, in the sense that it’s almost comical and ironic? The dude cooks and sells meth. He isn’t a man giving out money and saving lives who just so happens to be named Tony Stark, or a man who ran across the USA who happens to be named Forrest. This is a guy who has been in trouble involving meth for the past four years. He isn’t saving lives, he is making a lethal drug. The real kicker is that the people writing the articles about this ironic thing happening often say nothing about meth, making a fictionalized TV show a better source of information.
We’re so eager to just look at things through the lens of the comical or ironic, to look at the colorful rather than the real. In this case, this does nothing to address the national drug problem that breeds meth manufacturers in the first place. We just laugh at how this guy has a name that correlates with a television show. The guy seems almost fictional, and so does the fact that he is a wanted criminal who deals poison. The sicker thing is that this is endemic of how drug news is hardly ever reported anyway. I live in a city where I’ve been approached and offered drugs multiple times while walking on crowded streets. I guess the people dealing and supplying in my city aren’t enough of a hook to get news coverage. Drug abuse is rampant in the current national climate, and with all this abuse, the only thing of note to report is that some guy has a similar name and situation to a popular television character.