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October 24, 2013

All hail the king: fans love Walter White

By Aziza Doleh

“No, you clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot and you think that of me? No. I am the one who knocks!” These are some of the most famous words spoken by one of the most famous characters on television, Walter White.

The legions of fans of “Breaking Bad” love the immoral anti-hero Walter White. Why are we so sympathetic to a man that is ‘the danger,’ the villain of the show? What is it about the anti-hero that makes us root for him?

“We have seen his pain, in a way and when you see somebody’s struggle and somebody’s pain, and having this moral quandary at times, we will relate to that,” said Evan Lieberman, professor of Film and Digital Media in Cleveland State University’s School of Communication. “Even though he does bad things and even though he is in a sense a villain he’s also kind of heroic because he has all these positive qualities as well. He has strength, intelligence, craftiness, cunning and there are worse people than him, he is by far not the worst person.”

On Breaking Bad, TV’s biggest drama, Walter White is the beloved husband that has been stricken with severe lung cancer and doesn’t have much time to live. Walter has no money for his cancer treatments, nor does he have money to leave his pregnant wife and his son. He chooses to cook and sell methamphetamine. As an audience we are taken on Walter’s journey -- and what a journey it is.

“Everyone will cheer for an underdog … He starts off sort of being the normal one, which you always do character development around and then you realize he is going to be very obtuse just like the rest, but I think everyone cheers for the underdog. Especially if it’s for the love of their family,” said John Ban, professor of Film and Digital Media at Cleveland State. “I think everything he does on the show is for a good purpose…because you have so much empathy for this character that you get sucked into it.”

Breaking Bad is the show that will be remembered for going out on top – not only for its creative genius, but also for being an underdog TV show that became a wide success. Part two of the fifth season premiered in July to a very impressive audience for a cult favorite. The show checked in at a whopping 5.9 million viewers. This then changed to a noticeable 6.4 million viewers. In the final hours it went to 6.6 million. This stunned audience had to know what was going on with Walter White. Breaking Bad was like a drug the entire season.

Walter White, a mere character on a TV show, captured attention all over the U.S.A character that did so many bad things, he crept in your house, crept on your television screen, cooked meth, sold it and killed people along the way. Yet he was a hero. Followers agreed, “All hail the king.”

“I think this is an example of the audience living vicariously through a character, and intrigued by the twists and turns he takes as his stakes in conformity dwindle to nothing,” said James Chriss Ph.D, professor of Sociology at Cleveland State. “We as the audience are interested in coming along for the ride, and hoping it lasts as long as it can. So we root for this anti-hero, who is bucking the system but eventually with nowhere left to go except for dead. And, thank God, we’re not him.”

Chris Mallett, professor and BSW coordinator in social work at Cleveland State, has a different take on Walter. “While folks see Breaking Bad as a good or compelling television show to watch, if it were real, most of society would most clearly think Walter White was wrong and simply turned bad.”

Walter White didn’t just grab the attention of fans -- he also grabbed the attention of journalists from The New York Times, TIME, The New Yorker and many more. It was impossible to miss it -- every time you turned on your television Breaking Bad was mentioned or people were having an open-ended discussion about Walt.

Walter White made a massive impression at Cleveland State with professors and students.

“You found yourself in a connection with a lovable character put in a situation you yourself can relate, you look at the moral not the black white wrong, the ends justify the means making an argument of what he was doing, the character itself represented a modern understanding of how we look and perceive an anti-hero,” said, Jeffery Bolt, professor of Communication at Cleveland State.
“The fact that he had lung cancer, but he still, even though he was cooking meth, he still tried to provide for his family,” said Marlin Manson, a Communication Management major. “He was thinking of them when he died.”

“He knew was going to die… in the last episode he did say he did it for himself. I don’t think that was true. I think everything he did was for his family,” said Nolan Marks, Sociology major.

“Walt is a fascinating character because he goes from a simple, law abiding chemistry teacher, to a meth dealing murderer in a matter of 5 seasons. He’s almost impossible to root for as the series goes on, but deep down you know he’s trying to provide for his family, which is why I can feel sympathy for him,” said Alex Farmer Film and Digital Media major.

Derek Menzies, Psychology major, agreed with Manson and Marks. “Bad decisions, good intentions,” he said.

Legion of fans embraced one of the darkest television shows ever created. All hail the king, Walter White. We cheer for him because, despite all his criminal acts, and all the pain he put his family through he did all for them. Walter White was just providing for his family.