We’re only one day away from the first of the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, a show I recently declared in this space to be one of my personal favorite shows ever. I’m pumped. I’m amped. I’m geeked. Because I’m so geeked, and because I’m something of a geek, I’ve been geeking out this week in anticipation by reading Breaking Bad and Philosophy, a book that looks at the show through a philosophical lens. It’s part of Open Court Publishing’s “Popular Culture and Philosophy” series, which currently boasts 75 volumes of philosophizing goodness focusing on TV shows, movies, video games, musicians, sports, and other cultural phenomena.
I’m not quite finished with the book yet, but I’ve mostly enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Like all the entries in the series, it’s a compilation of essays that examine aspects of the show using various philosophical theories and principles. In the chapters I’ve read to this point, some of the things covered have been the ethics of Walt’s and other characters’ actions, an argument for Walt as an existential hero, a comparison of Walt to Neitzsche’s “superman” (or “ubermensch” for you German speakers and/or smartypantses), and an extended Breaking Bad- as-Shakespeare’s- Macbeth analogy. Each essay is by a different author, usually an academic of some type, and the quality of the writing varies. While certain topics are covered more deftly than others, overall, the essays make for fascinating, enjoyable reading. My largest complaint with the book, and with this series of books in general, is that it is too often uses the show to explain philosophy rather than philosophy to explain the show, and I crave the latter. While I enjoy learning about philosophy, when I read a section that covers a concept of philosophy I’m already fairly familiar with, it gets a bit annoying to read the author using the show to explain that concept when all I want is a discussion in which that concept is put toward an analysis of the show that will lead me to understand and appreciate what I’ve watched on a different, more meaningful level. That gripe aside, the melding of culture and philosophy offers plenty of thought-provoking material about something (TV) that is traditionally viewed as being strictly for entertainment. The book makes me think deeply and critically about something I love, and to me, that’s one of the best commendations there is.
For those interested in the “Popular Culture and Philosophy” series, click here for a full list of currently published titles. There’s also Blackwell’s “Philosophy and Pop Culture” series, which is pretty much the exact same thing. I’ve read a few books from each series, and I suppose the one I’d recommend most highly is Batman and Philosophy, though the best way to go would be to pick one that covers one of your cultural obsessions (duh, right?). Looking through the two lists, I think there are plenty more I’m going to read. I think, therefore I’m gonna.