Does Breaking Bad Support Patriarchy?

LET’S TRY TO AVOID SPOILERS IN THIS POST PLZZZZZhttp://postgradproblems.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/9fb261b16f69ebfb02e3fd82ff94289b.jpg

The immensely popular TV show Breaking Bad (do we even have to say TV anymore–can we just call them “Netflix” shows?”) has yielded many awards, garnered critical acclaim, and wasted countless hours of my life.  It’s a good show.  However, as I watch it, I can’t help but detect some nagging undertones of patriarchy.

I will try to be as generalized in my descriptions as possible for the sake of those who haven’t watched a lot (aka trying to avoid spoilers).  But the gist of Breaking Bad is that Walter White starts to cook/sell meth in an effort to save up enough money for his family before he dies of his terminal lung cancer.  College for Walt Jr., medical bills, mortgages, etc etc–these are some of the things he plans on accruing through his meth profits.  He is moved to do all of this by a deep and guiding love for his family.  At the most basic level, Walter feels like it is a man’s priority to provide for his family.  That’s what a man does, the show suggests, and by whatever means necessary.  This sentiment is displayed most powerfully, I think, in this scene where Gustavo Fring is explaining to Walter “what does a man do.”

“What does a man do, Walt? A man provides for his family. … When you have children, you always have family–they will always be your priority, your responsibility.  And a man–a man provides.  And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved.  He simply bares up and he does it.  Because he’s a man.” -Gustavo Fring

In Breaking Bad, the theme of family is probably the most recurrent aspect of the show–it is, in fact, the motivation for the show’s entire plot line.  However, the idea that “a man provides for his family,” in my opinion, cannot be separated from this theme of “family” (at least in the context that Breaking Bad discusses it).  For those of you out there who are indeed fans of the show, has this occurred to you at all?  What do you think about patriarchy in Breaking Bad?  My conclusion thus far is that the show definitely supports it.  But: I may be wrong because I haven’t finished watching the show yet, and if that’s the case, then please don’t put any spoilers on here! I’m only in season 3.

Postcolonialism and Authenticity

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Many moons ago (Fall of last year), I took a course in Native American Religions at UMW.  It was one of my favorite courses that I’ve taken so far because it forced me to look at a group of that “fourth world”/”diaspora” that Tyson mentions in the chapter about Postcolonial Analysis from a non-Eurocentric perspective.

Take, for example, Black Elk.  A quick, dirty summary: Black Elk was a member of the Lakota Sioux tribe, and he experienced a vision quest that redefined the spiritual guidelines of most of his tribe.  In the book Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt interviews Black Elk and retells the narrative of Black Elk’s existential vision quest.  The printed version of Black Elk’s vision quest, written by Neihardt, has become a cornerstone of Lakota Sioux spirituality.

Black Elk Speaks, in many ways, furthers the “noble savage” stereotype.  It is also potentially ripe with Eurocentric bias, having been written and edited by white men.  There’s no way to know whether the material printed in the book was genuine, or if it was fictionally embellished with stories of visions and spiritual harmony, objectifying and commercializing a culture.  Either way, the story told in Black Elk Speaks became a foundational aspect of Lakota Sioux spirituality after the book was published in 1932.  I ask, how is this problematic?  In many ways, I struggle with the issue of authenticity because it seems very unauthentic.  There is no sense of “reclaiming the precolonial past,” as Tyson puts it.  All cultural aspects were irrevocably affected by the American imperialism.

How does a culture regain its sense of identity and self after colonialism?  How do you all feel about this idea of authenticity–where else might we find examples similar to this?  At this point, do they actually need authenticity?  Is it important for these postcolonial societies to develop their own authentic (or maybe not authentic) sense of identity, to evade the plague of double consciousness, to reclaim the dignity they were stripped of when the Wasichu white devils dislocated them from their homes, languages, and spiritual ties?  Later in his life, Black Elk converted to Catholocism and joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show–does that somehow corrupt our trust for him and his authenticity?  Maybe I’m just rambling now, but….. WHAT DOES AUTHENTICITY EVEN MEAN ANYMORE?!

I think these are all important things to consider as we look more into postcolonial study!

Humpty’s Psychoanalysis

Sorry guys… I had to.  Humpty Dumpty was begging for it.

So in Carroll’s version of the Humpty story, we’ve got an egg who’s convinced that he’s just not an egg, a young girl prone to misspeaking and interrupting, and a battle for conversational dominance.  The whole dialogue starts off with Alice calling Humpty an egg, and Humpty vehemently arguing that comment.  Humpty Dumpty probably developed some serious self-perception issues when he was a young egg.  From a psychoanalytic perspective, Humpty spends much of his time patronizing Alice for misspeaking, even in very small instances (i.e., she “saw” him singing instead of “heard”), as a self-defense.  His inability to accept his own eggness, and subsequent sensitivity upon being called an egg, causes him to hone in on the small dialogical errors of others.  It is a way to avoid his own unacceptable characteristics by ascribing them to others–in this case, Alice.

I also noticed that Humpty wishes that Alice’s face was rearranged so he could recognize her better.  It is interesting that Humpty does indeed fall and shatter at the end of the chapter, implying that he is in many separate pieces.  When the king’s men come to piece him back together, they won’t be able to–does that mean that Humpty himself might have “two eyes on the same side,” just like he wishes Alice had?  Just an afterthought.

Ya Boi Ian’s Bridge to the Blog, 9-26-13

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

Upon walking into class and hearing Dr. Scanlon mutter, “Shittles!” as she verbally wrestled with the dysfunctional projector of Combs 111, I knew that it was going to be a good day.

The cornerstone activity of the day was to develop a thesis statement, in small groups, for our chosen school of critical analysis.  The rough thesis statements and supporting evidences were then presented in front of the class.  The groups were:

  1. Reader-Response
  2. Psychoanalytic 1
  3. Psychoanalytic 2
  4. Post-Colonial
  5. Marxist

Since most of the talking was done during presentation today, I would like to make this post an opportunity to really engage in what was presented.  First, I will give a brief overview of the outlined theses.  Then, I will offer some further discussion questions to you guys and open the floodgates to intelligent discussion.

The Reader-Response group interpreted Adventures as a coming of age tale, for both Alice and the reader, and highlighted the importance of age to how the novel is understood (i.e., younger = innocent, older = dark/symbolic).  The Psychoanalytic groups focused on Alice’s internalized battle between the superego and the id; however, the first group used the idea of finding identity as a unifying thesis (including oral fixation as identity-finding), and the second group focused on Alice’s dissonance as a reaction to the strict social guidelines of her life.  The Marxist group saw Alice’s journey as an interaction of ideologies and hierarchies, with an emphasis on the power structure (i.e, royalty in Adventures as aristocrats) and Alice’s frequently changing power (by size).  Finally, the Post-Colonial group saw the story as an allegory for the rise and fall of the British Empire.  The “exotic” animal representations of characters was symbolic of colonization, and Alice was seen as a white authority who wanted her rules to be followed but struggled with that due to the language barrier (pervasive madness of characters as language barrier).

Now that we have a little foundation….

Here’s another chance to examine the topics.  Now that you can respond, what is interesting to you all?  Are you noticing things you didn’t notice in class?  At second glance, I found the Post-Colonial group’s interpretation very compelling; it went in great depth and made connections I did not expect to be made.  In what ways can we, as a group, take this one farther–for example, this interpretation casts Alice as the “oppressor,” since she can be seen as the “white authority” that attempts to demand control.  How is Alice oppressive to her animal counterparts?  In many ways, Alice’s character is very wandering and uncertain until the end, when she grows in size and takes control.  Could that be a comparison to how the colonizing empires had a shallow understanding of territories they took control of, and in the end they used their brute force to retain power?  If all of this is true, then what do we make of the ending–what’s the significance of “waking up,” and Alice’s sister’s reflections?

I chose to look further at the Post-Colonial thesis, but there’s plenty of potential in each of the theories presented today.  I’ll leave you all with this: are there any ways in which we could connect some of the ideas we talked about in class?  Something that I love to do is make connections across borders, and whether or not it’s academically relevant, I think it’s mentally engaging and interesting to take a combined look at how, for example, Marxist ideologies of social hierarchies and power politics play into the repressed desires to go against the social grain discussed in the Psychoanalytic readings.

Let’s go down this rabbit hole that is the “Bridge to the Blog” together, and leave behind the sensible world of the classroom–we now enter the strange Wonderland that is UMW Blogs, where madness pervades and anything is possible.

Reader-Response and the Bible

As I read Tyson’s example from Critical Theory Today using Judas in the Reader-Response chapter, I couldn’t help but consider how Reader-Response criticism, in many ways, defined Modern Christianity.

*As a sidenote, I would include other religions if I were familiar with them; however, I am not well-read on the sacred texts of most other religions–in fact, I am not especially well-read on the Bible, either. Regardless, I feel like the Bible is a great example of different interpretations of the same text.*

In the Judas example, Tyson focuses on how the Scripture ultimately gives “no indication” on whether or not Judas hanged himself.  Since a text (in the lens of affective stylistics) is an “event that occurs in time,” and “the meaning of a text consists of our experience of what the text does as we read it,” Tyson claims that the text in question (found on p. 175; “That Judas… overthrow it.”) instills in the reader a sense of uncertainty, and is primarily about the “experience of reading” rather than Judas or Scripture.

This got me thinking about the way in which the Bible has been interpreted by many readers over the course of centuries.  Tyson references three possible expectations that a sentence from the passage on p. 175 could yield, all containing differences in interpretation.  These different interpretations, I think, have become manifest in the vast branches extending from from the tree of Christianity.  These denominational offshoots that have sprouted up from the same text is probably one of the best examples around of Reader-Response criticism.  I also found it funny how “uncertainty” was the moral of this particular story, because uncertainty is such a cornerstone of faith; in the words of Pi Patel, “Doubt is useful–it keeps faith a living thing.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vGhezgI5Es[/youtube]

Anyways, thoughts?  In what ways do you all think Reader-Response criticism has affected Christianity (or other religions) to this day?  And, on that note, are there any alternative, potentially interesting theories that we could apply to the Bible? (psychoanalytic, Marxist, New, etc…) Why?  Definitely potential for a New Criticism reading of the Bible/relating that to fundamentalism…

Ian’s Psychoanalytic Analysis of “Hospice” by The Antlers

–Listen here

–Lyrics here

Hospice is a ten song, 52-minute story of a hospice worker who falls in love with his patient, a victim of terminal bone cancer.  Musically and lyrically, it is a work of art.  The album, although an allegory for the author Peter Silberman’s abusive relationship, is still ripe with potential for psychoanalysis in the story itself.

In my criticism, I will focus on the character Sylvia rather than a specific song, since the album tells her story.  I will not be analyzing the characters in the text, and not their metaphoric purpose, because the characters of the text are more fruitful for this exercise.

We have two main characters in this tragic story: the Hospice Worker–a male nurse who I will call the Singer–and the patient he falls in love with, Sylvia.  Sylvia has had cancer since she was a little girl, and the following image (from the album’s digital booklet) is the best preface for her story that I could offer.

PrefaceHer psychological issues transcend that of a typical cancer patient.  Just from this small preface, we can see that she suffers from nightmares and delusions, and an ambiguous darkness that follows her like a shadow.  When she “fell crossing that street,” her sense of reality became intertwined with the demons she faced in her head.  She saw ghosts, like the bald boy who died in the ward, and for a better part of her life couldn’t escape them.  Furthermore, we can conclude that Sylvia’s parents were abusive in one way or another.  From track 7, “Two”:

“Daddy was an asshole, and he fucked you up; built the gears inside your head and now he greases them up. And no one paid attention when you just stopped eating.”

Sylvia is physically self-deprecating; in track 3, “Sylvia,” we see that she has tried to kill herself by sticking her head in the oven (certainly an allusion to Sylvia Plath).  The Singer stops her, and then implores that she go back to “screaming and cursing,” that she “remind [him] again how everyone betrayed [her].”  He would rather take that than her death.

We are not given background information on the Singer, but rather become aware of his character through his narration.  He is in love, if you can call it that, for it is no doubt a corrupted form of love.  Love implies some sort of reciprocity.  Maybe more of a vacuous adoration, one which leaves him wanting more after every wound.  The Singer’s professional job, which is to care for Sylvia, becomes his personal job.  However, what he does for Sylvia is never enough to satisfy her; she is always left bitter.  The two marry, and the rings become a symbol of bondage.  From track 4, “Atrophy”:

“With the bite of the teeth of that ring on my finger, I’m bound to your bedside, your eulogy singer.”

Psychoanalytically, what does this mean?  Let’s start with Sylvia.  The first thing to note is that Sylvia’s childhood development stages were severely impaired.  Her father, who she tried to love during the Oedipal stage, was abusive.  This could mean that she generally displaces her anger and hate onto other people who attempt to love her, i.e., the Singer.  Sylvia also suffers from terrible nightmares, which, according to Freudian psychoanalytic theory, are in some way the results of repressed memories.  Track 7, “Two,” indicates where those repressed memories might come from:

“You had another dream, it was more like a nightmare.  You were just a little kid and they cut your hair.  They stuck you in machines, you came so close to dying.  They should have listened, they thought that you were lying.”

In this particular dream, it seems that the latent content and the manifest content are one in the same.  She has nightmares that harken back to the days when she was plunged into grand and frightening machines as a young girl.  Sylvia’s nightmares are so prevalent that I would say she has trouble disassociating them from reality, and becomes unable to control her repression of these memories.  This is what Freud calls the “crisis.”

Finally, Sylvia was also exposed to the concept of death at a young age.  A child who becomes aware of their own mortality before the teen years certainly is liable to develop a very potent thanatos, or “death drive.”  From sticking her head in the over to other forms of self-deprecation and injury, Sylvia does her fair share of death work.  However, this could be a vehicle of repression, which would explain the nightmares full of demons and visions of ghosts that possibly represent her repressed fear of death, which is more imminent and real for her than we can imagine.

This somber tale of impossible love is, although depressing, beautifully written and unbearably cathartic.  Sylvia is a tragic character, and a productive case study for psychoanalysis.  The Singer could be as well–but that will have to wait for another day.

Colors

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

I figure that most of us are probably aware of the significance of colors in The Great Gatsby.  Some observations: women usually wear white clothing; the green light at the end of the dock; Eckleburg’s eyes are “blue and gigantic”; yellow usually comes in the context of parties; many eyes are gray, and often gray implies detachment.  These are just a few of the color references in the novel.  What did you guys notice about color?  Why does Fitzgerald rely on color so much for symbolism in the first place?  Just some thoughts.

The Role of Women in Gatsby: Cultural Context and Scratching the Surface of Feminist Criticism

“I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” -Daisy

This mysterious quote is comfortably tucked near the top of page 17 in the middle of a superfluous conversation between Daisy and Nick.  It is subtle enough that you might miss it if you were reading too fast, but in my opinion this quote embodies one of the thematic cornerstones of the novel: an archetypal, subordinate role for women in the Roaring Twenties.  Daisy’s quote implies a recognition of some grand looming obstacle, and an ensuing sense of surrender.  When I read it, I think that Daisy feels personally victimized by her world; there is a wounded ambition inside her, resultant of some sort of defeat.  It also suggests that Daisy is critically aware of her own feminism, and the place that femininity holds in the particular historical context.  It seems like Daisy has begrudgingly accepted the lifestyle that she has been dealt, yet there is a faint nostalgic glimmer of hope in her heart.  Although she appears superficial at times, we should not dismiss the potential wisdom of her character.  In many ways, this quote is autobiographical, despite the fact that Daisy is talking about her daughter.

When understanding the role of women in The Great Gatsby, it is important to employ a blend of Feminist Criticism and Cultural Studies; knowing the historical context in which Fitzgerald wrote is just as important as using a balanced arsenal of Feminist Criticism tools.  I want to point out a few passages that I found where the disenfranchisement of women was clear, and hopefully hear a few other opinions on them.

There are plenty of other examples beyond Daisy’s quote that portray women as, in Simone de Beauvoir’s terms, a “second sex.” (Murfin 171-172) Fitzgerald makes a clear point of establishing gender roles in his writing.  The women of Gatsby are proper and delicate, often found in cream or white dresses.  They follow an unspoken, deep-seated social code that demands conformity and leaves many female characters indistinguishable from one another.  On page 63, we see that Benny McClenahan “arrives [to Gatsby’s parties] always with four girls” who are “never quite the same ones in physical person, [but were] so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before.”  This particular observation by Nick suggests that there is a rigid formula for women in Gatsby’s era; the social code is transcendent beyond physical being and carves these women into replicas of one another.

A Gatsby woman, as I mentioned before, is treated as lesser than man.  Because of her feminine handicap, she is forgiven for things about her nature that she cannot control.  Nick showcases some blatant sexism in his observation of Jordan Baker on page 58.

“Dishonesty in a woman is something you never blame deeply…”

This reflects poorly on Nick’s character.  He goes on to say, soon after, that he is one of the few honest people he has ever met, which begs the question: is honesty without equality much of a virtue after all?

On page 51, one of the considerably drunker girls at the party was singing a song and decided that “everything was very, very sad.”  She wept and broke into sobs during breaks in the song, and then responded to a “humorous” comment about singing the note-like mascara tear drops on her face by throwing up her hands and sleeping in a chair.  This hyper-cathartic reaction harkens back to the Bedford Glossary’s description of French Feminist Criticism, where emotion is associated with the feminine (Murfin 172).  The girl at the party’s emotional state puts her in a category of the “second sex,” because emotion is valued beneath reason and is associated with femininity.  Simone de Beauvoir’s idea of a woman’s voice being taken from her comes to fruition in this passage.  The party girl “opts out” of “adopting the male-dominated discourse.”  Instead, she remains silent, and falls asleep in a chair (Murfin 172).

Tom and Daisy’s relationship is visibly strained.  The reader sees it in almost every interaction the couple has, from the accusatory remarks about bruised knuckles to an awkward phone that won’t stop ringing during dinner.  Beneath the lavish, elite lifestyle, there are domestic issues that no money or alcohol can solve; that is one of the underlying themes of the novel.  On pages 12-13, Tom is telling Nick about this bit of edifying and profound white supremacist literature he read.  Daisy, in a defeated tone, tries to chime in, but Tom speaks over her.  Her next comment is a vapid racist remark about “beating them down,” which is either inspired by sarcasm or ignorance–I’m not sure.  I have mentioned the importance of language in Feminist Criticism, and how male-dominated society forces a woman to choose between adopting “phallocentric” language or simply remaining silent.  On page 173 of Bedford:

“… feminine or feminist writing that resists or refuses participation in”masculine” discourse risks being politically marginalized in a society that still is, after all, patriarchal.”

Daisy, along with the other women in the novel, has been marginalized.  However, she is painstakingly aware of it: “… that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”  She has seen her own marginalization, unlike other female characters in Gatsby.

_____________


I know that I wrote a lot on this one, but if anybody did read it, what are your thoughts?  Do you think that Fitzgerald is shining a light on the disenfranchisement of women during the Roaring Twenties, or is he absentmindedly perpetuating it?  If it does in fact pose a challenge to progressive feminism, can we forgive the canonical Gatsby for giving women an unfair representation?