September 21, 2013

USM professor writes book on 'Breaking Bad'

American culture, politics and values are interpreted in critical essays on aspects of the hit television drama.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The AMC network's hit drama "Breaking Bad" has won critical acclaim and a myriad of awards for its writing and acting – but scholarly analysis?

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Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston star in "Breaking Bad."

AP Photo

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USM professor David Pierson edited a compendium of essays about "Breaking Bad". He is seen here at his USM Portland office Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

David Pierson, an associate professor at the University of Southern Maine, is preparing the release of a compilation of essays that examine chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-kingpin Walter White, his assistant Jesse Pinkman and drug lord Gustavo Fring – and the dark underworld they inhabit.

Pierson's book, "Breaking Bad: Critical Essays on the Context, Politics, Style and Reception of the Television Series," published by Lexington Books, is due out in November, the university announced Friday. His work is among a handful of scholarly explorations of the show, and joins a growing canon of critical, academic analysis of popular media. Previous television shows such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "The Sopranos," and "The Wire" have attracted similar attention from academia, even spawning college courses dedicated to dissecting each episode.

The compendium will explore such high-brow topics as "neo-liberalism and its discourses; our cultural obsession with the economies of time and their manipulation; and the assumptions underlying White's criminal alias Heisenberg," the university wrote in the announcement.

Pierson, who has a Ph.D. in mass communication, has written previous books about other television shows, including "C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation," "The Fugitive," "Seinfeld," and "Combat!"

"I think we're attracted to people who, like Walter, decide to take charge of their life, and they don't want to be pushed around anymore," Pierson said in an interview Friday. "That's kind of always been interesting with gangster films, featuring (crime) heads or criminal lords, ... that in a way, we partly admire that they kind of take what they want. We might have a little bit of that inside us."

White, the show's protagonist and anti-hero, provides a rich lens through which Pierson and his colleagues interpret American culture, values, and politics in essays that explore different aspects of the show from the economy of the American Southwest to its portrayals of race and class. The book also looks at representations of masculinity, the depiction of Latinos in America, and impairment and disability, in addition to show creator Vince Gilligan's use of cinematic style and sound, music and setting.

To Pierson, the show's debut in September 2008 and its themes of entrepreneurism and economic desperation complemented the nation's malaise during the height of the recession. Another essay in the book examines the use of science in the series, and how White's alter ego, Heisenberg, is a frame for understanding his motivations and methods.

The book is intended to appeal to students, researchers and other critics as well as fans of the show, Pierson said. 

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303, or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

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