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Symbolic Interactionist Perspective Media Analysis

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Symbolic Interactionist Perspective Media Analysis
May 19, 2014

Symbolic Interactionist Perspective Media Analysis
In the dramatic television series Breaking Bad, the main character Walter White is an overqualified, mild mannered, Chemistry high school teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Working two jobs and financially strapped, Walter has a wife that is pregnant with their second child and teenage son that has cerebral palsy. After passing out at his job at the car wash, Walter has a series of medical tests done and finds out he has inoperable lung cancer. Walter's brother- in-law is a Drug Enforcement Agent takes him on a ride along during a Crystal Methamphetamine drug raid. It is at this time that a thought crosses Walter's mind, he can use his knowledge of Chemistry to produce Crystal Methamphetamine and make enough money to pay for his treatment and to leave his family financially comfortable in the event of his death. The series demonstrates the struggles of a middle class family trying to pay for expensive treatments, surgeries, and hospitalization in a time when health care costs are at an all-time high.
The television drama speaks volumes about the state of America’s health care for the poor and middle income families. In the series, Walter White does have health insurance coverage through his high school teaching job. However, one of the top oncologists in the country has an office in Albuquerque and is not covered by Walter’s HMO; the out of pocket cost is implausible for a middle income family. In one scene, Walter is at the oncologist’s office and writes a check, he then asks the receptionist to hold the check till the following week, to allow the funds to be deposited in the bank. Additionally, there are numerous scenes between Walter and his wife Skyler discussing accepting financial assistance from one of Walter’s old business partner’s. However, it is Walter’s pride and resentment with this previous business partner that causes him to deny what he perceives as charity. Many of the nonverbal forms of communication are performed amazingly by the actors in the series. In the first season, when Walter first learns of his fatal diagnoses, can be described as one of the most memorable scenes in television history. As viewers, we watch as Walter sits alone in a chair across from his doctor in the office and listens as the doctor explains his diagnoses. However, at some point the sound disappears and a low humming sound is all that is audible as the camera zooms into the doctor's mouth moving, but the viewers hear nothing, and we are left to assume that Walter does not hear anything either. As the camera turns to Walter, he has a blank expression on his face and he is looking at the stain on the doctor's shirt. Its is only after the doctor stops' speaking is when Walter finally responds and asks the doctor if he knew he had mustard stain on his shirt. This scene speaks volumes in relation to Walter's separation and denial about the news he has just heard. However, it is a porkpie hat that symbolizes the transformation of Walter White from Mr. Chip's to Scarface (, 2011). There is a visual difference when Walter uses his bald head from chemotherapy, dark sunglasses and porkpie hat to distinguish between his two identities. As a viewer, we are watching the mild mannered teacher transform into a drug king pin, by using the hat as an unmistakable expression as to which persona is currently in charge.
In building a case for social inequality, Walter White is not much different from most Americans. Most lower to middle income families have an inferior form of health care than upper-class citizens. This is usually related to the lower grade occupations that do not provide the optimal health care coverage for their employees. In a 2009 study, it has been reported "Health insurance and medical care have become less affordable for the middle class as the growth in insurance premiums and medical costs has far outpaced that of wages (Diane Rowland, 2009). As Walter is sitting with a blank look on his face and his doctor is explaining his diagnoses, it is hard to imagine the overwhelming sense of denial a person can experience. In the case of Walter, being a husband, father of a handicapped teenage son, and another child on the way. The news would have delivered an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. As insurance companies have continued wealth and power, lower and middle income families are being denied or have long delays in their health care.
In conclusion, the Walter White character was a desperate and flawed man. As insurance companies continue to reach record profits and the level of care individual receives is diminishing, a person can become discouraged with the process. As Walter takes matters into his own hands and starts to produce methamphetamine, at first, it is understandable. However, Walter eventually takes it too far and is acting less out of desperation and more out of greed. The television series portrays views that Americans find familiar. The hardship of unexpected economic uncertainty and looking for a way to escape it. However, as a viewer we find ourselves rooting for both the mild mannered teacher and the drug kingpin.

References (2011, September 19). Retrieved from 'Breaking Bad': Vince Gilligan On Meth And Morals.
Diane Rowland, C. H.-S. (2009, July 1). Retrieved from Health Care and the Middle Class: More Costs and Less Coverage.

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