According to Slotkin, “…the Myth [of the Frontier] represented the redemption of American spirit or fortune as something to be achieved by playing through a scenario of separation, temporary regression to a more primitive or ‘natural’ state, and regeneration through violence” (1992, p. 12). AMC’s Breaking Bad reimagines these stages of the Myth of the Frontier in the character of Walter White, a science teacher turned crystal meth maker. The series evokes the Myth of the Frontier through its exploration of tensions between nature/civilization and individuality/community. Walt physically separates from the suburbs by driving his RV into the uninhabited desert to cook meth, just as pioneers separated from the colonies in their covered wagons to settle the land. Walt’s criminal activity also enacts a rejection of civilization’s rules. Walt’s removal of clothes before cooking meth symbolizes a shedding of civilization’s constraints. Walt’s RV provides self-sufficiency and mobility, while the desert offers freedom from surveillance and escape from society. Walt’s identity as a scientist situates him as someone who manipulates the elements of nature to serve his own purposes. Walt applies his scientific knowledge to increase his fortune by producing high quality meth. He also uses science to make tools of violence—poison gas, ricin, and explosive mercury. Most of the targets of Walt’s violence are Mexican.
Walt and his partner Jesse are both white (underscored by last names White and Pinkman). Just as white people in westward expansion considered the Native Americans to be savage (largely to justify their violence towards indigenous people), Walt’s Mexican rivals are often depicted as savage. For example, Walt describes his rival Tuco as being “an insane degenerate, a piece of filth, who doesn’t deserve to live.” As Walt expands his drug territory from local to international, he increases his fortune but also decreases his own independence. Ironically, when Walt links up with an international drug kingpin, he shifts from working independently to working for a boss in a modern tech lab, complete with a quota and surveillance. As Walt colonizes more drug territory, he himself becomes more deeply colonized by the drug world and loses much of his autonomy. The theme of colonization also resonates with Walt’s cancer, a disease which “colonizes” the body. References Slotkin, R. (1992). Gunfighter nation: The myth of the frontier in twentieth-century America. New York: Atheneum.