Monday, October 1, 2012

Meth Monday No. 11: The Academy Breaks Bad

Hello there, Readers Mine! I know, I'm late again this week, but once again I plead graduate school. The couple of days before and after a conference always seem to be really busy, but what needed to get done today is done, and it's time to play a bit.

Fan art by Paul Flanders
Speaking of conferences, you might be interested to know that the one I just got back from was the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association in the South, held this year in Nashville, Tennessee, at the incredible Hutton Hotel. Seriously, I have never stayed in a hotel with such exquisite customer service. We were gypsies in the palace, for sure, but boy what a palace! Anyway, we'd driven half-way across Tennessee in order to present Friday morning in a panel devoted to Breaking Bad. Unlike this blog, or even Wanna Cook? PCAS is a full-on academic conference, and so were the papers.

Dr. David Lavery of MTSU chaired the panel, and gave a presentation on "Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad, and Television Creativity. When it comes to the critical study of television, David's name pretty much heads the list, and his work has been instrumental is establishing television studies as a vibrant, growing field of scholarship. In his presentation (which I unfortunately missed half of in an ultimately vain attempt to fix some of the tech issues the panel was facing) David looked back over Gilligan's career in television to find the roots not only of Breaking Bad, but of Gilligan's own inimitable creative style. Focusing on some similarities in his work on The X-Files, David demonstrated that Gilligan's latest success was the product of a long process of dues paying, and continuous creative work.

Next up was Trevecca Nazarine University's Dr. Jeffery D. Frame with "Walt's Wake: Chemical Disincorporation and the Break Down of Breaking Bad's Secondary Characters." Jeff used Walt's technical term for dissolving bodies in acid as a bridge to looking at the ways in which Walt destroys so many of those he comes into contact with after he has decided to "break bad." Examining what might be called the collateral damage, Jeff looked at how Walt's actions corrode his family, his enemies, and even true random innocents through various direct or indirect chain reactions. Jeff also referred to Walt as the agent and Jesse as reagent/reactant, and framing which I think is just brilliant. I'll have to ask him if I can use it.

Then came yours truly, with "Buying the House: Place in Breaking Bad," where I used humanist geographic theory to examine the ways in which Jesse's house at 9809 Margo St changes throughout the series, and how those changes are projections of Jesse's own psychological state as he moves through incredible - and often incredibly painful - transformations of his character. This evolution, which the audience watches, imbues Jesse's house with indelible history and memories that reach out beyond the narrative universe and into the viewers' and thus makes the house a place with significant meaning for both Jesse's character and we who travel along with him for 8 - 13 weeks a year.

The panel was closed with true brilliance by my wonderful partner and co-author, K. Dale Koontz, of Cleveland Community College, with "Pregnant Pauses: The Uses of Nonverbal Communication in Breaking Bad." To set the mood, she began by "ding-ing" a bell like the one attached to Hector "Tio" Salamanca's wheelchair, which go the audience ready for more. From Marie's penchant for purple, to the foreshadowing "bell of doom," to Gus's stillness, to deadly car horns, to the Cousins' creepy crawling to the shrine of Santa Muerte; Dale showed us that the words we hear are only part, and not even the major part, of how information is communicated to us in Breaking Bad, what's not said, but seen; not articulated, but heard, sometimes tells us more than anything else, and more than we realize.

Needless to say, and gratifying to report, the panel was packed and all of our papers very well received. The rest of the conference was spent in leaping from panel to panel to try and hear at least most of the presentations we wanted to, and catching up with old and very dear friends from across the country, a process which included a walking ghost tour of downtown Nashville, and one hilarious night spent with 10 friends packed into our hotel room watching Joss Whedon's Avengers with the English subtitles on and the snark in full bloom. The kids on the Satellite of Love would have been proud.

That's it for this week, Readers Mine. Be sure to head over to Dale's Unfettered Brilliance this Wednesday for "Walter White Wednesday," and in the meanwhile, look us up on the social media and whatnot - we'll keep you in the loop of all the Breaking Bad news.

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