Are you a Dexter or a Heisenberg?

Philosophy

Dextenberg
Since I’ve become a father I haven’t had much time to sit in front of the silver screen like I used to. I loved sitting in the theatre, alone, getting drowned in a celluloid universe.

But now a lot of my pop culture needs are met through television and Netflix. I have lucked out and happened to pull fatherhood at a time when TV shows have never been better. There’s a trend that I’ve noticed in these past two years as a parent with regards to those shows that has piqued by philosophical nature.

I find myself torn between Dexter and Heisenberg.

First though, I’ll start with Nietzsche. I’ve always been a slight fan of his philosophy on a person pursuing their best self. Whether someone is extremely religious or not (and Nietzsche wasn’t) there’s still something important to gain from his ideology. We should all be more introspective to find out what our true purpose is and then go all in to fulfill that purpose.

You can find the basic Nietzsche philosophy in a lot of popular culture these days, especially TV. Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Greg House, hell even Barney Stinson are characters driven by a deep, personal desire to become something great, regardless of what others or society thinks.

Interestingly enough, Dexter and Walter White, or his alter ego Heisenberg, represent two distinct personality types, goal oriented vs. process oriented. Having been a big fan of both shows, I wonder at times which one I’m more like in so far as how I seek to be the best me.

Dexter is very much someone who is goal oriented. His every waking moment is spent working towards the next kill. He does his best to balance a lot of background distractions such as family, work, etc. but his motivation is about getting someone on his table. Once he finishes one victim he begins to move on to the next. He revels in each one by keeping a drop of blood in a slide to represent each time he’s achieved a kill. Dexter is always after another kill.

Walter White, however, is more about a process. Throughout his career in the meth world, he worked to perfect his product. He was obsessed with the process, the right amount of chemicals for each batch and striving for the highest purity. He does have a goal of leading a meth empire but he knows fully that it has to be built on a superior drug. For Walt, there is no dollar amount or purity level that serves as a finish line. He wants to make the best meth.

Yes, they’re fictional characters. I understand that. What I like about the comparison though is that they demonstrate two different paths for living your life. I don’t mean choosing to kill people or make meth but the focus on what is more important: who you are or what you do.

I’ve decided I’m a Heisenberg. In my writing I care more about becoming a better craftsman as opposed to creating a masterpiece. I like finishing stories and books but at the end of the day I want to believe I’ve improved my skill.

While goal-oriented people are highly valued in the job market, there are two major pitfalls for someone who is obsessed with results. 1) When you are too focused on the finish line, the means by which you get there blurs and you may use unethical behavior and possibly take short cuts. 2) If you are going after a major goal, what do you do when you get there? If someone has a goal of running a marathon, the motivation to keep running might dwindle once they finish one.

For me it’s more important to master a process. Results are important. Otherwise how would you know if you’re becoming better at your process? I guess a person who’s truly successful at self realization is adept at focusing both on their skill as well as their accomplishments.

I’d rather be known as a good writer than a person who wrote a good book. I may never achieve either, but my pursuit will be the process.

 

Walter White: Republican

Philosophy

walt

Breaking Bad fans are eating up the last episodes of their beloved show and its Nietzschean protagonist Walter White.

Walt has taken us on a wild ride through his transformation as a beleaguered, terminally-ill chemistry teacher to a hell-on-wheels drug kingpin.

Despite the fact he runs his operation in the politically blue state of New Mexico, I personally feel Walt would back the Red candidates in the ballot box.

Now I don’t mean he’s from the new breed of Tea Party Republicans. I’m saying he’s one of the old-school, establishment, Capitalist with a capitol ‘C’ Republicans. Here’s my argument.

 

1. Imperialist-minded

“I’m in the empire business,” Walt tells Jesse.

Long before he tried to dominate the meth market and taught chemistry, Walt had a stake in a biotech firm called Grey Matter. When his back was against the wall financially, he was bought out by his partners for a paltry sum. After that, Grey Matter took off and Walt missed out on millions.

The meth path gave Walt a second chance at creating his own personal empire. The only difference is now he doesn’t have partners, only alliances.

 

2. Expects others to save themselves and allows the weak to die

When he faced his own mortality with lung cancer, his pals at Grey Matter offered to help him by paying for his chemotherapy. Repulsed, Walt rejected their charity and chose to come up with funds in his own way, whether it was illegal or not.

When he saw Jane Margolis violently throwing up in bed next to his partner Jesse Pinkman, he let her drown in her own vomit. He justified his act of omission because he felt Jane was dragging Jesse down with their mutual addiction.

Then when Victor and Mike Ehrmantraut had Walt cornered near the meth lab to kill him, Walt urged Jesse to kill Gale Boetticher. Eliminating the timid Gale would leave Gus Fring without a blue meth copycat and Gus would therefore need Walt to continue the operation.

 

3. Makes uneasy alliances

There are several examples of this throughout the show where Walt needed others’ help either to stay alive or build his empire. Much like a neocon who props up a dictator like Saddam Hussein or funds a rebellion like the Sandinistas, Walt will partner with people who serve his best interests.

His first major partnership is with Jesse Pinkman, a former student in Walt’s chemistry classes. Walt needed Jesse to learn about meth and guide him through the business.

Walt then pairs with Tuco Salamanca in order to get a foothold in the meth market. Once he builds his reputation, Walt works with Gus Fring to mass-produce his blue meth. He would later convince Tuco’s uncle Hector to kill Gus when the reserved kingpin pushes Walt out of the lab. Once Gus is dead, Walt starts his own relationship with cop-turned-criminal Mike Ehrmantraut.

In his latest alliance, Walt employs the help of white supremacists to silence Mike’s men in jail.

Of course there’s a deadly trend with all of those who choose to work with Walt. Eventually they all become his enemies. Thus far, only Jesse has survived.

 

4. Locked and Loaded

One of the first scenes of the pilot is Walter holding a handgun waiting for danger to come after him. Even before he can see who he’s aiming at, he’s cocked and ready to fire.

Then when things between him and Gus Fring turn south, the first thing Walt did was to buy a revolver and plan to take Gus out. When he runs over the two drug dealers about to kill Jesse, Walt picks up one of their guns and finishes off a dealer who survived the collision. Walt also killed the guard keeping Jesse hostage inside the meth lab at the end of season four.

The opening of the first show in season five shows Walt buying a run-down car with a machine gun in the trunk. We can only imagine what he’s going to do with it at the end of the series.

But we do know that he’s not afraid to arm himself which definitely makes him a proponent of the Second Amendment.

 

5. He isn’t big on regulation

While there is no direct evidence of this but I’m pretty sure if he had a say in industry regulations, he’d back the less-is-more perspective. No self-respecting Republican would do something to help the drug trade but the Laissez-faire theory still applies, Walt would not want the government in his business.

 

6. Walt is enamored on the idea of family

Republicans hold dear “family values.” The main reason Walt kicked off his meth career was to ensure his family’s future once he’s gone. Since that time, his imperialistic nature has emerged, which has been nothing but destructive both for his family and his protege Jesse. After finally earning a storage room full of cash, he decides to back out because he’s secured their future.

There’s also been several times where he’s saved Jesse from reckless decisions. He allowed Jane to die (because she exacerbated Jesse’s drug use), Walt used his relationship with Gus to help stop a war between street-level drug dealers and Jesse. When he couldn’t prevent the fight, he outright killed the drug dealers when it looked like they were going to off Jesse.

Jesse has returned the favor including killing Gale and standing up to Gus when Gus wanted to end his affiliation with Walt.

As Mike once said, “What is it with you two?”

 

7. He supports illegal immigrants

When he had a hard time cleaning up Gus’s meth lab after a solo cook, Walt enticed a group of undocumented workers to help him. After they whipped the lab up spic and span, Gus deported them in revenge.

 

So there you go. While Walt’s meth is as blue as New Mexico politics, he’s red at the polls— with a straight ticket.

Tony Effect

Philosophy

gandolfini

There were so many different scenes that typified the type of person Tony Soprano was.

Remember when he curb-stomped Coco? When he held Christopher’s nose, suffocating him? That time he garroted a man to death with wire? All of the fights and tender scenes with Carmela? The time he got his ass handed to him by Bobby?

Along the way, James Gandolfini and his manifestation of Tony, changed dramatic television forever.

Gandolfini died on Wednesday. He was 51. Fittingly, he passed in Italy while on vacation.

It’s been said so many times that we live in a golden age of television. Shows are now written with more depth and driven by developing, evolving characters. The stories and scenes are edgier. TV is providing us with a stronger dose of artistic vision that film cannot.

But that age started with Tony and his sordid life as an introspective and ruthless New Jersey mobster.Gandolfini showed us what was possible with cable television.

As network television doubled down on reality shows, HBO, Showtime, AMC, Starz and now Netflix picked up the slack, going from replaying movies to producing original content that had never been seen on the small screen. TV went from being more than superficial sitcoms, game shows and second-rate drama. It became art.

The Wire. Breaking Bad. Boardwalk Empire. The Walking Dead. Dexter. House of Cards. Boss. Mad Men.

All feature a strong lead character that drive the story.

The first time I sat through a Sopranos episode, I remember thinking the high-pitch voiced Gandolfini was such an odd choice. He didn’t have the screen presence as a lead actor (so I thought at the time). He was a bit actor before that, playing sleazy characters like the pornographer in 8mm. As the Sopranos gained steam it became clear that no one else on this planet could have been Tony Soprano.

Gandolfini’s transformation as an actor also became a bellwether for other actors who would undergo metamorphosize as well. Brian Cranston was the hapless dad on Malcolm in the Middle and Tim Whatley on Seinfeld before his groundbreaking performance on Breaking Bad. Michael C. Hall was doing plays Off Broadway when he began his stint on Six Feed Under and later Dexter. Now Steve Buscemi has gone from being in the background as supporting characters to the ruthless Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire.

What television and acting is today is partly due to Gandolfini and Tony Soprano. We all owe him a huge thanks for making the small screen worth watching again.