Friday, July 27, 2012

Breaking Bad’s Suburban Shock Doctrine

In season four of AMC's Breaking Bad, fast food store manager-drug kingpin Gus Fring smoothly offers a first and only piece of personal history in response to DEA agent Hank’s probing questions: there is no record of him in his home country of Chile because he escaped during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose regime kept notoriously bad records. This detail and Gus’s (real or invented) history is never mentioned again, and by the season finale, Gus is dead anyway. But this quick and easily dismissed reference to Pinochet’s Chile may just have everything to do with the entire plot and trajectory of the series—not so much in Gus’s story, however, as in Walt’s.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: It's Financial BDSM

In all the press generated by the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, three statements consistently recur: 1) the books are making a crapload of money; 2) the books are filled with crappy writing; and 3) these crappy books can only be making craploads of money because they’re about sex. The problem, though, is that the “sex sells” formula really doesn’t really explain the trilogy’s extraordinary, almost unbelievable, popularity. As others have observed, there is a surplus of similar erotica, much of it better written (at least if you believe the assessments of online romance fiction fans) and almost all of it cheaper (in fact, most of it completely free and anonymously available online). So what is it about this particular novel? Why Fifty Shades of Grey? And perhaps even more to the point, why now?