Q: You’ve been all over the media lately. What’s all this about Breaking Bad and the rise in crystal meth use? You’re kidding, right?
A: Well, there’s a report that there has been a sharp rise in the use of crystal meth across Europe and the upturn started at almost exactly the same time that the US show came on our screens.
Q: And the narrative of the show is about a chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer at the beginning of the series. He turns to producing and selling crystallized methamphetamine, in order to secure his family’s financial future before he dies. His partner in crime is Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Their transformation from crystal meth cooks into industrial-scale drug producers reflects a well-documented phenomenon in the US. But when the series started in 2008, hardly anyone had heard of crystal meth over here.
A: That’s exactly the point: people started to get curious about this interesting new drug and its effects, so started to make inquiries. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not arguing that this is cause-and-effect. I know some scholars think watching tv changes our behaviour; for example, some swear the amount of violence we see on tv and in movies has translated into actual violent behaviour on the streets. But I don’t buy this at all. So I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the relationship between Breaking Bad and crystal meth use. Equally, you’d have to be naive to think the media doesn’t affect us: it shapes, influences and changes us in all sorts of ways.
Q: But the series is hardly an advertisement for the drug. Matter of fact, it depicts the destructive consequences of longterm crystal meth use.
A: Agreed. That’s not the point. The mere fact that it is a key part of the show’s plot gives it power. We are inquisitive animals and inevitably probe. Nobody just watches television inertly, that is without thinking about it. Watching tv is like reading a book: we engage our minds. So the human spirit of inquiry has stimulated interest in the drug and, eventually, this has translated into more widespread use.
Q: As always, the Cashmoronic theory has picked up more than its fair share of critics. Don’t you think you’ve put your foot in your mouth again?
A: I’m used to it. Anyway, I think it’s spurred an interesting debate. I agree with the critics who argue television doesn’t change our behaviour in any direct way. I’m not arguing we watch the show and rush out to find where we can score some crystal meth any more than we watch Twilight and start biting people’s necks to find out what blood tastes like.
Q: Hang on! I read somewhere there has been a rise in vampirism since Twilight took off.
A: Mmmm. Well, I’m not going that far. Television, like other parts of the media, isn’t just a screen in the corner of the room, or on our tablets. It’s a source of information that we use, not abstractly, but in practice. Film and internet sources affect us, but television remains a dominant influence on us. Advertisers wouldn’t spend so much money on commercials if they thought we remained unmoved. Dramas that portray social issues often sign off with something like, “If you have been affected by any of the issues show in this programme, contact … ” We are affected by tv. I think that much is beyond dispute. Its effects are not always predictable. Anyway, I must leave you know. The X Factor is starting soon.

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