Breaking Bad: Drug Economics and Crime Theory

HON 398 – Dr. Casey Jordan

Modes of Inquiry: Textual Analysis, Scientific and Mathematical Analysis, Historical, Social and Cultural Analysis

Course Description:

The hit TV series Breaking Bad has been praised for its compelling dramatic storyline about Walter White, a simple math teacher and family man who “breaks bad” when he discovers he has cancer. But Breaking Bad is far more than just great entertainment; in its five seasons of nearly 50 viewing hours, it reveals situations of crime patterns, criminal typologies, and economic complexities of the drug market that are quite accurate when compared to real-world situations. This course requires students to watch the entire series of Breaking Bad in their own time (about 3-4 episodes per week), utilizing assigned readings (criminal case studies, newspaper articles, journal articles, statutory law, textbook chapters, etc.), and guest speaker presentations to analyze the content of each week’s assigned viewing. While most students have probably already watched the series, it is imperative that they view the show again with an “academic eye” towards inquiry and analysis to determine fact vs. fiction in comparison to today’s crime problems and drug market economy.

While Breaking Bad can’t be presented as “real life” as a documentary series, it is perhaps the best modern-day vignette for demonstrating the link between our current “Get Tough On Crime” drug policy that has spawned the Three-Strikes laws and harsh penalties (including life sentences for drug dealers and kingpins) over the past 20 years. To understand the rampant growth of the drug trade—particularly between Mexico and the United States—and its links to organized crime and white-collar crime, Breaking Bad serves as a vehicle by which to demonstrate key concepts of the economics, psychology, victimology, family dynamics, and social realities of crime. Emphasis on the current state of methamphetamine production and addiction in the United States will be the foundation for analysis.