Monday, September 19, 2011

Breaking Bad is a period piece about an ancient time we have not forgotten, because somehow it lives on in our stupid hearts

Last week I watched all of Breaking Bad's first 3 seasons on Netflix streaming. After watching so many episodes in a row, I couldn't help but notice that no one uses smartphones on the show. All the characters use flip phones.

I tried to figure out why this was the case. I supposed since most of Breaking Bad's characters are involved in the drug trade that they prefer disposable, untraceable prepaid phones (at least that's how they always explain the bad guys getting away on Law & Order). I also thought the directors might like flip phones better because they're more dramatic. You have to open and close them. In a few different spots in the series, characters end phone calls by snapping their phones in half and throwing them to the ground. It would seem difficult to achieve the same thing with an iphone. Not to mention that using flip phones instead of smartphones probably saves a little money. I remember noticing the first time I watched the show that Skyler was using the same phone I owned; a model I bought from Tracfone for $14.

Then I realized what I'm pretty sure is the reason.

Breaking Bad's first episode aired in January 2008. We are regularly reminded - including Sunday night's episode "Salud," via Walt Jr. - that only about a year has passed in the show. Right now, in the world of Walter White and his evil head, it's only 2009. Meanwhile, in the real world, 2011 is growing dark and almost 4 years have passed.

Breaking Bad doesn't have smartphones because it's a period piece.

The makers of Breaking Bad shooed all iphones, Droids, and Blackberrys from their edgy, groundbreaking series in order preserve the illusion they created. Sure, those phones were around in 2008, but they hadn't been absorbed yet so fully (somehow by an American populace that just kept getting less able to afford them). When we watch, they want us to really believe we're right there in that distant, memorialized time. They want us to forget our worries here in 2011 and let their tireless recreation of the ancient 2009 provide us with temporary escape.

They don't shove it in our faces. They're not constantly jumping up and down, yelling "Look! It's 2009! Really! People still like the president! Charlie Sheen still has a job! Michael Jackson and David Carradine are still alive! Possibly! Depending on the month!" The Breaking Bad creative team works tirelessly simply to create an historically accurate background we don't even notice, but that would jar us from our illusions if it weren't there.

Bravo, Breaking Bad. Bravo.


blue136 said...

I respectfully disagree, the "period piece" interpretation doesn't stand because the phones they use aren't FROM that period. The richer people ,like Hank, would at least have upper end phones like a Razr. Furthermore smart phones were in the mainstream by 2009. Maybe if it were taking place in 2006 that would be the case but the 3rd generation iphone had already come out and people were well aware and using the technology.

Anonymous said...

An interesting thing I caught in the show, check out the episode where Walter talks to Jane's dad in the bar. Her dad says that she is 27 and was born in 1992. This places Breaking Bad in the year 2019. I know this post of yours is pretty old, but I was doing a search about the timeline, and was wondering if anyone else caught it.

Anonymous said...

It was 1982 not 1992. The thing that strikes me as the most period is the street vernacular used. Seems very 1990s. Its glaringly apparent. This may be a reflection of having old white guy writers though. However, there has to be someone on staff that is in their 20s that shouldnt be able to resist the urge to scream "nobody talks like that anymore!"

Ben Singer said...

I don't know. WAY more people had smart phones in 2008-2009 than are portrayed in the show. Even if a few characters were flip-phone holdouts, we would see SOMEONE with a smartphone. I don't think we ever do. I have often thought maybe the show was set in the late 90s/early 2000s -- but there is no real indication of that. And some clues (an age and d.o.b. of Jesse's girlfriend for example) pinpoint the date at 2009.

I think the explanations I've read about flip phones being more useful in terms of acting - more expressive in answering them, slamming them shut, breaking them in half etc. are more convincing. Either that or Vince & co. just have an irrational love for the things, or like playing with our minds.

Anonymous said...

I think its great that one of the best shows in HISTORY is significant and important, and almost laughs in the face of how ridiculous and unimportantly asinine smartphones are. In other words WHO CARES the world was here LONG before your stupid smartphone, and it will be here LONG AFTER your stupid smartphones are GONE GONE GONE.

You are not your fucking khakis or your fucking smartphone - throw it away!!!

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Anonymous said...

I agree, while in 2009 not everyone was on the smartphone wagon, as impulsive as Jesse and his friends seemed at least one of them would have bought one, they may have had a burner flip, but for a main phone I don't think they could have resisted .I am also sure that Walter jr would have at least been asking for one and Marie would probably have shoplifted one (lol, sorry couldn't resist) There are so many reasons why there would have been smart phones. However in the grand scheme of things, it was an amazing, well written show that kept us all glued to our recliners and tvs, every week, week after week, season after season, we couldn't wait til the next episode , or the next season , and I'm sure every fan was sad to see it go.