Breaking Lehman


“I’m not in the meth business. I’m in the empire business.” Those are the words of a former high school chemistry teacher pushed towards the brink of insanity by his reckless, competitive nature. Walter White, star of AMC’s “Breaking Bad”, transformed from a mild-mannered family man to a ruthless killer in front of the nation’s eyes from 2008-2013. I was late in adopting the Breaking Bad craze that affected so many, but realized my error after watching just one episode and promptly binge-watched the rest.

While a meth cook and incredibly powerful CEO may not appear to have much in common, I could not help but compare Walt to former Lehman Brothers CEO, Dick Fuld. In 2006, Fuld was named America’s top chief executive officer of the private sector. Just three years later CNBC named him the worst American CEO of all time. Curiously enough, that is very similar to the amount of time it took Walt to become public enemy number one. On the surface, both men justified their work by saying they were acting in the best interest of someone else- Walt for his family, Fuld for his shareholders. But in retrospect, it is easy to see that was not the case. Instead, they were motivated by greed and power. A mere business was not enough; they needed an empire.

As I began drawing connections between two men, I noticed the situations shared more than just their protagonists-turned-antagonists in common. In addition to the family/shareholder justification, almost all the major characters come into play. Hank and the entire DEA mirror the persistent yet ineffective legal system that failed to prevent crime. Walter Jr. represents younger generations that blindly trusted the people in power that eventually hurt them. Gus Fring symbolizes a heartless corporation looking to maximize returns while disregarding morality. While I have no reason to believe creator Vince Gilligan was trying to comment on the financial collapse with his hit television show, the similarities are undeniable. Here are a few clips from YouTube that help illustrate my point and showcase two men, Walter White and Dick Fuld, and their corruption by money and power:

Featured image from Huffington Post and American Thinker

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4 thoughts on “Breaking Lehman”

  1. Watching the “rip out your heart clip” again, I think that Dick Fuld may have a personality disorder. The lack of remorse and sensitivity in that video is startling. There has been talk in the news recently about Vladimir Putin having a mild form of Asberger’s syndrome. So what are we to make of these social disorders among people of power? Maybe there is a sweet spot somewhere on the spectrum right before “full-blown psychopath” that can make for a great leader. Take a look at this interesting article from Forbes on the subject:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffbercovici/2011/06/14/why-some-psychopaths-make-great-ceos/

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    1. Stout pointed out that the ideal kind of investor and a manger in the full blown shareholder view of the world, one who puts self-interest ahead of all other concerns, what she calls, as economists do, “homo economicus,” is a psychopathic person.

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  2. I loved Breaking Bad as drama. But White is insane?

    I don’t think so. Proud, cruel, blinded by hubris, sure. But he knows what is real and what isn’t.

    As warped as his reasoning becomes, is it sociopathic? Maybe. But he is like a classic Greek character- he is tragic due to his own flaws- his brilliance and pride.

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  3. I am not sure about Gilligan’s inspirations, but it is no accident the show is premised on the impact of keeping his home in the midst of financial problems, of its setting in Arizona, one of the epicenters of the subprime bubble, and its portrayal of a cut-throat business world.

    This scholar discuses how the show relies on the Western genre, which, when you think about it, makes sense. Like the homesteaders who went west, White will do anything to protect his corner of the world justifying his actions in the name of family.

    “Breaking Bad: At home with Recessioanry Masculinity” by Julia Leyda.

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