The city of Albuquerque unveiled bronze statues of the main characters on the hit TV series “Breaking Bad,” Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, at the convention center last Friday.

For those unfamiliar with the series that spawned the popular prequel “Better Call Saul,” the original series followed a high school chemistry teacher and student’s adventures as meth cooks and dealers. (Oh, and multiple-murderers.)

I’m not going to lie; I was a fan of the series and would recommend it to friends and families. However, I’m unsure about the messaging regarding bronzing the two characters and celebrating the series so openly.

Not only is it odd in general, but in a state that has historically and continues to struggle with drug overdoses and the crime surrounding the drug use epidemic, it seems a bit tone-deaf.

So let’s take a closer look at the state known as the Land of Enchantment and its sordid history with drugs and statues.

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Not So Much Enchanting As Deadly

New Mexico was its own character in the hit show “Breaking Bad.” And while I’ve been to the state numerous times and enjoyed Albuquerque and other cities when I would visit, the show highlighted perhaps the most unsavory aspect of this southwest beauty.

Over the last three decades, roughly 43,000 deaths in the state have been attributed to alcohol and drug overdoses. However, the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in 2020 was attributed to meth, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. 

A border state, New Mexico, saw an increase in fentanyl-related deaths between 2019 and 2020 that hit 129%. Last year fentanyl and meth surpassed heroin and prescription opioids as the state’s leading cause of overdose deaths. 

The director of “Breaking Bad”, Vince Gilligan, admitted given this background that “two fictional, infamous meth dealers” won’t be “universally cherished in New Mexico.” Specifically, he said:

“In all seriousness, no doubt some folks are going to say, ‘Wow, just what our city needed.’ And I get that.”

However, he goes on to state:

“I see two of the finest actors America has ever produced. I see them, in character, as two larger than life tragic figures, cautionary tales.”

Hollywood Influence, Good and Bad

I did enjoy the show, but to say Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are two of the finest actors we’ve ever produced is probably a stretch. I could write a whole separate article just on that statement. However, it’s fair to take some time to look at how this show and this statue might help the state’s economy.

New Mexico estimates that the “Breaking Bad” franchise has made a $385 million economic impact. An apparent influence when it comes to the unveiling of the statues given that New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

It’s also important to note that taxpayer dollars didn’t go into making the statutes. Instead, Sony Picture Television commissioned the bronze ‘artwork.’

New Mexico Republican state representative Rod Montoya said of the show’s influence and the statues:

“I’m glad New Mexico got the business, but really? We’re going down the road of literally glorifying meth makers?”

This comment is of particular significance for New Mexico, given its recent controversy and removal of a bronze statue that was a nod to the state’s history. A statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate.

Glorifying What Now?

Juan de Onate is known for the Spanish colonization of New Mexico and was its first colonial Governor. History tells us that de Onate was a cruel man known for massacring large swathes of Native Americans. However, there are similar arguments that he played a vital role in shaping the state.

To Native Americans from the state, he is viewed as a tyrant. However, for many New Mexico Hispanics, the belief is the state wouldn’t have the unique hybrid of cultures if it weren’t for Spaniards like de Onate.

State Historian Rob Martinez explains:

“Someone might look at the statue and say, ‘I see the beginning of Hispanic culture. I see the Spanish language being brought. I see Catholicism starting here.’ But someone else will look at it and say, ‘I see my religion being suppressed. I see my culture being eliminated. I see my ancestors being forced to work and pay tribute.'”

The sculptor of the de Onate piece, Reynaldo Rivera, voiced what is often viewed as controversial language touching on the idea that all lives matter, stating after his work’s removal:

“Indian lives matter. But also my people, Hispanic lives, matter. I matter. My art matters. And I’m pissed.”

I don’t blame you, Mr. Rivera. I’d be pissed too.

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Erasing History, Elevating Fantasy

It’s become very trendy to remove statues and demonize historical figures in an attempt to reshape or even erase, in some cases, our history. There have also been calls to take such action as renaming George Washington University since our first President was an “enslaver of men.”

While my old alma mater is keeping its name, they did announce earlier this year that they will be getting rid of the “Colonials” moniker since it “glorifies” colonialism. 

A report on the change notes a similar trend to what the New Mexico historian touches on, the duality of issues:

“For supporters, the term refers to those who lived in the colonies, especially those who fought for independence against England and, with bravery, courage, and against all odds, secured democracy for the United States. For opponents, ‘Colonials’ mean colonizers (both here and abroad) and refers to those who stole land from indigenous groups, plundered their resources, murdered and exiled Native peoples, and introduced slavery into the colonies.”

Weird how in a free country, some people disagree with each other on issues and symbols. Wonder what the appropriate reaction should be to such a clash of ideas? 

There have been too many examples of statues of the Founding Fathers and other historical figures being torn down to list them all here, but just a sampling: 

Is the correct answer to remove whatever happens to offend a particular side to soothe their feelings? Or is the correct answer to engage in civic debate and discourse touching on historical context and impact?

Will anyone demand the removal of these statues of fictional drug dealers? 

I Sleep Just Fine

All in all, I don’t care about this “Breaking Bad” statue in Albuquerque. In the words of the main character from the show, Walter White, I sleep just fine despite the silly statue erected in a city plagued with drug use.

However, I think this is an interesting example of what we value and what offends our sensitive natures in this country. When debate kicked off about the de Onate statue, professor of Native American and American Studies and the University of New Mexico Melanie Yazzie said:

“These monuments glorify colonialism, and they have really erased the history of native resistance.”

I would argue that the “Breaking Bad” statues glorify drug use and erase the trauma felt by families plagued by overdose deaths. But, you do what you want, New Mexico. Last I checked, this is still a free country.

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