If you don’t watch Breaking Bad and Girls, this post will probably be a little too inside baseball for you, but I can’t help but respond to a tweet I saw earlier this week (when I blog was down) by writer Jessica Grose.
Thinking about how way more people talk about how "awful" Hannah Horvath is than how awful Walter White is, despite his body count and meth
I can’t get over how short sighted this sentiment is.
The difference between Walter White and Hannah Horvath could not be more stark.
Walter White is a meth cook and a murderer, but when we meet Walter White, he is a chemistry teacher dying of cancer who engages in his illegal trade in order to keep his family solvent upon his death. Throughout the series, he proves himself to be a loyal friend, a trustworthy business partner, a dedicated husband, a loving father, a hard worker and an incredibly brave man.
Yes, he is producing a substance that ruins people’s lives, and yes, he is responsible for the deaths of a handful of people (all bad guys), but his motivations are as pure as the drug that he sells.
We are supposed to like Walter White. The viewer can’t help but root for him. He is unselfish, courageous, resourceful and honorable. We like Walter White because he is a good bad guy. He is an anti-superhero. He is a man who has not allowed his circumstances to dictate his fate.
When we meet Hannah Horvath, we learn that she has been living off her parents’ credit card for her entire life and has made no honest attempt to earn a living on her own. She claims to be pursuing a writing career, but the viewer quickly learns that she had made no serious effort in this regard. She is the classic example of someone who does not like writing but likes the idea of “having written.” She is self-centered, narcissistic, attention seeking and directionless. She ends friendships over trivial matters and requires (and often begs) for frequent rescue. She tends to ignore or discount her friends’ problems while acting overly dramatic about her own.
Hannah Horvath is “awful” because she demonstrates almost no concern for anyone save herself.
Don’t get me wrong: I like Hannah Horvath. She is flawed, as is Walter White, as are all of us. She is struggling to find her path at a time when many of us also felt aimless and uncertain. She is often awful, but so are the rest of us. I like Hannah Horvath, but I would not want to be her friend. At this point in her life, she is focused primarily on herself.
Walter White, for all his criminal activity, repeatedly risks his life on behalf of his family and business partner. He’s a bad guy, but he’s not “awful.”
The reaction of viewers in regards to these to characters is not an issue of gender or sex or age. It’s simply a difference of motivation.
Hannah is most often motivated by her own self interest.
Walter White is most often motivated by his concern for others.
As a result, the viewer finds him less awful.
I suspect both Vince Gilligan (the creator of Breaking Bad) and Lena Dunham (the creator of Girls) would agree.