Tuesday, September 3, 2013

An Open Letter to Breaking Bad and Flannery O'Connor



It's not you, it's me. I get that. I totally get that you guys are brilliant and challenging and that people love you. But I don't. I just can't. You guys are huge bummers and you make me want to drown myself in the bathtub to escape the futility and pointlessness of this existence and that is NOT how I see the world. Therefore, I just don't think we should hang out anymore.




Oh come on guys, don't look at me like that. Plenty of people love you. But they'll have to explain to me why, because I DO NOT GET IT. And I feel like I should. Miss O'Connor, I'm a Catholic and an English major. Mr. Bad, I have a generally geeky sensibility. I am supposed to love you guys.

And I've tried, heaven knows I have. I watched three whole episodes of you on Netflix, Breaking Bad, on the recommendation of all the people but specifically this person. And while I absolutely agree that you show realistic consequences for evil choices, I cannot fathom how anyone could watch your credits rolling and think, "Wow, I'm glad I spent my time watching those meth guys learn important life lessons about never dissolving human bodies in hydrochloric acid in a second story bathtub. Whew, what a mess. Now, off to bake some cookies for the kids." 



Maybe you don't glorify the life of a drug dealer, but you show it in all its horrifying detail, and those three episodes will be quite enough for me, thanks.

Miss O'Connor, I tried even harder with you. I have read your complete stories, and each one plunged me deeper and deeper into a funk that I recovered from only by reading the entire collected works of Jane Austen. (Oh, the happily ever afters . . . so nice.)

I even took a whole seminar on one of your stories. I left that class convinced of the depth and brilliance of your symbolism. But also feeling very embarrassed that apparently I am the only person in the world who doesn't feel like her Catholic faith is enhanced by reading stories about how if you murder a guy who is wearing a gorilla suit and steal the suit for yourself it will not necessarily make you more popular. Or how it's hard to get along with your family on a long car trip, but you should try, because maybe your car will break down and you'll all totally get murdered. Or how you can chase a turkey dead, but probably someone will just steal it from you.



I get this feeling that you're trying to teach me that we're not meant for this world, that we're not supposed to quite fit here, that everything should feel a bit off, a bit raw, a bit unfinished, because our true home is in the next world. But while I believe utterly that heaven is where my soul will finally find fulfillment, I cannot help but love this world too. And you do not reflect my experience of it.

It's the same issue, I guess, that I have with the Catholic mom bloggers who seem to suffer their lives so much. I have my good days and my bad days, but I live with an overarching experience of the goodness of my silly little life. It doesn't seem hopeless and meaningless and bleak to me. It seems filled with love and the consolations of my faith and my family.


And, as I've written about before, when I read those doomsday blog moms, I want to help them. I want to fix them. I want to help them to change how they look at the world and their vocations. I want to help them to make their kids mind. And I feel helpless and uncomfortable when I can't. It's even worse when I have to feel that way about characters who are fictional (and, mostly, murdered) and who are therefore beyond the reach of my helpful blog posts about parenting techniques.


Both of you, Breaking Bad and Flannery O'Connor, give us truth and gritty realism and consequences. Apparently, people can read you or watch you and escape from the laundry piles and dirty diapers of their own lives and into your worlds of corruption and betrayal and death, so much death.

But for me, you don't make me feel edified and empowered, you just make me feel confused and icky and bummed out. I don't like it. As Catholics, we believe in happy endings. We believe in the happiest ending of all. So stories that end with their characters still stuck in the miry clay feel hollow and unfulfilling and only partially true to me. 

I've stood there nodding in agreement with everyone else for too long. It's high time somebody stood up and said, "Hey, that guy's just naked." It might as well be me. 

Sincerely,
Kendra

p.s. If you get a chance, please forward this to Tolstoy and Lana DelRey. Thanks. 




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38 comments:

  1. I only watched one episode of BB, but have read a LOT of F O'C and did get something out of it. I have to say, though, that I understood her and her pov so much better after reading The Habit of Being, which is a collection of her letters. she covered issues of faith and reason, family and redemption in letters, and explained a bit what she was trying to do in her stories on those topics so that I could go back to the stories and see it. OTOH, there's no 'one size fits all' for anything (except, perhaps, grace) so it's OK if neither resonate with you.

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  2. I LOVE this! That's all.
    I also totally agree...although I've never seen Breaking Bad. But really have no desire to. It's refreshing to read your opinions, Kendra :)

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  3. I agree with Breaking Bad. I just do not get the appeal. I just want to cry for these characters. In recent years, I have really slimmed down what I watch and read. I think I grew up enough to realize that I was not doing my soul any favors. I was beginning to devalue the good that God had placed in my life, and I was beginning to become overly attached to my earthy life forgetting that everything I am, everything I have is God's.

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    1. "I just want to cry for these characters." Exactly what happened to me 30 minutes into the first episode. Not to mention the pregnancy dreams of what i did watch....which means depressing nights of tossing and turning, just not really bringing me anywhere near the Lord, for sure.

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  4. *chuckles* I think the first time I read Flannery O'Connor's short stories, I felt much the same way. But if you've never laughed out loud reading O'Connor ... then I think you'll find it hard to appreciate her. She has a wicked sense of humor but I've noticed that often people miss it beside the grittiness of her plots. Every time I read her stories (three or four times through by now) I appreciate her wit more. I know she's not for everyone, but gosh I love her, and I owe her quite a bit as a writer and a reader.

    If you ever feel up to attempting her again, I would recommend her letters as collected in The Habit of Being.

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  5. Oh my goodness, YES. Thank you for breaking the silence. This melancholic brain doesn't need more reminders of how the world is not our home and that life is real and gritty and messy. I got that covered.

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    1. I hear you! I was so disturbed when I read some quote in a catholic article raving about breaking bad that said something like you are a prideful person if you cant look the gore of sin in the face. But i just cant even agree with that. I get it, i just dont want to spend any more time (than i already do) being sad about this state of the world.

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  6. Thank you! A friend gave me a copy of Flannery O'Conner's collected works because he just KNEW I would love it and I felt like I should--after all I'm Catholic, I'm smart, I love to read. I flipped through the table of contents one night while sitting in bed and thought something along the lines of, "A Good Man is Hard to Find, that sounds nice, probably something to do with getting married...." Umm....no. I needed my husband to read me his boring book for a half an hour as a palate cleanser and I still couldn't get to sleep I was so disturbed. In retrospect it was probably the worst possible choice for jumping in to O'Conner but how was I supposed to know?

    I read her short story on raising peacocks and I did enjoy that but I haven't had the gusto to try anything else, or the courage to say I didn't like her work--until now :)

    Thank you for admitting you don't care for it either--now I can rest easy knowing I'm not alone in my completely uncool dislike for the literary genius.

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  7. Thank you for writing this. I totally agree! :)

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  8. Yes, thank you. Everyone and his brother has been trying to convince my husband and me to watch "Breaking Bad," but when I heard the premise of the show I just couldn't imagine why in the world we would enjoy something like that. A trusted family member has just about talked my husband into watching the series from the beginning, but I don't want to start! And we like to watch our shows together...

    Maybe I'll show him this post!

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    1. Good idea! My husband just started too and it just makes me all sad inside. :(

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  9. Well, I've never seen Breaking Bad, but I do love Flannery O'Connor!

    As another poster said, some things resonate for some and not others, but this essay may be a good read (if not all, then just the first few paragraphs provide some insight into what lies behind the apparent bleakness of O'Connor's writing if you read behind the lines and see the symbols.)
    http://www.cyberpat.com/essays/flan.html
    On another note, I really like your blog. Happy to have found it!

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  10. Kendra,
    Girl I have had such issues. I couldn't even make it through the first episode of breaking bad. I cried and cried and hated it all. I just can't even watch shows like that. It's so frustrating, I thought something was wrong with me. I am SO GLAD to have someone else understand me. Thanks.

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  11. I would highly recommend Duck Dynasty in its place-- you can get your share of guns and humor, and it all ends in prayer and family values! Though I thought my husband was crazy for wanting to watch it, it's now our family's favorite show! Bethany (Don't judge me-- I read the classics too!)

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    1. We like Duck Dynasty,too. It's premier this fall had the highest ratings EVER for nonfiction cable show. A show that ends in prayer! I think they are funny and can laugh at themselves. Uncle Si cracks me up, he is smarter than he lets on on the show and seems to have a lot of fun playing it up. I like Jason's deadpan,dry sense of humor, sometimes he cracks and you can see his smile.

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  12. My mother is a very intelligent cradle Catholic who was an English major and is a published poet and she hated Flannery O'Connor's writing with a passion, so you're definitely not alone ;) And I would never in a billion years suggest she watch "Breaking Bad!" I keep meaning to try Flannery, but since I was a biochem major, I don't necessarily trust my own literary judgement :)

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    1. Oh thank God for you! I'm an English teacher and I can't stand Flannery O'Connor. She makes my skin crawl, and as a devoted Catholic it's been hard for me to hear people rave about her as a Catholic writer. Good grief.

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  13. Coming from an English Lit major that took classes on this author--I never liked her works either. they also made me want me puke. But, I guess that's art. Regardless--my husband and I had a dog named "Flannery O'Connor" who happened to be a horrible little nipper that had to find a new family one day--they kept her name though :)

    I never watched breaking bad. never have any desire to. Nothing about it appeals to me.

    I don't know which blogs are the doomsday blogs?

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  14. This post made me laugh :)
    I am totally the same way. I still remember the horror I felt, blundering into "The Violent Bear it Away" which I think is supposed to be a tale of redemption, but the child-murder and homo rape just kinda left me feeling like someone ran over me with a truck, and told me I was supposed to notice that there was a beautiful rainbow in the sky. Or something. I was confused why everyone else seemed to get so much joy out of her works, when all I got was trauma...
    Weirdly enough, Doestevsky is uplifting in the end (just not in The Idiot...worst procrastinating-finals decision ever) even though he's darker than Tolstoy, Tolstoy is underwritten with so much more despair.
    In college, a friend that saw eye to eye with me on a lot of things told me one of his favorite books was "Lord of the Flies" he found in cathartic, in recognizing human evil. I think I am convinced enough of human evil, I need the happy ending. Even if on this earth, sad endings prevail. Because, like you said, the truest ending is the happy ending.

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  15. Ok, I have never read O'Conner or watching Breaking Bad. And I read Haley's counter-argument first before reading your post. She is a dear friend and wonderful Catholic and I was totally convinced that O'Conner must be amazing after reading her post. But......I'm about 99% certain I would agree with you if I were to read her. Sorry Haley :) I love the south. I get the south. But I'm with Kendra, I like happy endings :)

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    1. I just love a good argument. I think you and I would really get along. And argue. :)

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  16. I need comedies and tragedies alike. For me, Breaking Bad is exciting because it affirms (in its admittedly dark way) that right and wrong are real, distinguishable, and important.

    But I see what you're saying. To each his own. :)

    http://bustedhalo.com/features/the-light-and-dark-of-breaking-bad

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  17. I came over from Haley's posts, too, and I have to say, I'm with you on this one. Now, I haven't ever read O'Connor, and I'm not Catholic, so I'm sure my credibility is null, but just reading Haley's posts was enough to know she wasn't for me.

    I just think, in a world where evil is so pervasive and ever-present, it serves me better to keep my eyes trained on God, and not dwell on the wickedness of man. In my church we are counselled that if we can't feel the Spirit while we are watching, reading, listening to, or participating in something, we need to leave it behind.

    Having said this, we all react differently to the same things. For example, my mom gets physically ill when talking about war, but can discuss sexual abuse casually.For me, studying war, including all the precursors and missteps leading up to it, is fascinating, but I cannot stomach violence against women and children. My sister, who has a minor in psychology, loved The Dark Night's portrayal of the Joker, but the sensekess murder and terrorism had me leaving the theatre disgusted and ill.

    Just listening to the news, now, can make me sick, so I don't feel the need to seek further entertainment for the same experience. :)

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  18. Hi Kendra! I have been following the hub-ub via Carrots, and I just wanted to add my thoughts here. I have been a long-time fan of Flannery. A friend of mine wrote her senior thesis in college on the connection between O'Connor and Quentin Tarantino. I saw a couple of his movies and left with a similar response that you describe after watching Breaking Bad. I am sensitive...to the extreme, and usually the horror and the grotesque are just over-the-top too much for my anxiety. However, I have to say that O'Connor's genius and her respect from others, in my opinion, is quite justified. I might just have to revisit her stories in order to put it into words. But, let's just say for now.... oops I think I'll have to agree with Haley on this one!!:)

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  19. Thank you! I just watched the first episode of Breaking Bad, then decided I couldn't handle watching such a bummer show and read the synopsis online. I really just felt bad for all the real-life drug addicts and dealers, and figured I should send up a prayer or two for them instead of watching actors depict these sad scenarios.

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  20. Hi Kendra and all who commented! This post got me so worked up that I wrote a lengthy blog post about it:
    http://through-a-glass-brightly.blogspot.com/2013/10/a-bad-man-is-hard-to-break-revelation.html
    I hope it can persuade some of you, even just a bit! Thanks for all of the stimulating thoughts. :)

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  21. I love Kathryn's post. Our faith is not a story of superficial Disney happy endings. It is one of great suffering pointing to a New Heaven and Earth that are still obscured by the shadows of sin. The Passion of Our Lord is the most horrifying story of all time. O'Connor (and possibly Breaking Bad) remind us of that reality, that God works through misery and suffering to convict our hearts if we open them to Him.

    Kevin

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  22. AMEN to the Flannery O'Connor bits. I've never watched Breaking Bad.

    I just do not like or enjoy her for all the same reasons you listed, and my Catholic friends can. not. understand it! I've sat in a roomful of friends (for a book club meeting) who were all arguing at me for not liking Flannery and trying to convince me to like her. Not gonna happen, friends!

    I agree 100% with your reasons. You said it better than I could!

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  23. Kendra,

    You have a very superficial view of Flannery O'Connor's stories. You've completely missed out on the aspect of grace concluding each one of her stories. Yes, the symbolism is amazing, but what it's pointing towards is the element of the different ways of achieving that "happy ending" that you find in Austen. It can't always be a fairy tale ending. It is hard to achieve grace in the real world, and once you look at her stories with that in mind, it really opens them and makes them truly worthy of our attention. I would love to have more conversations with you on this subject, as I am a literature teacher that loves Flannery.

    -Chris

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    1. Christopher,

      Umm, ouch?

      Not to compare myself to the estimable Miss O'Connor, but I believe YOU may have missed MY point. MY point is that people such as yourself absolutely insist that all people's lives must necessarily be enriched by reading Flannery O'Connor. I think you are wrong to do so.

      I allow that it may change, and I am willing to keep trying every now and again, but right now, reading Flannery O'Connor is NOT edifying . . . FOR ME. It isn't. It doesn't help me. My faith is helped by reading other sorts if things. So that's what *I* should do.

      If reading Flannery O'Conner helps you, then by all means read away. But I just ask if you couldn't consider a world in which YOU are better off with a particular influence and I am better off without it?

      Might I be allowed a greater than "superficial" understanding of a thing, but just not like it, or be benefitted by it?

      Cheers,
      Kendra

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    2. I definitely agree with you that not all people need to read Flannery, and that not everyone can benefit. I never said that everyone should read them. This is the part of your text that really frustrated me:

      "But also feeling very embarrassed that apparently I am the only person in the world who doesn't feel like her Catholic faith is enhanced by reading stories about how if you murder a guy who is wearing a gorilla suit and steal the suit for yourself it will not necessarily make you more popular. Or how it's hard to get along with your family on a long car trip, but you should try, because maybe your car will break down and you'll all totally get murdered. Or how you can chase a turkey dead, but probably someone will just steal it from you."

      That's superficial. You're not looking at the point of literature right there. You're just looking at the literal meaning, and not trying to go deeper.

      My point is that, as a Catholic, you shouldn't shun Flannery or decry her because you don't see the point. Which maybe you were trying to say, but it didn't come across that way, even though you say that it's just not for you. You seem to be implying that other Catholics are just fantasizing about finding meaning. The fact that you never once mentioned grace is troubling, because even if you don't find it helpful to yourself, you NEED to acknowledge that it is an invaluable resource for others.

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    3. This post was never intended as a scholarly critique of Flannery O'Connor's stories. It was intended as a humorous way to give people permission to disagree with you about Flannery O'Connor.

      These are the sentences directly preceding the part of my post that you've quoted above: "I even took a whole seminar on one of your stories. I left that class convinced of the depth and brilliance of your symbolism." I open the post with: "It's not you, it's me. I get that. I totally get that you guys are brilliant and challenging and that people love you."

      Which makes me wonder if you're not willfully misunderstanding me. Please continue to appreciate Flannery O'Connor with my blessing. Did you read Haley's response at Carrots for Michaelmas? Or Kathryn's at Through a Glass Brightly? I think you might like their takes better.

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    4. The distinction I was seeing was that there's a difference between thinking of something as being challenging and recognizing it as being a means for seeing the accomplishment of grace. I'm not trying to willfully misunderstand you.

      As to this part:

      "As Catholics, we believe in happy endings. We believe in the happiest ending of all. So stories that end with their characters still stuck in the miry clay feel hollow and unfulfilling and only partially true to me. "

      Do you agree that the realism of the stories can be helpful to people? Your phrasing seemed to imply that reading the stories and watching the show was not believing in the Catholic message of happy endings. The point is that even though we do look at the happy ending, a good look at the PROCESS can be more helpful than seeing the end result. Does that make sense?

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    5. I am told that people find the realism helpful and I take them at their word.

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    6. So you don't see yourself how realism can be helpful?

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    7. I guess it depends on what you mean by realism. Her stories do not reflect my experience of reality. I've just never had experiences like those of her characters. Kristin Lavransdatter feels real to me. It inspires me. I read Chesterton and I think, "Yes. There's a guy who gets it." I read Introduction to the Devout Life or Story of a Soul, and I think, "I can do this. I can live this life God wants from me." I read Lives of the Saints and I think, "If God asks me to I will totally lead France into battle. I will do that." I read Flannery O'Connor and I just think, "Ugh, really?"

      I'm sorry, I'm clearly disappointing you. But that's just my personal take.

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    8. So basically what you want is to be inspired and that's it?

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  24. Poking around and just found this post!

    Late to the party, but for real, preach it girl. There are some things that are just not helpful to me and both of these mediums are those things. I read or watch, and neither of them really makes me want to be a better person - or to contemplate truth - or anything else good. They just make me sad.

    And I feel like I HAVE to like Flannery. She's Catholic! And a woman! And Southern! All the things I am! I should name my dog after her and talk about her while I drink whiskey...but I can't. I'll stick with loving Florence King - she's Episcopal, but I used to be anyway, and at least she was funny as hell.

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