Professionalizing Academia and Breaking Bad

Back in the 1990s I was an avid reader of The Baffler, which appears to be defunct now that Thomas Frank has moved onto bigger and better things.  What made The Baffler so much fun was their continuous assault upon the ridiculous management guru stylings of people like Tom Peters and the re-engineering the corporation guys from the early 1990s.

On the other hand, management is increasingly professionalized, via the worldwide triumph of the business curriculum-the first true global monoculture, with the keywords and master concepts (excellence, quality, change, accountability, learning organization, eg.) framed by the “great authors” of our time: W. Edwards Deming, Peter Senge, etc.

Over the weekend I watched the first few episodes of Breaking Bad.  I haven’t decided what I think of the show yet, but the description below is pretty accurate.

The premise of BB is the murderous logic of putting profit-seeking dolts in charge of social goods, like health care and education (or fighting wars, or food security, for that matter).  When diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, the scales fall from the eyes of high-school chemistry teacher Walter White, a role for which Bryan Cranston deservedly won an Emmy. 

White’s turn into ruthlessness-he abruptly “breaks bad”-resolving overnight to become the exploiter rather than the exploited, is what separates the show from Showtime’s Weeds, which features a soccer mom dealing pot to keep up her sense of entitlement.

BB is more like the Sopranos, where half-smart gangsters in McMansions allegorize the organized criminals actually running the country, or The Wire, where the actually-existing thuggery of management theory in public service is continuously thematized. 

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Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.