On July 29, it was reported that the City of Albuquerque and Mayor Tim Keller teamed up with Sony Pictures Television and the cast and crew of “Breaking Bad,” including lead actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, to unveil two larger-than-life bronze statues of the fictional characters Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. These two characters are now ingrained in international “pop culture” since the show began airing in January 2008. The series was filmed and based in Albuquerque during its entire run, eventually becoming an international cultural juggernaut. The statues were designed by Trevor Grove and were donated by Sony Pictures Television and series creator Vince Gilligan to celebrate its impact on Albuquerque. The cost of the bronze statue was not disclosed.
Links to related news coverage:
Writer and commentator Rudolfo Carrillo, who was news editor at the Weekly Alibi where he used the pen name “August March” to write about Albuquerque culture, history and politics, submitted the following guest column on the dedication of the two bronze statues for publication in www.PeteDinelli.com:
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this guest column written by Rudolfo Carrillo are those of Mr. Carrillo and do not necessarily reflect those of the www.petedinelli.com blog. Mr. Carillo has not been paid any compensation to publish the guest column and has given his consent to publish on www.PeteDinelli.com. The postscript to this blog article contains more on Mr. Carrillo.
THE PODIUM MAYOR STANDING BETWEEN BABYLON AND BURQUE
“I guarantee that somewhere west of the Inland Empire, in the toney, Pacific Ocean-facing backyard of some television executive, people are gathered for a party and laughing great guffaws as they choke down a selection of very expensive cheeses and meats. They are laughing about how one of their colleagues sent the city of Albuquerque a statue of two fictional meth dealers as a symbol of their appreciation for allowing the city to be colonized and then reimagined as a dirty, dangerous and utterly ridiculous place where science teachers deal drugs and air traffic controllers kill scores. A city where the only brown people in the picture are either service workers, scheming cops or even-filthier-than-otherwise-depicted criminals.
Despite all this, there was hizzoner himself, Timothy Keller, getting with the good vibes when the city and Sony Pictures Television unveiled two larger-than-life bronze statues of actors who were featured in a television show about drug dealing in the Duke City. Keller told gathered citizens and Hollywood colonizers/leeches alike that watching said television show was “like watching ourselves on the screen.”
Link to “’Breaking’ the mold”, City unveils Walter White, Jesse Pinkman statues” by Ivan Leonard, in The Albuquerque Journal, Friday, July 29, 2022:
Really, Mayor Tim? Really?
Let’s take a closer look at what those words mean, what this awful and utterly untrue depiction of Albuquerque has really done to the culture of this nuclear outpost on the northern tip of the Great Chihuahuan Desert.
To begin with, let’s take another look at Keller’s propensity for being purely performative in the face of critically out of control civil issues.
Keller told participants in this latest iteration of the spectacle that:
“We also want to remind folks that the film industry is huge here in New Mexico as “Breaking Bad’ by itself did $200 million in revenue and that does not even include “Better Call Saul.” Every shoot, every day, 200 jobs, that’s over 15 years, someone else can do the math on that and, so look, we remind people that while the stories might be fictional and still powerful, the jobs are very real, every single day.”
So the television show in question “did $200 million in revenue,” Tim? Let’s take into account that a hearty chunk of that money went to pay the salaries of those two bronzed actors. Bryan Cranston made $225,000 per episode. Cranston’s noble assistant, portrayed by Aaron Paul, made at least $155,000 per episode. Mr. Paul is worth a cool $35 million as you read this. And these two are outsiders with no real connection to Albuquerque. Sure, they’ve thrown the town a few peanuts over the years, but their giving equals nothing when compared to their earning power, salaries and accumulated wealth.
Link to “Here’s How Much Aaron Paul And Bryan Cranston Earn For ‘Breaking Bad’”, by Kirsten Acuna in The State Journal-Register, August 30, 2013:
Besides the television personalities involved, the corporation and board of directors behind the show were making about $1.5 billion per year at the height of the show’s production. That huge heap of dollar bills was certainly able to help sustain the luxurious lifestyles of at least a couple dozen Sony executives, producers and hangers-on, one assumes (see introduction).
Link to “Sony Pictures talks TV successes ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘Better Call Saul’”, by Daniel Miller in The Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2013:
As far as the 200 jobs hizzoner went on about, look at it this way: most of those jobs were low-level production jobs that did not pay a living wage. According to comparably.com, the following is true: “The salaries of Film and Television Crews in the US range from $17,360 to $35,780, with a median salary of $21,490. The middle 60% of Film Crews makes $21,490, with the top 80% making $35,780.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it damn hard to live on that kinda money.
Link to related article:
Here’s another way to view the significance of those 200 jobs: City of Albuquerque Family and Community Services Director Carol Pierce estimates that there are currently about 120 people residing in Coronado Park. So, that’s a net gain of 80 jobs. What a great reason to raise statues to the imaginary criminal element of this town!
Link to “Keller announces the closure of Coronado Park”, by Gino Gutierrez at ksfr.org on July 26. 2022:
That’s right. While the citizens of this town continue to wrangle with an intractable, utterly huge homelessness crisis, that the mayor has no real plans to solve other than disbanding the only safe place where these 120 already displaced reside, where damaged people have been able to find shelter and community, he’ll jump at practically any opportunity to try to sell the illusions he has about Albuquerque to the rest of its unwitting citizens. It’s called being a podium Mayor.
The fact that many in this town choose to play along with Keller’s oblivious, privileged position on such events also has to do with the fact that many of us have given our lives over to television land. The world depicted on “Breaking Bad” is not the real world. It not the real Albuquerque. But, to those who have surrendered to the spectacle, it will suffice, and they will believe it to be true enough.
Our citizenry should be ashamed at this flagrant display of subservience to television land, white privilege and the turning of our collective backs on the poor and homeless while accepting bronze idols from those who made their millions on the backs of our inadequately paid workers. They’re not from here, those haughty Hollywood types, but they’ll take whatever we give them while returning to us a few ugly yet fascinating illusions at the rate of a few pennies on the dollar.
In that last sentence resides the difference between Babylon and Burque, both places at the end of the civilized world where somewhere in between stands Burque Podium Mayor Tim Keller.
Rudolfo Carrillo is a native New Mexican and was the news and music editor at Weekly Alibi from August 2015 until March 2020, where he used the pen name “August March” to write about Albuquerque culture, history and politics. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico’s Fine Arts program. As well as being an award-winning writer, Carrillo is a painter and sculptor. His recent work was recently on exhibit at Six O Six Gallery at 606 Broadway Blvd. SW. Carrillo’s award-winning writing and analysis have been featured at international academic conferences and in notable literary journals as well as local media outlets like the Albuquerque Journal. In late-February he presented work written for this site at the 43rd convocation of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association.