More Subtle Racism: AMC’s “Breaking Bad”

In the last post I wrote showing the colorful photographs of insects by Catherine Chalmers which you can access here, I demonstrated the beautiful positive pictures I found on the website. However, here is also a photo from the same photographer that I saved, that to me, makes an enormous statement about who society considers pests. I am not talking about real cockroaches, I am talking about the horrible lynchings that have happened in the United States in the recent past due to racism. People of all colors have been victims of these crimes. This is why I want to take the opportunity to show the subtle racism that I noticed in an episode of a very popular show.

In AMC’s hit TV series episode of,  “Breaking Bad,” Walter (the bald man) and his sidekick (the young guy) pretend to be fumigators in order to sneak into people’s empty homes to make their unique blue meth. While watching the show, I noticed that the fumigators had a uniform that read, “Vamonos Pests,” meaning “Lets Go Pests.” I also could not help but notice that instead of choosing English words, they chose a Spanish word, and that the word afterward was ‘pests.’ It was not “go away,” from the perspective of the hunter, but from those being hunted, telling themselves to go away. This is a loaded message in the United States as Mexican people and other Latin American groups are suffering harsher and more stricter policies regarding coming undocumented to the United States. Arizona has started taking their own measures with SB 1070, where racial profiling is the whole point of the law to return undocumented peoples, and other states are following the lead as well.

One must pay close attention when words of another language are used in shows and what those words represent. Usually, Spanish words in movies talk about negative things, like for example, in the “Terminator,” starring Arnold Schwarzenergger, he states “Asta la vista…” before shooting someone. In “Despicable Me,” it is used to tell a lady that she has the face of a donkey.  In this case with “Breaking Bad,” they are stating that these Spanish speaking pest should leave the white person’s house, representing the United States. However, it also has ambiguous meanings as the white house in the nice neighborhood represents safety, but corruption is going on behind those doors as well.

In a lot of shows, I have noticed that Mexican people are often depicted as being roaches. In an episode of “Family Guy,” (which I have posted below) a roach talks with a Mexican American accent. When the dog agrees that those are bad roaches, the tenant states, “I blame the schools.” Who goes to governmental funded schools mostly? Minorities groups. But the accent of those roaches specifically, points at Mexican kids and gangsters. In “American Dad,” there is another episode where the father wants to take his son to Mexico to make him “a man,” meaning to set him up with a prostitute, but instead, are taken to jail, and they make a friend with a Mexican cockroach whom they later throw out the window before making it to the United States. You may think, but “Breaking Bad,” is not “Family Guy,” or any of the similar sort where the purpose of the show is to highlight racism and other sensitive subjects. However, the reason those shows, like “Family Guy,” are successful, is because they resonate with societal vies and flaws that the audience recognize, and thus can find funny. Jokes tend to be funny when one can relate to them, hence racist shows and comedies work the same way. The name, “Vamonos Pest,” fumigating service in “Breaking Bad,” is supposed to be a clever joke by the way the camera focuses on the name and the music playing while it is introduced to the viewer for the first time. I find this to be another example of subtle racism that can be easily overlooked or dismissed. This subtle racism is really shown everywhere, as it is not just about putting down certain people groups, but elevating one group over another as well.

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18 thoughts on “More Subtle Racism: AMC’s “Breaking Bad”

  1. Americans aren’t the only ones to blame here….other countries have thier own ideas and perspectives of other races in similar ways….But I understand you points of view and it’s specific topic of interest. Thank you! :)

    • Oh definitely. Racism is everywhere. I know I talk a lot about the United States racism towards people of color, more specifically Latinos, but Latinos also reinforce the racial hierarchy in their culture as well. Undocumented Mexican people are treated badly in the United States, and non-Mexican undocumented Latino groups are treated badly in Mexico, what is known as the middle passage, as the rest of Latin America has to go through Mexico to get to the United States.

  2. I’ve heard someone mention that Breaking Bad is showing how Terroristic White people are in society. The fact that his name is Mr. White. It’s definitely good to study this show and talk to other people about Racism (White Supremacy) in our media.

    • I had your comment in mind when I was watching another episode, and it is true! “Vamonos Pests” has a Spanish name, but it is made by Walter White and his partners. It made me think of how the minority group that is ostracized by society are then blamed for everything else just to keep the public distracted from the real source of problems.
      I also think it is uncanny that your name is Walter White ^_^ Are you a musician?

  3. The characters in the part of the episode mentioned are disguising themselves as exterminators for a company that already exists (in the fictional world of the show), meaning they didn’t choose the name. They are in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a very high population of Spanish-speakers, and undoubtedly a high number of local businesses with Spanish and Spanglish names. The show also portrays a large fast food chain (owned by the character Gustavo Fring) similar to KFC called “Los Pollos Hermanos.” What subliminal message have you found in this name? You can make yourself see whatever you want to see when you want to badly enough.

  4. I have to agree with you about this show’s prejudice…. other than the other fellow DEA agents (which you figure would have to be a mix of the races), there really isn’t ONE Mexican person who is not associated with crime in the show. Every single “legitimate citizen” ever shown in the show is lilly white. Look at the professional dinner parties, the kids in the high-end school, etc….. all white 9with maybe a few token Asians mixed in). Having lived in ABQ for about a year, that is TOTALLY unrealistic.. with a 350 year history in that town, Mexicans are incorportyaed into EVERY aspect of the culture, high to low, legal to criminal. Why, for example, couldn’t Walt’s ex-business partner have been Mexican? I think this show is a classic way in which the lilly-white Hollywood liberals of the West L.A. / Manhattan “bubble” view Mexicans, and is the extent of their interaction of them. How much do these people deal with Mexicans in real life, other than as gardeners, cooks, etc. Very one-sided and unrealistic of life in Albuquerque.. or in Southern California, for that matter!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your insight! And the last part that you wrote is very true… because of their own personal experience with Mexican people in the West LA/Manhattan bubble, that is how they based Mexicans in their movies as well, even though they are different locations. I like how you describe them as “lilly white.”

  5. So I agree that my beef is with the UNrepresntative representations of Mexicans in the show…..again, working in ABQ, when you encounter a millionaire CEO of company, a successful inventor/scientists, entreeprenuer, people living in “high-class” neighborhoods, etc., they are just as likely to be Hispanic as non-hispanic, yet watching this show, you would think that only white people are ever in these positions and…. although I do give them props for including more Mexicano’s (as a higher percentage of total characters) than just about any other American show, I still find it disappointing that, other than law enforcement agencies (which everyone knows are racially mixed), every Mexican in the show is a criminal!
    Conversely, though, I don’t share your opinion on the “Vamanos Pests” company name… I think that is a representative sample name that you would find for a local pest company. I suspect they originally wanted to just use a name like “Lopez Prest Control,” but decided to get cute with the name. But so could anybody else have come up with that, whether white, Mexican, or whatever.

    • Yeah, Latinos are very under represented in the media when it comes to portraying them in other positions aside from low paid jobs, unless it is drug trafficking or things of that sort. I agree with you, it is very disappointing. I used to read screenplays for one of my internships, and the same thing… Latinos as undocumented low wage workers. Yes, that is a situation that is very prevalent, but that is not the only thing that Latinos are a part of.

      • And, most importantly, is that this portrayal is just so damn INNACURATE… it’s a fantasy world. Having been born and raised in California (as well as my brief stint living/working in Albuquerque), “Breaking Bad” almost seems as if they made a conscious effort to NOT show it how it really is. Almost every situation in which “normal/legitimate/non-criminal” type citizens are shown (whether the environment is business, school, high-class social, etc.), they are almost all white. But that’s not how Albuquerque (or California) is at all! It’s as if they intentionally excluded Latino’s from these scenes… what a sheltered world they must live in.

        Good Luck with your paper. I think you should also try to contact the creator of the show with my complaint about how Latinos are portrayed. I suspect he is NOT from California or New Mexico… or anywhere along the border region!

  6. Talk about grasping for straws.
    You literally took one phrase…one that I guarantee you sat for hours trying to figure out how to twist it into something ‘racist’, and then rambled on and on about how it’s supposedly offensive (I’ve never heard anything except this blog post claiming racism in Breaking Bad btw). Your claim that Breaking Bad is racist is so incredibly ignorant and absurd that you have to resort to nitpicking the name of a company in the show…one that’s not even a focal point of the plot.

    Vamonos Pest is a business in the show. According to you, it’s racist because:
    -It uses the Spanish language and this relates to the Mexican culture
    -The Mexican people were oppressed in the past
    -Therefore, it’s racist because it refers to the oppression

    Fortunately, your opinion is (Rightfully) in the extreme minority, otherwise, I couldn’t live in a world where anybody that mentions the word Black or God forbid white people name their business in Spanish is labeled racist. I’m sure if you had your way, the world would be a much better place [sarcasm]

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