Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

Angry White Men: How Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead Predicted the Trumpian Zeitgeist

Graeme John Wilson, Bowling Green State University


The archetypal protagonist of the modern “Golden Age of Television” is a maladjusted, White male struggling with feelings of marginalization. While this description applies to characters such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, it is also used by political commentators to characterize what is popularly perceived to be the prototypical male supporter of President Donald Trump. When considering the cultural zeitgeist of the angry White man, are there any cultural and rhetorical connections between White, male Trump supporters who exhibit irrational feelings of marginalization and dramas such as Breaking Bad whose protagonists similarly exhibit and are motivated by such feelings? As a theorist and critical scholar of televised rhetoric and discourses, I am interested in analyzing such programming to determine whether these prestige antihero series invited viewers to contribute to the current masculinist movement under Trump and reassert dominance in response to perceived losses to women and minority groups. The specific episodes that will serve as case studies for this research into the relationship between modern prestige television and the cultural zeitgeist of Trump’s America will be drawn from Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, due to their cultural influence and visibility. My research will demonstrate that these series have operated as textual artifacts that contributed to forming the zeitgeist of the masculinized cultural moment which Trump serves as a figurehead of. Such research is relevant to modern American political and social discourse, thus providing a rich opportunity to expand on preexisting research into televisual influence on masculinity within a fresh context.