Apr 29, 2023·edited Apr 29, 2023Liked by Misha Saul

Hi Misha,

it seems to me one of the questions you explore in your writing is how to be a man in the world of today. Like me, you seem to have a longing for a simpler past. Your writing about the Green Book, the Conquistadores, about the way boys of the Plains Indians were raised and when grown up lived as warriors, your retelling of the lives of JFK, LBJ and Coke Stevenson, in my mind are all examples of this. They refer to a time when it was easier to live out the innate desires of men to conquer, have sex with many women, and to use violence without inhibition. Not that I want this, but how to reconcile these urges with life in the world of today? I feel domesticated and I don't like it.

Anyway, this is one of the things I resonate with in your writing.

Again, I want to promote a piece of mine (which takes only one minute to read), since it is about an aspect of manhood, although on a very different level. Curious to know what you think of it. Also, comments about style and word choice are greatly appreciated, since English is not my mother tongue.


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Ha! Is that how I am read. I agree I explicitly explore masculinity. I'm not sure I yearn for those other modes, although they have their + and -. I have no answers. Thanks for the link I will read

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Okay, TL;DR: Yes we love to see powerful men do impressive feats, and it's cool to be a loyal spouse, all else being equal. But loyalty to very-bad-behaving spouses is contemptable. True, it's annoying as a TV viewer to see our antihero's galivanting be hindered, but Skyler is reasonable and admirable mostly and the haters are wrong! :)

The long of it: I assume you're being ironic about the God-tierdom of Ladybird and Jackie, else I think you're way too glib about the casual cruelties done by their husbands and the nobility of the wives enduring it. I think this is why you're wrong about Skyler too and that she's a better person and wife than early Ladybird at least.

The Skyler haters are wrong and the orthodox view (the writers' view) that she's right/reasonable is the correct one. Will get to Breaking Bad in a bit though.... First:

I respect Jackie's loyalty to and love of JFK despite his philandering (though I don't like his infidelity) as JFK had many virtues and didn't bully or humiliate her otherwise, AFAIK. As for Ladybird, I can admire her efforts and role she carved out post-heart LBJ's attack. But before then? It sounds like LBJ treated her horribly and it's hard for me to see her subservience to a persistent bully as a model marriage nor model wife.

I've not read Caro so won't press the point too much on LBJ but I'm not an admirer from what I know of his policies and behaviour.

Okay, to Breaking Bad! And further to our previous Twitter exchange (https://twitter.com/Alex__H13/status/1645930680218525696 ) :

Where I agree:

1. ' He can buy weed if he wants to, he’s a grown-ass man.' - Indeed. And clearly the relationship is lopsided in the pilot episode and Walt is babied by Skyler. this is bad. It'd be better if Skyler could really see through Walt's fake smiles. But he's babied because he allows it. No assertiveness.

2. 'Yet her soul is slowly crushed as Walt’s ascends. Their roles flip. Whereas he had been a

subservient husband imprisoned in her suburban prison, she is now subordinated to his will, his thirst for power and empire building.'

Agreed, with this caveat: neither are truly imprisoned by one another. They choose to stay in a suboptimal situation as defecting is costly for both. I sympathise with their misery, but it is on them as they each refuse to solve it: Skyler by divorcing him and turning him in in early s3, and Walt by growing some balls before s1 ep1, getting a better job and asserting himself at home!

3. 'The truth is that fans are not weighing up her moral position. Their reaction is visceral. ' - Yeah, regrettably! I'm with Bryan Caplan that most voters are wrong. So it is with Skyler haters. Their visceral reaction is WRONNNNNNG. Skyler annoyance by fans would be understandable, esp in s1 when our hero/antihero is being hindered and he's not fallen too far morally. What's less cool is the hate, esp as Walt strays further to evil. There's a strong whiff of sexism, as you note:

'Fan contempt for her lies in their instinctive revulsion at domesticating nagging matriarchs. It cuts to the bone of the tension that underlies much of the epochal inter-gender

dynamic around domestication. Fans do not want Skyler’s brand of bit and stirrup. '

Where I disagree:

1. 'No, he doesn’t owe her.' (re his staying out late "buying weed" and not explaining anything to her about his erratic post-diagnosis behaviour he's yet to reveal to her).

WRONGGGGGG. He's a bad husband and this is the start of his persistent lies to her. Which she's admirably wise too from the get go and calls him on it!!

2. 'As the pressure mounts, what does Skyler do? She leaves Walt. She takes the kids. She sleeps with her boss. She takes Walt’s cash and pays off her boss’s tax debts.'

She separates from Walt but this isn't really or mainly about the meth. It's because he lied to her and did crazy things persistently (e.g. fugue state). She's much better inclined to him when he's a more honest crook from s3 and before the s3 finale when the real dangerous with Gus stuff kicks in.

She fucks Ted as a counter strike to Walt refusing to leave the house (again after his persistent bad behaviour) . And she pays Ted off as he's a threat to Walt's interests as well as her own: e.g. IRS will look at her hard and so see Walt's illicit money in the car wash laundering op. That is God-tier, proactive spousery!

Skyler's anti Walt the most when danger looms to the kids: e.g. after these moments: "I am the danger" scene where Walt snarls at her when discussing Gale getting shot in the face; Walt freaking out and screaming in the crawl space about men coming to kill them in s4; after Walt blows up Gus & 3 others while Skyler is hunkering down at Hank and Marie's protected by DEA armed teams; when Walt tells her glibly in s5 that Jesse held a gun to his forehead.

Come on! Her behaviour in wanting the kids away is laudable and reasonable. You concede she's a great book keeper. She also never rats Walt out till he asks her to. She covers for him for a long time (very competently). He allows her credit for the laundering but keeps her away from the meth business despite her being competent/trustworthy enough to know the truth and having an interest in knowing the real risks that he hides from her.

3. 'by the end of the first season he’s ravaging her in the living room and the car. And she hates it.'

Not true. She's really into Walt's first ravaging at end of ep1 and is very much into the car sex. She's beaming as she tells Walt's cancer doctor about his new libido. She does strongly reject him when he forces himself on her in ep1 of season 2 though (very reasonably- she says let me get the face mask off of my face first!): https://youtu.be/5tbaDMYzPyo

4. 'We loathe Skyler'.

I don't loathe her and I think loathing is a minority view, though perhaps is a significant plurality of the hardcore fans.

I get why people are annoyed by Skyler's chiding of Walt's antics in in s1 & 2. I share that annoyance and think it's creator intended. We want Walt to Break Bad and Skyler makes it trickier for him to do it . Skyler is completely reasonable in her reaction to Walt's behaviour though as per above paras.

I think my unease with your post's thrust is summed up by Tom Holland in Dominion (me paraphrasing Holland):

I was fascinated as a child by the ancient Romans, Persians and Greeks for the same reason I loved dinosaurs like the T-rex: they were the apex predators of their worlds. I disregarded the wimpy, desiccated Christian world that followed. Only to later find I shared little with ancient Greek, Roman, Persian values and that I owed my values to Christianity. The former were murderers, ace torturers, rapists, pederasts. The latter overthrew them and made our liberal world.

Me again: I see the LBJs and Walter Whites as the T-rex or Romans. Awesome in their power., loathsome in their values/actions. They're great to read/watch but not to encounter in reality.

Sure the Christianly worrying of Skyler can be annoying but the haters underrate her not being at ease with lies and violence. Skyler was a great wife (loyal, loving) to the extent she could be given her circs. If she'd not pushed back at Walt's endless lies and moral downward spiral and gone along easily, we'd be right to really loathe her.

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Thanks for the thoughtful response. I am not endorsing LBJ by any means - explicitly not holding on the appalling way he treats his wife

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My comment is longwinded (yikes!) so appreciate you reading it. And props to you for the original post. Much harder being the OP than being the reply-guy!

Yeah I didn't think you actually endorsed LBJ's behaviour at all! FWIW, you probably made many more points that I agreed with but failed to mention. You've also made me more likely to read Caro sooner than I might've, especially for the JFK/RFK material. Thanks again!

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Fantastic piece that I really enjoyed reading.

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May 3, 2023Liked by Misha Saul

Having finished reading this, I confess to not having a clue what this has to do with Wotter Wight. It seems like a forced and inappropriate analogy.

"Breaking Bad’s Skyler White is an altogether different woman to the two former First Ladies, and her suffering different to theirs. And while we come to admire (and even love) Lady Bird and Jaqueline Kennedy, we loathe Skyler."

When I watched the show, I didn't think about Skyler at all. Neither do I admire nor particularly ever think about any of the other people discussed in this piece. They all may have been exceptional or ordinary in one way or another, but they all achieved nothing or less than nothing (Cuban Missile Crisis partially excepted), and had no idea of the good life, by my lights anyway. They can keep their misery and their high offices and their sparkling or husk-like acquaintances and and their criminal empires.

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Sounds like you hated everything about this piece - thanks for reading though!

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Great piece Misha--maybe someone can raise the funds to buy longlea from the opus dei and return it to its former glory

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Maybe Opus Dei are putting it to great use!

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It does look like a beautiful conference space--I’ll try and check it out next time I’m in the states and that far east

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