Nothing makes me crazier than when I hear mass media — newspapers, radio, videos, video games, movies and TV shows — get the blame for massive societal problems, like violence and crime.
Simple solutions for complex problems are a recipe for disaster, so I don't think fixing the Albuquerque's crime rate is as simple as taking a hammer to the living room Sony. Please know that.
But there are times, many times, when I wonder if Breaking Bad, the revolutionary AMC series about a chemistry teacher-turned-meth dealer, poisoned New Mexico's largest-by-a-long shot city.
Or at the very least, tainted Albuquerque's vision of itself.
And that has created ramifications for everyone in New Mexico, and will again in January, when Albuquerque-based Democrats in the House of Representatives — their phones ringing off the hook from constituents up to here with a sky-high murder rate and endless property crimes — finally get a little religion and decide to take the problem seriously.
Why should that matter for anyone in Santa Fe or Clovis or Gallup? Because the money for a crime fix almost certainly will be fixated on the state's largest city and not the other burgs that face the same problems — downsized, perhaps, but no less troubling.
As New Mexico pulsates with new money for the 2023 fiscal year budget — $1.4 billion, highly viscous manna from the oil patch — you can bet whatever package the Legislature passes and is signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in winter's 30-day session will have a lot of zeroes in it.
Whether it repairs the problem is another matter.
We'll get back to that. But a little about Albuquerque and Breaking Bad.
First, let's define the terms.
Albuquerque was never Mayberry, never nonviolent nor crime-free. It has always been saddled with an overgrown murder rate, in part because this is the West and guns are plentiful, and also because this is America, and drugs are available. The combination is incendiary.
But the city's regular hum of disaster was goosed when the TV show debuted in 2008 and its dramatic quality became part of the national lexicon. In part because of Breaking Bad's popularity — Albuquerque and New Mexico have always had a tapeworm for recognition, regardless of origin — people in the Duke City saw its role in the series as a point of pride.
If 1980s Albuquerque could point to its days as host of an NCAA Final Four and '90s Albuquerque seemed on the brink of being one of the West's go-go-go cities of growth, Breaking Bad gave the next generations of locals something new to trumpet.
Thanks to Hollywood, Albuquerque didn't have to be a Super 8 somewhere between Flagstaff, Ariz., and Oklahoma City. It could be, I guess, a Newark with yuccas — 'Burque.
Growl when you say it.
But in yet another example of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, the concept of 'Burque, grown to outsized proportions by the image created by Breaking Bad, had a downside: In the minds of many, it normalized all of Albuquerque's warts.
Did Breaking Bad bring the guns, the drugs, the mental illness, the homelessness, the violence? Of course not. Of course not.
But in celebrating a talented writer's vision of a city, Albuquerque seemed to forget that crime, while perhaps common, doesn't take a break when the credits stop rolling. And when it gets to critical mass, whatever that is, the whole place becomes unseemly.
And so, here we are, staring down the barrel of a problem that, currently, is among the first things anyone hears when discussing New Mexico.
They likely won't admit it, but the House Democrats from Albuquerque may have felt the tree limbs creak beneath their feet when they banded together to announce their wish to develop a crime package in January. I don't doubt for a second most had genuine concerns about their fellow citizens and the state's overall economy as they put it together, but let's face it: Electorally speaking, no one is safe, not even House Democrats, in a city on pace to top 100 murders in a year.
Their Republican friends on the other side of the aisle know it, too. Crime might be the innovation-challenged GOP's only issue come the '22 elections, but as the days pass, it's a pretty powerful talking point.
And it might get a test run later this fall. The Albuquerque mayor's race pits Democrat Tim Keller — whose city logo, oddly, celebrates 'Burque — against Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales. Keller ought to win easily, but he's not running against the sheriff. He's running against the murder rate.
There's irony in that. It's the kind Walter White might appreciate.