Watching the last episode of Breaking Bad the other night was both great (it was unrelentingly brilliant) and saddening because I really could have spent another season (or two or three) following the mad criminal adventures of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman (actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, respectively).
What kept me glued to this series, even more than the wild and unpredictable story-line itself, were the moral ambiguities of adult choices and relationships. It's the rare drama that manages to capture so many gradations of emotion, so many moral dilemmas, and so many evolutions in character (for each of the central characters). I'd compare it to The Sopranos except for one feature which I think makes it even better: The Sopranos, for better and worse, worked with a lot of characters that were imminently predictable. It wasn't a flaw in the writing but, rather, because so many people really ARE stereotypes, and the Sopranos' writers had huge fun playing with those larger-than-life caricatures.
After the Breaking Bad finale , I floated around the Web for a while, re-reading IMDB trivia, and looking over biographies of the actors, and other bits and pieces of fan fodder about the writers, actors, and crew who brought together such a work of exceptional drama.
One thing that kept popping up were photos of Cranston and Paul openly expressing affection towards one another. They are so damn cute! Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, the world toasts your beautiful friendship!
Judging by the many photos of these two clowning around, even kissing, it's obvious Cranston and Paul had a genuine thespian bromance, with an affection that looked as real and meaningful as the their love/hate relationship on screen. I wish more straight men felt free to be show honest, real emotion like this with their friends.
We teach boys and men to condense their feelings of admiration or respect, warm greetings and even love, into a handshake. That strange little ritual of pressing palms is, for many men, the most contact they will ever have with another man, except for the involuntary closeness of crowds or gym culture. Please don't tell me about football players slapping each other's behinds either: again, that is one small permissable ritual. Like the handshake, it is another ritualized way some men (athletes) are allowed to show affection. No doubt the proclivity of athletes to use towels to spank their pals is an expression of just how deep-rooted the fear is: the towel distances them, physically and therefore emotionally, from their own feelings.
As a hard-wired hugger and kisser and generally demonstrative person who grew up in a European household (my parents were Polish immigrants) where same-sex affection was normal, where fathers often kissed sons and hugged their brothers, uncles, and close friends, it often seemed to me that American culture had it all wrong. Granted, I was mildly taken aback when I lived in France and saw men kissing left and right, but I quickly got used to that as well. If you really like someone, if you really feel connected to them, why wouldn't you kiss them when you meet? Women do!
I give a lot of credit to my straight male friends who, in recent years, really have made the effort to let go of their fears and loosen up enough to be able to give their sons and friends deep hugs without feeling awkward. They are trying to break from the cultural norm that aggression between men is normal while affection is abnormal.
Have you ever seen two women greet each other with a bout of shoulder punching, or mothers and daughters solemnly shake hands upon meeting? I've been around a few blocks but I never have. When women meet someone they like they hug. I won't even get into all the squealing and jumping up and down that women love to do when they bump into friends. Men get just as excited when they bump into close friends too, and there's nothing sillier than watching two old buddies nearly wear their arms out with a handshake because if they actually hugged they'd feel "less masculine."
Women don't give them a pass either. While I know women routinely observe how uptight men are about displays of affection, I also know plenty of them secretly believe that it makes men less manly if they show affection to anyone but a woman. And, if a guy is married, it means the only person in the world he can be affectionate with is his own wife and perhaps his children, particularly if the children are girls. I don't know how many dads spread the affection equally between sons and daughters but I'm willing to bet it is still the rare dad who shows his son as much physical tenderness as he shows his daughter. And, again, we treat that as normal.
What we never openly admit is that this creates a lot of fucked up men who never felt loved by their fathers and remain very mixed up on what masculinity should look like. I blame the sinister undercurrent of homophobia rippling through culture for this crazy attitude towards natural and normal human behaviors. I think men grow up wounded by the deficit too -- both as the sons of cold men and as adults who are not allowed to be free with their emotions.
I can assure you that hugging and kissing another man does not turn a straight guy gay anymore than gay guys kissing or hugging a woman will turn them straight. Loving your fellow man isn't gay. It's beautiful. It's human. It's morally right. It's something we should all aspire to, regardless of gender, if we want to create a happier, more natural and more rational world.
I don't know how either Cranston or Paul feel about it (as two happily married heterosexuals), but my guess is that, as actors, they know it's a GOOD thing to live in your body and use it as it was meant to be used: for pleasure and joy and love and honest expressions of positive emotions. You can tell they dig each other as human beings. It's awesome.
For me, the sexual revolution will never be complete until everyone's liberated -- including people who didn't even know they were oppressed, like all the straight men who've never known the warmth of a male friend's hugs or the special bond same-sex friends share when they embrace.
So double thanks to the great guys who broke so bad for setting a gorgeous standard for male friendship. Their courage goes beyond their amazing work on screen and extends right down into the beauty of a single sweet unashamed smack of the lips.