Hating Skyler White: audience engagement, gender politics and celebrity culture

Joke Hermes en Leonie Stoete
Soort object
Skyler White is a protagonist in the top-ranking television series Breaking Bad. She is also one of the most hated characters on television. This paper focuses on how the character of Skyler and Anna Gunn – the actor that plays her – are turned into a ‘composite celebrity’ in audience discussions. This is achieved by analysing threads on the social news website Reddit that specifically discuss Skyler. We discovered three main speaking positions: ‘savvy’ viewing; moral realism; and public shaming. This type of audience research may help further discussion on how celebrity culture is supported by neoliberal changes in the public sphere and caught up in the devaluation of professionalism and professional status – which, as will be shown, has especially dire consequences for professional women. Breaking Bad showcases predominantly masculine narratives. The derogation of its key female character therefore does not come as a surprise. However, a feminist defence of both the character and the actor – although a minority perspective – is also voiced. This article reveals how the interlinking fields of celebrity gossip and television criticism are a space of vibrant and sometimes frightening discussion in which a neo-conservative gender agenda is simultaneously asserted and contested