[View Point] Would ‘Breaking Bad’ be good for the industry?

Columns - View Point

When it comes to the way pest management professionals (PMPs) are portrayed in the entertainment industry, I’m not such a fan.

July 31, 2012
Dan Moreland

I’m a big fan of the performing arts. I look forward to Hollywood blockbusters like “The Avengers” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” (see page 52) just as much as the next guy. Cable TV boasts some of the finest dramas anywhere. And reality TV is a guilty pleasure. Who’s up for an “American Pickers,” “Swamp People,” or “World’s Worst Tenants” marathon? Count me in!

However, when it comes to the way pest management professionals (PMPs) are portrayed in the entertainment industry, I’m not such a fan. More often than not the PMPs I see on television or on the silver screen don’t look or act like anyone I know in the industry. While I’m not naive enough to think that every PMP is a paragon of virtue or presents himself or herself in the most professional manner possible, I am confident that the vast majority of our readers wake up every morning trying to do the right thing, projecting a positive public image in the process.

Perhaps because I remember the “old days” when PMPs were depicted as either spray jockeys or pompous losers (think John Goodman in “Arachnophobia”) that I’m particularly sensitive to the way our industry has been portrayed on TV or in films. That image is changing, thanks, in part, to the pro-active efforts of the Professional Pest Management Alliance and media-savvy PMPs who understand that perception often is reality, so it’s worth investing the time and effort to promote a positive public image.

It’s for these reasons I felt such trepidation several months ago upon receiving a request from Sony Pictures Television to feature PCT magazine as “set dressing” in season five of the Emmy-winning television show, “Breaking Bad.” “Briefly, ‘Breaking Bad’ stars Emmy Award winner Bryan Cranston (‘Malcolm in the Middle’) as Walter White — a high school chemistry teacher, father and husband — a decent man whose life takes a dark turn when he discovers he has a terminal illness,” according to the release form from the production company. “In the midst of what can best be described as the world’s worst case of mid-life crisis, Walt embarks on a criminal career...Said magazines will be used to dress the set of a pest control company’s office. Please be advised that while the pest control company itself is a legitimate business, the people who run the company are involved in bad things.”

Mmmmm...bad things. That didn’t sound good. Ultimately, I decided to decline Sony’s offer, not because I objected to the content of “Breaking Bad,” which is one of the finest shows on television, but because I was worried about giving the industry another black eye after we’ve come so far. In responding to Sony, I wrote: “I’ve covered the pest management industry for more than 30 years and during that time I have grown to have a great respect for the people who wake up every day to provide professional pest management services to customers across the U.S. They’re very humble, salt-of-the-earth, hard-working people who do their best to protect the property and health of their customers on a daily basis, and to do so in an environmentally sensitive fashion. Unfortunately, the stereotypical view of pest management professionals doesn’t always align with my personal experience with this essential service industry...While I wouldn’t presume it is ‘Breaking Bad’s intent to portray the pest management industry in an unflattering manner, simply by the nature of the subject matter we would not want to do anything that could possibly reflect poorly on our readership, who have worked very hard to enhance the industry’s image over the years. Clearly, the producers of ‘Breaking Bad’ and its staff take great pride in producing an award-winning television series with a unique creative vision, one that has justifiably received praise from television critics and the public alike. And while we can readily acknowledge that a television series — particularly one as good as ‘Breaking Bad,’ at an aspirational level, is a work of art — we would not want to do anything that could reflect poorly on the pest management industry, even in the context of great art.”

What do you think?
What call would you have made? Are we being overly sensitive? Does Hollywood shape public perceptions of the industry or are we ultimately responsible for our own public image? Let us know what you think. E-mail PCT Publisher Dan Moreland at dmoreland@giemedia.com. We’ll share our readers’ thoughts on this important subject in a future issue of PCT magazine.