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Conspiracy Theories And The Accidental Origin Of ‘Breaking Bad’: The Weird Pop Culture History Of HAARP

By 05.22.14

HAARP is being shut down, so we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at what it’s brought us.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s fake. HAARP has shown up in The X-Files, it’s been featured in games such as X-Men Legends, and it’s been visited by G.I. Joe. But the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program was very real, very misunderstood, and the accidental source of one of the most beloved TV shows in recent memory.

Playing The HAARP For Pork

HAARP comes from — who else — DARPA, the Terminator-building, death-ray blasting, mad science arm of the United States Armed Forces. And more often than not during its life it was a solution looking for a problem.

HAARP is essentially a big array of dipole antennas built in Gakona, a small town in Alaska. It was designed, at first, to study the ionosphere; its most prominent feature is that array, which can tickle the edge of space with 3.6 megawatts. The idea behind doing this was, vaguely, that it might improve radio signals, making GPS and other tools operate more efficiently and allow radio contact with submarines.

And that can do kinda cool stuff, like generate very low frequency waves — almost impossible to create and research otherwise — or trigger the first manmade auroa borealis, but HAARP was really more about the money. Senator Ted Stevens, who you might remember called the Internet “a series of tubes”, was all about the federal money, and indeed, by this point, the government has spent a quarter of a billion dollars on this facility in Alaska.

Mostly what they’ve gotten out of that investment is hate, fear, and contempt. HAARP’s ultimate contribution to America might be in the form of one of the most popular creepy government “secret” sites.

HAARP Of Destruction

It’s an article of faith among the kind of person who owns a 9/11 truth bumper sticker that HAARP is designed to manipulate the weather and geosphere. Hugo Chavez insisted the US caused the 2010 Haiti earthquake with HAARP, not to mention quakes in China and Japan. Conspiracy theorists insist that HAARP was behind every hurricane of note, from Katrina to Sandy. It kills swarms of animals. It’s been accused of causing “skyquakes” and sinkholes.

Of course, nobody can quite explain how HAARP does this. Perhaps it superheats the atmosphere, or fires radiation into the Earth’s core. Why, precisely, the United States would hit its own territory with natural disasters, or cause an earthquake in Haiti, is never discussed. But in certain circles, it’s seen with the same dread as nuclear weapons and biological warfare.

It’s odd, because HAARP, for a top-secret facility housing a deadly superweapon, is actually pretty crappily hidden. It had an official website, until the facility switched contractors. You can review it on Google Plus and see the facility on Google Maps. They even had open houses.

But it’s hard to understand, it’s vaguely secret, and people are scared of it, and that made it perfect for screenwriters. Notably, one screenwriter, Vince Gilligan.

Breaking Bad And HAARP

Here is, perhaps, HAARP’s oddest cultural legacy: Without it, we may never have had the middling X-Files episode that spawned Breaking Bad.

The episode in question is called Drive, and it’s a gimmicky premise. Essentially, it’s the X-Files version of Crank, where only high speed and moving west can alleviate the inner ear pressure caused by the extremely low frequency waves emitted by HAARP research. If it builds up enough, your head explodes.

It’d be a trivia question except for one important casting note: It was where Vince Gilligan met Bryan Cranston for the first time. In fact, Cranston’s performance in the episode was what sold AMC executives on his casting as Walter White. Even stranger, Cranston nearly wasn’t cast; in fact, another actor had been booked and Cranston was only allowed to audition for it as a courtesy.

HAARP is being shut down; DARPA has other things to spend money on. But if nothing else, at least we got some good TV out of our $260 million.

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TOPICS#BREAKING BAD
TAGSBryan CranstonHAARPpop culture historyVINCE GILLIGANweird connectionsyour tax dollars at work

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