Guest Piece by Joanna
Watching Dexter, I always feel conflicted. It makes me feel really “weird” about myself. And I’m pretty sure anyone else who watches the show feels the same way. The show is about a serial killer who can’t control being a serial killer after witnessing his mother’s very bloody death as a child. He gets adopted by the family of the cop who found him. The cop realizes that Dexter is a psychopath at a young age, and teaches him a “code” that allows him to choose his victims “correctly”, kill them, and get away with it. The most important part of the code details to Dexter that he is only to kill people who deserve it (other killers, rapists etc..) and that he must obtain the necessary proof that they are what they are.
The first troublesome, yet fascinating, idea here, that I find many American TV Shows trying to portray is that there’s always a justification for why a psychopath is a psychopath. I’m not going to go into a psychological and political discussion here, but isn’t it interesting how the writers are always trying to justify why someone is psychotic? There’s a very thin line between giving a reason and justifying someone’s behavior, and I’m not sure if that line is made clear to the audience. It always seems like a “he has no choice” kind of situation. At the risk of digressing into socio-political and historical grounds, does this go back to America’s original sin? What was the justification for the white man butchering the native Americans then? Did all the generals and troops witness their loved ones’ murders? I might be blowing this idea a bit out of proportion, but it’s something that struck me as odd watching not just Dexter, but a few other series and films where psychopaths are involved.
What also struck me as interesting is the fact that I always find myself sympathising with Dexter, a serial killer. This is perhaps one of the most troubling ideas that goes through my head every single minute of watching the show. When you start watching the series, you feel wrong. He’s portrayed as a man completely devoid of emotion, only driven by what he calls his “Dark Passenger” (another justification?) to murder people, cut them up into little pieces, and throw them in the ocean. The show is very dark, sometimes it gets to a point where it’s almost unbearable, and you have to take a break because it weighs down on you. I remember watching several episodes back-to-back on a plane to Paris once, and getting extremely restless, but I digress. The main issue here is that the show is “humanizing” a psychopath, making him a loveable character that the audience identifies with. I’m all for treating all people as equals, but it gets to be a tad too much. It skews your moral compass, and makes you wonder what would you do had you been in the situations that Dexter finds himself in. Surely, this would broaden anyone’s perspective in a sense, but it also makes it difficult to determine the difference between right and wrong. It puts everything in a gray area, and it’s dangerous to get to the point that society cannot distinguish between right and wrong.
Dexter is an interesting character, he makes you fantasize a little (or a lot). I don’t even know if “fantasize” is the right word here, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t know if I can find someone who has *not* thought about what it would be like to kill someone who’s bad, who truly deserves it, and get away with it, after watching Dexter. Obviously, thinking and doing are two different things. But you know what I mean. This brings us to the general theme of “Taking the law into your own hands”. On the micro scale (meaning on the individual level), this is dangerous, for obvious reasons. Even in the show, in the second season, a vigilante copy-cat appears. Who’s to say that the show is not inadvertently encouraging this idea? Obviously, that’s not the writers’ aim, but it could be happening. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But let’s think of this on a macro level, this could very well be a message (intended or not) to people justifying American foreign policy. America gives itself the right to intervene wherever it deems necessary, to “rid the world of evil”. Regardless of my personal opinion on the matter of American foreign policy, it seems a tad convenient that this paradigm can be translated on a global scale, and it fits American interests perfectly.
The last, and very important issue, with the series is the way it ends. Dexter is a blood-spatter analyst working for Miami Metro. If the writers did not intend everything I’ve described above, the least they could have done is have Dexter get caught, because in a way, they’d be saying “Sure, Dexter’s intentions were (relatively) good, but murder is wrong, and no one can/should get away with murder; especially not a serial killer.” However, they wrote the series so that a serial killer who works with the police is never found out, never fully exposed (no one believed La Guerta) and never really pays for what he did. And no, faking his own death and becoming a lumberjack doesn’t count.
I understand that readers might think I’m over thinking things, and being too dramatic about it. After all, it’s just a TV series, right? Wrong. TV is a mirror of our lives, our thoughts, our wishes, our dreams, and our fears.