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My previous post about Hollowmen got me thinking about the way morality is portrayed in some TV shows. I’m not really a fan of Dexter, though I’ve only seen the first episode. It gives us a serial killer who kills other serial killers, and asks us whether this character is moral in his actions, since in the long run he’s saving lives. The problem with this is that Dexter admits to not having any feelings one way or the other, and hence isn’t really a human character at all. Because of this, questions of morality are purely hypothetical. We can still ask the question of whether he’s moral or not, but the answer doesn’t really have any bearing on us personally.
It’s possible to make a comparison with American Psycho, also about a physically attractive, emotionally empty serial killer, and Michael C. Hall’s performance is as good as Christian Bale’s. But Mary Harron’s film (and the book by Bret Easton Ellis) made no question of showing Patrick Bateman’s actions as horrible, and instead focused on how such a disturbed perspective on life could be reached. Dexter was, we are led to believe, “born” a serial killer, and is incapable of having any moral qualms about what he is doing. Factors that have influenced his way of behaviour have as yet not been brought into question. Hopefully this changes as the show progresses (I know I’m way behind. The show only just came to mainstream Australian TV)
Is it okay for a serial killer to be let loose, so long as his serially killing other serial killers? What if he was found out and accepted by the public to be doing a good thing? Would we get copycat serial killers killing serial killers? What would happen if all serial killers decided to just kill serial killers? Who cares? Well, maybe universal life insurance companies.
Of course, it’s just a TV show, but Dexter is seen as “one of television’s most fiendishly intelligent new dramas”. I’ve yet to see much more substance than an episode of CSI.
For an examination of a murderer with real ambiguity, check out Jon Jost’s Last Chants For a Slow Dance.