July 11, 2008 at 2:26 pm 3 comments

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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.


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Hollowmen – Episode 1 Weekend Music: Warumpi Band – My Island Home

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. missbittens  |  July 11, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    He does have feelings. It might have taken him two seasons to admit it, but larger and larger hints have been dropped, even in the first episode [“If I could have feelings, I’d have them all for Deb,” subtly contradicts itself, for example]

    Some people think Dexter is a “hero.” I think those people are scary, and that he has never really been portrayed as such. It does get you to question the morality of what he’s doing, but even he constantly referred to himself as a “monster,” although he did eventually realise he had human parts [love, other emotions] too. Also, his foster father, who trained him in killing other killers, committed suicide when he saw what Dexter had done – he realised what he had done.

    Some of the questions you asked have been addressed.
    “Is it okay for a serial killer to be let loose, so long as he’s serially killing other serial killers?”
    Given the above paragraph, I would say that the show thinks not.
    “What if he was found out and accepted by the public to be doing a good thing?”
    This was addressed twice. Once, Dexter had a fantasy that everyone had accepted him, that they were cheering him and holding signs, even. His sister was happy and laughing beside him, even. But it was just that, a fantasy, and so different from actual events that it implied acception is an impossibility. This was confirmed when they found Dexter’s bodies and came to suspect Doakes of the crime due to some extreme misfortune on his part. The man died before they caught him, and nobody but his immediete family, LaGuerta [who thought he was innocent] and Dexter came to the funeral. Dexter acknowledged that his fantasy was the complete opposite of the real reaction to someone like him.

    Would we get copycat serial killers killing serial killers?
    This happened, in a way. Since they found the bodies and realised what kind of people the killer was targeting, we got a guy who said he was being a copycat, but in reality he was just killing people he didn’t like, they weren’t murderers, just dickheads. And also, his procedure sucked. So to answer your question, yes, but they might not be as strict about who they kill as Dex is, and they almost certainly won’t be as good at doing it. Remember, Dex got trained in this since he was about ten years old, and since then he’s gotten in a lot of practice to be as good as he is now.

    What would happen if all serial killers decided to just kill serial killers?
    This was never addressed, but I feel the question itself is pretty stupid anyway – I hope you don’t take offence, I don’t mean you’re an idiot, just the question probably wasn’t thought through. How on earth would every serial killer suddenly change their policies on killing? It’s impossible. Then if they did it would be a mix of three types. A would all kill each other. B, since all the other serial killers had the same policy, would withhold from killing each other and just stop killing altogether. C would get sick of B and go back to normal, then get preyed upon by the others if they get found.

  • 2. pigscantfly  |  July 12, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Hey, good answer! I’ll at least give the show a few more episodes thanks to your response.
    “…but I feel the question itself is pretty stupid anyway”, of course it is, that’s my point. It would be ridiculous to consider that all serial killers will be able to be so strict about who and how to kill, but the character of Dexter is actually pretty ridiculous himself. The Hannibal Lecter-style slick, super-intelligent serial killer is a Hollywood myth. Real serial killers are, I would think, far more human, like the first guy Dexter kills in the opening scene.

  • 3. pro  |  November 5, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    “Real serial killers are, I would think, far more human, like the first guy Dexter kills in the opening scene”

    Well thats assuming they dont have an underlying mental condition,I believe dexter is supposed to be a sociopath,which from what I understand do have emotion but are unable to put themselves in someone elses position emotionally so they do not sympathize with others which to them would seem like they have no feelings due to the lack of being able to feel or understand their emotion.However I dont belive that this is his only mental condition.He describes killing as “the ultimate disconnect” which would be true,taking the lives of others would cause a person to withdraw their sympathies and feelings for other peoples well being and in turn shut down emotionally.The only thing I find unrealistic about dexter is the hunt/kill,he is far too exposed at these points and also he researches all of his victims thoroughly which in-turn leaves a trail directly to him,personality wise there are certainly conflicts,he isnt a perfect text book case of one or even two mental conditions,but then again things are very rarely text book.I think its as close to reality as they can get the character without people hating him completely.


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