America’s Favorite Serial Killer

John Hendel of The Atlantic looks at why we sympathize with the leading character in the TV show Dexter—a blood splatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer:

The impulse in Dexter is, despite the graphic and bold extreme of the character, not culturally unfamiliar. It’s the impulse of the anti-hero, the vigilante, except with all the sanitary super-hero cosmetics stripped away. Forget his psychosis and remember one critical tenet justifying the show: Dexter kills bad guys. His kills reflect a wild righteousness, a sense of code-driven vengeance. Aren’t these victims deserving? Virtually all had been killers themselves. All of Dexter’s kills aim for the same metaphorical target—the men who murdered his own mother (a la Batman with his own parents). Dexter ultimately saves lives, and as he imagines at the end of the first season, perhaps the crowds should really be toasting him for his work. It’s the catch that allows us to forgive what appears on screen as unrepentant psychosis on par with legendary killers from Ted Bundy to Dostoevsky’s fictional Raskolnikov. The complicated morality scales place Dexter on the side of Superman, not Jack the Ripper.

Category: Pop Culture


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