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.

Searching for Answers on “Lost”

Lorne Manly of The New York Times interviewed the executive producers of Lost, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and asked them about science and religion:

Q. Your show traffics in a lot of big themes—fate versus free will, good versus evil, faith versus reason, how often Sawyer should be shirtless. Ultimately, what were the most important themes for you in this series?
Damon Lindelof: If there’s one word that we keep coming back to, it’s redemption. It is that idea of everybody has something to be redeemed for and the idea that that redemption doesn’t necessarily come from anywhere else other than internally. But in order to redeem yourself, you can only do it through a community. So the redemption theme started to kind of connect into “live together, die alone,” which is that these people were all lone wolves who were complete strangers on an aircraft, even the ones who were flying together like Sun and Jin. Then let’s bring them together and through their experiences together allow themselves to be redeemed. When the show is firing on all pistons, that’s the kind of storytelling that we’re doing.
I think we’ve always said that the characters of “Lost” are deeply flawed, but when you look at their flashback stories, they’re all victims. Kate was a victim before she killed her stepfather. Sawyer’s parents killed themselves as he was hiding under the bed. Jack’s dad was a drunk who berated him as a child. Sayid was manipulated by the American government into torturing somebody else. John Locke had his kidney stolen. This idea of saying this bad thing happened to me and I’m a victim and it created some bad behavior and now I’m going to take responsibility for that and allow myself to be redeemed by community with other people, that seems to be the theme that we keep coming back to.

Today, the producers respond to questions about the show from readers:

Q. In your 2005 interview with The Times you said, “There can be things that are happening that are quote, phenomenal, but there’s always a scientific answer to it.” With ghosts and immortals (to name but two), you have clearly moved out of the realm where a scientific answer is possible for everything. Did you know that back in 2005 or realize it as the series went on?
—Alex, Seattle
Lindelof: While we certainly don’t want to rewrite history (or do we?), the context of that quote applied to the show at the time. Certainly, the pilot strongly hinted at supernatural elements and by the end of Season 1, we saw “the monster” was a being made of black smoke. Since that time, we’ve gone on record as “letting our freak flag fly” into the realm of the supernatural, and although it has probably cost us some members of our audience, from the moment Locke got out of his wheelchair (in the fourth episode of the series) we knew the reason behind it was not going to be “scientific.”

As for the decision to bring in ideas from many different faith traditions (as well as atheism), Lindelof says:

… it’s our hope that the show speaks to people all along the spectrum. At the same time, we’ve gone out of our way never to seem “preachy” and to have the characters on the show actively debate whether or not there is any purpose or design to what the hell they’re doing on the island.

Sandra Bullock Gets Raw End of the Happiness Deal

With the findings to back it up, David Brooks observes:

Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

Shocking Reality TV Experiment in France

In an update of Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience studies from the early 1960s, more than 80 percent of people who participated in a fake French reality TV show were willing to deliver what appeared to be increasingly painful electric shocks to another contestant who answered questions wrong—while the show’s host and audience goaded them on, according to The Game of Death, a documentary that aired last night. The new experiment, the producers say, again shows our willingness to obey, as well as the trust we now place in TV and the great power it holds over society and our behavior.

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