As children we are told stories that teach us the difference between right and wrong, and show us characteristics of good people and bad people. Good people help others, whereas bad people kill others. So as adults, how are we supposed to feel about people who kill bad people?
In HBO’s new hot show Dexter, now in its third season, the audience bares witness to Dexter committing what should be atrocities. In the land of black and white terminology, Dexter is a serial killer. He has a distinct profile of who he kills, and he has a ritualistic style of killing them. Nevertheless, the audience is on his side.
Dexter is not killing just anyone; in fact, he has a code to only kill the killers who slip through the cracks of the justice system. Turning him into a vigilante, Dexter focuses his psychological urge and need to kill by taking out murderers and essentially, and quite literally, throwing out society’s trash.
The creators of the show are pushing on society’s level of acceptance. Moving into a gray zone of vigilantism and praying off of America’s distrust in its legal system, the show taps into our societal mindset. We as a society live together because there is safety in numbers. We agree to certain laws, and we agree to certain consequences. When society’s rules are broken we expect repercussions, but due to so much legislation, litigation, and corruption, the repercussions placed upon the wicked no longer satisfy the just.
Though it breaks the law to allow a person like Dexter to kill criminals who have either served their time or could not be convicted, we as a people feel that Dexter’s actions are justified because the law failed to properly prosecute the societal wrongdoer.
All of this is fiction, of course, and yet we as the audience become infatuated with it. We sit in our houses watching Dexter, laughing at his wry sense of humor, cheering him on as he catches and kills his victims, and holding our breath when we fear that Dexter will get caught himself.
Do we psychologically project ourselves on to Dexter? I think we relate more so to his ideology and his need to live by a code of some sort. His follow through of ritualistic murder most likely doesn’t appeal to us, although in his circumstances we are not as apt to object to his choices and practices. One does have to ask, though, is a person in Dexter’s situation merely using his code to justify murder?
If the show was to focus on a detached psychopath who was killing “regular” people, then the public may not accept it as a viable form of entertainment. Partially society would reject a show like that because it would point out the elephant in the room — i.e., there are killers out there and they will kill indiscriminately. Showing that monstrous aspect of human nature in the form of a real person is ghastly because it hits too close to reality. The public can only accept and dismiss a crime if it is justified; otherwise, it is viewed as psychotic and evil.
This is a very thin gray line that society is walking upon, and Dexter brilliantly displays these concepts in a captivating drama. Fiction has always been the best medium to express the problems of reality.