Monday, April 14, 2008

TV's New Vampire

This year's TV writers' strike had some interesting effects. For one thing, it showed me that Jay Leno really doesn't need writers, but that's not the point of this blog.

One show that migrated over from Showtime to fill the broadcast void is called Dexter. It begins with the premise that the protagonist, Dexter--a serial killer, a psychopath totally incapable of empathy--is indeed capable of "correctly" targeting other homicidal psychopaths as his victims.

One of the core traits of psychopaths, as described by Dr. Robert Hare (the foremost authority on the subject), is that lack of empathy. Many psychopaths do learn to at least minimally fake that emotional expression to blend in. However, another core trait is intense self-centeredness, which works against the idea of a Dexter having any inclination whatsoever to kill only other other homicidal psychopaths. I've read some other blogs that denounce the Dexter writers and producers for portraying this sort of violence in a heroic light, and I cannot disagree with them.

But to me that's like criticizing vampire stories and fairy tales, which is what this is. And the real point of such stories is to make a point of some aspect of the human condition. Dexter, in his improbable existence, highlights the kind of masks, emotional coverups, that we all do, thinking we'll get by better in our social interactions. Every character on that show has a dark side, has something to hide. Ironic that the psychopath is the one who is portrayed as the least self-absorbed.

But do you really want to feel safer? Just turn off your TV. Including Dexter.

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