What is the best part about Sunday nights? The answer is not cramming for tests, doing a month’s worth of laundry or realizing that the next day is Monday. The correct answer is “Dexter.” (“Homeland” is an acceptable answer as well.)
I am hoping this needs no explanation, but just in case you live in a box or you are anti-awesome-television, Dexter is a series on Showtime whose protagonist is a blood spatter analyst for Miami Metro P.D. and a serial killer. Not only is Dexter one of my all-time favorite shows, but it has generated a record breaking number of viewers and has won and been nominated for an abundance of awards (the Emmys and Golden Globes included).
Throughout the series, millions of viewers have witnessed a vigilante hunt down his victims, strip them of their clothes, strap them to a table using copious amounts of plastic wrap, wake them up to realize their inevitable fate, take a blood sample from their cheeks as a trophy and, finally, stab them in the heart. While we witness his “normal” life (working for the police department and raising his two-year-old son), we also get to go inside the mind of a serial killer and become comfortable with his urge to kill. The one justifiable excuse for our complete complicity with this taboo is that Dexter lives by a “code,” which limits his victims to only dangerous murderers. While there is something humane about feeling relief when an evil man or woman is off the streets, many times we find ourselves annoyed with the “good guys” and police officers for investigating Dexter’s actions and would be utterly devastated if he were discovered.
While I more often than not watch Dexter mindlessly engrossed in the story, I can’t help but stop once in a while and wonder how the show has become so widely accepted, and if it taps into our own dark urges and/or fascination with violence. While looking further into this idea, I discovered a book called “The Psychology of Dexter” which compiles the insights of seventeen psychologists on Dexter’s complexities and the public’s reception to this lovable killer.
After reading some chapters from the book online, one idea especially interested me that connects Dexter to the Jungian theory. Carl Jung, the man behind the theory’s name, explored the human psyche– a collective consciousness that we all share. Though we cannot explicitly identify its presence, it manages to seep into our lives and direct our actions every day. Jung believed the human psyche was most evident in our art culture, which often includes three major “archetypes” that often appear in our stories: the hero, the shadow and the wise old man. A modern example of this is Harry Potter with Harry (the hero), Voldemort (the shadow) and Dumbledore (the wise old man).
Even though we have a tendency to identify with the hero in the story, Dexter has become a remarkably interesting hero, for he happens to also satisfy the role of the shadow. This resonates with our own darker side which we try to oppress because not doing so would be socially unacceptable. While I don’t mean to imply that we all secretly want to kill people, I do agree with this idea of being fascinated by watching someone not reject his immoral thoughts. Leaving the psych talk behind, there is something intriguing about the fact that everyone has the capability to do evil, though most of us choose not to. We may not necessarily share the same urges as Dexter, but there must be some envious feeling evoked while watching someone act on instinct, without moral censorship. I guess by witnessing something we would consider ‘inhumane,’ we might actually be exploring a part of our own humanity. Maybe the reason Sunday nights are so great is because we get to feel okay with exploring our own “dark passengers.”
By: Lauren Opatowski
(Photo by bernard levine under a Creative Commons license)