“They’re on television at night and people watch Dexter about a serial killer I guess with a conscience. Does that make any sense?”
A television show called Happy Days catered to nostalgia for the 50’s. A main character on the show was called Fonzie (played by Henry Winkler). Fonzie wore black leather and looked like a 50’s-style hood but he was really a supporter of a totally conventional and boring family. His “coolness” was at the service of the very opposite of what coolness is supposed to represent. This is an example of something television sit-coms and dramatic series do all-too-often.
There’s nothing new about TV shows promoting the vision of society and life that glorifies and promotes the status quo. Many story-lines show a teenager who toys with the idea of doing something different, quitting school to become an actress, taking risks, etc. They always decide in the end that being a typical teen and going to high school is just the most terrific thing a kid can do. Message: Don’t look beyond the average. There’s nothing out there for you. Just buckle down and be normal.
The status quo is very boring, even for the most died-in-the-wool conformist. To get people to even watch or read a book, writers have to present something more exciting, create, at least, the illusion of an alternative.
Browsing through the web, one can’t help but notice how hungry people are for danger. Conspiracy theories about the “Illuminati” and the “New World Order” keep things exciting without shaking the mundane day-to-day reality of the population. The United States is the drama capital of the world, after all. Americans often have trouble distinguishing fiction from reality which is why they elect movie cowboys like Ronald Reagan and “terminators” like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
American drama kings and queens enjoy the ambiguity of fictional heroes who are both dark and still all-American. Examples abound. In the popular series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a vampire named Angel has a conscience. He has forsworn human blood, drinking animal blood from butcher stores, instead, and helping to slay vampires. Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire stars Louis, a vampire who finds his need to drink blood unacceptable. He compromises by drinking the blood of animals, not butcher’s blood, but live prey, rodents and so forth. Later, he gives in to his nature and drinks from humans but he is tormented by guilt for his eternal life. The vampire who sired him, Lestat, isn’t tormented by guilt but only feeds on the “evil doer.” To make his choice seem less moral, he is made to say (in the movie, not the book) that evil doers taste better. Aha. Just a hedonist, after all. Claudia, a vampire who was made immortal when still a child tells Louis, “Your only evil is that you can’t be evil.”
Vampires are creatures of fiction. Psychopaths are real. In the public’s mind, psychopaths are simultaneously seen as terrifying monsters and as super cool hotties. We are judged and glorified at the same time. In the words of Robert Frost, “Something there is that does not love a wall.” Perhaps that’s why we are the public’s best fantasy (as well as their worst nightmare). There is a whole mystique built around the serial killer. America seems to have a monopoly on them as well as on mass murderers (those who shoot people at random). They must be as much a part of our culture as apple pie, although England has it’s own fascination with murder, albeit in a much lower key, celebrated in the murder mystery. Of course, not all serial killers are psychopaths and most psychopaths are not serial killers. We do seem to be more visible in the English speaking countries.
A recent movie, I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016), deals with a kid whose mother runs a mortuary and who is obsessed with serial killers. He, despite his “clinical diagnosis” of sociopathy, does not want to hurt anyone. He has a set of rules to help him keep his more antisocial urges in check. And he ends up catching an actual serial killer. The popular series, Dexter, mentioned above, is about a psychopath who, like the vampire, Lestat, only kills the evil doer, in this case, other murderers.
I asked fellow psychopaths to weigh in about Dexter and received a variety of answers. Some defended his choice as one of removing the unworthy. Some considered it a clever way to survive and still have his blood lust. Others admitted it was probably just a way the producers of the show made him more acceptable to the public. As driven by their fascination with the dark side, the American public still needs to dilute their dark heroes with some milk of human kindness in order to be able to bond with them.
America’s real dark side isn’t in the entertainment industry. It is in the wars fought all over the world. It is in the deaths at home (by cops, by poverty and by disease) that are systemic, not illegal. But that’s the realm of politics beyond the province of this blog.