Friday, September 28, 2007

The Sociopath Becomes Mainstream

This Mommy is really dismayed by the popularity of a cable-TV drama called Dexter.

I'm not surprised by the success of the show. Dexter has all of the elements that one would expect from a cable-TV drama. It's non-formulaic, the characters are well developed, the dialog is highly crafted and subtext oozes from every nook and cranny. Throw in some irony and a wee bit of biting humor. Top it off with some superb acting from the likes of Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) and you've got the makings of a winner.

Here's the snag. The subject matter is patently offensive. The glib portrayal of a serial killer is just not entertaining. Or at least it shouldn't be. Have we become so numb to violence and mayhem that we find the life and times of a serial killer to be the fodder for entertainment?

I don't blame the creators of the show. This is their artistic endeavor and they have every right to peddle it to the highest bidder. So be it. My concern is with what appears to be our never ending thirst for subject matter which glorifies horror, despair, and abject misery. In the case of Dexter, we are treated to an almost whimsical, snickering look-see into the life of a mass murderer. He's a bad, bad boy who's been hurting people. Bad Dexter. Bad serial killer. He's crafty--that one! Tune in next week for more of his mass murdering hi-jinx!

And yeah, I know. He only kills bad guys. So we shouldn't feel shock when he impales or dismembers his latest victim. They deserved it. They had it coming. Some might say that we need more like him.

My God...I hope not. Many years ago, I was indelibly struck by Hannah Arendt's seminal work Eichmann in Jerusalem. Her core assertion is that evil is cloaked in the routine, lurking in the familiar, emanating from that which is accustomed. Building in small, insidious ways until it culminates into a menacing destroyer...after countless, seemingly benign influences erode our natural sensitivity. Hitler's wrath began as a viable political strategy and good common sense to millions of beleaguered Germans. Not bad people by and large. And yet they share in the culpability.

We Americans are war torn in other, less visible ways. We encounter a never ending barrage of violence, indiscriminate sexuality, immorality in every form--all streaming from a host of media outlets. Yet we're somehow used to it. We're desensitized to suffering in a million small ways.

Our empathy is unwittingly chipped away as we grab our popcorn bowl and settle down for a quiet evening of Dexter. The banality of evil indeed.

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