Monday, May 30, 2011

Thoughts on Anti-heroes

Recently, I finished watching Season 2 of Showtime’s Dexter. I, like many other viewers, am attracted to the fast pace and intriguing characters. In particular, the clinical analyses rendered by the series’s protagonist, Dexter Morgan, provide an interesting vehicle for the development of not only the secondary characters but of Dexter himself. This look into the character’s inner monologue reveals a deeply troubled man that is ambiguously portrayed as desiring a normal life while at the same time refusing to admit dissatisfaction with his current life as a serial killer. Indeed, the series continually portrays the character as gleeful in his pursuit of his victims.

This begs the question, what attraction does this antihero have for the show’s audience? I chatted with a friend on the topic and we reached some concordances. We both agreed that the theme of impulses and the control of those impulses was something that we could both relate to. In particular, we both felt that Dexter’s desire for a normal life represented a glimmer of humanity in the other wise self proclaimed “Monster.”

One issue on which we could not reach a satisfactory conclusion was the moral dilemma of killing a killer. We felt that this plot element made the character no more likable as this choice of victims was repeatedly described as a purely self-preserving rational decision. It led me to wonder what the series’s writers hoped to accomplish with this choice. One solution would be to consider it as an attempt to make the character seem more attractive to the audience. Implicit in this solution is the assumption that the writer’s feel the audience places a positive value on the punishment of other’s for their actions. This created another moral quandary for me. If these are in fact bad people who have avoided punishment for their actions, do they deserve to be punished by a vigilante? More interesting than answering this question for me perhaps is the implication that the writers feel that on a whole we place value on punishment. While accountability for actions is indeed necessary for a functional society, a society that potentially derives satisfaction in the punishment of human beings is truly monstrous.

Jonathan Tatum

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