Dexter, Modern Existential Anti-hero

My favorite media entertainment these days is the Showtime series Dexter.  Since I don’t have cable TV, I have to rent the DVDs when they become available.  I usually devour a series in a couple of days.  The comments below are based on the first two seasons.

Dexter Morgan, Existential Anti-hero

Dexter Morgan, Existential Anti-hero

Since I live in Utah, it is difficult sometimes to explain to my friends why I’m addicted to a show that puts a positive (but not too positive) spotlight on a serial killer.  The show is definitely for adults; it contains a moderate amounts of bad language, violence, and sex.

I first learned of Dexter from an article in Time Magazine.  The article alleged that Mothers for Decency (or some such group) was protesting the amoral nature of the series.  Since I don’t have cable, it was fortunate that CBS used it as a summer replacement (editted for commercial TV).  I immediately started to watch it . . . and loved it.  I haven’t been this engrossed in a TV series since The Rockford Files and  the early years of the X-Files.

After watching a couple of episodes of Dexter on CBS, I rented the DVDs of the first season.  Soon after, I rented the second season and was equally impressed.  And for me, it is not a “guilty pleasure”; I recommended it to my friends and adult children.

Dexter Morgan, the anti-hero of the show, is an updated version of Albert Camus’ Meursault (The Stranger).  Dexter is a serial killer (who only executes really bad guys) who works as a blood spatter expert for the Miami Police.  The department, thickheadedly, can’t seem to figure out why Dexter is a little strange.  In other words, they don’t know he is a serial killer.  The characters, colleagues, and villians surrounding Dexter are all very human, very flawed, yet very intriguing.  The show is character driven.

Dexter is trying to fit in so he won’t be discovered, after all he is devoid of most human emotions.  His girl friend, who also doesn’t know he’s a vigilante executioner, has two precocious children and the three of them are helping with Dexter’s learning-to-act-normal process.  Add an impulsive, neurotic sister (who is also a cop) to the mix and and you have the 21st century’s best shows.

Dexter and Meursault are compatriots, modern-day existential anti-heroes.  The literacy difference between them is two generations.  Why do I then relate to the pair?  (My friends wonder if they should start worrying about me?)  Here are a couple of bullets:

  • To survive teenage angst, I developed a sometimes emotionless demeanor;
  • I occasionally feel that I’m on a different wave length from my contemporaries and the rest of the world; feelings of alienation;
  • I also have occasionally feelings that life is absurd (frequently after traveling through developing countries);
  • I’m surrounded by quirky friends (aren’t we all?);
  • and, don’t we all have an occasional thought of vigilanteism?

After I became addicted to the show, a friend gave me a copy of one of the  Dexter  books by Jeff Lindsay.  I took the book to Uganda with me.  While there I traveled to a small primitive fishing village on an island in Lake Victoria.  While walking, a young child offered to carry the book.  Without thinking I acquiesced.  Soon I started to have thoughts about creating an island full of serial killers . . . if I accidently left the book behind.  One of those not so serendipitous events.  Of course that wouldn’t happen, but I immediately retrieved the book anyway.

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2 Responses to Dexter, Modern Existential Anti-hero

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    According to the AP as reported in the SLTrib (Jan 14, 2010):

    “Dexter star Michael C. Hall is undergoing treatment for cancer and the disease is in remission, a spokeman said.

    The actor, 38, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is considered highly treatable with the potential for full recovery.”

    His wife is actress Jennifer Carpenter who plays his sister on Showtime’s “Dexter.”

  2. Connor Rohmer says:

    I also immediately drew this comparison between Dexter and existentialism. However, you forgot to mention how he has developed his own basis of action out of his alienation and introspection. That is the most significant paralleled thought to existentialism that is present in the show. I didn’t realize it at first but there are some definite connections between Meursault and Dexter, mainly the lack of emotion resulting in said alienation. nice observation!

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