There once was a serial killer. He had a dark passenger that drove him to terrible depths. He had overpowering urges to kill. And he acted on those urges, repeatedly killing ritualistically, stabbing his victims through the heart after binding them to his table, his altar of death.
Like other serial killers, he appeared normal. He was a dedicated employee, respected in his job. He fit in at work. He socialized with his co-workers. He was a loving husband and father. He had a sister that he cared for deeply
So, knowing all this, certainly people would want to see this man captured, stopped, killed if necessary, right?
No, actually a lot of people were rooting for him. You see, he was the hero of a TV show. The show was Dexter.
And as odd as it sounds, Dexter was likeable. Dexter was understandable. Dexter had a code. He only killed people that deserved to die. He was a forensic scientist, and so he could use his skills to investigate. He made sure they were worthy of death before he killed them. No matter that he thrilled on the act of stalking and killing these people, he was doing a valuable service, ridding the world of vermin.
It also didn’t matter that Dexter slowly involved his sister in the web of deception that was necessary to cover the grim tale that was his life to the point where she killed an authority figure to save him and continue his deceit. People felt sorry for her but they rooted for her too.
Or that he had a girlfiend that was also a serial killer that he started to kill but couldn’t for reasons of the heart. But she tried to kill his sister. But she came back. And his son loved her so much.
They were both good people. They were just complicated.
And the show was so interesting; the social interactions of killers amongst themselves and among their mostly unsuspecting social circles.
And therein lies the seduction. Its okay to root for the killer, the liar, the deceiver. They are complicated, understandable, lovable. They have such good reasons for their misdeeds. And these are no little mistakes, these are big calculated cons, these are murders.
If we rejoice that they get away with this stuff we are rejoicing in their wrongdoing, their sin, their evil. Even if it is a TV show.
It’s not like anyone ever imitates this stuff. O wait, they do. Mark Andrew Twitchell[i] says was inspired by the show in his murder. Andrew Conley[ii] likewise cited Dexter as inspiration for his murder of his 10 year old brother!
Some fans were disappointed that Dexter didn’t ride off into the sunset to Argentina with his loving killer wife and his son.
While possibly the most extreme Dexter is not the only show where the hero is performing criminal acts.
Suits is the story of a young genius who is so smart that despite never having gone to Law school he made extra money taking and passing the bar exam for others. The development of that premise is that he eventually takes a job as a lawyer falsifying an Ivy League education in the process.
House of Lies is a drama where the consultants revel in the lies they tell to pull off consulting jobs with big financial gains. Leverage is a Robin Hood story of sorts where a team of thieves and con artists pull incredible scams on guilty parties to avenge and restore the victims. White Collar is the story of a top tier white collar criminal who is allowed out of jail to consult with the FBI while he secretly continues his scamming ways sometimes even in the pursuit of his FBI duties.
I am focusing on just a few shows but this is really just the start of the list. There are shows today that promote adultery, greed, lying, promiscuity etc, etc, etc.
You might hope that somewhere in any of these dramas would be the concept of rehabilitation and redemption, that these anti-heroes reform their ways and get back on track. But no, that would ruin the premise of the story. The crime continues non-stop from Neal Caffrey in White Collar scamming every week to a non-stop parade of murders by Dexter.
So it needs to be said that Dexter is a murderer who should have been stopped and punished. Likewise it is wrong to con and scam in all the shows from Suits to White Collar. Adultery, greed, lying, promiscuity etc. are all wrong.
Otherwise we are celebrating misdeeds, rejoicing in wrongdoing.
It (love) does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:6 ESV)