The Dark Defender: Dexter and Making Heroes out of Serial Killers

In: Monstrous manifestations: Realities and the Imaginings of the Monster

Although we do not typically make heroes out of serial killers, as Paul Kooistra has argued, Dexter manages to have us supporting the monster. The eponymous protagonist of this television show is a forensic blood spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police by day and a serial killer by night. Even though one would expect audiences to read the main character as antipathetic because of his monstrous tendencies, a positive reading of Dexter is possible. In fact, as this chapter argues, the protagonist is sympathetic not despite his monstrous traits, but because of them. Viewing Dexter through such a lens is made possible by a series of elements in his character’s construction, his choice of victims being the quintessence of his acceptance by audiences. By targeting murderers who have escaped punishment, Dexter is transformed from a typical serial killer into an enforcer of justice. As a result, his need to kill is no longer the irrational urge of a psychopath, but can be seen as a heroic action ridding the world of evil. This chapter explores Dexter’s elevation to (vigilante) hero status, arguing that the protagonist’s killings are presented as acceptable and even desirable by responding to anxieties regarding un-punishment and fantasies of moral accountability. It also discusses Dexter’s main ‘opponents’ and their role in presenting his character as a new type of superhero. Finally, the chapter aims to raise questions regarding the significance of a ‘new order of heroes’ that manifest our ideas of ‘natural justice,’ and the role of these dark heroes in the blurring of boundaries between the human and the non-human, the humane and the inhumane.

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