December 17, 2008

Disturbed by Dexter

A lot of folks these days are into the Showtime series Dexter. Since I'm too cheap to spring for anything more than basic cable, I've been missing the boat. But a recent review of the season 3 finale (Spoiler Alert: don't click that link if you're a fan and haven't yet seen the episode) intrigued me more than anything else I'd heard yet, so I hit the video store today and rented the first disc of the first season. Now, after watching those four episodes back-to-back, I'm disturbed.

It's not the show itself, really, though both the premise and all of the assorted severed limbs that pop up on camera are unsettling, as I'm sure was the intent. No, the idea of the show, of a character like Dexter, is right up my alley. I've always been drawn to the macabre and morbid. As a kid, one of my favorite tv shows was The Addams Family. In high school, I delighted in memorizing and reciting Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies to anyone who would listen. I read Victorian-era ghost stories to relax, and can't pass an old cemetery without making plans to return and photograph it. Even my father confirms all of this: To this day, any reference to the movie Beetlejuice causes him to point at me and proclaim of Winona Ryder's character "That's you!"

So Dexter, the show itself, doesn't bother me. What popped into my head as I turned off the dvd player was: Why on earth is this show so popular? What has changed in our society to make a fairly graphic, somewhat violent television show about a serial killing forensic analyst not only accepted, but lauded? As television goes, Dexter's got a lot going for it-- witty and compelling writing, tension in both plot and character, and a great cast of actors. And for any fan of the much-missed HBO series Six Feet Under, the fact that it stars Michael C. Hall as the title character isn't the only thing it has in common with Alan Ball's great work. All of those factors definitely merit the acclaim the show's received.

Yet its popularity still bugs me. Where I was once glanced askance at for being "weird", I'm finding that "weird" is the In Thing these days. Goth is cool, skulls as decorative items are hip, and Dexter is a hit. And the idea that it's suddenly popular to be a weirdo like me leaves me, well, honestly... a bit freaked out.

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