Friday, December 04, 2009

Life Imitates Art imitate Life

It's going to be all over the airwaves the next few days. Maybe it will give Tiger Woods a respite.

A seventeen year old Indiana boy strangled his ten year old brother and then told police that "he felt just like Dexter." Dexter is the attractive serial killer of the Shwotime original series of the same name. In the show, Dexter works as a blood analyst for the Miami P.D. and satisfies his intense need to kill people by killing murderers on whose case he has been working. In this case, the seventeen year old, Andrew Connoly, was wrestling with his brother Connor, put him in a head lock, and then didn't let go. It escalated from there. After his brother passed out Andrew behaved just like someone on TV. He put on gloves, choked him, put a bag over his head and secured it with electrical wire, and dragged the body to the trunk of his car. Then he drove to his girlfriend's house and gave her a sweetheart ring. The girlfriend said he looked happier than she'd ever seen him.

This will of course raise arguments about violence in the media prompting violent behavior in children and, int his case, teens. (my students are having a debate on that topic in two weeks). But this is a very slipper slope. Aside from the moral dimension of Dexter--that his victims are themselves murderers--there is the question of obsession. Like Dexter, all appearances are that Andrew has been psychopathic his whole life. He says he's fantasized about killing someone since he was eighteen. He has no remorse whatsoever about killing his brother. That morning he considered killing his father but decided not to. His brother was a target of opportunity. And, like Dexter, he is psychologically compelled to kill.

So it is reasonable to suspect that without Dexter, or even without other violent programing on TV, Andrew would have eventually been compelled to kill someone. Dexter gave him a framework in which to describe his compulsion to police. Perhaps you can argue that in Dexter, he saw himself on TV. But to argue that Dexter prompted Andrew to be come a killer would be wrong. It's more accurate to say that Dexter is a reflection of Andrew, not the other way round.

None of which is to say that Andrew should not go to jail for the rest of his natural life. If indeed Andrew is a compulsive killer, then there's no way to allow him back into society (and as a teenager in Indiana he's not elligible for the death penalty).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the question of morality as restraint? All of us have the capacity of depravity; few of us encourage that capacity. The glamorous (I choose that word precisely because of the root meaning "to cast a spell, to put under one's power) depiction of the psychopathic killer, Dexter, surely abets the breakdown of moral restraint and fosters the enactment of those compelling fantasies.

Your statement about the program providing a framework to describe a compulsion were thought-provoking. But have you wondered why our programming has gone from Father Knows Best to CSI, and all the other dramas where a corpse is the star? Or have you speculated on where this will end?

9:17 AM  

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