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Pop culture and psychology: A look at 'Dexter'

I really enjoyed reading this piece from Psychology Today: "Being Dexter Morgan."

For starters, the title is near perfection. I love its simple and familiar nature.

But moving on to the content, the author, Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., who also co-wrote "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," examines the popularity of the hit Showtime series "Dexter" and society's embrace of the titular character, a Miami Metro blood splatter analyst who happens to moonlight as a vigilante serial killer.

Ryan argues that we empathize with him because we're privy to his justification for murder:

"Part of the genius of the program is that by sharing Dexter's secret life with us in all its surface normalcy and profound justifications, we are emotionally — and even intellectually — aligned with this cold-blooded killer's view of the world. Miami is a safer place because of what he's doing — even if an innocent person occasionally gets offed in the process. Knowing what we do, both about the criminal underworld and about Dexter's traumatic past, we accept Dexter's perverse hungers as the price of justice, cheering him on as he battles 'real' evil."

And that he's presented in much the same way as a traditional super hero:

"This is Dexter's story, of course, but it's a story he shares with Superman, Batman, and Spiderman: the holy trinity of American superheroes. Spiderman has his webs, Superman his flight, and Batman his high-tech know-how. What's Dexter's superhero ability? Discipline. Obsessive and absolute, Dexter must live by Harry's Code, because he knows that any deviation from the strict moral code Harry taught him can only result in disaster — for himself and the innocent civilians he loves, in his reptilian way."

Aside from the political rant Ryan engages in toward the middle of his piece, I find his examination and analysis interesting. It's a deeper look at the ramifications of a medium often brushed off as mere entertainment — but what does our being entertained by it say about us?

I've been a fan of "Dexter" since the beginning and have engaged in more than one conversation about "What if Dexter were real?" As entertaining as I find the show, and as empathic as I may sometimes be with Dexter Morgan, I don't think a "real life" Dexter would be regarded in quite the same way. Viewers come to know and care about characters on a TV show — and while there will always be people willing to reach out to convicted killers behind bars ("Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez actually got married in prison), it's unlikely that segment of the population is as large as the "Dexter" viewership.