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1 OUR DARK DEFENDER: DEXTER IN THE CONTEXT OF POST 9/11 AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM By EMILY GLOSSER A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ART S UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2013
2 2013 Emily Glosser
3 A spec ial thank you to my grandmother Rita Glosser for her unconditional love, and for always encouraging me to follow my dreams.
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank my parents Nancy and Richard Glosser, for their love and guidance throughout both my childhood and adulthood. I would also like to thank the many friends I have made in graduate school who shaped me as an academic, and have become a wonderful support network. I would like to thank my reader, Dr. Eric Kligerman, who is such an inspiring, talented, and encouraging individual Finally, a sp ecial thank s to my thesis chair, Dr. Anastasia Ulanowicz. Anja, as we call her, has been my mentor since I was an undergraduate and is one of the reasons why I am in graduate school today. She has helped me grow as a writer and thinker, and I am so appreciative to have her in my life, both as a teacher and as a friend.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 7 2 THE HARD BOILED DETECTIVE ................................ ................................ .......... 16 The Hard Boiled Detective a nd Moral Interventionism ................................ ............ 20 ................................ .............................. 25 The Forensic Investigator and the Murder Ritual ................................ .................... 28 Conclusion: Dexter as the Sovereign Figure ................................ ........................... 35 3 THE CHILD ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 38 The Virgin Land and Virgin Children: The Threatened Child in the War on Terror .. 41 Vulnerable Child Figure in Dexter ................................ ................................ ........ 45 Conclusion: Child as Narrative ................................ ................................ ................ 52 4 THE SERIAL KILLER ................................ ................................ .............................. 54 5 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 67 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 70 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 73
6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requireme nts for the Degree of Master of Arts OUR DARK DEFENDER: DEXTER IN THE CONTEXT OF POST 9/11 AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM By EMILY GLOSSER May 2013 Chair: Anastasia Ulanowicz Major: English The Showtime series Dexter centers on a blood spatter analyst named Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), who is also secretly a serial killer. Yet, unlike past fictional and real life serial murderers, Dexter abides by a moral code, which restricts him to both an agent of the Law that will exempt the Law when deemed necessary, Dexter acts in accord with American exceptionalism, or the notion that the State can declare itself an exception to the order it regulates. Although exceptionalism was an organizing l ogic of The Cold Homeland Security Act and the Global War on Terror. Thus, I position Dexter in relation to its post 9/11 exceptionalist context, and argue that while t he show is popular among young, liberal viewers, these viewers ultimately slip back into its neoconservative ideologies. My study of the series is split amongst three figures: the hard boiled detective, the child, and the serial killer. While both the har d boiled detective and the child figure affirm neoconservative exceptionalist beliefs and practices, the serial killer ultimately turns the viewers gaze inward, and exhibits the fissures within the exceptionalist framework.
7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The Sh owtime series Dexter premiered on October 1, 2006, and quickly became Darkly Dreaming Dexter (2004) the show is about a blood spa tter analyst named Dexter (Michael C. Hall), who works for the Miami Metro police department, and simultaneously leads a secret life as a serial killer. Dexter, however, is not the usual persona of evil that we see in both real and fictional accounts of serial killers. Unlike Buffalo Bill, Patrick B ateman, and John Kramer, or Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and childhood, viewers learn t Dexter the Code after he discovered a ditch full of animal remains, and realized his son had been killing neighborhood pets. Rather than punishing Dexter or responding with disgust, Harry fee the result of a childhood trauma, when, as a two year old, Dexter witnessed his slip through the cracks of a faulty legal system. Dexter transforms from a wounded and own personal vulnerable, Miami population that is constantly subject to the evil whims of the monsters living amongst them.
8 Dexter has received some of the highest ratings in Showtime history. Th e season three finale garnered 1.51 million viewers, the season four finale 2.6 million, and the season seven finale 2.75 million, making it the highest rated episode in Showtime history. The show has also inspired an exorbitant amount of merchandise: thr ough the Showtime characters, and blood spattered glass coasters and mugs. In the summer of 2008, a grou p of top designers transformed a New York apartment into a Dexter Dexter Dexter inspired kitchen produced such limited edition items for purchase as dining chairs apparently spattered with b knife, fork, or spoon consists of pieces of several styles of flatware a real steal at only all while concealing his identity. In the same manner that hunters collect their hunting Showtime website, wh ich in plastic wrap, with the fearful recognition that they are about to die. It should be Dexter primarily targets young viewers. The edginess and risky nature of the forum, Twitter, and Facebook discussions related to the show. The most enthusiastic viewers fa ll within the 20 35 age bracket, with 55% of viewers being male and 45%
9 was unable to find demographics regarding the political affiliations of viewers, I surmise that the majority of viewers fall towards the Left, since that is the pattern among the 20 35 age demographic. The show also invites a liberal audience through its progressive portrayals of race and gender roles; for example, Maria Laguerta, a Puerto Rican female character, is the lieutenant of Miami Metro, and therefore in a position superior to the White male officers working under her. The presence of characters like Laguerta, who defy traditional minority and gender roles, make a conservative surface reading of the show difficult. However, even though the show attracts liberal viewer and appears forward thinking, the show often slips back into the neoconservative narratives that it White Anglo er? 146). Dexter relies upon an exceptionalist framework that has been present in American culture since the sixteenth century, when European White settlers saw America as the fulfillment of the European dream. Exceptionalism, however, was not fully real ized until the Cold War, when the United States positioned itself as the epitome of democracy that European nations should emulate. During this period in history, the states whose social orders were described by exceptionalist historians as having been Pease 10). Moreover, the United States responded to
10 most importantly, this emergency state allowed the state to position itself neither within the order or outside of the order. The state situated itself within the order that it protected but it occupied the internal externality of the exception. For in order to defend the order it also represented, the state was first required to declare itself an exception to the order it regulated. The State of Exception is marked by absolute i ndependence from any juridical control and any reference to the normal political order [emphasis added] (Pease 24 ) Union came apart and the United States lost its enemy. As a result, many of the contradictions inherent to the State of Exception surfaced, and citizens began to discriminatory practices against domestic minorities and its a cts of imperial aggression th created the necessary conditions for a new State of Exception. Following this national trauma, the Bush administration relied upon the rationale that since t he enemy had violated the 167). Under this justification, Bush created the Homeland Security Act (2002) that habituated and that tore to the ground the democratic institutions freedom of speech, religious tolerance, formal equality, uniform juridical proce dures, universal suffrage also passed The USA PATRIOT Act (2001), an acronym that stands for Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and)
11 Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, resulting in the most dramatic abridgement of civil ethics, of human rights, of due process, of constitutional hierarchies, and of the division Pease 168). Furthermore, Bush extended the domestic emergency state across the globe: he assigned Afghanistan and eople, and thus created the Global War on Terror, which justified excessive violence directed towards these Operation Iraqi States needed to promote democracy in a land that, according to Bush, harbored terrorists and Weapons of Mass Destruction. American spectators took pleasure in the spectacles of violence that occurred in both Afghanistan and Iraq, because they were than an aggressor state, whose manifest errand was civilizing rather than bru (Pease 172). My analysis of the show positions Dexter in relation to post 9/11 neoconservative exceptionalist ideologies. I have examined episodes from the first three seasons, since these seasons were filmed and premiered during the Bush admini stration, and therefore are likely the best reflection of the neoconservative beliefs of the time. As I noted above, Darkly Dreaming Dexter was published in 2004. The first season aired from October 2006 to December 2006, the second season from September 2 007 to December 2007, and the third season from September 2008 to December 2008. Less than two years
12 prior to the release of the novel, the Bush administration enacted the Homeland Security Act (November 2002), which consolidated domestic anti terrorism an d attacks. In March 2003, Bush launched the invasion in Iraq, and in 2004, the war began to receive extensive domestic and international criticism: In March 2004, form er UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix declared the war in Iraq illegal, and in April 2004, images of torture from Abu Ghraib were revealed to a dismayed American public. These revelations about prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib coincided with reports about m istreatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Only two months after the television premiere of Dexter Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity, and was executed a month later. 2007 saw a surge of U.S. military troops in Iraq. The Bush Adm protection and for bringing freedom to the world. However, the revelations about the torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay significantly undermined these exceptionalist practices and beliefs, and prompted much of the American public to no longer perceive their nation as the redeemer, but rather as the monster. In Dexter we, serial murders as heroic, but as barbarous. My study of the show is arranged around three figures the hard boiled detective, the child, and the serial killer all of whom embody post 9/11 exceptionalism. I use a cultural historical analysis by demonstrating how De xter often parallels post 9/11 neoconservative narratives through the myth of regenerative violence. My interpretation Gunfighter Nation (1992) a study about the
13 influence of Wild West myths in American culture and politics. Slotkin defines myths as with all the complexities and contradi and effect history as progress. My study assumes concerns of Americans as citizens of a nation sta 2001, when White House advisors and senior Holl ywood executives had a series of ordinating the war effort and establishing how Hollywood not only to Americans, but also to the Hollywoo d public around second and third chapters especially take into account this idea of Hollywood as an Dexter parallels neoconservative exceptionalist narratives through the hard boiled detective and vulnerable child figure. However, I make a shift in my fourth chapter, when I demonstrate the fissures in the exceptionalist framework by exhibiting how the show turns the gaze inward. As Slotkin explains, no myth system is proof again st moments of
14 ideological crisis or cognitive dissonance, and consequently, mythologies are often disrupted and revised. In my second chapter, I draw a comparison between Dexter and the hard boiled detective character, who personifies the State of Excepti on, because he works both inside and outside the Law. Like Dexter, the hard boiled detective will often justify exceptional violence through a moral Code, which becomes comparable to the Bush dditionally, the show creates a moral distinction between Dexter and his victims, which reinforces the Bush in this chapter, I create a thread between the hard boiled detective and the forensic investigator, who externalizes the moral Code into a scientific and clean murder ritual. I argue that the abstract and scientific treatment of the body on the show reflec ts the technological military strategy of the war on terror, which dehumanizes the enemy and allows for the disavowal of violence. In the third chapter, I examine the figure of the wounded child in Dexter The his childhood trauma of watching his the aftermath of 9/11, when he infantilized a wounded nation in order to warrant the abridgment of constitutional rights and extre me international violence. Moreover, the show harks backs to captivity narratives, with all of their racial reinforcements: in various episodes, Dexter acts as a protector and avenger of the White, vulnerable child, which creates a further correspondence b
15 justifications for violence. President Bush similarly returned to the captivity myth in order to position himself as the father figure of a wounded nation, who must use whatever means necessary to rescue and de fend his children from the savagery of the terrorist harboring nations. My fourth chapter on the serial killer deviates from the second and third chapters, violence. F ictional representations of serial killers grew in popularity following 9/11, which is likely because the figure is familiar, and therefore a source of refuge from the seemingly incomprehensible evil of the 9/11 terrorists. Yet, since this figure is a uniq uely American phenomenon, it functions as a reflection of the American viewers who are so Dexter prompts erican the serial killer, mimics the very seriality and cyclicality of the show itself. Thus, we begin to question how the show is an indication of our own trauma, and how we th century myths, and in doing so, draw into question the truism that everything changed after 9/11.
16 CHAP TER 2 THE HARD BOILED DETECTIVE As I explained above, Dexter is original in the sense that he is a serial killer that viewers affirm. The show persuades us to feel affection and support for Dexter because unlike the fictional and real serial murderers bef ore him, he abides by a moral Code, innocents. However, even though Dexter is distinct from his murderous predecessors, as a vigilante character, he acts in accord with o ther American heroes such as the lone gunfighter, the detective, and the gangster. These US mythological heroes, characters idea that one must regress into acts of sav agery in order to purify and purge th century vision of the frontier past in order to explain the enormous effect it had on American international and domestic policies thr oughout the 20 th century. Influenced by Leatherstocking Tales Roosevelt understood the frontier as the site of conflict over land and power between the superior Anglo Saxons and an inferior aboriginal race. In this confrontation, according to Roo sevelt, Anglo Saxons bypassed democratic principles by resorting to violence in order to master the inferior race. Although these violence is vindicated because it de Therefore, Roosevelt perceived Anglo Saxon violence as a necessary ingredient for civilized progress.
17 Throughout this study, S frontier past continues to be reflected in the American popular culture heroes we see in 20 th century literature and film. Moreover, he describes how the fictional conflicts in these heroic tales shaped real life international and domestic policies, and how, in turn provided a frame in which alternative approaches to the political and ideological this point, Slotkin analyzes the John Wayne film Rio Grande (1950); He demonstrates Lt. Col. Kirby, defiance of the Law and pre emptive action to methods for dealing with the Korean crisis of June July 1950. In this moment in history, Truman and General terms of the UN Mandate by attacking north of the 38 th Parallel in an attempt to unite Similarly, we can analyze the narratives employed in Dexter and conside r how they mirror post 9/11 foreign policies, specifically the Bush Doctrine, which used the promotion of democratic regime change as justification for pre emptive strikes against potential enemy nations that could be harboring terrorists. As noted above, Dexter acts in accord with past fictional American heroes who employ regenerative violence: he presumably, this justification is sanctioned by viewers who are called to sympathize with him. Moreover, like other heroes in American film and literature, Dexter is largely
18 concerned with issues of morality, since the show relies upon the Code to create an his fictional predecessors, Dexter constantly battles his hunger to kill, to ensure that his primal urges do not overcome his resolve to murder only tho se that deserve to die. extensive focus on morality is fitting when we consider the to justify military intervention in Afghanistan, and more problematically, in Iraq. While all presidents have used morals in order to w arrant domestic and international policies, Howard Fineman of Newsweek indicates that George W. Bush evokes morality and highlight a central fact this president and th Commerce Donald Evans contends that moral vision and a very clear sense of what is in Dolan). Additionally, Dexter employs scientific and technological skills and tools from his forensics position to master his antagonists. His pragmatici sm when murdering captures Dominance and Torturegate: The Making of U
19 Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance to explain the neoconservative technological military strategy and tech weaponry, near perfect knowledge enabled by information technology, and a colonizing of channels of dominance has been associated with masculinity in Shock and Awe tech military The viewing Dexter specifically his day time work as blood spatter analy st. As I will elaborate later time forensic work transfers over to his night time murders, as he treats each kill with the same control and precision as a science experiment. His technical treatment of murder results in the objectification of his victims, and allows viewers to effectively disavow his violence. on morality and science for stepping outside the Law makes him compatible with the neoconservative vision of intervention in rogue nations. 9/11 historical moment, his character also harks b ack to the hard boiled detective, a figure that had its heyday from the 1930s to the 1950s. Like Dexter, the hard boiled detective exercises a moral Code for violence, and works both inside and outside the Law to catch criminals. Both characters assume a u tilitarian approach towards violence, or the belief that brute ends justify the means. The reemergence of this figure in Dexter is unsurprising, particularly
20 if we consider how the Bush administration also relied on a personal moral Code of justice, or th e Bush doctrine, to justify preventive warfare with nations deemed threatening, unilateral militarism, and the spreading of democracy throughout the Middle East. The Hard Boiled Detective and Moral Interventionism Richard Slotkin explains how the developm ents in industry and urbanization during the 19 th century shifted the focus from the frontier to the city. As a result, the outlaw hero of the frontier evolved into the hard boiled detective figure, who embodies the hard boiled the law and an outlaw who acts outside of the structures of legal authority for the sake of a personal definition of justice, which often takes the form of private question or ccordance with the hard boiled detective figure because he works both within the Law, as a blood spatter analyst for Miami Metro, and outside of the Law, when he takes justice into his own hands by murdering serial killers that the legal system has failed to catch, or is taking too long to catch. Additionally, Dexter relies on a moral Code as a method for determining who deserves to be killed. John Cawelti ro when engaging in acts of violence (536). In Dexter the Code is never explicitly stated, although through flashbacks, viewers can infer that the Code involves Dexter having to extensively research his potential victims in order be sure they are guilty of murder and a continuous threat society. Additionally, according to the Code, Dexter is to never kill innocents, especially children (a point I will discuss in further detail below). Finally, Dexter is to never get caught by following a specific ritual, which emphasizes sterile murder, and eradicating all traces of evidence. The ritual
21 discipline and virtue during acts of violence: The shootout usually occurs only after the extreme provocation by the antagonist, and it is a ritual ceremony in which the hero waits for his hero to draw first and then with the most extraordinary grace and discipline pulls his own gun and s controlled and restrained demeanor under pressure and his adherence to the ritual structure of the shootout are external signs of the inner discipline and moral integrity he gains from his absolute obedience to the Code. (Cawelti 535 536) the scientific treatment of the body and the elimination of all evidence of murder. morality, and more to do with conducting a body does in fact help preserve his integrity, since the sterility of his kill rooms, which look more like laboratories, allo w viewers to deny the monstrosity of his violence. Additionally, the hard boiled detective has been compared with a political leader who uses narrative in order to derive significance from a chaotic world. According to s many characteristics in common with the modern political leader or agitator. He simplifies life, makes sense out of it and gives it meaning. externals but on intuition (80). Like the politician, the detective uses his devotion to analysis and reason in order case in thei r proper relationship to one another, and from this ordering of the facts he goes onto the reordering of society. The murderer is identified and is isolated,
22 uncertainly yields to certainty, safety and trust are restored; for the unsettling puzzle there is Dexter, viewers watch Dexter piece together clues in order to discover a killer, stalk him/her, and kill him/her. The city of Miami remains vulnerable up until the moment whn Dexter executes the criminal and returns the world to safety. Furthermore, the hard boiled detective and political leader create the fantasy of order and control, usually by relying on the fictional world of good versus evil in a real life context. Donald Pease explains that political leaders will turn to state fantasies, or a normal order of fictions in order to create a teleological order. Eventually, the fantasies become linked hard boiled detective genre then, these fantasies provide it Pease explains that these fantasies are often exceptionalist, in which the State declares itself an exception to its own rules (16). After the trauma of 9/11, Bush created th e fantasy of narrative order through his of declaring a war with Iraq. In a speech on September 12, 2001, George W. Bush in every region,
23 now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hosti qtd. In Dolan). States that were suspected of harboring terrorists and Weapons of Mass Destruction were described as the evil states that continues to flau nt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving t he bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world. (qtd. In Dolan) By describing the Iraqi r and villain nation, created justification for preventive strike against people. In this veritable proclamation of war, Bush depended on the idea that the rules of war have changed, now that the fight is against terrorists, which conceal their movements and intentions and have a disregard for international law. According to the of Mas s Destruction legitimized an aggressive and self defensive military strategy. Dexter too, relies on the similar binaries of good and evil in order to justify acting outside of the Law for the sake of a vulnerable population, insofar as it uncannily echoes protection and self
24 framework because while he works for the Law, he also will also go beyond the Law for his ow n definition of morality and justice. As a hard boiled detective, he does not can solve the puzzle of a crime, the genre frequently shows the policeman surr endering that the detective is the extra legal superman who is called in to accomplish by extraordinary measures what is impossible within the traditional organiza real world where personal or interpersonal morality supersedes formal ugh the formula demands a 5). also help maintain a separation between the hero and the villain. Dexter always depicted as out of control and unpredictable, which corresponds with the Bush
25 this idea of unpredictability: Bush described these groups as weapons of mass destruction weapons that can be easily concealed, delivered cover tly, and used without The similarities between the serial killers Dexter goes after and the terrorists is unsurprising, since according to Aydelotte, the criminal in the hard boiled personalization of our grievances, as we like to personalize them in the atmosphere of political or soc ial crisis in real life. We have toward the criminal the same or comparable feelings we have toward any one of the commonly accepted scapegoats of our day, the jew, the labor agitator, Wall street, the ing the criminal figures on the show, we might understand how they mirror the real fears Americans have towards the terrorist or the Scholars like Noam Chomsky have noted that the def become increasingly muddled. The Bush administration never provided clear criteria of provides two definitions of a rogue state. The first d who have the power to control discourse, prop aganda, framework of discussion, and so
26 to Chomsky, this propaganda version will classify a nation as rogue by focusing on its morally criminal acts. For example, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and William Cohen defended the military intervention in Iraq by emphasiz criminal acts of estruction again his neighbors as well as his qtd in Chomsky). It is significant to note, however, that the United States is declares itself an excepti on to World Court decisions. evaluation of the villainous figures in recent popular culture could shed light on the traits that American political leaders deem criminal. Spe cifically, by studying work of American literature, film, and media that have a hero protagonist, we can infer the propaganda version of rogue, since the hero itself generally fits the literal definition. For example, Dexter goes rogue because he works out side of the Law to find and execute the villains. Yet, because the show creates a moral distinction between Dexter and gue, because he relies on a moral Code, unlike his victims, who have no such guidelines. Rather, his victims are depicted with no remorse. For example, in Season 1, the Ice Truck Killer is represented as sick and perverse, with no regard for human life: he kills and dismembers female prostitutes r, Debra, and then tries to kill her as a way to manipulate Dexter into coming after him. Therefore, unlike Dexter, this character is
27 rogue because he has no regard for innocents or for human emotion, as seen by the way he tricks Debra into falling in love with him, only as an attempt to make her his next victim. with Dexter because she is a compulsive arsonist who will kill innocents. Beginning in this season, the show create s a further distinction between Dexter and his victims through the binary of rationality versus irrationality and masculine versus feminine. Lila, unlike Dexter, is illustrated as giving into her emotional whims. For example, she kills Sergeant Doakes by l ighting propane canisters as a way to become closer to Dexter, whom she believes is her soul mate. The show writes her as an artist, which contrasts whereas Dexter is contro lled and logical. In season three, moreover, the show introduces Miguel Prado, an easily angered Latino character, who further reinforces this rational versus irrational binary between Dexter and his victims. Miguel is an Assistant District Attorney who be Dexter initially trusts Miguel, the show foreshadows Miguel as a villain by rendering him mercurial. Miguel is often boisterous, easily excitable, and most dangerously, easily angered. Like Li Dexter tries to teach Miguel the Code, Miguel ultimately goes against these moral guidelines and kills his rival, defense attorney Ellen Wolf, an innocent woman. Dexter soon realizes that Miguel is a monster who cannot be controlled, and chooses to kill him as a way to prevent more innocent lives from being taken.
28 If we look closely at the traits of the Ice Truck Killer, Lila, and Miguel, and see how they contrast with Dexter, we get because he has no regard for human connection, evidenced by his manipulation and attempted murder of his fiance, Debra. Truck Killer corresponds with media descriptions of Saddam Hussein. For example, a wellbeing of its own people. This contrasts with the hero, who is emotionally bonded to his own people, and is compelled to se cure the safety and welfare of his community, an idea that I will elaborate on in chapter two when I discuss the use of sentimentalism in Dexter. is also dangerous. As explained above, Lila becomes so obsessed with Dexter to the point that she hurts innocents (as seen by her murder of Sergeant Doakes). Miguel, too, exhibits rage and hatred, evidenced when he illegitimately kills Ellen Wolf purely out of rivalry. Both of these char acters exemplify the fear many Americans had towards terrorists and terrorists harboring regimes, which, as explained earlier, are described as erratic villains who will use weapons of mass destruction with no warning. Through these villains, then, the sho w demonstrates that a hero or moral character strikes a healthy balance between affect and control and predictability. The Forensic Investigator and the Murder Ritual two, I will bracket that off for now, and turn my attention to the forensic investigator, a
29 figure, who, I argue, is a later manifestation of the hard boiled detective, and mirrors the dominance in the war on terror. The hard boiled Code, as explained earlier, typically has both an inner and outer form. Internally, the Code discipline, exemplified by Cawel the classic western shootout, where the heroic character waits for the antagonist to pull out his gun first. In Dexter the external form of the Code has evolved into a precise, controlled, and clean murder ritual, in which the body is treated as an object of science. hero alter ego, the show illustrates continuity be murders: Dexter relies on the research methods that he uses to solve crimes to commit murders, and his kill room resembles a laboratory more than a torture chamber. Indeed, Dexter kills his victims with many of the same tools that he uses in the laboratory, such as blood slides, syringes, and a face shield visor. The continuity of these images, I in which we are no longer to regard th em as humans, but rather as mere bodies. enables viewers to disavow his violence. The crime scenes in Dexter establish the modus operandi for how viewers are to regar d the body. Similar to the characters in other forensic dramas like CSI and Bones, the characters in Dexter are unaffected by the corpses that they examine at crime scenes, treating the body as a puzzle to be solved through science rather than as a
30 once li the murder of police officer Ricky Simmons. As he enters the crime scene, the camera then look s up, and the camera switches to a birds eye view, where we get a distant shot of Dexter as he examines the two overpasses above him, as well as a view of the bloodied corpse beside him. The camera then switches to a low camera angle as Dexter explains to Lieutenant LaGuerda his interpretation of the murder, which he grotesque body, y perceive the body with the same emotionless stance as him. Furthermore, within this scene, the corpse is depicted as abject: immediately after Dexter removes a piece of loose flesh from t he mouth of the corpse, blood that had accumulated in the open mouth with disgust. The impartial treatment of the body and its portrayal as abject carries over into Dext CSI, rder to explain s regular portrayal of dispassionate scientists Dexter, the show compels us to perce ive both the dismembered corpse at the crime scene and the living body in
31 dismembere d body parts in trash bags and tosses them into the sea. As Byers argues, 94). In Dexter however, the body ceases to be human soon after Dexter determines it do es not deserve to live. After Dexter makes this decision, he treats the living body like an object in a lab experiment, epitomized through his murder ritual. In this ritual Dexter first uses a syringe to inject his victim with tranquilizer. He then transpo through sheets, which makes for an easily clean up and no traces of evidence. The victim wakes up to find him/herself stripped of clothing, held to a long table by thick layers of see through plastic wrap or duct tape, and often surrounded by photographs of the innocent people he or she has killed. Dexter, wearing an apron and latex gloves, slide, which he keeps as a trophy. He then often kills the victim using a sharp knife, with a single puncture to the heart. The camera never captures the knife stabbing into the viewers only see Dexter pull out a knife and move the knife downward in a stabb ing motion. We do not, however, see the knife actually enter Chambers body, nor do we see any blood that flows as a consequence of this action. Instead, the camera remains s face, whose expression appears understated.
32 avoids graphic images of violence, allows viewers to disavow the pain and torture looking kill room and his use of lab instruments make his murders appear clean and eradicate the possibility of remaining evidence. The physicality of a messy looking corpse disturbs Dexter, a fact we quickly learn in the pilot episode, when he admires th e pristine appearance of the bloodless oreover, seeing the bloodied remains of Dexter elucidate this point by citing a key scen e in season two, when Dexter remembers his is visceral: he freezes, vomits, and begs Dex explain how in this scene the murderous act is split; the show indicates that Harry saw no longer able to maintain identification with preserve their allegiance with Dexter because we are absolved from graphic images of murder. ary approach to murder resonates with the tech warfare in the war on
33 terror. Christian Parenti remarks that in this war, we see an increase in technology or coordinates to twenty which can operate virtually undetected and accurately from altitudes of sixty five national body politic as force, power, precisi on, and control a hypermodern, punitive empire (164). She refers to both the high technological machines that Parenti mentions, as well Ghraib, Charles Graner and Sabrina Harmon, two of the specialists that took part in the up signs as they pose behind the carefully i ce packed and cellophane wrapped body of a masculinized dominance over the vulnerable and demasculinized body of the Iraqi prisoner, which is similar to the contrast created betwee n Dexter and his victims. With his lab tools, apron, and gloves, Dexter embodies masculinized supremacy over an nakedness under the see through plastic wrap that secures th em to the kill table. Their bare bodies resonate with the humiliated naked bodies of the Abu Ghraib prisoners. the censored images of graphic violence, enables viewers to
34 and maintain sympathy with his character. The abstract depictions of violence on the show allow for the body of the victim to disappear, or be not fully recognized by the viewer. Similarly, modern warfare also absolves acknowled gment of the body. Drones, or Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) are aircraft often armed with missiles and bombs that are either controlled by pilots from the ground or autonomously through a pre programmed mission. While drones are controversial for a numbe r of reasons, one main question is whether operators will become trigger happy with remote controlled armaments, situated as they are in complete safety, distant from the conflict zone. Keith Shutleff, an army chaplain and ethics instructor at Fort Jackso and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is a very real danger of losing the and Wright) Elaine Scarry makes a similar argument about modern warfare in her book The Body in Pain (1985), when she explains the dangers of violence becoming an abstraction: she observes the evolved language of modern warfare where parts are substitute d for the convention is that it assists [on] the disappearance of the human body from accounts of the very event that is the most radically embodying event in which human b eings will ever interpretable. We will respond to the injury (a severed artery in one giant, a massive series of leechbites in another) as an imaginary wound in an imaginary body, despite the fact that the imaginary body is itself made up of thousands of real human bodies, and thus composed of actual (hence woundable) human tissue (71)
35 H ere, she explains how the synecdochal language of modern warfare creates a space where the pain of others is able to be disavowed. Although Dexter is not directly about avoid ance of graphic displays of violence, creates a similar effect, and thus absolves viewers from feeling any sense of responsibility or sympathy towards his victims. Conclusion: Dexter as the Sovereign Figure Judith Butler in her book Precarious Life (2006) turns to the Sovereign figure to l possibility of indefinite the maintenance and control of bodies and persons, the production and regulation of persons and populations, and the circulation of goods ins ofar as the maintain and merges within the field of contorts law to its own uses. In this way the State extends its own domain, its own necessity, and the means by which its self justification occur Butler 55). The sovereign or discretionary power that emerges within governmentality is able to decide constitutes the detained population unilaterally, taking them o ut of the jurisdiction of the law, depriving them of legal protections to which subjects under national and
36 Butler 59). These populations, according to Butler, are ptualized within the frame of a political culture in which human lives are underwritten by legal entitlements, law, Butler 77). The Guantanamo Bay detainees are indeed a perfect example of subjects regarded as not human, and function similarly to by killed by anyone, but cannot be sacrificed in religious ritual. This figure occurs when natural life (zoe), w hich traditionally existed outside o f the polis, becomes part of the it grants the sovereign power the ability to exclude life, particularly if this figure declares rl Schmitt, a German philosopher and political the state of exception has become the norm rather than the emergency, meaning the sovereign figure always has the power to declare an exception, and therefore always has the power to exclude life from the polis. The Guantanamo Bay detainees are the product of the exception. They have los t all rights not just as citizens, but also as men, because they have been excluded from the polis. One could also argue that all Iraqis are homo sacer because they have been emergency. Removed from the conventions of international law, Iraqi lives are now exposed to the discretionary power of the sovereign. Dexter too, demonstrates the operation of the sovereign power and the figure of homo sacer. As a hard boiled
37 detective who both works within and outside the Law, Dexter decides when the rule of Law does not suffice for catching and prosecuting the criminal. If Dexter deems another being a danger to society, he will use moral justification to step outside of the Law and exe sacer, because their lives have been excluded from the polis, and therefore, they no viewers to regard his victims as abject objects rather than men. Moreover, by hav ing the
38 CHAPTER 3 THE CHILD The morally heroic char acter, as I explained in the previous chapter, exhibits both self control and sentimentalism. The forensic investigator, a figure that has evolved from the hard boiled detective genre, has the controlled and scientific demeanor, which resonates with high t ech militarianism during the war on terror. In this chapter, I shift to the sentimental component of the morally righteous character, by analyzing the centrality of the child figure in post 9/11 American exceptionalism, specifically how the Bush administra tion used this figure to catalyze emotion and justify extreme domestic Dexter likeabl Darkly Dreaming Dexter traits makes an astute observation, his brief article leaves more to be desire d, because he does not explore the full effect of the child figure in Dexter particularly how this of stepping outside the Law for a personal definition of justice. These narratives that rely on the wounded child reflect the post 9/11 political rhetoric, which similarly depended on the figure of the traumatized child to warrant the dramatic abridgment of constitutional rights, as well as to situate the United States as a redeemer nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
39 Through flashback sequences, viewers learn that Dexter became a serial killer his flashback, viewers watch an angelic looking two year old Dexter cry as he watches his mother die, which prompts viewers to perceive Dexter as a victim, and have empathy for his later homicidal tendencies. Additionally, while Dexter explains in an inner monologue that he does not sincerely care about others, including his own family, scenes from the show children, Cody and Astor, and the way the show portrays him as a pr otector of children. children, and Dexter does not take lightly to these crimes: in comparison to his other murder victims, those who murder/attempt to hurt children experience t he brunt of rapists of children suffer. Moreover, the show uses children to create a binary between Dexter and his victims; because Dexter does not murder children, viewers are inclined to perceive him as good, moral, and heroic, whereas those that do harm children are considered bad, immoral, and villainous. But how do these fictional binaries, created through the trope of childhood suffering, become problematic, even dange rous, when we move them out of a fictional context and into real political laws and policies? As I explained in the previous chapter, American literature, film, and television, specifically those centered are an antihero character, tend to mirror the inter national and domestic policies of their historical moment. Therefore, an examination of the child figure in Dexter, specifically how the
40 hero monster binary between Dexter and his victims, could shed light on the way American political leaders employed the notion of the innocent and wounded child to justify extreme international and domestic measures. Lauren Berlant posits that since the Reagan era, citizenship has mo ved into the private, domestic realm, resulting in the unborn fetus and child have become chief political figures in American culture. refer to only childre n, but to adults who, like the child citizen, are passive, and do not fully exercise their citizenship through civic acts. These passive and dependent citizens are encouraged to remain devoted to the State, which acts as the protective and authoritative fa ther figure. The infantilization of the citizen is dangerous for a number of reasons: First, it creates a citizen that chooses not to exercise his rights, and also it could potentially incite reactionary legislation and juridical practices, since the child is Homeland Security State, a name that already conflates the State with the private sphere, justified international violence and the abridgement of constitutional rights through the narrative of having to protect a vulnerable and dependent child nation. Dexter parallels this neoconservative narrative: In a number of episodes Dexter steps outside the sphere of the Law in order to secure children from harm. In order to full y understand the emotional weight of the child figure in Dexter and in post 9/11 neoconservative policies, it is important to examine the common perception
41 legislation. Anne Higgonet argues that even in the 21 st century, we remain invested in the 19 th century child Romantic child, who embodies innocence, purity, and virginity. Yet, every side: a threat of 29). In her study Higgonet examines photography and purports that the graphic nature of these images automatically places the ideal child into crisis, where the child could potentially be eroticized, and wh ere the intentions of the photograph are unknown. This crisis has led to draconian pornography laws, where a photographer could be arrested if any viewer material is ex plicit justification for constitutional restrictions and violence abroad. In his address to the nation in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Bush not only infantilized the nation, but also described the attacks as one that stole this child sis for reactionary legislation, such as the Patriot Act, and the intervention of the U.S. military in nations deemed a threat. The Virgin Land and Virgin Children: The Threatened Child in the War on Terror In an address to the nation on September 20, 200 1, George W. Bush declared war in Afghanistan and Iraq by emphasizing the breached innocence of the American people and land in order to justify violence abroad. Donald Pease argues that in this order to portray the American people as vulnerable and in need of the protection of the State (157). Bush
42 first described a violated (perhaps even sexually violated) A merican nation when he stated, nter of a great city on th has turned to anger and anger s, justice in Pease 157). After describing a violated American nation, Bush was able to position himself as the father figure who must take extreme measures in order to secure the safety and wellbeing of his children. The conflation between the nation and the wounded child and the president with the father figure is further seen in the story of Ashley Faulkner, a teenage girl who l ost her mother in the 9/11 attacks. At a campaign stop in Lebanon Ohio, Bush heard a nd moment between the President and a grieving teenaged girl gained national news insti nctively reached for the teenager, clutched her head, placed it on his chest and qtd in Faludi 191 take whatever measures necessary to make sure his child does not suffer from further election, demonstrating to
43 further indicates how the nation was infantilized (Faludi 191 192). Yet, as a guardian of the American people, the president was expected to not only offer sentime ntal gestures such as a hug to a child in mourning, but also to act aggressively towards the enemies that caused that child to suffer in the first place. Bush fulfilled this role: he was tender and paternal to the American people, and simultaneously, acted frontiersman whose proofs of eligibility were the hatchet and the gun and a bloody Many Americans, then, perceived Bush as the ideal man to have in the White House following 9/11, because he was the perfect fusion of sentimentalism and aggression. He often used domestic, private rhetoric in order to warrant violence, which the home and family, took top priorit minded, anti military spending, pro favoring the idea by a whopping 78 perce 204). Moreover, some security moms, such as Michelle Malkin, a USA Today conservative columnist, believed children were the main targets of the 9/11 attacks. In a column n were incinerated in the hijacked planes on (Faludi 207). Malkin and other like minded mothers supported Bush and his declaration of war, because they wanted a president
44 The utilization of domestic language to define the president consequently reaffirmed violence to the enemy nations of Iraq and Afghanistan, since, as Carla L. Peterson those placed beyond the norm by virtue of their race, sexuality, class or other social identities (123). After 9/11, children were used to represent the family and nation, which created good evil binaries between the Americans and Iraqis/Afghanis. This is barbarous because children were on the 9/11 planes (there were only 8 children out of 2,793 9/11 victims, showing how children became emblematic of the innocent American lives that were lost). Moreover, while the American military killed a number of innocent civilians and children in Iraq and Afghanistan, this information was often censored and softened by the media, which tended to focus on sentimental stories, like Bush hugging a grieving child. Other emotionally stirring stories following 9/11 include Jessica Lynch, a young soldier who was captured and taken to a hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq. The media the US military. She was reported as being tortured by Iraqi military officials, even though Lynch has no memory of this, and later medical examination reports indicated would ultimately be redefined cooperate, others woul white woman, often young, is captured by Indians during a savage war and later
45 rescued by hunter or warrior. and likely was not harmed in the hospital, her story had to be adapted according to the captivity narrative, the buckskin pol no one to protect, the urban outride no one to rescue. In the resurrection drama of American might, this supporting actress was the essential dramatis persona, without who 260). As the villain division between the noble United States military, whose violence was ethical because it safeguarded children, and the wicked and depraved Islamic fundamentalists, who killed children with no remorse. Vulnerable Child Figure in Dexter In Dexter the narrative of vulnerable child figure corresponds with the d epictions of a lost virgin nation and threatened children that Bush relied on to justify exceptionalist ate parallels between Dexter and the U.S. following 9/11, specifically the manner in which the is justified through his own childhood trauma, the murder of children by villainous characters, as well as the paternal role he performs through his relationship with a single mother. Furthermore, the vulnerable child reinforces a separation between division between Dexter and his victims is even further bolstered through racial features, harking
46 back to the captivity narrative of the white hero rescuing a child from the dark skinned savages. flashback sequence how Dexter became a serial killer. After walking into a particularly bloody forensic crime scene, Dexter immediately becomes haunted by a repressed memory of his childhood fying memory, Dexter physically reacts by momentarily blacking out. He quickly regains consciousness and runs out of the crime scene in a panic, but later returns to the bloody room in order to fully understand the meaning behind this memory. As Dexter wal ks back into the crime scene, viewers see an extended flashback of him as a two year old crying in a large pool of blood, with blood spattered across his porcelain face. Moreover, we see an image of his hysterical mom, also covered in blood, soon to be bru tally murdered by a looking killer he entire scene. violence, he became violent. This narrative of childhood trauma leading to adult violence is common in both real and fictional serial killer stories. In Serial Killers : Wound Culture (1998) Mark Seltzer explains how the serial killer exemplifies a childhood experience forms the adults, the foun ding premise, for example, of
47 xual development because the child interprets the sexual act as a scene of violence. Seltzer argues that for serial killers, the governing belief in childhood trauma allows for mimesis, where the trauma public intelligibility of the serial killer but also his self looping effect is that the public will often jump to a Freudian explanation for serial violence, even when evidence for it is a bsent. Moreover, the serial killer will often rely on these pop psychology clichs, since according to Seltzer, this figure is constantly Dexter, this flashback of child trauma similarly prompts viewers to h that his innocence was breached at too young of an age. The show compels viewers to storical context. Indeed, this particular narrative strategy in the th when he relied Afghanistan. More over, the show utilizes the trope of the harmed child to reinforce the This binary between Dexter and other serial killers is highlighted from the very first
48 murdering multiple children. Dexter kidnaps Mike after a choir performance, and uses a rope to drag him by the neck into a shed containing the dug out bodies of the boys Donavan ra ped and murdered. Donavan closes his eyes, not wanting to recognize his when in Donavan to open his eyes to the violence they have in common, yet the show also I could never do that. No lengths to dig out the decomposing bodies in order for Donovan to recognize the wickedness of his crimes (in l ater kills Dexter only uses photographs of victims in order for the murderers to face their guilt). Dexter also appears particularly enraged by him, and forces him to look at the rotting bodies of his victims (all actions that viewers innocent children justifies the most drastic retaliatory measures. In the case of Mike Donovan, one has to w question is answered in later episodes, when Dexter adjusts his Code to kill people who are not necessarily child murderers, but who Dexter perceives as a sexual threat to
49 Marten, a pedophile whom Dexter believes has made his step daughter, Astor, his next victim. Dexter spots Nathan talking to Astor in the grocery store, and immediately becomes suspicious. As he closely watches them chat, Dexter compares his own r moves closer to Astor dirty blonde hair and light skin, whereas Nathan has dark hair, dark eyes, and tan skin. back on light and dark archetypes, where whiteness automatically signifies civilization, and darkness savagery. This racial contrast is reinfo grows when he crosses paths with the suspected predator again at the beach, and sees that he is taking pictures of Astor from afar as she plays in the ocean. Dexter confirms through a sexual predator registry that Nathan is a pedophile, but knows that he cannot kill him because Nathan is not a murderer and therefore does not fit the Code. However, believing that Nathan is a threat to his own child, he decides to adjust the When Dexter finally murders Nathan, the show drives home the difference between the two of them. While strangling Nathan with a rope, Dexter angrily declares through
50 the regulations that Dexter must abide by. This scene demonstrates, however, that Dexter acts with the omniscience of the Sovereign figure, who declares himself exe mpt from his own laws. He justifies this state of exception through the need to protect his 19 th century depiction sentimental child figure who, as noted above, adults will exploit to warrant reactionary legislation. As I argued earlier, Bush, too, personified the nation through the sentimental child figure, in order to justify an intervention in Iraq when the thermore, both Dexter and Bush evoke the captivity narrative through the innocent white child figure, as well through myth, in which he becomes the Daniel Boone or Haw keye, white characters, who must generally, the US Military, also depended on this narrative, by situating themselves as the white, masculine heroes out to save the innoc ent Jessica Lynch and Ashley Faulkner from uncivilized Iraqis and Afghanis. It is also important to note how in this episode, fatherhood plays a significant role t hat Rita is pregnant with his child, and he expresses hesitation about being a father, at to the baby. After comes home to find Rita drying and putting away the dishes. He walks over to her and
51 for the first time, puts his hand on her pregnant belly, looks into her eyes, and says in an Dexter, who in the first season claimed that he is unable to truly care about anyone. Yet, claim. Through this scene, the show begins to establish Dexter as the paternal figure who must kill in order to prote ct his vulnerable children from the cold blooded jungle creatures. finds himself tied down on the kill table of George King, a serial killer who skins his victims. The show makes an allusion to Hamlet in this scene, when the ghost of Harry, about his desire to li ve because he wants to be a father, while Harry sheds tears as he bolster th e moral contrast between him and George Skinner, who the show depicts as a sociopath that murders and skins purely for perverse pleasure. Here, we see how the from the v
52 resembles the moral distinction the media created between George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein: While B ush was the Daniel Boone who bypassed the Law to protect his child nation, Hussein was the sociopath, lacking empathy for his own people. This ethical separation between Dexter and his nemesis is once again reinforced through racial features. The show assi gns torture to the racialized Other, evidenced by the fact that King is a Nicaraguan immigrant with a long and thick wiry beard and dark brown skin and eyes. Moreover, viewers learn that prior to moving to the United States, King headed an interrogation un it for the Nicaraguan Army, and was known for skinning his photographs were rele ased to the American public less than four years prior to this episode. Therefore, the show unconsciously helps elide the torture practices of US military officials in Abu Ghraib and Camp X Ray, by assigning interrogation torture to the racialized enemy. S ignificantly, while Dexter does torture his victims, the show downplays this violence, and instead emphasizes his compassion for children, and his desire to protect them using whatever means necessary. Conclusion: Child as Narrative Part of the reason why this chapter so strongly focuses on the narrative of the traumatized child who is in dire need of rescue and protection is because narrative itself is often linked with childhood. In her book Strange Dislocations (1995), Carolyn Steedman explains how over the past 200 years, Westerners, through discourses like psychoanalysis, physiology, and evolutionary theory, have searched for interiority, or a lost past. She demonstrates how childhood has become associated with this lost past,
53 evidenced by Freud, who t urns to the child as the origin story that is missing and yet still a transcendental part of the adult. Most significantly, Steedman explains how this conception of the child as lost emerged simultaneously with the modern idea of history, which is teleolog ical because it uses narrative to situate the past in relation to the (Steedman 80). P sychoanalysis captures the modern historiographers method, because according to Freud, the adult undergoing therapy can reawaken a lost memory and However, what Freud found was that many of the childhood memories his adult patients (87). This point is especially signi ficant when we consider how Dexter and the Bush administration employ the fictional narrative of the traumatized child in order to account for later violent events. Yet, as Freud and Steedman explain, we should understand the ation of events as an indication of the adult fantasy of childhood trauma. This brings me to my next chapter on the serial killer, a figure who begins to unravel neoconservative narratives, and compels Dexter viewers to look inward at American culture and policies. In doing so, Americans viewer confront the disturbing fact that the trauma of 9/11 might not be an event that just happened to them, but an event that they might have been invested in.
54 CHAPTER 4 THE SERIAL KILLER In the previous chapters, I exp lained how the hard boiled detective and the child figure in Dexter parallel the neoconservative, exceptionalist framework used to justify international violence and restrict constitutional rights. In this section, I turn to the most complex figure in Dext er the serial killer to understand how this figure turns the gaze inward, and is indicative traumatic nature of the series itself. In my discussion of both the hard boiled detective and the child figure within Dexter, I explained violence as occurring from an outside force. Dexter, as hard boiled detective, fights criminals that victims. Similarly, with the child figure, the show explains trauma from a Freudian lens, in whi is almost always accounted for by the wounding event that occurred in childhood. The ure of the series, demonstrated through the cyclical and repetitive violence on the show. Moreover, this figure often functions as a mirror, reflecting our own pleasure and complicity in viewing and enacting violence. This idea is important in light of 9/1 1, which is often described as an unexpected shock. Rather, by turning to the serial killer figure, this chapter will elucidate our own traumatic involvement and attachment to s cyclical form, and the viewers attachment to these recurring violent images are indicative of our own traumatic neuroses. It is important to note how the serial killer genre grew after 9/11. For example, David Schmid cites only a few of the serial kille r related movies that were released
55 within the two years following 9/11: Dahmer (2002), Bundy (2002), Speck (2002), Murder by Numbers (2002), Red Dragon (2002) and Monster (2003) (Schmid 246). He films have been a staple of American culture since before 9/11, the films become a nre helps reinforce the binaries between the serial killer and the terrorists. Indeed, it is not insignificant that the American media at times employed the terminology used to characterize the serial killer to describe the terrorist. For example: in a Denver Post column, psychologist Curtis relied on the serial killer figure in order to account for the evil of American culture, which in turn caused the disintegration of binaries between the morally righteous United States and the depraved terrorists. For example, in an audiotape addressed to the allies of the United States, Bi (qtd in Schmid 250) Bin Laden likely understood that describing the United States as a serial killer was rhetorically effective, since the serial killer is, after all, a uniquely American phenomenon, and therefore could stem from an evil inherent in American
56 culture. The 19 91 novel American Psycho (later made into a film in 2000) drives home this idea of the serial killer as the diseased product of American culture, as the novel and film create a comparison between rape and serial murder, and the misogynist, consumerist, and shallow culture of the Reaganite era. intended to maintain a separation between the civilized United States and the barbarity of the foreign terrorists, the comparison nevert heless implied that the serial killer is intrinsic to American culture. Consequently, the serial killer figure allows Americans to look inward at their own society, and to see the 9/11 attacks as potentially symptomatic of American culture and policies. I ndeed, in his post 9/ sphere in which Americans live is experienced as under threat from the Outside of terrorist attackers who are ruthlessly self sacrificing and cowards, cunningly intelligent and primitive barbarians. Whenever we encounter such a purely evil Outside, we should gather the courage to endorse the Hegelian lesson: in this pure Outside, we should confront their own barbarity, by drawing our attention to the fact the serial killer is s comparison between the serial killer and terrorist invites the recognition that terrorism might also be inherent in American culture, which begins to dismantle the simplistic perception of 9/11 as an attack by evil uncomfortably and therefore call for disavowal, because they do not fit within the
57 American exceptionalist framewor k of America as the morally righteous, redeemer : coffee without caffeine, cream without fat, beer 10). In Dexter, viewers are similarly able to derive a virtual pleasure In Dexter, viewers encounte argues that the very core of the passion for the Real is the identification with rightest admiration for the celebration of heroes who are ready to do the it is much more difficult to co mmit a crime for (30) the final episode of season one, the show itself recognizes how American vie wers response if they were to learn about his murders. Dexter does not envision handcuffs and jail bars, but instead imagines a parade thrown in his honor, complete with a banner
58 rotecting our viewers who identify with his character, morally justify his violence, and commemorate him as an American hero (as seen by the red, white, and blue streamers). Dexter remarks in an inner m onologue, supported the exceptionalist justifications of the Bush administration, w hich acted similarly to Dexter by stepping outside of the Law to protect American families from the ctioned rmation for Dexter, because we are relieved from the brunt of his violence, and because the show Dexter since the s how still relies upon the binaries of good and evil, hero and villain. However, in the flashback scene when Harry walks in on Dexter dismembering a they were to encounter w claims the Real cannot be exactly pinpointed) (18). As I described in the first chapter,
59 the show splits the scene in which Harry walks in on Dexter dismembering a corpse, and indicates that Harry sees the full horror of his son butchering a body, while viewers see very little of the corpse. Douglas Howard compares Harry in this scene to Victor, unable to endure the monstrosity of his evil creation. After recalling this memory, Dexter remarks a grand idea, a noble cause, jud ge, jury, and executioner, Dexter embodies the Law to the extreme. And perhaps surprisingly, the serial killer figure fits quite well as a manifestation of the extreme Law. Richard Tithecott writes in On Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Constructio n the serial killer relates to the police officer hero or the super cop, w ho will sometimes act The serial killer embodies exceptionalism, because like lawmakers and those in power, he transcends the Law: beyond the reach of the law, exist on the same plain as t he lawmakers, those who disregard previous laws and establish new Therefore, the horror that Harry encounters when he sees Dexter butcher a corpse is
60 really the structural excess of State power. This scene in ma ny ways relates to Apocalypse Now (1979), a Heart of Darkness (1899) Willard has been sent on a mission to find and kill Colonel Walter Kurtz who rep ortedly had gone where he sees severed heads and bodies hanging from various objects. Here, at this of Kurtz, who reveals the true barbarity of US militarianism: the obscene father enjoyment subordinated to no symbolic Law, the total Master who dares to confront the Real of terrifying enjoyment face to face is presented not as a remainder of some barbaric past, but as the necessary outcome of modern Western power itself? Kurtz was a perfect solder as such, through his overidentification with the military power sy horrifying enjoyment of murder. Harry and Willard, however, perceive Dexter and Only two and a half years prior to this episode, many American viewers had a photographs from Abu Ghraib. These photographs displayed prisoners in various humiliating, often sexual, poses, and many of the photographs included a White American guard grinning and giving a thumbs up near the degraded subjects. Although the photographs were initially intended for American viewers to enjoy the torture and revenge against the enemy, most Americans were repulsed by the images, which created national shame, as well as turned the gaze inward. Although President George
61 ways, what it means to be an American, citing, for example, video games centered populated by a vulnerable people whose defending them against a people that was negatively represented as posing a 185). I would argue, then, that the true horror of Dexter, Kurtz, and the Abu Ghraib guards is that their acts are no longer in the realm of the symbolic Law. Rather, all th caused Harry, Willard, and American viewe rs respectively to lose identification with ip with his father invite a traumatic reader of the show. Of course, as I discussed earlier, the show itself encourages viewers to view Dexter e murder. In this scene, viewers are prompted to have
62 consequence of him losing his innocence as too young of an age. Yet, as I explained above, this reading is problematic, because it allows violence to become justified through the child figure. To accept this reading, we fall right back into the conservative framework that George W. Bush used following 9/11, which warranted extreme acts of violence to protect the vulnerable, infanti le nation. Turning our attention to the serial killer figure helps avoid this reading, which relies too heavily on interiority, and not enough on how the interior meets the exterior, or how the psychological meets the social. In discussing the serial kill er figure, Mark internalizes the public (popular and journalistic) and expert (criminological and psychological) definitions the media as well academic such as the primal scene, as a way to simulate and conform to the dominant understanding of this figure. bootstraps: feeding off of the representations and identifications that thus become bypass traditional psychoanalytic theory, he argues that it is important to give further e epitome of the intersection between private and public. It is in this space where the private meets the
63 Dexter an d post 9/11 culture, which the show and the terrorist attacks exhibit through the theme of here a living being, in quasi suicidal immunize itself against product of the Cold War, when the United States contributed to the Islamic Afghan fighters by providing them with weapons and intelligence. Moreover, t o further his comparison between 9/11 and an autoimmune crisis, he refers to how the terrorists elves, and to the United States, which armed and trained them. Similarly, in Dexter office frustrated by the failur es and slow legal system, Harry teaches Dexter to function as the Law without all the bureaucratic red tape. He trains Dexter, providing him with a Code and weapons, which allows for a comparison to be made between Harry and the United States, as both enab led the subjects that would inevitably become their downfall. eventually leads to his own suicide, literal in this case. The paralleling narratives between Harry and Dexter and the United States and the 9/11 hijackers demonstrates,
64 construction experien legal system since Harry is a police officer that created him. Moreover, since American exceptionalism stems from the Cold War, when the United States helped militarize Islamic Afghan Fig hters, we can see Dexter as the diseased product of exceptionalism, similar to the terrorist attacks. collective seriality of the show itself. In Dexter viewers are constantly observing a loopin g effect, same trajectory: in every episode, Dexter will have an urge to kill, research a potential victim to confirm that he/she is deserving of murder, stalk the victim, a nd then murder the victim in a kill room that always looks the same (plastic lined walls, and a long kill table in the center of the room). Moreover, Dexter consistently uses the same tools, and typically murders his victims using the same method, a single puncture to the heart. He watching Dexter, as the series itself is similar to the unvaried ritual: in every episode, kills. Simultaneously, every season includes a major killer that Dexter clashes with the
65 entire season, and inevitably ends up murderi ng, usually in the season finale: the Ice Truck Killer in Season 1, Lila/Doakes in Season 2, Miguel in Season 3, etc. The series, repetitive violence indicate our own traumatic neuroses? The repetition we enjoy in the televised footage of the planes crashi ad nauseum and the uncanny satisfaction we got from it was jouissance s from 9/11 indicates how we were 9/11, such as Independence Day with images eerily similar to the terrorist attacks. Significantly, viewers demonstrate the ir investment in both Dexter and the 9/11 attacks through their attachment to televised images. I would argue, then, that television as a medium in both the show and in the aftermath of 9/11 helps domesticate a trauma by allowing viewers to repeatedly wat ch wounding images within the comfort of their homes. Of course, the television set itself is a chief object of the Western domestic space, and for many Americans, holds as much importance as a refrigerator or a bed. Television becomes part of a daily rout ine: we turn it on during certain times of the day, either as background noise as we engage in another activity like cooking or cleaning, or at night when we decide we are finished with our daily work and its time to relax. Additionally, when we turn on ou r favorite television show, we expect to see what we are used to watching. For example, I would feel uneasy if I was watching Al Roker
66 my favorite television series began with a different set of opening credits, after having been accustomed to certain images and sounds that signal that my show is about to begin. It is safe to argue, then that American viewers take pleasure in repetition, and yet, our enjoyment of repeated images might be indicative of trauma. Dexter makes viewers aware of our traumatic attachment to the show: In the same manner that Dexter relies on his ritual, as a way to master his own traumatic childhood memory of the seriality of the show itself. The televised images of the World Trade Center attacks have a similar effect: the cycli cal images of planes crashing into the towers are an attempt to master the shock. Watching these repeated images of the attacks through the television set in our living rooms helps to provide makes us feel in control of an event that is outside of our norm al order.
67 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION The ultimate truism following the terrorist attacks was that everything changed after 9/11. However, it is inaccurate to perceive this attack as an epistemic break, especially since the Bush administration harked back to 19 t h century narratives as a way to make sense of the national trauma and justify retributive violence. Moreover, the increased popularity in vigilante characters in film, television, and literature following 9/11 further shows how Americans are resorting to 19 th century frontier myths as a way to comprehend this shocking event. Like Dexter and his ritual, Americans have once again recourse to their old routine of exceptionalism, or the belief in America as a redeemer nation that must errand into the wildernes s in order to purge civilization of evil. until I was writing my third chapter that I began to notice cycles throughout this entire project. For example, even though the audience, it ultimately falls back into the neoconservative narratives that it attempts to avoid. Moreover, the show perfunctorily uses the psychological clich that the child experience forms the adult, by c is problematic, firstly because evidence for childhood trauma is often absent, but more importantly because the expl a killed self seems to go repetition c ending cycle of murder. Indeed,
68 nature of his murders parallels the predictability of the show itself. The way the content mimics t he form draws our attention to television as part of our daily routine. The pleasure we take in the repetition of televised images, such as the planes crashing into the World Trade towers, indicates how the television set fulfills the role of domesticating a trauma. Although Dexter often parallels post 9/11 neoconservative exceptionalist narratives, particularly through its respective repurposing of traditional hard boiled detective and child figures, the show also indicates how our recourse to these narrat ives are a form of suicide. While the show likely chose the serial killer as a vigilante figure cter, who demise. Similarly, we can understand 9/11 as the self destructive fu lfillment of the Cold War, when the United States helped militarize Islamic Afghan Fighters. In this case, American exceptionalist beliefs and practices, which arguably gained footing during the ush administration returned to these narratives, indicating how we are still part of this cycle of destruction and violence. The Bush administration relied upon the progressive narratives of democracy, freedom, and science to justify the war on terror. De xter too, employs both science and
69 Max Horkeimer demonstrate, these enlightened narratives always cycle into barbarism, and Dexter embodies this critique. Indeed, while Dex since it purges civilization of evil, the fact that he is a serial killer, the epitome of violent repetition compulsion, indicates that his violence is ultimately degenerative.
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73 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Emily Glosser received her MA student in E nglish at University of Florida. She also received her BA from the University of Florida, where she majored in English.