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How A Psychopathic Killer Becomes an American Favorite

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Joanna Dunn

on 15 April 2011

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Transcript of How A Psychopathic Killer Becomes an American Favorite

How A Psychopathic Killer Becomes An American Favorite American Fascination with Murder History Now In early America, Execution sermons were the norm.

Beginning in the late 17th and early 18th Centuries Gothic Tradition began to surface.

Killers were no longer poor sinners, but were instead monsters capable of odious deeds. Gothic Tradition has persisted into today.

"Murderabilia" is a profitable business.

Criminals are the focus of television programs, novels,
biopics, and many other forms of entertainment.

*In each of these cases, however, the criminals are "bad guys" and law enforcement officials function as the heroes bringing them to justice. Dexter's Popularity Highest rated premiere on Showtime when the pilot aired.

Viewership increased by 84% between the pilot and season one finale.

So it fits with Gothic/American Tradition...or does it? How an Audience is Manipulated: Information Distortion Existing Mental Frameworks Emotional Attitudes & Values Societal Pressures What a person already knows will affect what they learn.

Already known organizational structures will be applied to new information. People are more likely to overestimate things they value.

They are also more likely to agree with an argument that supports their values and beliefs and doubt those that oppose their values.

The higher the interest in the subject matter, the more the person is capable of learning about it. Imitation


"The Dr. Fox Effect"/Prestige of the Communicator What Makes a Person "Likeable" Facial Attractiveness Warmth and Kindness Success On the Other Hand... Lethal Predator Profile “They are deliberate, sadistic, and often highly intelligent. Their crimes tend to be carried out in a ritualistic manner, have a strong sexual component…They are hunters. They plan, then pursue, charm, capture, torture, and kill their prey.” Psychopathy Sexual Sadism Shallow Emotional Range
See People as Objects for Their own means
Skilled at charm and manipulation
Typically engage in high risk behavior
"Successful" Psychopaths vary slightly
Characterized by arousal of the perpetrator due to the suffering of the victim.
Can include sexual violence, torture, or fear of the victim. Is Dexter a Lethal Predator? Jared DeFife says "Yes" Lisa Firestone says, "No" -He stalks his victims and carefully plans his kills.

-He has a killing ritual that includes a symbolically sexual component.

-Appears not to understand typical human emotion, does not show remorse for his kills.

-Manipulates the other characters of the show. Dexter as a possible victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -Certain traits do not fit psychopathy:
-shows little/no interest in sex (in season 1)
-does not engage in other risky behavior

-Brought on by the murder of his mother

-Childhood PTSD Victims act out violent trauma they experienced, changing roles to become the agressor instead of the victim.

-They seek out a code or figure of authority to follow. Copycats/Dexter's Influence Mark Twitchell -Canadian film-maker
-Wrote a movie script based on "Dexter" and then acted it out.
-Partial remains of John Altinger found in a storm sewer.
-Arrested October 2008, his trial began March 2011 Andrew Conley -17-year-old who strangled his 10-year-old brother
-Compared himself to Dexter Morgan when arrested
-Battled depression and attempted suicide
-Pled guilty to his brother's murder, currently serving a life sentence.
Likability: Attractiveness -Producer Sarah Colleton: "He's so good looking Michael Hall..." (commentary, "Born Free" Season One, Episode 12)
-Physical Relationships
-Rita Bennett
-Lila Tournay
-Lumen Pierce
-Maria LaGuerta**

-His face graces the cover of every season Dress/Grooming of Dexter Morgan -Always clean-shaven
-Dresses in business casual
(khaki pants, button-down shirt, tennis shoes)
-His "killing outfit" does not vary much from everyday attire Likability: Warmth and Kindess Children: Rita: Debra: -Children do not fit the Code
-Dexter is good with Astor and Cody
-Saves their lives or helps them on several occasions -Protects her from her abusive ex-husband Paul
-Exhibits typical symptoms of grief after her death “She's the only person in the world who loves me. I think that's nice. I don't have feelings about anything, but if I could have feelings at all, I'd have them for Deb.” -"Dexter" Pilot Episode

-Does not kill her when he has the opportunity.
Dexter's Self-Loathing "I’m not sure what I am. I just know there’s something dark in me. I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it. But it’s there. Always. This Dark Passenger. And when he’s driving I feel…alive, half-sick with the thrill, the complete wrongness. I don’t fight him; I don’t want to. He’s all I’ve got. Nothing else could love me. Not even…especially not me. Or is that just a lie the Dark Passenger tells me?” -Dexter, Season 2, -refers to himself as a "very neat monster"
-seems to yearn to experience more emotion
-has a child-like curiosity and naivete about certain subjects Likability: Success -Dexter makes decent money.

-He is shown to be very intelligent.

-He is clever enough to evade capture through five seasons of murders

-Experiences social success in personal relationships American Morals: Harry's Code -Only kills other killers
-Must have proof
-Doesn't harm children
-Doesn't sexually assault victims Harry Morgan Brutality in Everyday Life: Title Sequence Brutality/Oddity of Humanity: Voiceovers -They provide an alternative view to society because he is an outsider looking in.

"Want a real glimpse of the human nature? Stand in the way of someone's mocha latte." -Season 2, Episode Five, "The Dark Defender"

-Also Establish trust and provide a common frame of reference through humor. Does Everyone Have a "Dark Passenger"? -Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both proposed theories about a dark part of the personality.

-Authors Melissa and Edward Burkley claim that the audience's association with their own "Dark Passenger" helps make the show popular. In Conclusion... Sources Cited Burkley, Edward and Melissa Burkley. “The Dark Passenger in All of Us.” In The Psychology of Dexter. Edited by Bella DePaulo, 129-145. Dallas: BenBella, 2010.
DeFife, Jared A. “Predator on the Prowl.” In The Psychology of Dexter. Edited by Bella DePaulo, 5-16. Dallas: BenBella, 2010.
Dexter. Seasons 1-5. First broadcast 1 October, 2006 through 12 December, 2010.
Firestone, Lisa. “Rethinking Dexter.” In The Psychology of Dexter. Edited by Bella DePaulo, 17-32. Dallas: BenBella, 2010.
Halttunen, Karen. Murder Most Foul: The Killer and the American Gothic Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Hylton, Hilary. “Cracking Down on ‘Murderabilia.’” Time, 5 June 2007, ?
Krahe, Barbara. “Self-Serving Biases in Perceived Similarity and Causal Attributions of Other People's Performance.” Social Psychological Quarterly 46, no. 4 (1983): 318-329.
Mullins-Sweatt, Stephanie N., et al. "The search for the successful psychopath." Journal of Research in Personality 44, no. 4 (August 2010): 554-558. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2010).
Newton, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. New York: Infohouse Publishing, 2006.
Ochberg, Frank M., et al. “Lethal Predators: Psychopathic, Sadistic, and Sane.” In Profilers. Edited by John H. Campbell and Don DeNevi, 335-361. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2004.
Rhodes, Gillian and Leslie A. Zebrowitz. Facial Attractiveness: Evolutionary, Cognitive, and Social Perspectives. Westport: Ablex Publishing, 2002.
Sprecher, Susan. “Insiders' Perspectives on Reasons for Attraction to a Close Other.” Social Psychological Quarterly 61, no. 4 (1998): 287-300.
West, Charles K. Social and Psychological Distortion of Information. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981.
-Although horror and gore are popular, Dexter has a large fanbase for other reasons

-Dexter is not the typical serial killer-fictional or real.

-His character and other facets of the show have been manipulated to make it what it is.
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