It generally falls to the Empress Larkin to select video entertainment here. Someone suggested to her that the Showtime series Dexter would be of interest to us, so she put the first season on the Netflix queue. As it turned out, when the first disk arrived she was out of town, so I watched it. It’s an interesting concept, to say the least, in which a police “blood-splatter analyst” turns out to be a serial killer on his own time, and the audience is expected to approve. Given that Dexter is a vigilante out to eliminate some of the most dangerous and vicious criminals that have somehow eluded the criminal justice system, it’s quite possible. Popular response, as gauged by Nielsen, says they pulled it off. However, I decided that this was not something we wanted to add to our regular viewing.
One of the well-understood issues in writing fiction is maintaining the reader’s, or viewer’s, “willing suspension of disbelief”. We read The Count of Monte Cristo and happily go along with Edmond Dantes finding a staggering treasure, then returning first to Marseilles and then Paris, living his grand life while only one of those who knew him as a poor sailor recognize him. Or we watch Burn Notice, knowing that you can’t actually wreak such havoc with a few household chemicals and an endless supply of cheap cell phones. (We know this because in real life, even well-planned terrorist attacks seem to rarely work as well as if Michael and Fiona were behind them.) The opposite problem is true with Dexter. It’s way too easy to believe that the quiet neighbor across the street, the one that seems to rarely be at home, is calmly eliminating unwanted members of the community.
As is my wont after seeing something new, I went straight to Wikipedia’s coverage. I was annoyed to learn that Parents Television Council protested the decision by CBS to air the first season during the writers’ strike, on the grounds that a show that aroused empathy for a killer would lead to additional violence in society. Well, that’s nonsense, the media doesn’t have that kind of impact. Television is full of comedy, yet our society is hardly mirthful and more little boys want to grow up to be firemen than comics. Radio is full of pop music, which is rife with “Silly Love Songs” as Sir Paul sang. We would be facing incredible population growth if radio guided life, everyone would be making babies at a rate not seen in history.
The next night I watched a movie that I had been meaning to see for a long time: Silkwood. Yes, Meryl Streep is great. The issue of violence in the media suddenly made sense. Here’s a movie that does inspire violence. You see how Kerr-McGee, the corporation that Karen Silkwood worked for, was probably responsible for killing and silencing her. It makes you want to get back at them, but it was long ago and far away so you can’t. But you can watch an episode of Burn Notice and see Fiona detonating bad guys, or get out an old episode of Walker: Texas Ranger and watch Cordell kick some bad guys until they stay down. (Bad guys on that show stupidly kept getting up to get whacked again.) Or reread Dumas and vicariously participate in Edmond’s revenge. Or, if you aren’t troubled by nightmares, you can watch Dexter. Violence on screen, or in a book, does not drive us to acting out violently in real life. Quite the opposite, it satisfies our need for a dramatic response to the frustration we encounter.
If I Were King, Parents Television Council would still be able to petition networks to change their schedules. I’m fundamentally against limiting free speech and morons have rights.