“You make yourself into a monster so you no longer bear responsibility for what you do”: Dexter, Naturalism, and Neoliberal Crime Discourse

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Gibbs, Alan
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University of Nebraska Press
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Showtime’s popular crime series Dexter (2006–13) draws on a range of themes, aesthetics, and ideas typically associated with naturalism, and the relationship between the program’s naturalist attributes, gender-based violence, and neoliberal crime discourse is particularly striking. Reflecting a broader twenty-first-century resurgence in contemporary American culture, naturalism is clearly a key component of Dexter, which is based on a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay. This is the case even as central components of naturalism— notably determinism— are inconsistently integrated into the program’s narrative structure and thematic concerns. The show’s protagonist, Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), works by day as a forensic scientist for Miami Metro PD but is in his spare time a serial killer. If this marks a sensationalist scenario consistent with a tradition of naturalism, then it is even more significant that, at least initially, Dexter is depicted as being compelled to kill by biological and environmental forces beyond his control. That Dexter drifts, especially during its latter seasons, from this commitment to determinism is understood in the following as an indication that the program-makers appropriate naturalistic components rather than demonstrate any firm commitment to naturalism. Dexter is only compelled to kill by determining forces, that is, when it suits the show’s political ideology. After briefly assessing how naturalism manifests in the show, this article examines the extent to which the program-makers represent Dexter’s actions as involuntarily determined as a means to absolve him from moral responsibility. This depiction has the combined effect of maintaining audience sympathy for the serial-murdering protagonist and reinforcing the show’s neoliberal political stance. Finally, the essay examines in more detail how Dexter links naturalism to a model of masculinity within the context of its neoliberal discourse on crime and the American justice system.
American culture , Naturalism , Television , Dexter , Neoliberalism
Gibbs, A. (2020) '"You make yourself into a monster so you no longer bear responsibility for what you do”: Dexter, Naturalism, and Neoliberal Crime Discourse', Studies in American Naturalism, 15(2), pp. 211-235. doi: 10.1353/san.2020.0018.
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