Darkly Drilling Dexter

If you film it, will they kill?

The above maligning of the slogan from the innocent-as-Mom’s-apple-pie baseball film Field of Dreams — not to mention this post’s button-pushing headline — is offered with sincere apologies to the alleged victims of Edmonton’s so-called “Dexter” killer, whose case dates back to fall 2008 and finally goes to trial this week. Catchy phrasing aside, it is worth questioning just how popular kill culture has become.

The next few weeks promise to reveal grim evidence concerning the influence of Dexter — the hit TV series whose protagonist is an “ethical” serial killer — on Alberta filmmaker — and alleged serial wannabe — Mark Twitchell. The media has widely reported on Twitchell idolizing the popular HBO show. Not to be disputed is the fact that Twitchell made a short film (fiction versus snuff) about a man who is murdered at an online-dating rendezvous arranged under false pretences. Add to this the fact that alleged victim John Altinger — alleged because no body has been found — disappeared shortly after being invited to the very garage where Twitchell shot his film, their meeting again arranged online, via a dating site.

Assuming that Twitchell indeed murdered and disposed of Altinger, the TV association of this case’s circumstantial methodology (Dexter-ity?) is understandable. What remains to be learned is whether Twitchell’s rationale included anything bordering on the presumptive and already dubious ethics of the fictitious anti-hero. Which is not to suggest that Twitchell’s act(s) could be construed as sociologically justifiable. By comparison to the “Dexter” murder, a “House” manslaughter trial (this example fabricated, though certainly not far-fetched) would verge on rational.

I’m not going to pull a right-wing kneejerk here and advocate censorship for everyone’s own good. Again with apology to any victim of what amounts to copycat crime, I will always side with freedom of expression — with the understanding that freedom is an eminently abusable human right.

We can all be screwed up by too much information, not to mention the wrong information at the wrong time. I was traumatized as a child after seeing the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. No joke. An admittedly ridiculous affair, the film was nonetheless my first 007 experience, and the universal Bond “plot” distressed me for days, whereupon I confided in my parents: Mom, Dad, if an Evil Zillionaire sees this film, he will have a perfect blueprint for how to take over the world! Heh, no, he won’t — James Bond stopped him. But I’m talking about real life! All that the real-life Evil Zillionaire has to do is not make the same mistakes that this one made! Heh, finish your breakfast, the school bus is almost here.

Life is easier when all you have to worry about is getting on that school bus (corollary: wasted youth). For one thing, you are too young to be aware of the Zodiac killer, who threatened to snipe a random school bus in 1969, or to have seen Dirty Harry, the 1971 film where the adapted Scorpio character indeed hijacks a busload of children. You are also too young to have read H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free (1914) — which in 1933 made real-life physicist Leó Szilárd realize that a split atom could be literally explosive — or know that Manhattan Project contributor Edward Teller defended the nuclear bomb’s existence on the auspices that someone would have created the device (not to mention the fact that in 2003 President George W. Bush awarded Teller the Presidential Medal of Freedom).

As the “Dexter” case unfolds, I will be particularly curious to hear the reactions of Albertans. It’s inevitable that the media will invoke Taber/Columbine, if only for the shoe-horned local-impact angle. The tragedy driving this story remains undeniable, just as entertainment culture contributing to some degree is beyond question. Where and how to lay blame is another question entirely.

I am reminded of a classic newspaper comic strip wherein a boy, perusing an encyclopaedia, asks his stuffed tiger about the meaning of the famous quote, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” Their television set, self-aware, blurts out a sadly accurate answer, saving Calvin and Hobbes the effort (and hinting that they would not have been capable of the insight): “It means Karl Marx hadn’t seen anything yet.”

By comic’s end, Calvin is glued to the TV, watching the aforementioned anything. “When you’re old enough, you’ll wish you had more than memories of this tripe to look back on,” scolds Hobbes. “Undoubtedly,” is the response, offered by Calvin without looking away from the idiot box. The strip’s wordless conclusion sees the tiger joining the boy: resigned and, if not specifically contended, opiated.

Image courtesy of watchwithkristin.

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