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The «Dexter Syndrome»

The Serial Killer in Popular Culture


Marcel Danesi

The serial killer has become an obsession ever since Jack the Ripper became a media sensation, embedding a new and horrifying type of murderer into our cultural consciousness – one who kills darkly and in the dark. All popular media – print, radio, television, and so on – have become absorbed by this new figure. This book traces its diffusion through all media and discusses what this reveals about modern society. Using the Dexter saga of novels and television programs as its basis, the book argues that a «Dexter Syndrome» has emerged whereby we no longer see a difference between real and fictional serial killers. The psychological and social reasons for this are explored by tracing pop culture texts themselves (movies, novels, etc.). Above all else, Dexter’s concept of a «moral code» forms a thematic thread that allows the author to argue that our contemporary moral nihilism has produced the demand for horror and horrific characters like serial killers, who have replaced medieval demons and monsters.
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Chapter 2. The Killer Inside Me: Fantasizing the Serial Killer


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Fantasizing the Serial Killer

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.

—Albert Camus (1913–1960)

The 1952 novel, The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson, is one of the most enlightening and compelling works on the mind of the serial killer ever written. The plot unfolds through the eyes of Lou Ford, a 29-year-old deputy sheriff in a small Texas town. On the surface, Ford is a happy-go-lucky small-town cop who lives an unremarkable existence by day. But beneath the façade he is a calculating and sexually sadistic killer by night. Ford has a steady girlfriend, but he succumbs to a sadomasochistic relationship with a prostitute named Joyce. He describes the relationship as a key to unlocking “the sickness” that has plagued him since his youth, when he sexually abused a little girl, a crime for which his brother Mike took the blame. After serving a jail term, Mike died at a construction site. Lou blamed the builder for his death, suspecting that he murdered his brother. So, for revenge he blackmails the construction magnate, threatening to expose his son’s affair with Joyce (who had seduced him for this purpose). But Lou is driven by the Dark Passenger inside him, as Dexter called the serial killer’s murderous urges (previous chapter), and ends up killing the son himself and battering Joyce, who unfortunately for Lou, survives in a coma....

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