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The «Dexter Syndrome»

The Serial Killer in Popular Culture

Series:

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 3. The Lodger: Visualizing the Serial Killer

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THE LODGER

Visualizing the Serial Killer

The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.

—Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980)

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s most frightful early silent movies is his 1927 adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ novel, The Lodger (previous chapter), which she also turned into a play titled Who Is He? As mentioned, the story is about the hunt for the identity of Jack the Ripper—an obsession that continues to this day. As with many other Hitchcock films, this is not just about the hunt, though, but about society’s hypocritical self-righteousness and its dangerous tendencies towards the witch hunt, pursuing an innocent victim of circumstances catering to the thrill of the hunt. For many film critics, this is the first ever movie in the serial killer and, thus, thriller genre.

With his usual tongue-and-cheek treatment of psychological horror, Hitchcock produced a movie dealing with our obsession with the newest dark figure of evil in the persona of Jack the Ripper, and our moral panic reaction manifested in persecution based on mere suspicion. The movie revolves around the arrival of a strange and odd handsome man at a boarding house in a London backstreet seeking lodgings and living in secrecy. At one level it is an essay in our unconscious, fetishistic, medieval fear of the “Other.” Jack the ← 51 | 52 → Ripper had no face; the lodger does, and it can easily be...

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