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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 4. Criminal Minds: Explaining the Serial Killer


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Explaining the Serial Killer

It’s a mistake to think that Dexter is nice.

—Jeff Lindsay (b. 1952)

The TV series, Criminal Minds, follows the criminal cases of a team of FBI profilers who pursue (mainly) serial killers. Each episode starts and ends with an epigrammatic statement that sheds a philosophical-psychological light on the case at hand. It is one of numerous TV programs that involve serial murders, such as The Killing, The Mentalist, and True Detective. The central feature of such programs, as Scott Bonn (2014) aptly points out, is that the serial killer has become a celebrity monster and in order to explain what motivates the serial killer we must first try to understand why he has become a celebrity.

Criminal Minds attracted large audiences on major channels and networks from the early 2000s to the mid-2010s. The plots revolved around the activities of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), a fictional version of a subsection of the FBI called the Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU), also named the Behavioral Sciences Services (BSS). A team of criminal profilers is called in, from episode to episode, by local police departments to assist them in solving crimes usually involving unknown serial killers (referred to as the “unknown subjects” or “unsubs” for short). The team members use profiling, along with forensic science, to track down the unsub. The evidence from the specific case ← 77 | 78 → at...

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