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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 5. Copycat: Does Life Imitate Art?


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Does Life Imitate Art?

Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life

—Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

In an 1891 essay, “The Decay of Lying,” presented in the form of a Socratic dialogue, Oscar Wilde stated that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life,” challenging the long-standing Aristotelian notion of mimesis or the theory that art is an imitation of life. Wilde turned it on its head because, as he put it, “the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression” (in Wilde 2007: 94). As we have seen previously, some (maybe many) deranged serial killers see their crimes as a form of art. It is when others, called “copycat killers,” imitate them that we can see the verity of Wilde’s view. In no other other area of criminality does this propensity for imitation surface. Indirectly, it is evidence of how emotionally powerful serial murder is in the imagination.

Wilde used the example of the London fog to make his case. Although fog has always existed in London, one notices the qualities and aesthetics of the fog because “poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects. They did not exist till Art had invented them” (Wilde 2007: 95). This is a rather appropriate analogy for the present purposes given the portrayals of Jack the Ripper as “performing his Art” in the fog. There have been many imitators (followers?) of...

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