What I Learned From a Serial Killer
by John Nystrom
The other night I started watching a show called Dexter. It wasn’t a particularly great show in my opinion (no offense to anyone who disagrees), but it wasn’t horrible either, and I found myself intrigued by the show’s premise. Let me briefly describe the show’s plot for anyone who has never heard of it:
The main character, Dexter, is a moral serial killer. During the day he works for the police as a forensic blood splatter analyst; by night, he goes out and kills criminals that “deserve it,” such as murderers, pedophiles, rapists etc. The majority of his life is spent trying to fake normalcy in order to hide his monstrous secret from everyone he meets, including his family and friends.
I stopped watching Dexter after just a few episodes for various reasons (like I said, I didn’t think it was exceptional); however, there was an aspect of Dexter that I really liked, a motif that I think illustrates a deep truth about human nature. While watching the show, I was struck by the image of a man, surrounded by a hostile environment, forced to fake what he does not feel. A man who knows there is something inherently wrong within himself, and that he is missing something crucial, but who can never let anyone else see it; he can only imagine what the seemingly spotless people around him would think if they found out his secret.
I empathize with this story, and I think most people do as well. Who hasn’t faked an emotion or opinion or lifestyle for the benefit of those around them? Whether it’s something inconsequential like pretending you like indie music when you really just want to listen to One Direction, or something heavy like the addiction you’re hiding from the world, this is a universal human experience.
I also found that the show dealt with the conflict within Dexter’s situation in a very interesting way. Instead of resolving it by focusing on the fact that everyone around him also had problems, and showing him that he wasn’t alone, which is an important concept, the show emphasized his own internal struggle with his problem, not excusing it, nor glossing over it (because how can you excuse or gloss over the crimes of a serial killer?), but having him fight with it, and attempt to figure out why his problem is there to begin with.
Dexter is not without its shortcomings, including a large amount of obscenity and sickening images, but it also has some definite merits. Its refreshing and honest approach to personal problems and closeted skeletons presents a much-needed voice to a well-established dialogue. Often, when addressing things like addiction, perversion, or other types of personal issues, we merely speak to the feelings of isolation or the fear of being judged by emphasizing that nobody’s perfect, and that one’s environment is not as hostile as they might think. These words are important, and should be repeated; however, once they have been said, the problem is still there, and the fact that many people deal with similar issues does not excuse or erase the original problem’s existence. The problem must be looked at square in the face and dealt with.
For the problems that exist in my life, the answer is Christ. Having already solved my biggest problem, namely, that of being separated from God and being spiritually dead in sin, Jesus continually works alongside me to defeat the practical and daily issues and sins I struggle with; this is part of what Christians mean by the term “grace.” Tangibly, this can manifest itself in many different ways, but the three biggest examples for me are scripture, other Christians, and the Holy Spirit. It is by the first two that I am exhorted, convicted, and encouraged, and it is by the last that my heart is changed, and responds to the exhortation or encouragement. In Him I live and move and have my being, and apart from Him I can do nothing.