It was my husband who suggested Dexter as the next show we should watch together. It was also my husband who decided to become alarmed when I actually liked the show. Okay, so maybe the word "like" doesn't fully encapsulate my feelings. I didn't just like Dexter. I became completely obsessed with it.
What caused my husband's alarm was the fact that he knows what it means when I fall so fully into a TV show. It means I'm strongly identifying with one of the characters. And in the case of Dexter, I was identifying with a serial killer. One conversation I had with my husband went something like this:
"Why are you so obsessed with that show?"
"Because...I feel like Dexter is me."
(with one eyebrow raised) "So you're a serial killer?"
(sigh) "You just don't get it!"
What Dexter is Really About
At its heart, Dexter is not a show about a serial killer. That bit is just the unique twist thrown in to attract an audience. But Dexter's character represents more than just someone with an unquenchable urge to kill. He represents anyone who feels the need to hide who they are out of fear that if they ever let anyone see their true selves, they'd be rejected. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. That is the thing he's hiding. But he could also be:
The regular church goer who loves God, loves worship, loves the feeling of community found in the tight-knit church family, but who also believes in evolution and is opposed to the death penalty and feels the need to keep those opinions quiet for fear of being labeled ungodly.
The teen who is terrified of what will happen if the other members of his basketball team find out he's gay (yeah, I stole that from American Crime).
The popular girl who doesn't want her friends to find out she regularly watches Star Trek.
Or maybe just an intensely private person who doesn't like showing emotion publically because it's uncomfortable to let other people into his inner world.
Dexter, under the guise of being a show about a serial killer, really represents all of those groups to such a degree that I find nothing alarming whatsoever about a person identifying with its bloodthirsty protagonist. It took a while for me to get my husband to see it this way, though.
The Kinds of Stories My Husband Finds Moving
Desperately needing to make him understand, I asked the hubs if he'd ever so strongly identified with a fictional character he felt the story could have been written about him. He nodded and went on to explain how he wept bitterly the first time he saw The Elephant Man (the ongoing debate in our household about David Lynch's merits as a filmmaker could fill another blog post by itself, but suffice it to say that my husband pretty much abhors David Lynch...with the exception of The Elephant Man).
Okay. The Elephant Man. Now we were getting somewhere. I knew why he liked that movie. It was for some of the same reasons I liked Dexter. My husband and I were both picked on when we were in school. So I latched onto that. Surely we would find some common ground here. Surely that Aha! moment was within our reach.
After a few minutes of conversation, a fundamental difference between me and my husband emerged. Yes, we were both picked on in school, but for different reasons. My husband was picked on by wealthy kids who made fun of his bargain store clothes. Then in middle school he put on a little weight and was picked on for that. By high school he had developed an acute case of low self-esteem which typically manifested itself whenever he tried talking to girls.
I, on the other hand, had a different school experience. In elementary school I was teased relentlessly because someone saw me eating a booger in first grade (I was six...don't judge me). In middle school, in the early nineties, I made the mistake of telling someone I mistook for a friend that I liked the Beatles. This "friend" started calling me on the phone in the evenings just so she could sing "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of her lungs while laughing hysterically. By high school I was a book nerd and a sci-fi fan, two things that were perfectly acceptable within certain social circles, but not something mainstream teens would have understood.
So there it was. The crux of our problem. Yes, we were both teased in school, but the reasons for the teasing were quite different. My husband was teased for who he was on the outside, so he came to value the philosophy of not judging a book by its cover. Of taking the time to get to know someone first, because it's what's on the inside that counts.
In my case, it was precisely what was on the inside that caused all my problems. Any time I tried to let someone in...to trust someone enough to show my true self...it backfired. I would be teased. Ridiculed. Rejected. So I developed the philosophy that the only way to survive in the world is to take who you really are and tuck it deep down, so far out of sight that no one can ever see it, because otherwise everyone will reject you. And for that reason, I identified with Dexter.
So you see, hubs, I'm not a serial killer after all. Just a nerd. And I'm learning to be okay with that.