This is an excerpt from my research paper on ‘The Growing Popularity of American Anti Hero (TV Series) among Indian Audiences’. The paper was written over the course of a month and completed (& approved) in Oct 2010. The paper essentially tried to connect human psychology & the popularity of gory/dark TV shows. This passage is the heart of my research paper.
Why do we love Dexter?
On conducting primary research on a small sample of avid Dexter viewers, the researcher found answers to some compelling questions.
In the show, a lot of Dexter’s thoughts are voiced out loud with a sarcastic dark undertone to it. His thoughts make the viewer seem like they are inside his head. The captivating screenplay and gripping dialogues, grab the viewer who somehow in a strange way ‘relates’ to him.
The researcher would like to use Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis Theory to interpret this phenomenon. Dexter talks a lot about his ‘dark passenger’ who he needs to satisfy to live. Sara Colleton, executive producer of “Dexter” says that we all have a bit of the dark passenger in us. She feels most of us have it firmly in check, and it’s just that extra piece of fudge that we can’t control. According to the in-depth interviews conducted by the researcher, most Dexter viewers root for him when he kills and can’t stand the thought of him getting caught.
According to Sigmund Freud’s Structural Model of the Psyche– the Id, the Ego and the Superego are three parts of the psychic apparatus. According to this model of the psyche, the Id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the ego is the organised, realistic part; and the super-ego plays the critical and moralising role. The Id is the function of the psyche that we are concerned with while analysing the popularity of the anti-hero.
The id is unconscious by definition. In Freud’s formulation,
“It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality…and most of this is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We all approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations… It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organisation, produces no collective will…” — Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933)
Freud claims, the Id is responsible for our basic drives such as food, water, sex and basic impulses. It is amoral and selfish, ruled by the pleasure–pain principle; it is without a sense of time, completely illogical, primarily sexual, infantile in its emotional development, and is not able to take “no” for an answer.
Freud divided the id’s drives and instincts into two categories: life and death instincts. Death instincts (Thanatos) as stated by Freud, are our unconscious wish to die, as death puts an end to the everyday struggles for happiness and survival. It also indirectly represents itself through outward and inward aggression.
The Ego and Superego keep a check on the Id keeping it from taking over the psyche. A criminal, for instance, has a dominating Id which leads to his aggressive behaviour. All of us have innate aggression in us which is kept under control by laws, religions and other controlling ‘system’ mechanisms. Dexter’s viewers mirror their aggression off the loveable killer thus giving vent to the pent up and suppressed aggression/anger.Dexter in all his being is the manifestation, although fictional, of our Id. With all the stress of living in a fast developing country, Dexter is a digital ventilator for his legions of fans. This is one of the reasons why Dexter is so famous among Indian audiences.
Another reason could be that Dexter’s ‘condition’ is due to an unconscious childhood memory of the murder of his mother which is witnessed. Dexter as an infant was left in a pool of his mother’s blood along with his older brother. Scriptwriters of Dexter have used this Freudian concept of suppressed memory to ‘justify’ his actions. This along with Harry’s code leads his viewers to excuse his kills as a ‘service to society’.