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Klavan On The Culture

Stuff Conservatives Should Actually Like, Section B

July 27th, 2011 - 7:00 am

In the now immortal first installment of Stuff Conservatives Should Actually Like, I put forward the argument that perhaps some of us have been too harsh in our criticism of comedienne Tina Fey.  The resulting attacks on my intelligence, character, private life and dress sense left my ego so bruised I was forced to console myself by re-reading the lofty and insightful praise of my work that pours ceaselessly into my spam filter.  Just a couple of examples:

“All over the internet I am looking before I find a post so intelligent as yours!  Do you know the cure for erectile dysfunction?”

“Thanks for your post and luckly to comment in your site!  Have you at any time been on community revenue world-wide-web internet webpages and wondered how so a sizable size of males and females would probably possibly extremely appropriately be offering generally the extremely specific same performer?”

After weeks of such ego-healing balm, I am ready to return to the fray with my second offering:  Dexter, Showtime’s killer serial about a serial killer who tortures and dismembers his victims for good rather than for evil. All the following comments apply only to the first season, the only one I’ve watched. There’ll be no important spoilers.

Too many in the conservative community (you know who you are) experience a swelling sense of righteousness when they announce to the world, “With all the violence and sex and filth out there, I don’t watch TV or go to the movies or read books anymore.  I leave that to those queers and commies in Hollywood.  Making paper dolls out of old TV Guides is enough culture for me, and ought to be enough for any true American!”

Stop saying stuff like that. It makes you sound like an idiot. Violence, sex and all-around filth are part and parcel of art because they’re part and parcel of life and the very stuff of drama. King Lear – which is the Sistine Chapel of literature – includes a scene where a man’s eyes are put out onstage. The Sistine Chapel – which, coincidentally, is the King Lear of painting – is rife with male and female nudity.   And of course there’s the graphic rape scene in David Copperfield – okay, the magic act, not the novel, but still, you get the idea.

Dexter, then, is grotesquely violent—so much so that I turned it off twenty minutes into the first episode and did not return to it for months. I hate serial killer stories anyway and felt the brilliant novel Silence of the Lambs was pretty much the last one any of us needed.

But Dexter is different. It’s not really about serial killing at all. It’s about the nature of identity and morality. Dexter’s foster father, a cop named Harry, realized what little Dexter was becoming early in his childhood. So Harry taught his son a code to live by. He taught him how to act normal and blend in—and only to satisfy his urge to kill on those who are thoroughly evil. As a result, Dexter, who has almost no human feelings, merely pretends to care about others, and only kills when he has hunted down a fellow monster.

In other words, Dexter is very much like the rest of us and the best of us:  a man who socializes his most powerful urges and who so thoroughly pretends to be a better person than he is that he actually is a better person than he is. This is the conservative view of man in a nutshell:  deeply sinful, always imperfect and yet capable of self-control and responsible to the society around him. Leftists have tried to convince us that identity is about race or sex or sexuality, but for conservatives, it’s about beliefs and actions. We don’t care that Mexicans enter the country illegally, for instance, but we do care that Mexicans enter the country illegally. Leftists can’t comprehend this, but see racism where there is only a concern for the rule of law.

But Dexter’s vision of life is more complex than any one political position. The first season deals with the struggle between our codes of conduct and our inner freedom, the doubts that arise when we find out that those who taught us perfect behavior are not themselves perfect, and the ugly sadism of violence even when it is applied justly.

The violence does make this a hard show to watch and it’s not for everyone, I admit, but it’s a brilliant piece of work nonetheless and should be experienced by all conservatives who can stomach it.

Anyone who disagrees will be dismembered and eaten.

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