Look, I love a good thriller. I enjoy murder mysteries, always have, always will. I saw Silence of the Lambs in the theater twice, and I don’t do that often. Homicide is one of the few series I’ve ever tried writing a spec script for. But. I don’t watch Dexter. I didn’t have a particular reason before. Now, I do.
This news story is unremittingly grim. The headline is enough: “Ind. teen charged with strangling brother, 10.” And if you read the story, the teen talks about how he felt “just like” Dexter, as in the Showtime series.
Sure, you can tell me all about how Dexter has a code that he tries to follow. Yes, you can tell me that a tv show shouldn’t be held accountable for the actions of one person. Go on and tell me how I can use technology to block my children from seeing the show. Fine.
But it’s not just a tv show, is it? It’s a wide-ranging marketing campaign, including websites, whether the official Showtime site, MySpace, Facebook or the Twitter feed, which runs contests you can “take a stab” at–their words, not mine. It’s ads on buses, billboards, magazines, stands in shopping malls. It’s boxed sets of DVDs that–at our local WalMart–are conveniently shelved a foot off the floor, right next to the rack of new kids’ DVDs with the Wonder Pets and Dora and all.
Now, you can “Dexterize” your friends’ Facebook pages. You can order a Dexter Bloody Mary on select Delta flights. You can buy cute little bobbleheads of “all your favorite characters,” though to listen to most critics, I can’t imagine most of those other characters will sell. (Find your LaGuerta bobbleheads at BigLots. Or not.)
Miss it Sunday night on Showtime? Catch the rerun on Saturday afternoon. Early on Saturday afternoon. (Thanks, DirecTV, for that gift of three free months of the Showtime package. Could I please just have Sundance Channel all by itself? No? Okay.) Better yet, you can catch episodes online in any one of a number of places.
And the animated prequel as web series? Lovely.
Every inch of that marketing and product is designed to amuse us. Isn’t that clever? “New killer…season.” Look, he’s smiling a goofy smile, but the side of his face is splattered with blood. Awwww. Oh, in this one, he’s shushing us and hiding his knife. How arch. Even if the show itself tries to provide some nuance, some balance between dark humor and pathos, the marketing is portraying this as Fun! Fun! Fun! He’s the serial killer even a mother could love. Wait, there’s a good slogan for the next season…
I know what’s involved in selling a product, I’ve worked at that myself. It’s doing what marketing is supposed to do, making the product as appealing as possible to the widest audience possible. Sometimes, we lose sight of what product we’re actually selling. More to the point, we lose sight of to whom we’re selling.
There are no parental blocks for billboards and magazine covers.
Did Dexter really influence this kid? I don’t know. Did he learn anything from the show? Maybe, maybe not.
All I know is, I want nothing to do with a show like this. I’d rather be entertained.