Dexter versus Parents Television Council

Dexter CBS is planning to use Dexter to fill the programming hole left by the writers’ strike. (Dexter is a Showtime series now in its second season.)  The Parents Television Council thinks this is a bad idea, claiming CBS is driven by "corporate greed" and that Dexter turns a serial killer into a hero. 

This is the sort of thing that gives the Right a bad name.  Dexter is not a celebration of violence.  It does not encourage us to admire a serial killer. Only a knucklehead or an opportunist would suppose otherwise.

Dexter offers an absorbing what-if study.  What if, it asks, evil were domesticated for good.  It tells the story of a young man who kills animals without remorse.  His adoptive father, a policeman, understands that he has a choice: to turn his son in or put this pathology to a useful purpose.  He chooses the latter course, effectively creating a "secret weapon" in the war on crime.  His son is a monster who now kills monsters like himself.  His pathology is now a thing of discipline and purpose used against pathologies that have no discipline or purpose. 

So there is something sociologically interesting about Dexter. But it is also a chance for moral self scrutiny.  We are startled to find ourselves empathizing with a man who has no idea what empathy feels like.  We catch ourselves briefly rooting for a guy who is a monster, plain and simple.  Dexter is not a celebration of violence, but a chance for us to contemplate it and our response to it.  (The NBC’s series Life is a second opportunity of this kind.)  (Have another look at the poster for the show [above].  I believe that’s what they mean by the phrase, "dead hand of competence.")

Somehow one feels contemplation is not a strong suit at the Parents Television Council.  I wondered whether the people at Parents Television Council watch television.  Do they actually have a television?  Now that popular culture is our culture, and now that programs like Dexter and Life take on "big questions," it is time to treat the likes of Parents Television Council as they philistines they manifestly are. 


Hibberd, James.  2007.  Parents Television Council Denounces CBS’s ‘Dexter" Plan.  Ad Age.  December 5, 2007.  here.

4 thoughts on “Dexter versus Parents Television Council

  1. Bud Caddell


    Culture/Art/Entertainment is a ‘messy’ process (at best), and bodies such as The Parents Television Council, seek to censor without dialogue, without first-hand observation, and without care of the free rights of others.

  2. Virginia Postrel

    I agree with you, but I was reminded that my own parents considered “The Green Hornet” too morally ambiguous for their kids. Of course, their approach was just not to let us watch it. I don’t think it would have even occurred to them to try to get it off the air.

  3. Bob Shear

    Have you people actually seen the show? I’m a fan, and have’t missed an episode of season one or season two on Showtime. I don’t know ANYONE who is a fan of this show who thinks it belongs on broadcast television. Dexter IS the hero. Read what Showtime says about it; read what the producers, director, Michael C. Hall say about it. It’s serious and provocative adult entertainment, and it is definitely NOT appropriate fare for 14 year olds (CBS has it rated TV-14).

    Why attack the Parents Television Council for saying the same thing the shows fans say. Dexter’s the hero, and the show is about how he and his adoptive father rationalized and justified teaching him to hunt and kill other human beings, to exploit others (like his sexually abused girlfriend) to help him hide in plain sight, and set up innocents to take the fall (anyone seen the season 2 finale?).

    Face reality folks, R-rated content doesn’t belong on broadcast TV. And no matter what you edit out of Dexter, it’s still a 12-hour R-rated movie.

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