Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rooting for the bad guy

Graduating definitely has perks.
1. I have more free time, I can watch tv, or movies, or read, or hang out with kids, or... whatever.
2. I make (a little) more money), I can actually afford Netflix.

I've lately started watching some of their instantly available stuff, and it's good fun. I'm not much of a tv watcher. While I don't shy away from the tv, my repertoire is pretty limited to watching Jeopardy!, House and Numb3rs.

About a week ago I started at season 1, episode 1 of Dexter. A pretty daring concept if you ask me. The series definitely causes some (ok, I admit, even me) to root for the serial killer.

I heard (probably on NPR) recently someone quoted as saying something to the effect of "bad guys do what good guys only dream of doing." I suspect there is some truth to that. I don't buy into the idea that someone is inherently evil. I think people make choices. We may all have murderous intent sometimes, but what separates most from those who act on these feelings is the choice. We as a society (and as a species) have decided (quite intelligently, I might add) that killing another human being is not in the best interest for our collective survival. We raise our cubs, our horcruxes, our kids with those values and hope they stick. Most of the time they do, but sometimes things go wrong. As a society we've set up a system to deal with those who stray from the right path with the purpose of 1) removing a dangerous, destructive individual from our midst to prevent further calamities, 2) punishing said individual, and 3) creating a deterrent for others who might have the same murderous streak.

In setting up this system we have decided that it is more important that we never make a type I error (convicting someone who is innocent), and we therefore choose to increase the risk of a type II error (letting loose someone who is guilty). And so, at some frequency, simply as a result of our choice to err on the side of caution with respect to type I errors, the guilty walk.

In Dexter, the writers examine these cases. And Dexter has turned (helped by the man who adopted him) into a one-man jury, judge, and executioner. So, the show sets up this hierarchy of good, not-so-good, bad, really-bad, and really-really-bad people, and argues to the case of the bad and the really bad people taking out the really-really-bad people, because the good or not-so-good would never do such a thing (even though they might fantasize about it), and our error II prone system has a tendency of failing.

So, you find yourself silently rooting for the bad people, lament the naivete of the good people, and consider it a good thing that the really-really-bad-people. And of course, because it goes against the grain of the morals we've been raised with, we feel guilty for rooting for a serial killer. I find this contradiction fascinating, and keep on going back for another episode trying to analyze my reaction to the story, conscious of the instances where I'm rooting for the bad guy.

The scientist in me can't help but pick out the mistakes Dexter makes. Like wearing gloves inside the house where he captures his next victim, after having opened the door with his bare hands. I'm finding the show oddly addictive. I've watched 5 episodes so far, and as much as I try to stay away from it, when I find myself with an hour of spare time, I click around and move on to the next episode.

Even though killing is the theme throughout the series, I can honestly say that if you can stand a little blood it's not that bad. I really dislike violence, and I don't mind watching this. There is a very limited amount of fighting, shooting, and the like, it's all rather civilized and carefully executed. I wouldn't be surprised if there are those that say they can't stand to watch. However, I would wonder if it is because they can't stand to see themselves rooting for the bad guy.

1 comment:

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