Dramatic television has been a central site wherein the torture debate, specifically through the “ticking time bomb” scenario, has been enacted, perhaps most notably in the Fox network television series 24. Bush administration officials often cited the series and its hero’s use of torture to gain pivotal information as sufficient evidence that torture works, at times going so far as to suggest that torture was not only useful but a necessary tool in its “global war on terror.” In waging this war (rhetorically and physically) the Bush administration relied on a logic that understood “America” and its mission as exceptional to justify the use of torture in its perceived “struggle for civilization.” This conception of the U.S as exception is related to both the myth of American exceptionalism and to the legal construction of the state of exception. The former argues that the American experience is unique. The mythology of Am. exceptionalism conditioned the construction of 9/11 as an exceptional moment in history, not because nothing like it had happened before in history, but because nothing like it had happened to the U.S. The event itself was also constructed as inaugurating a state of exception in which normative legal and moral structures could no longer hold. The question of torture (along with the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war and other Bush administration policies) has become a limit case in which the implication of exceptionalist thinking has played out.
I finished watching season one of Dexter on Friday night. I had intended to finish it up a few days earlier, but the image of 3-year-old Dexter in a pool of blood, screaming, disturbed and upset me in such a way that almost a week later the image has stayed with me. As Dexter says, “the little boy in the blood, frightens me.”
Dexter is a series, among other things, about trauma, memory, and a darkness that haunts humanity. Bleak in its thesis, Dexter, the series, argues that what Dexter, the character, is (a monster) anyone could very easily become. This is made evident in the constant comparison of what Dexter does (as a service to humanity – a point I want to return to later) to what other characters either say or do. For example when Doakes executes the Haitian man under a Miami bridge the Lt. LaGuerta explains to Angel that the Haitian was in fact a “very bad man” and therefore deserved to die. Justice is served in the offing. This kind of primordial sense of justice argues true justice is only found in retribution, and eye for an eye. Pull back the curtain of enlightened modernity and all humanity is a empty heart of darkness.
The horror of Dexter isn’t how different he is from everyone else, but how similar he is. Everyone wears masks, everyone wants to take justice into their own hands, everyone’s hiding from someone or from themselves. The difference though, is I suppose, the difference that makes all the difference – Dexter kills people (most) everyone else doesn’t.