Dexter and the death penalty

Thisanjali Gangoda

Several weeks ago my fellow columnist Nick Glunt wrote an article about Showtime’s most watched television series “Dexter.” I was thrilled because I absolutely love “Dexter” and every gory, suspenseful moment of it. I love the storyline, the subplots, the character development and most of all, Dexter. A man who has suffered unimaginable personal traumas, Dexter is a “darkly dreamy” vigilante who fights for justice by serial killing people who deserve to die. While tending to his interesting hobby of putting people to death, he is also a father who works as a blood splatter analyst for Miami Metro’s homicide department. He manages to balance his busy life by constantly having perspective on it.

I love this show because it entices me to have sympathy for a knife-wielding, plastic-wrapping murderer—something that is generally frowned upon in everyday society. A core element of suspense in the show is the possibility of Dexter getting rid of his urges to kill people. His intrapersonal conflicts are battled out in his audible thoughts, and at times he acts on them in his relationships. I feel for him in that I believe he has potential to become a good person without a desire to kill.

But the whole basis of the show is that he is a good person because he kills bad people. Is that possible?

It’s a fantastic idea for an individual with such deeply rooted anger and violence to take control and act selflessly for others. However, this show deems that there are people who deserve to die unquestionably, and that Dexter has the ability to decide this.

This kind of thinking is also the basis for the death penalty. We allow state sanctioned murders with the belief that it will deter crime and keep convicts off the streets by tucking them into graves. I am wholly against this and have recently been amazed at the parallels of this show and the controversy over the usage of the death penalty in the United States.

It might be a stretch to relate the underlying themes of “Dexter” to the current status of the death penalty, but you don’t have to look far to realize the facts. We as a society are obsessed with the notion that there are definite lines to be drawn about the nature of a person. Some people are capable of murdering while others are not; therefore, state laws have the ability to decide the fate of such persons. Our culture is fascinated, if not enthralled by violence and death, in which politics has become a tool of propaganda. The death penalty does not insight fear or tragedy in our society. Instead it broadens the gaps between rich and poor, black and white, and encourages revenge over reconciliation. If you look at the statistics of the death penalty after the brief moratorium in 1976, the system is riddled with social and economic inequality.

We are blinded by cheap fulfillment of the swift justice that is death, and no longer question the root of the cause. Why are individuals driven to kill? Is it a product of their social status and upbringing, or are they just evil? This is not to say that some perpetrators shouldn’t be seriously punished for their actions, and that everyone has a believable excuse for murdering another being. But we need to evaluate our judicial structures to ensure that they are acting with fairness and equality. Today the United States is the only developed Western nation that supports capital punishment as a viable, productive system of justice.

While seeking to end the four-year moratorium on the death penalty in 1976, Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens stated that by following the proper channels, it was possible to guarantee an “evenhanded, rational and consistent imposition of death sentences under law.” On “60 Minutes” last Sunday, he recanted this viewpoint, acknowledging that the system of capital punishment is broken and misused.

If a former Supreme Court Justice can admit his fault, then why can’t the entire judicial system of the United States? If Dexter can kill and feel remorse, can he change his ways?

The death penalty is more than a mechanism of punishment. It is a moral dilemma of power, politics and discrimination. Shows like “Dexter” can remind us of where we stand on these issues, and shed light on the humanity that we share. The only difference is, television is just fiction.

Thisanjali Gangoda is a senior political science and applied conflict management major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].