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Horror and the Zeitgeist

Much has been made of atomic hysteria underlying 1950s horror movies. In general, cheap entertainment tends to exemplify the mood of the times more than the high prestige, middle-brow productions that take up much more print space, particularly during awards season. Historians therefore tend to train their focus on that which appeals more directly to the unconscious to peel away the layers of self-aggrandizing delusion.

The current trend in horror is the romanticized serial killer. Unlike those in the Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween franchises, today’s serial killer is handsome, affluent, cultured and sophisticated and, in the case of Dexter, heroic. What is with this turnabout, particularly given our knowledge that most serial killers are uneducated, unsocial and unsuccessful in other aspects of life?

It seems to me that the underlying angst that has popularized this meme is as political as it was in the 1950s. Today, it is not nuclear weapons that terrorize our daily lives but rather banksters and politicians who appear urbane while engaging in patently monstrous activities, like illegal drone campaigns, widespread and apparently unprosecutable consumer fraud and promotion of policies that seemed almost designed with the goal of eradicating civilization. The existential threat of the early 21st Century comes from our own elites, not from alleged terrorists living in the Yemeni desert, the mountains of Pakistan or the suburbs of Oregon.

Getting back to the lone heroic villain, I believe Dexter provides a “working within the system” rebel to fight fire with fire. With popular dissent being increasingly criminalized, the only possible heroes are those who have nothing left to lose, the attack dog on a leash, with the subliminal threat of going rogue ever present.

That none of this can be discussed in corporate-controlled news media is the reason such sublimation is restricted to popular entertainment in its most degraded (and therefore plausibly deniable) form.

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