Monday, September 27, 2010

New season of Dexter!

No spoilers, but I just wanted to acknowledge that Showtime's "Dexter" has done more to educate the general public on sociopathy than any other one source. It is such an accurate depiction of the inner monologue of a sociopath that I think there must be a sociopath on staff as a consultant or a writer. Interestingly, one of the writers at Love Fraud criticizes the character of Dexter for the very reasons that I think there must be an "inside man" who is aware of how a real sociopath thinks:
Speaking of actor Michael C. Hall, I wonder what your take is on Dexter, the great Showtime Series in which Hall plays a sociopathic serial killer working, by day, as a Miami crime-scene forensics analyst?

I love this series, which is coming into its third season. But as disturbing a character as Dexter is, I would not characterize him as a sociopath. This is just a fun diagnostic quibble. Ostensibly, Dexter grows up a budding, violent sociopath. His father (or father-figure) recognizes the dark, evil side over which, as a boy and adolescent, Dexter seems to have little, and diminishing, control. The father sees that Dexter is compulsively, inexorably inclined to sadistic violence.

His solution is to somehow train Dexter to direct his sociopathic, homicidal proclivities towards cruel, menacing, destructive individuals. Best, if someone’s got to be snuffed-out by Dexter, it be someone the world will be better without!

And so Dexter becomes skilled, over time, at identifying individuals the world won’t miss; individuals as dangerous and creepy as he.

Why, then, is Dexter not really a sociopath—and indeed, diagnostically speaking, not even necessarily plausible? Because, despite his violent, murderous compulsions, Dexter is, first of all, a fundamentally sincere person. He is also loyal–for instance to his sister and a girlfriend. And while Dexter struggles to “feel” warm feelings, indeed anything—a struggle, incidentally, that he embraces—he knows how to have the backs of others, even where his self-interest may be at risk.

In a word, Dexter strives, against his darkest, most sordid inclinations, for growth. This is precisely what makes him and the series so fascinating, and precisely what rules him out as sociopath.
One of the commenters on that site quickly points out what should be obvious to readers of this site:
I think a sociopath can show what appears to be loyalty to a girlfriend or someone else, and they can also take action to have someone’s back, even though it appears to put them at risk. Why do I think this? I think if the girlfriend or someone else is someone they view as someone they “own” or have power over, and who will repay their act of loyalty in kind, if the person is someone who has utility to them, they will take action to protect the person. And if that girlfriend or other person is being mistreated or in some sort of trouble from someone OTHER than the psychopath himself, then I think it is also a game to them, to oneup that other person who is causing the trouble–to win over them. Even when it appears they are putting themselves at risk out of altruisim or concern to save someone else, it is really just to see how they can manipulate the situation to save the person, and it is thrilling to them to put their ownselves at risk, then get away with it and get themselves out of the situation and win the game. But if it actually came down to the wire of the girlfriend or person whose back they are saving or themselves, at that point, if they’ve exhausted all other options, then they’d throw the person under the bus.
But again, if anyone knows or wants to find out who Dexter's "inside man" is, I would pay money to know. I would credit the insider's level of insight to the author of the original books, which I haven't read, but I hear they are not quite as good as the television series.

30 comments:

  1. The books are better than the television series. I'm on the second one, "Dearly Devoted Dexter" and can't put it down. The descriptions in the book are more grotesque than what they can show on TV, so if you're a fan of that sorta thing, it might be your cup of tea.
    Cheers!

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  2. I love the show and although I don't know how accurate the depiction of a sociopath is, they certainly nailed the personality of his girlfriend, Rita. She's an empath and a fixer. TEXTBOOK!
    Way to go...

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  3. The books are pretty decent, though they veer in a much different path than the series. They make good reading, just as the show makes for good television. I would also like to know which of the writers has such intimate knowledge of the inner workings of a sociopath. He must be one of the successful ones and thus, we may never know. I guess if one did a study of all of the writers, they could figure it out by identifying the one who's background is 'too clean'.

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  4. "But if it actually came down to the wire of the girlfriend or person whose back they are saving or themselves, at that point, if they’ve exhausted all other options, then they’d throw the person under the bus."

    Is this intended to imply that only sociopaths would throw someone that matters to them under the bus if it because a them-or-me situation? I ask because if disloyalty and/or a lack of literal martyrdom is a sure sign of sociopathy, then the world seems to be ass-deep in sociopaths, from what I can tell.

    There seem to be plenty of non-sociopaths who are not only not protecting their loved ones with their lives, but are in fact their murderers. Or are we to assume that they quite suddenly morphed into sociopaths? I suppose that would explain everything. Perhaps it's contagious, like the zombie virus.

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  5. @ Gabriel
    I was thinking the same thing. I've heard of so many screwed up parents that allow their own kids to be hurt as long as it benefits them.

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  6. @ Gabriel
    I was thinking the same thing. I've heard of so many screwed up parents that allow their own kids to be hurt as long as it benefits them.

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  7. The commentator is on the money. I've been in that 'privileged' position, where it appeared he'd take any bullet for me. But at the end of the day, yeah, the bus would run me down if all other options dried up. Fortunately, we never sniffed the burning rubber.

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  8. And yes, those of you who said that 'bus' comment describes a lot of normals are correct. But when you add up all the other factors - look at all the other markers - nothing could be truer. Some of them walk through life, disguised from the masses. They put up a good front, and try to do the right thing when possible... when there's something to be gained: Loyalty, money or sex. But when it's time to cover their own back, there isn't the same sort of toiling that we experience.

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  9. "They put up a good front, and try to do the right thing when possible... when there's something to be gained: Loyalty, money or sex. But when it's time to cover their own back, there isn't the same sort of toiling that we experience."

    Can you be a little more specific about how that's different from the vast majority of non-sociopaths? I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm simply trying to figure out what constitutes your "toiling" versus mine.

    If you mean that we would not make the decision based on moralizing or emotional torment, you're probably right in most cases. But how does the environment of our decision-making matter to the outcome? And feeling guilt afterward doesn't change the outcome.

    That said, I can't imagine I'd ever sacrifice myself for someone who doesn't matter to me, and for all I know, you might be willing to -- though that has nothing to do with loyalty, which was the trait the commenter was discussing.

    One shouldn't assume to know what constitutes "winning" to me, or what I'd be willing to do if someone threatened the few people who matter to me, or why I'd do it. The people who have tested that found that my rule-abiding goes out the window, soon followed by their assumptions about what I consider risk and reward in such a circumstance.

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  10. Gabriel,

    I don't claim to be an expert on psychopaths/sociopaths and where they're different from common people, but I think I know some of what the difference is between why/how a sociopath or psychopath and a common person abandons others:

    The common person does this based on fear, the sociopath and psychopath would do it because they no longer find not doing it worth the risk involved.

    *******

    I am ... somewhat ... surprised ... to find that some of you think Dexter's way of thinking is so precisely comparable to how a sociopath thinks.

    In my personal opinion some of the reason this show is so popular is exactly that he thinks so much like everybody does, that he is so "double" in this sense.

    Almost everything thing we (okay, I - but I do know a little bit about how others think too ... I've not lived my life as a hermit after all) "hear" him think makes you go: "Exactly!", "Just how I felt too!" and "I agree!" etc., and you do so with a mild sense of surprise, because you know he is supposed to NOT think like you. He is supposed to be a psychopath, not just another somewhat emotionally immature, but very logically inclined, person like your neighbor or the guy you see in the mirror!

    Another thing that makes Dexter almost more human or even empathic than most others in his situation (I'm talking about his emotional immaturity), is the fact that he actually begins to develop these feelings. Not only on one occasion - which might very well happen to someone in "real life" too - but over and over, he learns about and begins to feel one "empath" quality type of feeling after the other.
    If he wasn't a character in a TV series I'd say he's virtually superhuman!

    But I love the series and can hardly wait for Season 4(*)!...

    Zhawq.

    (1*) ...which will be purchasable next month, I believe ... Pardon me for side tracking here! ... I've not watched in on TV because I wanted to wait and watch it in my own good time where I won't have to wait another week for every episode. I* do this with every TV series that I really enjoy, it's by far the better way to up the quality of the experience.

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  11. He's a very different character in the books. TV had to humanise him and the people he knows, the books don't bother because he sees them as tools/obstacles and they are from an entirely first person perspective (I know the third isn't entirely 1st person but I haven't read it).

    It's the coldness that he makes statements like "I'd rather my sister didn't die" that make it clear he's thinking more "having to act my way through the funeral would be annoying. Her living makes my life so much easier" than "My sister's death would be horrible traumatising and leave me emotionally scarred".

    Hell, in the second book someone tries to murder him and his sister. He doesn't even consider revenge for this and whilst he does save his sister's life, he describes it in a cold matter-of-fact way that shows nearly no emotional response to his sister's near demise.

    He seems to actually come to "love" Rita in the TV show whilst in the books she's practically a pet, he clearly looks down as her as silly and foolish for falling for him. The nearest to commenting on her positively is a rather detached observation that she is conventionally attractive, and that she is a good disguise for him to wear.

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  12. A realer depiction of sociopathy on TV would not pay the bills. There would be no tension... just when does he die and when do I eat.

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  13. aspie, hi! Long time... if you are the same aspie.

    I just watched the new episode. It's kind of, uh, a game changer. Because of two words that he utters.

    I may not continue to watch, as I agree it's much more pleasurable to watch shows in large chunks.

    You know, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this blog is used for consultation on the show.

    I don't really think an "inside" man is a given. But someone behind the scenes sure does know a lot.

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  14. And aspie is right. They have to humanize him.

    The audience has to relate to the pro(an)tagonist in some way, find a reason to root for him, and care for him. Watch him grow and grow up, learn a huge life lesson, shit like that. It's television.

    So far they've done a good job of this, considering the subject matter. I just fear that he will suddenly grow a "heart".

    If he is not humanized to some extent, the show would have an audience of... well, just think of a very low number. Hence a sure cancellation.

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  15. Also, it took me a while to trust my perceptions. Now I know they are pretty spot on.

    What I find most interesting is that the phenomenon described is what some would call "intuition".

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  16. Crap, wrong post. Ignore previous.

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  17. Medusa wrote:

    "And aspie is right. They have to humanize him."

    That was I said that, not Aspie. ^^


    Aspie,

    I'm not sure what bills you're referring to?

    I don't see why a sociopath wouldn't pay bills if he can easily afford it and find the possible risk and work it might take on his part to not pay his bills more costly than just paying them. Sociopaths are not necessarily poor, possibly quite the opposite (as opposed to Psychopaths who will usually not be able to stick to the beaten path of being seemingly law abiding).

    "Just when does he die and when do I eat."

    I'm also not sure what you're referring to here, but it does seem more like the way of thinking that I associate with Psychopaths and thus - again - people who can't uphold a more "sophisticated" or complex approach.

    Since I must assume you are an Aspie (a person with Asperger's Syndrome) I appreciate your input a lot, and hence also my interest in hearing what you mean by the lines I quoted.

    Thanks in advance!...

    Zhawq.

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  18. Oh, one more thing...


    Medusa:
    "I don't really think an "inside" man is a given."

    I agree.

    I've noticed there's been a lot of focus upon psychopathy (and Asperger's Syndrome too) lately in a lot of the TV series, mainly from Hollywood. To me it's very obvious that the whole 'syndrome' and Personality Disorder theme has become a very hot topic in the media everywhere.

    There are episodes or ongoing themes in many TV series that focus specifically on the psychopath topic, though it is sometimes (if not often) done in a subtle way so that viewers who are not already familiar with Psychopathy/Sociopathy/Antisocial Personality/Asperger's and High Functioning Autism Spectrum will not notice the cues.

    Zhawq.

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  19. One of the most famous sociopaths on tv is Tony Soprano, or is he a psychopath? Depends which expert you believe.
    Like all people, you cannot just put all sociopaths in a box.
    I used to sympathize with Tony until I realized I dated a few of him, sans the murders (I think).
    He was manipulative, self-serving, able to justify his awful actions. He was unaware unlike Dexter though.

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  20. Anon, I was referring to aspie (though you were right as well about this).

    I think you misread his post though.

    Bills = TV producers' bills.

    "just when does he die and when do I eat." = a simplified version Dexter's thought process if he was depicted a bit more accurately. i.e., sans the "growth" aspect required by a normal audience.

    I could be wrong, but this is how I read it.

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  21. ^ Er, I mean Zhawq, not Anon.

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  22. Jesus Medusa! You fucked up all over on this page.

    Did you forget to do your morning crossword puzzle...hmmm?

    (NOTE: The part about the puzzle in the morning was meant as a joke, since it's said that doing so helps thought forming or some shit...I just don't want any confusion, like the "bills" thing.)

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  23. Medusa wrote:
    "Er, I mean Zhawq, not Anon."

    Oh, okay.

    "Bills = TV producers' bills.

    "just when does he die and when do I eat." = a simplified version Dexter's thought process if he was depicted a bit more accurately. i.e., sans the "growth" aspect required by a normal audience."

    Hm, well maybe...

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  24. Help me out here. Sociopathic traits can be created from a bad childhood. If so, then why can't they be "cured" by the right environment and proper support?

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  25. Socio's dad,

    Keep the following in mind:

    Most Sociopaths/psychopaths are what they are as a result of a combination of genetics and upbringing.

    Yet, some are so genetically predestined that hardly any upbringing, no matter how perfect, would make any difference. These are what is widely agreed on to be termed Sociopaths or Psychopaths (there is a distinction, but it's not important here).

    Antisocial Personality Disorder displays the same behavior deficits as Sociopaths/Psychopaths, but is developed during childhood and youth. It is believed to be only in a minor degree genetically based, but in practice no less serious. These individuals can become well adjusted if intervention is brought on early.

    But, as with everything else in life, luck does play a role too.
    These kids are very hard to deal with, even for the more experienced.


    If the latter describes your child, I would advice you to also look into things such as ADHD, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), and related topics.

    If your child is adopted RAD may well play a part.

    However, the latest fad: ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), is utter crap. Being an angry child is not a disorder!

    The realm of Disorders is a jungle that can be hard to navigate, and there's a lot of theories that are less than credible even though they're represented as fact.

    All I can say is Research, research, research, and have your heart and logical sense with you at all times. Nowhere do we see as much scam as in the field of therapy and psychological aid. - Find others who have experiences with kids who display sociopathic traits.

    A place to start might be: http://raising-a-psychopath.blogspot.com/

    All the best, and good luck!...

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  26. Actually, the books are much better than the TV series. They show more accurately what is going on in the psychopath´s head. His inner dialogues are funny as hell, yet very sensible-sounding and clever. To be honest, I never suspected any of the show´s writers to be sociopaths. It is always easier to write a story about a character that somebody else created before them. However, I have always suspected the writer of the original book series, Jeff Lindsay, to be a sociopath. Even for a skilled author, it would be virtually impossible to create a character that thinks like an accurate psychopath (not like the "Hollywood type"), if the author did not know the actual disorder "by heart". Those things he wrote about in the books were SO accurate that he just could not made them up from the provided psychiatric book, manuals, videos or the skewed informations that exists about the matter.

    - Martina

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  27. I think in the case of Dexter, it's more a matter of his girlfriend/wife having utility to him. When he was thinking of proposing, his inner thoughts spelled it out, something like so: "'Married man' sounds so much less suspicious than 'single white male, lives alone..". He was aware enough of profiling to know that the less he appeared, on paper, to fit the standard description of the serial killer he actually is, the less likely he was to stand out of the crowd once people started looking. It's like his job - he's very good at it, but it's basically a vehicle that provides him with access to information, drugs, and resources that allow him to stalk and kill his prey. Does he love his wife? He likes what she, as the figure of a 'wife', provides for his image. Does he love his job? He likes what utilities his job provides for him. As for his sister.. she's pretty much a surrogate for the one thing in his life that's grounded him, that's anchored him with the 'code' that makes him unlike the other serial killers - his Dad. She's the actual biological offspring of his adoptive father, and without Deb, his life would be without anchor.

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