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As ‘Dexter’ comes to an end, serial killers on TV pick up steam

Serial killers have become a staple of television and never more so than now.

Among them is “Dexter,” the critically acclaimed and hugely successful Showtime cable series about a blood-spatter specialist for the Miami police department who also moonlights as a serial killer. Its eighth and final season kicked off Sunday night and will wrap up in the fall.

But a new analysis suggests Dexter’s serial-killing ways will hardly be missed once he leaves the airwaves. No fewer than seven new shows about serial killers have emerged since January. According to The Culture and Media Institute, that brings the total number of current shows about serial killers to twenty. (The seven new shows are “Hannibal,” “Bates Motel,” “The Cult,” “The Bridge,” “Ripper Street,” “Following,” and “The Fall.”)

The Institute, a non-profit conservative watchdog group,
suggests this serial killer trend is especially bad for society, since many of these TV killers are glorified as “good guys.” It’s especially offended by Dexter, since he’s a charming killer who only kills other serial killers. In the first seven seasons, he’s graphically killed 60 people on camera and 65 off-screen.

The study goes on to cite three actual murders whose murderers claim to have been inspired by “Dexter.”

Another prime offender is the CBS show “Criminal Minds,”
which the study says has featured more than 100 serial killers during its past seven seasons. To put that number in perspective, the FBI estimates there are only 35 to 50 real serial killers operating in the U.S.

The Institute’s also outraged by the new “Hannibal” TV show, based on the infamous Hannibal Lecter in the Oscar-winning movie “Silence of the Lambs.” Not only is he a charismatic psychiatrist who loves opera and fine wine, he’s also a cannibal. So viewers are subject to plenty of murders and voyeuristic shots of dead and mutilated bodies.

The study caps off its analysis by ripping network executives for hypocrisy when they claim that their violent shows only reflect society, not fashion it in any significant way. The Institute claims that these same executives sing a very different tune when it comes to breaking down the taboo against homosexuality through shows like “Will and Grace” and “Modern Family.” They’re happy to take credit for causes they believe in and refuse any blame for results they don’t like.

I think this study raises a lot of good, provocative issues. But as a huge fan of “Dexter,” I can only say that, as far as I’m concerned, any show that provides as rich and complex a character study as “Dexter” does a lot more social good than harm.

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