Book Release – ‘Dissecting the Dark Defender: Approaching Vigilantism in American History, Society, & Culture through DEXTER’, by Madeleine Smith
Using vigilantism as a prism through which to view various aspects of contemporary American life, ‘Dissecting the Dark Defender’ seeks to explore the nation’s complex and controversial yet enduring relationship with extra-legal action. Analysing how popular HBO show DEXTER engages with and represents vigilantism in rich and varied ways, the book features chapters on historical, social and cultural representations of the topic, and addresses the central moral tensions between vigilantism and serial murder evident in the show.
Positioning vigilantism as the American nation’s very own act of serial murder, whilst presenting popular cultural formats like television shows as valid sites of study, the book attempts to gain insight and understanding into the American nation’s proclivity to vigilante action and violent extremism, and potential ways forward from them. In doing so, the book controversially situates themes such as violent traditions, denial of the black experience of vigilantism in the nation’s past, white male America, patriarchy, socially ‘beneficial’ tools such as the nuclear family unit, and compromised femininity, amongst others, as significant sites of concern in the contemporary era.
Demonstrating the scope and depth of analysis presented, ‘Dissecting the Dark Defender’ builds on seminal work by Richard Maxwell Brown (1975) and Arnold Madison (1973), who each conduct a unique and multi-faceted approach to considering formations of vigilantism in American history, society and culture. In replicating the theorists’ all-encompassing but much dismissed approaches to vigilantism (generally in favour of singularly focused analyses of the topic by other theorists), the book considers and connects diverse yet interrelated themes from the American past, to pressing anxieties in the post-9/11 era. Areas discussed in chapter 1 include: the historical precedents behind vigilante action, such as social upheaval and change, types and occurrences of crime, and ineffectual and corrupt policing; and manifestations of vigilantism in America’s past and present, considering aspects such as geographical location, involvement, race, religion, politics, family vendettas, and the positive and negative social effects of vigilante action. Chapter 2 shifts focus somewhat to analyse violent traditions and recourse to vigilantism as perpetuated by the white, patriarchal nuclear family unit in Dexter. Scrutinising the presentation of the father-son dyadic and its corrosive effects on America’s youth, the chapter discusses Harry (James Remar) and Dexter’s (Michael C. Hall) relationship surrounding the Code, and Dexter’s subsequent attempts to pass this on to other young males. Finally, chapter 3 discusses vigilantism in American popular culture in the show, and, drawing the various strands discussed throughout the book together, analyses the transposition of America’s on-screen vigilantes for modern-day audiences and their anxieties. With this in mind, vigilantism in Western, crime, Blaxploitation, vigilante cop, rape-revenge, and superhero genres are all discussed at length in relation to the show, before pointing to further sites of study in television shows beyond Dexter.
‘Dissecting the Dark Defender: Approaching Vigilantism in American History, Society, & Culture through DEXTER‘ is out now and available to purchase via Amazon here