Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On Your Honor

Rebecca Cantrell

My current favorite criminal mind is a guilty pleasure. I first met him a few years ago in a place I don’t usually hang out: TV. We had mutual friends, so I thought I’d give him a go in spite of my reservations. I Netflixed him.
I didn’t want to like him. He’s brutal, sadistic, and good at what he does. Even the people who do like him don’t want to. Because he does horrible things. There’s just no getting around that.

Sure, he had a traumatic childhood. But that’s no excuse.

Slowly, he grew on me. I tried to resist him, but he was self aware and funny. A deadly combination. He has a strong honor code too. It’s just warped. And I love his theme song.

But really, he’d make a good roommate. He’s very tidy and organized. Easy going too, most of the time. You know he wouldn’t drink straight from the milk carton. He can cook too, at least breakfast. If you asked him, he’d leave the seat down. If it was his job to make sure that the air conditioner got fixed, you’d know he’d get it done. Especially the air conditioner.

I admire how he treats his girlfriend. She’s been through her own traumas, but she’s sweet. He’s great with her kids too. A real father figure.

Dark, dangerous, yet strangely reliable.

His only problem: he’s a serial killer. His only redemption: he only kills other killers. Ah Dexter! In fiction, you fascinate me. In real life, stay away.

I wrote and scheduled this post a week ago, but after I read CJs post and realized that she'd chosen the same guy, I thought of rewriting it, but decided to let it stand. Sometimes, panelists agree.


JJ Cooper said...

There's a real art in making the 'bad' seem 'good'. If we take away the POV of the natural good guy and give a real in-depth go at characterisation of the bad guy, we can immerse our readers enough to make them want to at least understand why someone does the things they do. Dexter is a perfect example of this in my opinion.


CJ Lyons said...

LOL, Becky!!! Great minds think alike....hmmm, not sure what that says, though since we are talking serial killers....

Kelli Stanley said...

I think part of the bad boy allure is the fact that they *will* cross the line--and there is a great deal of power in that.

The lone cowboy (think Shane), Dirty Harry, your average superhero ... they all cross boundaries of violence. The difference is, they do it for truth, justice and the American Way. ;) As a culture, we tend to like "good" vigilantes ... which Dexter is (as well as a serial killer, of course!) ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, JJ, for stopping by. They say every villain is the hero of his own story, and in fiction I think that needs to be true. We want to know WHY the villain acts as he/she does.

I cheated in my novel and used an actual villain: Ernst Roehm. He definitely thought he was a hero (and, to millions of people in Nazi Germany he was, at least for a time). It was fascinating figuring out what drove him.

CJ: I was so sure I'd get Dexter out there first! Next week I'm going to read your post before I even write mine, just in case.

Kelli: Our Shane is a lone cowboy? :) You are so right about Dexter. Americans love the lone vigilante, fighting for justice regardless of the personal cost. I think the difference with Dexter is that he'd still be killing even if there were no bad buys, and he likes it. I always got the feeling that Shane (not ours) just wanted to settle down someplace where the grass was green and men were good.

Kelli Stanley said...

Well, you should see our Shane at the B'con Bar. He's fast on the draw ... just sayin'. ;)

As for the Alan Ladd version, I think all gunfighters took a sometimes not-so-secret enjoyment in killing.

[warning: spoiler ahead!]

Alan could have taken Jean Arthur away from Van Heflin, but no ... he fantasized about the farm life, but he wasn't coming back, no matter how much Brandon De Wilde cried about it.

Perfect example of the violent hero--who is always an outsider, whether cowboy or samurai--and the non-violent hero? John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. One of the best westerns ever ... along with Shane, of course! ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

You are such a cynic, Kelli! And that means a lot coming from me. I suppose Shane should have taken the girl and run. Be he couldn't turn tail and let them win. That would be...WRONG. (yes, I know I sound five years old. Shane does that to me).

Kelli Stanley said...

I'm right there with you, Becks ... I always get misty over Shane. ;) And Jack Palance needed shooting, and badly! ;)

But it's not so much that he should have taken Jean Arthur (I'm not that cynical) ... it's that he realized he didn't belong. No matter how hard he tried to act like a farmer (i.e., civilized man), he wasn't. He's a gunfighter, and that capacity for violence was what he did and, at some fundamental level, what he enjoyed. And that was both his allure--Heflin, by contrast, almost seems emasculated until later in the movie--and his tragedy.

God, now I've got to go watch it again! ;)


Shane Gericke said...

Nicely done post, Rebecca. Dexter is a fascinating bad guy. I love watching him, and I cheer when he offs the particularly nasty piece of work of the week. But he's a bad guy nonetheless, so if and when he's killed, I won't feel bad. It's nature balancing his bad karma. On the other hand, Shane the Cowboy (as opposed to Shane the Riter Guy, who looks dandy in a pair of chaps but who's killed only the glass of Scotch someone kindly bought for him at a non-virtual book thingy) is a good guy who kills to defend innocents. In his case, society fails its responsibility in stepping up to the plate--as it did with Gary Cooper in High Noon, and again with Michael Douglas in Falling Down--so a brave person must step in to do it.

That's why these "lone wolf" characters are so popular--a small part of our civilized selves wishes we were them. Or, at least, knew we could be them if the situation demanded. If Shane had taken the woman, it would have destroyed the code of honor that we give our lone wolves. Plus, he knew Van Heflin was, in doing his work day to day, year after year, just as courageous as he. Lots of ways to define courage, and Shane knew it when he saw it. He also knew that's what the wife and the son ultimately needed in their man--stability and stick-with-it-ness-- and Shane could not provide it. So he left for yonder parts.

Then again, I could be full of ...

Auburn Annie said...

I have a hard time getting into fictional serial killers. They're "too" perfect, too almost romaticized - a mirror image to Rousseau's noble savage. In real life, they're "successful" because they mostly stay below society's radar. They are unprepossessing in appearance and unremarkable in behavior - except they like, or feel a need, to kill, giving the victims little thought except as to to how they satisfy their needs at the moment. They're more Arthur Shawcross than Ted Bundy.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Shane: A brilliant analysis, and just what Shane WOULD say as he rides off, a very complicated "It's not you, baby. It's me." Fat load of comfort that is for the single mom trying to run a farm and raise a boy. True, of course, but that doesn't take the sting out. Now I have to go watch it again myself.

Auburn Annie: Thanks for stopping by. I think you've hit on the crux of the problem: real bad guys are not just interesting mental exercises. They're killers, and in real life we would run away from them, which I suppose is why we're so drawn to them in fiction, where they are 'safe.'

Ray said...

Kelli brought up Dirty Harry. He is a cop, but a rogue. Without a badge he would be no better than Dexter. The same can be said about most of the characters he played in Western movies.

I admired Sondra Locke as Jennifer Spencer in Sudden Impact, the rape victim who did in the men and one woman who raped her and her sister leaving the sister in a catatonic state. She was definitely a vigilante.

Good blog and some really good comments.


Rebecca Cantrell said...

I actually like Dexter better than Dirty Harry (and it's not just the theme song), because Dexter has no choice. Dirty Harry seems to go looking for trouble.

I think they've been very careful not to let us see how much Dexter enjoys the killing part (unlike "Make my day."). And I loved the plotline with the cop trapped in the cabin who saw who Dexter was and was revolted, as we all would be. Very sophisticated story telling.

Thanks for stopping by, Ray. And you're right: the comments have been top notch! Keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

Becky, I haven't seen Dexter, but you and CJ make him sound like the perfect guy! (well, except for the murdering thing.)

Great post. Can't wait to see how the conversations unfold throughout the week.

ps. I'm reading Trace of Smoke now, and it's amazing!


Kelli Stanley said...

Ray, thanks for the great comments! I agree--Sudden Impact was Sandra Locke's best role.

I watched Clint as Dirty Harry the other day, and was struck by how much of a bully the character really is ... were the '70s really that angry? I was a kid, and all I remember is "Feelings" (and I wish I didn't). ;)


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Tana! I'm hoping that the next blogger doesn't pick Dexter too, or I'm just going to be creeped out. He's not someone I would use as a babysitter, but Dexter is a fascinating guy. Glad you're liking SMOKE!

Kelli: I think we look at police brutality a little differently after Rodney King. Or at least some of us do.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Great post and comments! I'm wondering if electing a consensus president (the first with his Meyer's Brigg's qualities, I'm told) is the sign of a change in America -- worshipping the individual has its down side in a land of few frontiers...

For you youngsters that don't remember the 70s that well, it was disappointment, a collapsing infrastructure, and fear that surfaced as angry white men in a lot of movies. Also, anger, of course ;) We were all mad as hell and didn't want to take it any more...