Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fangirling Dexter: Should Harry Have Read Dexter Fairy Tales?

Okay. When I decided to fangirl Dexter it felt risky. I've read all the stuff about branding and how authors should create a recognizable image that will help connect readers with their stories.

But Dexter is a show about a serial killer and I write fairy tale/fantasies.
But I love Dexter, its been my guilty pleasure for years.
And it's the LAST SEASON.

Seems (some part of me) was bursting to share my passion for the show. So I threw myself into it, hoping, somehow, somewhere along the way it would all make sense (and I wouldn't have to delete the posts hindsight). Because when I wrote the first post A Sympathetic Serial Killer… Right… (Some part of me) was still asking myself, why are you doing this?

Dexter is your secret.
And although I was really enjoying the season, and really enjoying writing my Dexter posts, it continued to not make much sense to me until about mid-August. When it came to me: Delivered in  a dream… not really (although I do have things delivered in my dreams… DRAGONS!) what my final Fangirling Dexter post was going to be about, I was like, oh yeah.

This is how it all comes together.

Should Harry Have Read Dexter Faiytales?

I've been reading The Uses of Enchantment, The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (UE) by Bruno Bettelheim since April of this year (according to Goodreads.) It's taking this long to read, not because the book is so long, only 309 pages, but because it's so dense. Each paragraph is an idea to consider, absorb, and test against my own personal reality. Because as I wrote in my blog post about fairy tales, Good and Bad Have Long Tails…, when I was young those enchanted tales held out hope for a future where the truth might be set free, and I might be able to breathe.

Uh-huh. Fairy tales mean something to me. Sometimes its hard to verbalize how deep they go, even though I'm a writer. There are places in me that simply don't want to speak. But those places see and they hear and they act. Those places comprehend the theories of which Bruno Bettelheim writes.

A little bit about Mr. Bettelheim. He was born in Austria in 1903 and was exposed to the psychoanalytic theories of Freud as a teenager. Fascinated, he pursued the study of Freud's works, became acquainted with Anna Freud,  and underwent his own psychoanalysis. However, in March of 1938, Germany invaded Austria and Bettelheim spent the next year in the concentration camps, Dachau and Buchenwald, where he witnessed fellow prisoners being arbitrarily killed. Perhaps due to his training, he developed an analytic awareness of the psychological effects of terror, the terror that was wielded by the SS to, in Bettelheim's words, change the prisoners permanently into passive subjects without any resistance or without any ability to resist the Nazi system.

Bettelheim was released from the camps in 1939 and went to America, where he became the Director of the Orthogenics School for disturbed children in Chicago. Although there is controversy about his work, specifically his theory of the etiology of autism, he seemed to possess an uncanny understanding of children and their interior lives. He always attributed his ability to empathize with disturbed children to his own experience of terror in the concentration camps.

Watching the documentary, "Bruto Bettelheim: A Sense of Surviving," one gets a sense of  just how disturbed the children admitted to the Orthogencis were: homicidal, suicidal, psychotic, severely delinquent, and mute. To be eligible for admission a child had to have sought treatment elsewhere and have had the treatment declared a failure. One of the students, now a functioning adult, describes his state of mind when he entered the school as a child of ten. I had detailed, specific fantasies about murdering and dismembering woman. Very disturbing stuff.

How did Bettelheim's treatment of the most disturbed work? From the introduction to UE, my main task was to restore meaning in their lives. Then he goes on to identify parents and caregivers as having the primary impact on a child's ability to find meaning, with cultural heritage following. Accordingly, he believed that literature carried such information best. However, Bettelheim was not satisfied with much of the literature written and published for children because it fails to stimulate and nurture those resources the child needs most to cope with difficult inner problems.

Bettelheim believed fairy tale symbolism constellated a child's imagination in a way that helped the child make sense of their interior life and imbue it with meaning. Rather than being told what to feel, believe, and think a child could take from the fairy tale the developmental lessons that suited their personality and current circumstances. This could happen in three ways:

1. Justice. Fairy tales acknowledge the dark side of human nature: the wicked witch, the evil stepmother, the corrupt father, the ridiculing elder brothers. The child is given an indirect route to experience his own feelings about being treated wrongly, unjustly, and callously by the world of adults around him. When the children in fairy tales outwit the adults who terrorize innocent children, the child can imagine, one day, justice will triumph in his world as well.

2. Faith. Most fairy tales involve the hero leaving home. Whether they are sent out, pushed out, exiled, or run away, the children in fairy tales must grow up. Identifying with the hero's journey, children learn there is power to be gained by facing adversity, achieving competence, and gaining wisdom.

3. Hope. Because of the Happily Ever After/HEA, the child experiences hope that he too can find his way in the world: To run his own kingdom—his own life—successfully, peacefully and to be happily united with the most desirable partner who will never leave him. And it's the hope that is important, because hope allows us to trust the future and as Bettelheim points out, not trusting the future really means not trusting oneself.

Whew. Back to Dexter.
What would have happened if Harry had read the traumatized Dexter fairy tales? Maybe "Beowulf" for starters. We can imagine feelings of terror and rage flooded the psyche of Laura Moser's traumatized son as he sat in that bloody shipping container—abandoned—for days. As we saw, in Season One, when Dexter does a face plant at the crime scene especially prepared for him by Brian, those memories have been repressed and disconnected from the conscious urges of Dexter's Dark Passenger. Could a symbolic tale of a man slaying a beast devouring an entire town have assuaged the unconscious roots of Dexter's need to kill?

Or was The Code really the only answer?

What about "The Beauty and the Beast"? Could Dexter's psyche have called forth a life-affirming force as compelling as his Dark Passenger? And if it had, would he have needed Hannah?

Interesting questions.  Personally, I believe in the unconscious. I believe in the journey of drawing up as much from our depths as we can manage. And I believe in fairy tales. But I don't think Dexter is a fairy tale, because I don't think there's going to be a Happily Ever After. Sob. However, by externalizing Dexter's struggle with his Dark Passenger, the show has created an incredible entertainment vehicle that allows us to get as weighty as we want with its meaning.

As you can see, I've leaned towards heavy.

Thank you Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, James Remar, David Zayas, C.S. Lee, Lauren Velez, Julie Benz, Erik King, Yvonne Stahovski, Sara Colleton, Scott Buck, the writers, directors and the rest of the cast and crew that have made such an amazing show that I have loved watching for 8 seasons!
(I actually got tears in my eyes when I wrote that! No wonder I'm fangirling!)

And to close it all out… how about that Dexter-themed GIVEAWAY I've been promising!

Enter to win Dexter: The Complete Final Season
Scheduled to be released on November 5th
or a $40 Amazon Gift Card.

Fangirling Dexter Pick of the Week: Dexter Wrap-up Podcast 8.11 Monkey in a Box with writers Wendy West and Tim Schlattmann and actress Yvonne Strahovski.

And in case you missed the rest of the Fangirling Dexter posts: