Are television critics a menace to society? What do we do when our media tastemakers, the men and women entrusted to evaluate the artistic merit of Tinseltown offerings, exult in Hollywood's lack of taste? When perverse novelty and "edge" and complete moral confusion is what these critics live to watch and love to promote, they appear to be seeking to establish the polar opposite of a moral tone in our culture.
Take as an example the critics' views on the new Showtime drama "Dexter." Its sickening premise makes a hero out of a sadistic serial killer, because he kills only bad guys and does so in the dark of night. During the day, he helps the cops assess blood spatter patterns in murder investigations. He's a sociopathic killer-slash-hero, with the emphasis on the slash -- he carves his victims up to fit into Hefty bags.
Author Jeff Lindsay, whose gruesome novels inspired the series, joked to the TV critics this summer that, "As I looked out across the room, the idea just popped into my head that serial murder isn't always a bad thing." They laughed.
As pay-cable pioneers, always pushing the newest disgusting "edge" with an eye on extremely jaded TV critics, Showtime executives feel warm that they have brought more understanding to the world on behalf of the much-maligned serial killer. Said Showtime boss Robert Greenblatt, "This is a complex and fascinating look at serial killers, which, up to this point, have been marginalized and made two-dimensional."
Society has "marginalized" serial killers? Silly me. Here, all along, I thought those folks had done that to themselves.
The TV critics apparently agree with Greenblatt. They endorse the introduction of a sympathetic new dimension or two. Alessandra Stanley's review in The New York Times took the cake. The headline? "He Kills People and Cuts Them Up. But They Deserve It. Besides, He's Neat."
Stanley rightly called Greenblatt's rationalizations "inane," but nevertheless she concludes that this sick new show, "with its stylish cinematography, jaunty Cuban music and fetish for dismemberment, takes it one step further out of bounds. I for one cannot wait to see the next episode."
Like any lecturing cultural commissar, Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle demands that "anything as daring and original as this should be trumpeted to the masses if it indeed does cross a social line." Television is always, always about "testing the boundaries of what's acceptable." It is "the ultimate challenge -- providing grown-ups with difficult fare."