One of the first things I thought of when I first got acquainted with the excellent Showtime original series Dexter was, "I wonder if anyone's going to copy this guy in real life?" And lo and behold, someone has.
Canadian news service Canwest is reporting today that one Mark Andrew Twitchell, a 29-year-old filmmaker from Edmonton, Alberta, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of 38-year-old John Brian Altinger. Apparently inspired by vigiliante serial killer Dexter Morgan, Twitchell allegedly targeted Altinger because he suspected him of cheating on his wife. Luring him to the very garage where he had made some of his short movies--under the false pretense of hooking up with a woman he had met online--Twitchell is accused of killing Altinger, a la his favorite TV character.
How can we be sure he was emulating Dexter specifically? Well, it looks like his Facebook status as of last August was "Mark has way too much in common with Dexter Morgan." Police have also obtained Twitchell's latest unflimed movie script "House of Cards", in which a serial killer kills an unfaithful husband after luring him to an abandoned garage under the false pretense of hooking up with a woman he met online. Way to cover your tracks there, Mark. Geez, if Dexter had been this dumb, it would've been a very short TV series.
The eternal question obviously arises of whether or not a TV show can be accused of inspiring a crime. Now, those of you who have read my posts on this kind of stuff before know that I take a kind of moderate, Devil's-advocate approach to these issues. I'm open to both sides of the argument, and I'm not arrogant enough to claim that I have the definitive answer. I am curious to know what others think, however.
It's far from the first time something like this has happened. Children of the '80s will remember the infamous John Hinckley, a man obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver who shot President Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Then there was Natural Born Killers, which led to a whole bunch of copycatting yahoos. And most recently, The Dark Knight inspired a couple of Virginia teenagers to make Joker-esque terroristic threats using playing cards. And for anyone who makes the argument that a piece of media can never inspire a person with free will to do crazy things, I direct your attention to a little book known as the Bible.
I tend to lean toward the opinion espoused by many, that works like Dexter don't directly inspire criminal acts, but rather define the manner in which they're carried out. Meaning, people like John Hinckley clearly already have a screw loose and are likely to do something nuts; watching Taxi Driver just helped him formulate a game plan, it didn't put the idea in his head.
But does that absolve the book/movie/show from all blame? After all, one could argue that Twitchell may never have gotten the idea in his head to premeditatedly murder someone for being immoral if he hadn't observed that very specific behavior on Dexter. And let's not forget, this has been one of the very fears behind a lot of anti-Dexter sentiment. Again, I'm not advocating for censorship--hell, I love the show--I'm just keeping an open mind to all possibilities here. What do you think?