Dexter Morgan, Absorber of Sins if Not a Sin-Eater?

Dexter Morgan

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“A sin eater is a person who has the capacity to sense, draw out, and consume the suffering of others.” Isaac DeLuca Sin Eater.

I watch the Showtime series Dexter whenever I can. Some of my family members have wondered how in the world I can watch this stuff or find in Dexter a sympathetic character. I can because I think that there is a dark place in each and every one of us, as Dexter calls it his “Dark Passenger.” Some of us can squelch this. Some cannot. To me, it’s the epitome of sin and a lack of impulse control that I believe some are born with. Or, as in Dexter Morgan‘s case, was born when we experience a horrifyingly traumatic event. There was a free preview of the channel on all this past week and I spent every night getting through the latest season. What occurred to me as I watched the season finale was that perhaps Dexter serves as his community’s sin-eater, perhaps not in the literally sense as in eating in the presence of a corpse, but in the Scapegoat or Sin-Absorber sense.

In Season 5 Dexter meets Lumen (notice the light reference) who has been tortured and raped by a group of childhood friends, now grown men, who get their kicks by murdering women after such unspeakable acts. Lumen escapes this with Dexter’s help, but spends the season trying to track down and kill the perpetrators. After initially backing away from involvement, Dexter tries to help her eliminate her torturers and together they see what each of them has the capacity to do. Dexter is amazed that he is finally fully seen by another human being and she is not disturbed. Perhaps because, momentarily, she is broken herself. But in almost the last scene of the season finale Dexter does something that struck me as a completely selfless and redemptive act. He grasps Lumen’s head between his hands and kisses her squarely in her third eye chakra between her brows. It’s not a quick peck, but a long drawing out sort of kiss. It is only after this kiss that Lumen feels completely healed from her trauma, and after, I might add, they have indeed tracked down and killed the last perpetrator.  Lumen is freed, but Dexter is not. He has not got rid of his Dark Passenger. It is his lot to kill those who harm society, or so he believes.

Despite the ethics surrounding the acts of such a person, it brings up all sorts of religious connotations for me. Are some people destined/doomed to play the bad role? In the Hebrew bible, God is seen as choosing some for evil purposes and some for good.  Paul clearly thought that God did this very thing by hardening Pharoah’s heart to accomplish the freedom of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. (Romans 9:17-18) One can also say that Judas Iscariot was destined to betray Jesus, whom the writers of the Gospels thought was known from the beginning as the betrayer (John 6:60-71).  However one interprets it, clearly in a foreknown world, some are doomed to be the evil that people hate. Jesus, himself, and his disciples can be seen as “sin-eaters” in the sense that at the last supper, the disciples would be considered eating with “the dead;” Jesus himself. In the Church, priests can perhaps be considered sin-eaters in the sense that, during the Eucharist, we eat Jesus’ body in order to confer grace or absolve us from sins.

Dexter could also be an example of a case of natural selection. There are those who prey on the innocent and those who prey on the prey-ers upon the innocent. It’s natural law or a hierarchical food chain, however one chooses to see it. It could carry religious connotations or it could be simply evolution with human beings as just another animal acting out animalistic ways. It just struck me that Dexter manages to heal all those who come into contact with him, yet he is never healed in the sense that he is always broken, always has a Dark Passenger, and yet we sympathize with him, or some of us do anyway. He didn’t choose to be this way, larger forces did. Some of us can’t choose to absorb the sins and sufferings of others.


Sister Wives or Sister Rivals?

TLC (TV channel)

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I’ve been watching the new TLC show Sister Wives and I must say, on the surface, things look really great. Who wouldn’t want to have three moms raising twelve kids and sharing responsibilities? But all you have to do is watch the present wives being interviewed while their husband goes “courting” another woman and you know there will be trouble. All of them were raised in polygamous lifestyles so they know the ins and outs of it all, yet when the new wife claims that their husband is her soul mate and another wife says she feels like she’s losing her best friend, one wonders the wisdom of all this. Who’s serving who here? The man claims he gives each wife what she needs, but where is the unique relationship with one spouse that knows you so intimately all the while claiming that he knows three other women just as intimately? I also think that these women are somewhat in stages of denial, not to mention Mr. Brown, to each other and to themselves, but they are so busy they don’t question it. Or do they? The episode on tonight was full of tears and jealousy, something they believe they need to fight to overcome. But I wonder, to what end? To populate the polygamous movement. However, it’s hard not to like these people. they seem genuinely in love with each other. Fascinating.

Unsurprisingly, this guy is in trouble with the authorities in Utah. Why in the world would you go on TV and invite scrutiny if you knew you were doing something illegal?

“The True Meaning of Pictures”

Today I watched The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Addams’ Appalachia, a documentary about the Appalachian people of Kentucky. I found this documentary strangely compelling. I felt a huge kinship with these people, living poorly by our standards, leading simple lives, and making music to amuse themselves. I think I feel such a kinship because my grandfather’s people come from the hills of Tennessee. Grandpa Brown was a man of few words with a wry sense of humor, and who could fish like nobody’s business. He made his own fishing lures and then stuffed the large fishes he caught. One that he stuffed was displayed on the wall in the house where I grew up. My grandfather played the fiddle and my Grandma played the piano. I remember listening to them both playing hymns together and my aunts and uncles sitting around clapping, singing, or dancing.

My grandmother’s people came from a long line of God-fearing preachers of the independent Baptist variety here in Illinois. Many a night we listened to Grandma talk about the farm she grew up on and the chores she had to do. The tale she tells is of seeing my Grandpa for the first time coming over the hill toward their farm looking for work. He had walked and hitched rides to Illinois from Tennessee. He was 19 and she was 17. They were married a year later. My favorite picture of my grandfather is one where he is sitting on the floor of a porch attached to a cabin in the middle of a forest. I believe it’s the actual cabin where he grew up with his mother and father and sisters and brothers. His knees are drawn up and his arms are resting on his bent knees. He’s wearing a hat and staring off into the distance. The lines of outdoor work are heavily etched into his brown, leathery face. I have a great respect for those who can capture true emotions and lives on film and Addams can do that. When Addams interviews people outside of this culture, there are those who express suspicion, stereotypical attitudes, and fear of the subject. It points out to me how much people fear things outside of their own sense of place and familiarity and the patronizing attitudes that comes from such an attitude. And that works for rich and poor alike. I have a huge respect for documentarian filmmakers who can share the experiences they have lived with us. There are those who wish that the stories could have accompanied the pictures and perhaps we would lose some of the stereotypes if we knew those stories.

I think the reason this film resonated so much with me, by listening to their speech patterns and observing their faith, I can so see myself and my family members in them. There are some that want to politicize the subjects. Oh what education could do, they ponder. It becomes like a media zoo when someone goes into the woods or the midwest or into small towns like a modern-day Margaret Mead and “observe the natives.” Oh what shall we do about poor white folk? Look at those strange beliefs! Oh my God they still slaughter their own animals! We should feel sorry for them! Is it exploitative? When you photograph them, put them on display, and walk through such galleries and thank the powers you no longer believe in that you aren’t that poor, it’s easy to make fun of things you don’t know anything about. It’s easy to romanticize poor lives or imagine that they inbreed or other unnatural things. It’s easy to imagine you have just what they need to “fix” them.

And what shall we say about religion in Appalachia? Addams’ explores the serpent handlers of this area, whose practices are based in the last chapter of Mark. They believe in the signs of the Kingdom of God literally; speaking in tongues, handling serpents, and drinking poison. The folk in this area handles rattlesnakes even though it’s illegal in a public area. Churches are considered public areas, so they have services in their homes. They also drink strychnine. Addams captures the stories behind such beliefs and thankfully provides just the stories others are asking of them. I’m glad he did that, because I can’t say I wouldn’t be one of those who made a snap judgment if I just observed them in a book. When you think of all the popular cultural stereotypes, especially in the movies, about people who live in ‘hollers’ and those in the woods, I can only say I’m glad these folks are unaware that we use their family lives as fun fodder for our movie going habits.

All I could say after watching this and reacting with such a gut reaction is, these people could be my people. Oh, no doubt, these are very, very hard lives. They are dirt poor. They live in shacks, and they are often dirty, missing teeth, or sick with some disease. My family would be considered several rungs up the social ladder from such a life, so I count myself among those that stereotype easily. But as I get older, I have learned to empathize with so much that is different from my world. And I thank those people who have shown me love and encouraged me to do just that. I’m glad I watched this film. I encourage you to do so as well.

Change, Insight, and Creativity

The most boring people I know never change. They live in the same town all their lives. They listen to one news source. They don’t own a television and are not interested in culture of any kind. They think the same thoughts and try to fit the changing world into those thoughts. On the other hand, the most creative people I know are movers and doers. They’ve traveled widely. They’ve educated themselves. They are open to cultures, trends, and popular ideas without taking any of them as holy writ. These kinds of people are not afraid of difference and do not live in fear of the world. How do we become a creative person? Why you do it the Jocelyn Glei suggests in this post. Happy and fortuitous change, my friends.

Mad Men’s Premier

I finally watched the TiVo’d episode of Sunday’s premier of Mad Men on AMC. It is probably one of the most well written shows on television right now and I had absolutely no expectations going into it. I’m not one of those who likes to endlessly pick apart a program like Lost fans do or even The X-Files and I was a fan of The X-Files. I am not a fan of too many convoluted plot lines, not because I don’t want to think but because no show has ever pulled off a satisfying resolution that made sense from all that went before (exception Battlestar Galactica) No, sometimes I just like to watch a little slice of life and remember the good ol days of the Sixties. NOT. I like to watch for a good story, good acting, and a compelling plot.

Don Draper is one of the most compelling characters I’ve seen on television, but the one who really fascinates me is his wife, Betty. June Cleaver she is not although she would fit right into that kaffeeklatch on surface.  What fascinated me this time around at the beginning of Season 4  is that one doesn’t really know Betty Draper. We have no way of knowing what she thinks, what she wants, or if she even thinks about anything at all when she sits and smokes her cigarettes. We cannot get inside her head. She is a character on which all of us housewives can project our feelings. The way Betty Draper treats her children is interesting. Betty comes from privilege, which is telling, and every time one of her children needs something she is dismissive and is often what parents now would call abusive. This is the “be seen and not heard” parent. Betty would be happy if her kids sat in front of the TV all day and left her alone. In a way, she’s almost like a piece of furniture in the Draper household; good to look at and admire and to demonstrate functionality.

On Sunday’s episode, Betty is at a Thanksgiving dinner in her new husband’s home. Her son and daughter are with her and everyone is trying to be nice but the atmosphere is extremely awkward and tense because of the new arrangements. Betty’s daughter Sally has the audacity, when asked, how she likes her food and Sally says that she doesn’t like it at all. Of course Betty is appalled that Sally said anything out loud and forces her to eat her food, which Sally promptly throws up on her plate.  Betty is even more appalled and drags her daughter out of the room by the arm. Obviously she’s not embarrassed to be doing that in public.

Ah, the memories! Betty is certainly not a good parent, but who was in the pre-historic Sixties? Like Sally, there were many awful dinners at our house growing up. Our step-monster (e.g. step-father) would force us to eat the grossest things (we thought) and one time, after being forced to eat all of my portion of disgusting cow’s liver, I threw up all over him. That was a very satisfying experience. Did I get in trouble for that? You bet your ass I did, even though it was his fault. To this day I have never ever touched organ meats again nor have I ever forced my kids to eat anything. I mean what message does that send?

Mad Men is a great show because it doesn’t whitewash the Sixties and it presents people in all their good moments and bad, just like life. Of course, if it were exactly like real life we would have many varieties of women and men in all sizes and shapes, but we don’t and have to start somewhere. For that, we need to watch re-runs of The Sopranos. But Michael Weiner does try. I’ll give him that.  As long as Mad Men makes me think about real life and all its gritty reality, I will continue to watch it.

Top Ten Reasons We Don’t Blog

  1. Because we are too busy watching inane television shows about obsessed people, hoarders, chefs wanting to be top of the pile chefs, cook-offs, throwdowns, wipe-outs and other time wasters that are just mindless distractions from having to think too hard.
  2. Because work wipes us out 8 hours a day and we don’t want to think anymore when we come home.
  3. Because politics makes us so crazy we can’t write about it or we’d slam the monitor down on the floor.
  4. Because we believe our heads are full of sawdust and we don’t have a creative thought in it.
  5. Because we are too busy reading historical romances, horror, and thriller novels by people with Swedish names.
  6. Because it’s too hot.
  7. Because our cat chews on our ankles wanting to be fed or to play and we have to chase them down.
  8. Because we are just too lazy.
  9. Because our anti-depressants make us not care about the news.
  10. And finally, because we think everyone’s heard or read whatever it is we have to say before.