Dexter and Philosophy

Popular Culture and Philosophy

Book 58
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What explains the huge popular following for Dexter, currently the most-watched show on cable, which sympathetically depicts a serial killer driven by a cruel compulsion to brutally slay one victim after another?
Although Dexter Morgan kills only killers, he is not a vigilante animated by a sense of justice but a charming psychopath animated by a lust to kill, ritualistically and bloodily. However his gory appetite is controlled by “Harry’s Code,” which limits his victims to those who have gotten away with murder, and his job as a blood spatter expert for the Miami police department gives him the inside track on just who those legitimate targets may be.
In Dexter and Philosophy, an elite team of philosophers don their rubber gloves and put Dexter’s deeds under the microscope. Since Dexter is driven to ritual murder by his “Dark Passenger,” can he be blamed for killing, especially as he only murders other murderers? Does Dexter fit the profile of the familiar fictional type of the superhero? What part does luck play in making Dexter who he is? How and why are horror and disgust turned into aesthetic pleasure for the TV viewer? How essential is Dexter’s emotional coldness to his lust for slicing people up? Are Dexter’s lies and deceptions any worse than the lies and deceptions of the non-criminals around him? Why does Dexter long to be a normal human being and why can’t he accomplish this apparently simple goal?
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About the author

Richard Greene is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. He is co-editor of Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy, The Sopranos and Philosophy, Quentin Tarantino and Philosophy, and The Golden Compass and Philosophy.

George Reisch is the author of How the Cold War Transformed the Philosophy of Science and editor of Pink Floyd and Philosophy and co-editor of Monty Python and Philosophy, Radiohead and Philosophy, and Bullshit and Philosophy.

Rachel Robison is completing her Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is co-editor of The Golden Compass and Philosophy.
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Additional Information

Open Court
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Published on
Apr 12, 2011
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Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
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Eligible for Family Library

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Since the Doom series, First Person Shooter (FPS) videogames have ricocheted through the gaming community, often reaching outside that community to the wider public. While critics primarily lampoon FPSs for their aggressiveness and on-screen violence, gamers see something else. Halo is one of the greatest, most successful FPSs ever to grace the world of gaming. Although Halo is a FPS, it has a science-fiction storyline that draws from previous award-winning science fiction literature. It employs a game mechanic that limits the amount of weapons a player can carry to two, and a multiplayer element that has spawned websites like Red vs. Blue and games within the game created by players themselves.

Halo’s unique and extraordinary features raise serious questions. Are campers really doing anything wrong? Does Halo’s music match the experience of the gamer? Would Plato have used Halo to train citizens to live an ethical life? What sort of Artificial Intelligence exists in Halo and how is it used? Can the player’s experience of war tell us anything about actual war? Is there meaning to Master Chief’s rough existence? How does it affect the player’s ego if she identifies too strongly with an aggressive character like Master Chief? Is Halo really science fiction? Can Halo be used for enlightenment-oriented thinking in the Buddhist sense? Does Halo's weapon limitation actually contribute to the depth of the gameplay? When we willingly play Halo only to die again and again, are we engaging in some sort of self-injurious behavior? What is expansive gameplay and how can it be informed by the philosophy of Michel Foucault? In what way does Halo’s post-apocalyptic paradigm force gamers to see themselves as agents of divine deliverance? What can Red vs. Blue teach us about personal identity?

These questions are tackled by writers who are both Halo cognoscenti and active philosophers, with a foreword by renowned Halo fiction author Fred Van Lente and an afterword by leading games scholar and artist Roger Ngim.
SpongeBob SquarePants and Philosophy is designed to introduce fans of SpongeBob SquarePants to some of the great thinkers and questions in philosophy. The essays can be shared by young and old alike, kindling new interest in philosophy and life’s big questions. What keeps SpongeBob “reeling in” major audiences on a daily basis is that underneath the lighthearted and whimsical exterior are the seeds of long-standing and important philosophical discussions about identity and the self, our obligations toward others, benefits and tensions of the individual in community, principles of the marketplace and environmental ethics, and questions of just how exactly Jack Kahuna Laguna can build a fire at the bottom of the ocean. (Okay, so perhaps we don’t have an answer for that last one, but maybe if you look into that fire long enough the answer will be revealed.)
The book begins with a section exploration of the major characters of the series. To begin, Nicole Pramik uses the philosophies of Aristotle to demonstrate why SpongeBob, more than any other character in the series, is defined by a life of well-being and flourishing. In chapter two, Timothy Dunn provides an assessment of SpongeBob’s best friend, Patrick Star, using the writings of J.S. Mill to ask if the life of simple pleasures preferable to the life of the mind, while in chapter three Natasha Liebig uses the German pessimist philosophers to reveal what it means to live the life of Squidward Q. Tentacles. Chapter four uses the competing philosophies of Ayn Rand and Karl Marx to evaluate the actions of SpongeBob’s boss, Mr. Eugene Krabs, while in chapter five Denise Du Vernay explains how Sandy Cheeks offers a brand of feminism that breaks down traditional assumptions about masculine and feminine identity and repackages them into constructive and empowering messages for young people. Concluding this section of the book, Nicholas Michaud uses the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche to ask us reconsider our belief that SpongeBob and his friends are somehow heroic by giving us insight into the “will to power” held by the powerful little protozoan, Plankton.
Section two of the book is dedicated to exploring the community of Bikini Bottom, starting with Shaun Young’s examination of Bikini Bottom as a representation of various theories of the just state. In chapter eight, Nathan Zook looks into whether we might learn something about theories of democracy and political participation from an election between SpongeBob and Squidward for “Royal Krabby,” while in chapter nine Adam Barkman uses the writings of Dante Alighieri to assess the monarchal rule of King Neptune. Chapter ten uses the legal philosophies of thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Rawls, and David Hume to answer whether Mr. Krabs has the proper philosophical basis upon which to claim an individual right to possess and profit from the secret Krabby Patty formula. Chapter eleven then takes us to the pristine Jellyfish Fields where Greg Ahrenhoerster uses literary naturalism and the works of transcendentalist thinkers to examine environmental ethics and an individual’s obligations to shared resources.
The third and final section uses SpongeBob to explore psychological and scientific questions that float around under the sea. In chapter twelve, Katie Anderson uses the episode “Sleepy Time” to explore Cartesian principles related to the philosophical questions that attempt to distinguish between dreams and reality, and in chapter thirteen Robert Kincaid continues the examination into philosophical issues related to the mind by using SpongeBob, Squidward, and Patrick to relate the theories of Sigmund Freud. Chapter fourteen is dedicated to an introduction into the philosophy of science by Wilson González-Espada, and Robert Vuckovich concludes the volume with an essay on SpongeBob’s
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