Date of Award

2011

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

John C. Sherblom

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Laura Lindenfeld

Abstract

DEXTER, the Showtime program, boasts the largest audience in paid-network or cable history (Weprin, 2009). The main character Dexter Morgan is the first anti-hero serial killer in the prolonged exposure medium of television. An interesting aspect of DEXTER and possibly one of the reasons the program has become so popular in the current social environment is that he successfully manages to keep his murderous addiction and sociopathic nature so hidden. In an age when social media make it almost impossible for a person to remain anonymous, the character of Dexter Morgan has, almost superhero-like, managed to do so. Some audience members have killed allegedly mimicking DEXTER but the present study seeks to understand the more mundane, innocuous, and easily adopted type of behavior, that is also potentially troublesome. This thesis analyzes how the character Dexter Morgan is portrayed as achieving this stealth through the interpersonal behavior self-disclosure as relational control (SDRC). SDRC is analyzed through a content analysis that focuses on interactions between Dexter Morgan and other characters in the program. The results are statistically analyzed and interpreted through the media effects tradition, specifically using Alfred Bandura's (1986, 1991, 2001, 2008) Social Cognitive Theory. Social Cognitive Theory predicts that audience members may adopt behavior they see on television, particularly if they identify with the character exhibiting an effective behavior. Television programs attempt to portray a recreation of everyday life in order to build character identification, while simultaneously exaggerating it for dramatic effect (Shrum, 2001). The results of this thesis are compared to previous self-disclosure and relational control literature. This comparison supports the argument that the program DEXTER mimics everyday life to an extent but that an exaggeration, outside genuine human interactions, is portrayed involving SDRC. DEXTER exhibits SDRC, but magnifies it, which may invite audience members to adopt behaviors in mimicry of these exaggerations. Implications of these findings are discussed.

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