Secret lives on screen — and in the dining hall

Secretly, I’ve been watching a lot of television lately. In spite of my thesis’ Friday due date and the economics midterm I’m taking as you read this column over lunch, I somehow find the time to distract myself with Showtime. Today’s favorites? “Dexter” and “Weeds.”

“Dexter” tells the story of a serial killer by the same name who only kills murderers. The character is a mild-mannered blood-spatter analyst by day, but a professional monster by night. His routine of finding targets who beat the criminal-justice system, or otherwise circumvent it, is interrupted by his close relationship with a newly single mother and her children. The idle distraction, meant to be mere disguise, becomes more challenging to maintain as he begins to grasp its potential for disaster.

“Weeds,” meanwhile, tells the story of Nancy Botwin, a suburban mother who has become a pot dealer to pay the bills after the death of her husband. She tries to hold together her family as a single mom, while simultaneously learning the ins and outs of the drug-dealing business.

Both programs offer valuable critiques of suburban America. Dexter and Nancy both hide in plain sight. Although they would be reviled by their peers if their true identities were ever discovered, they still try to fasten friendships and lead normal lives. However, since both characters strive to meet societies (superficial) expectations, their neighbors remain clueless.

In other words, the take-home message of both shows is the life-threatening necessity of appearing “normal.”

Because Dexter seriously considers turning himself into the police to make sure that no one else will pay for his crimes, he remains endeared to the viewer. (He is also usually well-dressed, comport himself a gentleman as best he can.) And although he desperately wants to experience emotions, he cannot because of a traumatic incident earlier in his life. As we watch Dexter develop, we feel deep compassion for him.

Nancy of “Weeds,” in contrast, draws little compassion from her viewer. She arrives on a community-college campus, ready to send her son to college; and though she sees all of the financial-aid options available, she turns her son’s tutor into a drug dealer — a less-than-endearing characteristic symptomatic of her less-than-noble profession.

This, of course, puts me in the rare position of endorsing the serial killer over the single mother. In one episode, a character witnesses Dexter in the act of murder. The kicker: The witness is only a child. However, when the child describes the killer to the police, the sketch artist draws an image of Jesus Christ, which prompts profound questions. Although Dexter kills people, he is killing murderers who would kill again. Is that really so bad? Is Dexter not a savior?

In addition to raising controversial questions, the programs seem to have a lot more in common with college life than the occasional nudity. In many ways, students are masters of the secret life.

Not so? Then why do so many of us enable the privacy feature on Facebook so prospective employers cannot see just who we truly are? Why, on Parents’ Weekend, does a suite downstairs suddenly have flowers on the coffee table instead of fifths of vodka?

At age 22, I do not claim wisdom, but I would argue that students should eschew secrecy and be themselves. Whispers become shouts after long, and more important, why hurt the people you love by lying to them?

Unlike Dexter and Nancy, I have nothing to hide. (My Facebook profile, for instance, is public.) But at the same time, as I submit résumé after résumé in the job search and present myself at interviews, I cannot help but feel as if I lead something of a double life, too.

“Why yes, being a business analyst is a great fit for me. No, I didn’t take any courses on it, but I’m smart and can learn quickly. … No, I don’t have five years experience with that particular software package. No, my movie studio is not being acquired by Steven Spielberg, but we do try really hard. …”

It is in times like these when I fully grasp just why we can appreciate Dexter and Nancy and why I return to Showtime week after week: because we all have some secrets. I just hope yours aren’t quite so gruesome.

Brian C. Thompson is a senior in Branford College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays.


  • Anonymous


    I have nothing to hide, I just don't want random strangers finding me and then doing something bad with that information, as in murder or snatching or rape. It's not always because of "party" pics…

  • Anonymous

    Oh, man, I was so hoping this would touch on the dude arrested for defrauding the University. Such a tragic missed opportunity.

  • Anonymous

    It is an odd and naive mythology that the revelations of truth will make life better. For example, re the vodka fifths, think of your parents, then think of them never closing their bedroom door. You have a good idea of what goes on, but your life is better off, all the "loved ones" lives are better off, without too much sharing. The very companies to whom you are applying for jobs will likely have you sign confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements. And did you wear a suit to the interviews or the clothes you wear when you are in your room. As an attorney, I understand that keeping information revealed by a client for the purpose of obtaining legal advice is vital to the legal counseling process. The Facebook account you talk of being set to private likely already include self-censorship -- does your non-private one include everything about you? Part of who we are is the choice of what we choose to make public or private. Your very article is an example of this process -- it starts with a lie saying "[s]ecretly" and then reveals the act to all, except that it keeps the identity of the shows watched other than "today's favorites" a secret, presumably because discussing those shows would waste time An example of keeping secrets in the interest of keeping someone else, the reader here, happy. Thus, "eschew[ing] secrecy" and "be[ing] themselves" are not mutually exclusive.