Dexter and Spanish Dialogue
Much has been written about, and continues to be written about, Dexter, and it’s not my intention here to comment on the show’s premise or visual style: although I can’t resist pointing out that the former is as shockingly original as the latter is dull and clichéd. I should also admit that this opinion is based on my watching a total of two episodes. (Episode two, which screened in Australia last night progressed the narrative arc, and the character development, but in all other respects seemed pretty much a filler episode.)
Rather, I want to comment on a small, almost unnoticed, aspect of the show. As is familiar to us who live in TV land, if not the real world, Miami is as close to a multicultural city as the US can produce, with its significant Latino population and culture. As in other programmes such as CSI Miami (and possibly Miami Vice, although my memory doesn’t stretch back that far in any detail), the use of Spanish dialogue helps to convey this sense of difference. I recognise that in CSI Miami Spanish was disproportionately spoken by the bad guys, and there is a chance that this will happen in Dexter as well, but Latino major characters in the latter show exceed the token places provided by the CSI franchise.
But what is refreshing in Dexter is that the dialogue between Latino characters is not only habitually in Spanish, it is also not sub-titled. While it usually wasn’t in CSI Miami either, in that show it was almost always immediately translated diegetically for the benefit of a bystander. In Dexter, the non-Spanish-speaking viewer is forced to understand the gist of the conversation by context (usually not difficult) or just sit it out.
I like this sense that there is a level to the interactions in the show that I am not privy to; that my command of English does not give me the right to expect access to all cultures and languages. I enjoy the little thrill of eavesdropping on a conversation when I know that I’ll only be able to guess its broad framework.
This has an alienating effect which works well in the milieu of the show. I just hope it doesn’t degenerate into the “good guys speak English; bad guys talk funny” stereotype of lesser shows.