Monday, August 29, 2011

Anthropology in the Works of Whedon: Angel

Last week the post was all about Buffy the Vampire slayer and the anthropology that was behind that show. Angel happens to be a spinoff of that show and also happens to have even more anthropology in it then its predecessor. Now unlike Buffy I actually started watching Angel from the first season and all the way through to the end when it was on TV new. Though like Buffy it took me a little while to realize just how much there was behind the show.

In fact it took me until episode 6 of Season 3 (Billy) to realize just how much anthropology/philosophy and even evolution was in this show. The biggest difference between Angel and Buffy to me is that Buffy revolved around a group of teenagers who were working their way through high school (and later college) while fighting evil. Angel on the other hand was about the “real world” and how a vampire and his gang of investigators fit into that world. We see how Angel now deals with being in LA a city full of people and of course evil fiends. Angel is also a lot darker than Buffy was, both literally (since Angel can only go out at night) and figuratively.

Through the show Angel we get to see a side of him that we didn’t get in Buffy. We get to see farther into who Angel is a person and start to understand more about the darkness that he carries around with him. This then brings us to the first part of the anthropological themes in the show. As humans we have two main “drives” in us that have sparks countless movements: Redemption and Revenge. The show Angel is full of both of them.

We start with of course the obvious; Angel is cursed with a soul by gypsies and is forced to carry around the burden of remembering all the people that he tortured, raped and killed. Thus redemption comes in. He must redeem himself for all the bad things he did in the past so he turns and starts to help people thus Angel Investigations is born. Now Angel, like any other human (or well part human in his case) has the other side of that as well, the need for revenge. We see all different levels of revenge in the show from little things like him getting back at a vampire for killing a girl in an alley to the larger things like taking Revenge on Wolfram and Hart and Holtz for his sons dive into the Kortov. Angel isn’t the only one to have that revenge in him. We see it in every one of the characters from Gunn trying to avenge his sister’s death, Fred trying to get back at Professor Sidel for sending her to Pylea, Connor trying to get back at Angel for “killing” Holtz, etc.

The concepts of Revenge and Redemption then bring a very human element to the show that draws the reader in and makes them feel like the show is real. Some other concepts that Angel also touches on are Love and Loss. These again are two very human elements that even Angel being partially human has. On the flip side of that, we get re-introduced to Angelus (which we met in 2nd season of Buffy) through both the flash backs but also when he is brought back during 4th season. We get to see then the soulless animal that is Angelus and the anthropological/philosophical questions are raised such as: Are Angel and Angelus two different people? Is the soul purely Angel and the being purely Angelus? Which one is wearing the mask in this scenario? These are all questions that have been discussed extensively among the writer and especially among the fans.

Now we come to the most anthropological part of Angel (at least in my opinion) the presence of the character of Billy. Billy first shows up in the episode “That Vision Thing” (Season 3 episode 2) as a young man banished to a hell dimension for the horrible works he has done. Angel then is blackmailed by Wolfram and Hart to break Billy out of this hell dimension. Wolfram and Hart uses Cordy as leverage to get Angel to do this and since he is who he is, breaks the kid out with no hesitation. For the next couple episodes we don’t hear anything from Billy but there is a lingering that he is going to pop back up and cause mayhem. And that he does, tenfold.

See Billy has this special “power;” he touches a man and that man then goes ape-shit on any women in the vicinity. This then leads to the question if he is actually using his powers to do something to these men or if he is bringing out some kind of “primordial misogyny” within them. This then leads to the whole idea of evolution and whether or not mean always had this “primordial misogyny” in them and they either evolved out of it or if it just laid dormant in them. Either way it is something primal that is being brought out of these men that they have an instinct to attack the women who should be subservient to them in their eyes.

What is interesting about these two ideas is that the different charcaters have different ideas. Angel explains to Cordy why the touch didn’t affect him because of the fact that he is in fact a vampire, thus his humanity and subsequent misogyny isn’t there. On the flipside at the end Fred talks to Wes who is convinced it was something inside of him though Fred assures him that it was “Something that was done to [him].” So once again we have those two separate ideas of what really triggered it.

Those were just some examples of the Anthropology of Angel, I could go on and on but there is only so much that you guys will want to read on my blog. For more of the in depth study of Angel join us tonight for the Season 1, episode 1 watch and tweet on twitter. Make sure you are following @whedony and using the #whedony hashtag. See you there!


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