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!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Anthropology in the Works of Whedon: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In a time where what passes for good television is housemates getting drunk and hitting on anything that moves, High Schoolers randomly breaking into song, countless contests of singing and dancing, and overly romantic vampire dramas it is hard to remember that there are actually shows out there that have depth. There are very few shows over the years that I actually love to the point where I could watch them over and over and talk about for hours. As it turns out that majority of those shows (well really all but two) were created by Joss Whedon who is my eyes is a god.

So what is it about Whedon’s shows that appeal to me so much? Well you could probably guess that they all have anthropological and philosophical themes that run through them. It is true that perhaps I over analyze things but in some cases it is impossible not to see these themes in his shows. They are all at their core about humanity (and in some cases lack thereof) and what that concept means. All of Whedon’s shows really ask that question: What does it mean to be a person and what makes a person the way they are? Whedon takes us through twists and turns, into areas of white, grey and the blackest black, and ultimately makes us question the humanity in ourselves.

My love affair with the works of Whedon started, like many, when I was younger and started watching Buffy. Now when Buffy actually first aired I was six so I really didn’t start watching it when it was new until 3rd season when I was older. Though even from a young age I realized that there was something more to this show than just a teenage girl running around killing vampires (even though of course that was badass). Of course it wasn’t until much later that I really started going back to watch the episodes carefully to understand what they really about (and listened to the commentary to help me get into Joss’ mind more).

Buffy I believe appeals to the youth in all of us. Here was this high school that was situated on a hell mouth where all kind of things that go bump in the night manage to find their way to. So we take this concept of high school and it actually becomes “Hell” emulating what many of us experienced when were in school. There also is the concept of closeness and family and what that really means. There is this running theme that family goes deeper than just blood as we see with Buffy’s gang endearingly called “The Scoobies.”

As the show Buffy progresses there are many instances of love, loss, heartbreak, death and everything in between. As Buffy grows and learns more about who she is as the Slayer the show actually grows with her and at some points even plunges into that black with grey along the way. It grows beyond a teenage “coming of age” show into a study of what happens once you enter into the real world when the real world is full of evil supernatural fiends.

Also like with any show about vampires there’s this idea of souls and what exactly a soul is. Obviously vampires are soulless killing machines but then we have Angel (and later Spike) who are vampires that are re insouled and thus feel all the horrible deeds they’ve done in the past. Despite the obvious we also have other characters that have souls but still find themselves in those shades of grey and in the case of Willow even black.

This idea of souls leads into a much deeper discussion that actually tonight is being discussed at the weekly “Whedony” discussion on twitter at 9pm ET. If you all would like to join in I will be hosting it. Follow @whedony on twitter and use the hashtag #whedony with your responses so that they will be searchable. Also the next couple of blog posts will be on the other whedony shows which will also be discussed at tonight’s Whedony. The next post will be an overview on Angel which is a spinoff off of Buffy.

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros

Friday, August 5, 2011

Anthropology of Shark Week

Yes you heard me correctly; this post is in fact about Shark Week. You may be wondering why exactly I’m talking about sharks when Anthropology is the study of people but bear with me you’ll get it in a second. This past week was in fact shark week and in case I forgot all I had to do was stick my head out of the window of my office and look down the block to see the giant shark busting out of the Discovery Channel building.

So why is Shark week so huge (literally and figuratively)? I mean this week I couldn’t go on twitter or facebook without coming across posting about shark week. Many people across the country were glued to their couches as they watched hours upon hours of shark shows. So why are sharks so enthralling? I mean we don’t see Discovery featuring a “Tiger Week” or an “Elephant Week.” No it’s specifically sharks that people are devoting their weeks to. What is it about these creatures that draw people in? Well think about it a predator that lurks beneath the ocean just waiting for prey as then suddenly they attack.

Heck why do you think the movie Jaws did so well? The shark isn’t just an ordinary fish; it’s a symbol of mystery and intrigue. Even now with shark shows and scientists working to find out more and more about sharks they remain pretty elusive. It isn’t like other animals that can be plucked from the wild and studied they are hard to catch and hard to study. This being said it is interesting also to note that sharks have been around for thousands upon millions of years (depending on which scientists you talk to). They have survived this long without much evolution because they’re perfectly engineered for what they do.

There are many cultures around the world that both greatly fear and worship the shark. Many Polynesians worship the shark-god and place offerings in the ocean for him. So what about the shark makes it so magnificent and in some cases divine? Well we then go back to the shark being elusive and mysterious. As a society we mostly have a fear of the unknown and the shark swimming around in the water below you unnoticed ready to attack at any time is the ultimate unknown. Thus like many things in our society that we fear we have to showcase it.

How better to showcase it then to create an entire week dedicated to shows that share more knowledge about sharks, sharks and more sharks. The stories of survival, of attack, of mystery are all so thrilling to us and the fact that they are all about sharks is thrilling to us. They are beautiful majestic creatures that are also one of the deadliest on earth. It’s that paradox that will continue to entertain the masses for decades to come.