Monday, April 27, 2009

He's Not the Same

[Note: After watching considerably more of this show, I've found out that I really misunderstood the vampires. Angel was not Spike's sire, Spike, as far as I can tell, didn't actually know Angel before he got his soul back, and Spike didn't really like Angel when he was soulless.]
I've been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot lately. And I've noticed something interesting about that show.
In that series, when a person becomes a vampire, in addition to changing quite a lot physically, xe has a significant personality change. This is explained as losing xyr soul. One vampire, Angel, had the reverse happen to him as well, because a spell done on him restored his soul to his body. At that point, he had a major personality change as well.
How do loved ones react to that kind of change? There are two examples I've seen so far in the series:
Xander and Jesse:
In the very first episode, Buffy befriends two boys named Xander and Jesse. These two are described as having been good friends for a long time. During a vampire attack, Jesse gets kidnapped, and by the time Buffy, Xander and another friend come to rescue him, he's been turned into a vampire. He's not overly mean to Xander after that, but makes it quite clear that he's siding with the vampires against Xander and Buffy.
Buffy, who wasn't very close to Jesse, immediately turns against him at that point, telling Xander to 'look at him not as your friend, but as the creature who killed him'. Although Xander finds this very difficult, he accepts her advice and ends up killing Jesse*. (It is possible, however, that Xander wasn't actually very close to Jesse, because he is never mentioned again in later episodes.)
Spike and Angel:
Angel, before he regained his soul, turned Spike into a vampire. As Spike's 'sire', therefore, he is very important to Spike, basically the vampire version of a parent. Then a spell restores Angel's soul, and he turns against Spike, even helping Buffy when she tries to kill Spike.
Spike, unlike Xander, does not turn against Angel. Although he takes measures necessary to ensure his own safety when Angel is a danger to him (by hitting Angel and pushing Angel away from him), Spike makes it quite clear that, even quite awhile after Angel was affected by that spell, Spike still cares about him.
The idea that someone has fundamentally changed as a person, to the point that they're no longer the person they used to be, is not only seen in fantasy. Many real people are viewed this way, such as developmentally disabled people who experience regressions, people with certain 'mental illnesses' such as schizophrenia, and people with brain injuries. And loved ones often treat the person who's changed fairly badly, in ways that they'd never have treated that person before their change (in another Buffy episode, Xander gets possessed by a hyena and they end up locking him in a cage and refusing to let him out). From the perspective of the person's loved ones, this is 'for their own good', and the unpleasant things they do to the person who's changed are really being done to the illness or whatever that's changed them (just like how Buffy rationalizes killing Jesse in her discussions with Xander). But from the perspective of the person who's changed:

"'I want the real you back' prompts the questions, 'Do you know me? Would you love me if you found out this is the real me? Aren’t you supposed to love who I am, not who you imagine?'
By the way, this is even true of changes that are traditionally viewed as very negative. I have known of many people who, after brain damage, have all their friends say they want them to be the person they were before the brain damage. It doesn’t happen. It’s not real. It hurts them. It’s not that they wanted to get knocked on the head, it’s that who they are now happens to be a person who got knocked on the head, not the imaginary person that didn’t."

Ironically, in this particular way, the vampires in the Buffy series (except for Angel) come off as morally better than the humans. Spike and the other vampires who knew and cared about Angel before he got his soul mostly treat him fairly well. Darla, who I suspect was Angel's sire (I read a book about Angel before, but don't remember much of it), was trying to coax him to drink blood with her. Spike hits Angel when Angel tries to trick him in order to help Buffy, but makes it quite clear that if Angel wants to have a real relationship with Spike, he'll welcome that. They don't seem to be doing things to Angel that they'd have been unwilling to do to him when he didn't have his soul - unlike the humans in the story. Because the vampires in that universe are bad in many ways, but they are certainly capable of being loyal to a loved one.

* Not entirely intentionally, though. He was threatening Jesse with a stake, trying to kill Jesse but hesitating because it felt emotionally like killing his own friend, and then someone bumped Jesse from behind and pushed him onto the stake. However, it's likely that if he'd had more time to decide, he would have killed Jesse eventually.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can relate to this post, in fact I have talked a lot
lately about this very subject, and this brings
to mind a lot of what ifs...? I am in my mid forties
and autistic with various language
encoding issues, also with many learning differences associated with autism, my disabilities were not handled with good judgement so it has been nearly 20 years of very hard work with skillful and caring people who have taught me how to express some of the latent skills I possessed. It has been less than a year and my family are starting to see the differences that they missed. A friend of mine going back to childhood
who is significantly older than me is developing
vascular dementia associated with diabetes, I have
been spending time with him recognizing that his
relationships to his family and others are changing as
are mine, these changes have difficult feelings for all
involved in this, even if they are for different
reasons and in different directions.

10:15 PM  

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