What is it that makes us human? Honestly, what do you think it is about me that makes me human or not? How about yourself? I want to explore that idea today. I won’t be feeding you statistics about chemical composition of the body or brain or any of that stuff. This is going to be almost exclusively science free. The question still remains though: What is a human and what makes them human?
Perhaps some of you know the answer or have your own opinions on it. I’ll go right out and say that there are some pretty short answers available to this question. I even accept them. I also know that humans are human does make sense to me. Like it’s one of those questions that everyone knows, but doesn’t know how they know it. What’s the definition of the word “and?” How would you explain the word “a” to somebody? It’s kind of a given what humans are. We just know. And equally as important, we know what makes something not human.
But what about the gray areas? Hang with me as I give a lot of back story, and please read until the very end. 🙂 POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD! Forgive me for going back here, but this post is inspired by Buffy yet again, or more accurately the show Angel. I just finished watching season 1 of Angel. I finished Buffy back in I think it was November, maybe December. Terrific show, but I won’t talk about that one much in this post. What I will say about Buffy is that it was fantastic, and immediately after I was inclined to watch the companion show Angel. Angel left after season 3 and got his own show. I’m very glad because Angel is my favorite character and is a very good show. Anyway, I started it after Buffy pretty enthusiastically. “Oh yay! I get to see Angel again! And Cordelia!” pretty much sums up my first moments.
I began immediately comparing it to Buffy because I watched all of Buffy, and the same characters and stuff. But then I sort of lost interest because it seemed like just another crime show with the selling point being that they fight demons rather than humans (most of the time). As silly as it sounds, I didn’t like the opening theme song as much as I liked the Buffy one, and that was a factor. And there were three cast members which in my opinion is risky because I’m a very character oriented consumer.
Three characters can be a huge success if done right, allowing for strong bonds and a closely knit group, but also a lot more strain and less opportunity for interaction. I’ll buy something with an identical plot or something unoriginal ideas if the characters are good. With three cast members, that’s a lot of stress on three people. Throw in the fact that I didn’t find one of them compelling (Doyle) and you have a two person crime show, both of whom are great and magnificent characters, but it’s still immensely challenging to carry a show with just two people. Long story short, I wasn’t really buying into it. Then Doyle goes and dies and I’m just like, “Eh, I guess I’ll kind of miss him. He had a neat, if not annoying accent.” His motivations weren’t very compelling either. All around, Doyle was not a character I enjoyed much.
When Wesley Whyndam Price showed up on the show, I was like, “Oh gosh. I hated this guy on Buffy. Annoying bookworm without any flexibility.” He was too pristine and preppy and in my opinion just useless and taking up space. Not the case in Angel. He’s a much better replacement to Doyle with actual motivations and character now.
In this first season, Angel’s character was ripped apart and thrown out into the open, or at least his past was. I found the episodes about his life before being a vampire and his transition into being one extremely interesting and compelling. He was a drunken nobody from a wealthy family in I think somewhere in Ireland. He slept really late, drank all night, seduced women with his looks while drunk, etc. His father was a stingy Catholic (maybe Protestant) man who abused Angel (originally named Liam).
The dialogue between them was often times the father screaming at Liam to get a job and make something of himself. He at one point said something along the lines of “I asked God for a son, and he gave me you.” OUCH!!! They didn’t have very good firetrucks in the 1750s. Liam’s father hated his son, which is a horrible thing to do for any parent. Because I knew what Liam becomes and who he becomes eventually, I was sympathetic to Liam rather than the father. Liam lived under constant pressure and oppression and ridicule from his father and couldn’t break free of it. One night he comes out of a bar and is seduced by a “Marie Antoinette” looking woman who asks if Liam wants to see the world. He says yes, and Darla, the woman, bites him and turns him into a vampire.
She then instructs him on what he is and how to do things. He now becomes Angelus, “The One with the Angelic Face.” He rises and is confused, but he eats the man guarding the cemetery. His family had buried him and many of his family members cried, but not his father. He became obsessed with killing his father, and he killed his entire family and saved his father for last. In the moments before Angelus killed his father, he asked his father if he’d become something like his father had asked. His goal was to please his father. He’d made something of himself by becoming a vampire.
Pause for a moment. I often consider what my own parents think of me and what they would think of me if I did X,Y,Z or A,B,C happened to me. Now I imagined in this scenario being in Angelus’ shoes. He is going to live forever. His father is a Christian of some kind presumably, and now his child is going to live forever as an evil demon. He has made something of himself, but he’s made himself a monster, which kind of makes me more sympathetic to Angelus because it was beyond his control, and still his only thought is to please his father and to get revenge. For some reason, that fear of not being accepted by my parents echoed with me, of becoming something so different. Going through a transformation (literally) that made him evil, technically dead, and altogether otherworldly. Am I conveying this correctly? I’m not feeling that I’ve appropriately expressed my emotion about this just yet. So anyway, he’s transformed into something beyond his control, but ultimately he wanted it to some degree, and he’s not getting his father’s approval. Very tragic to me.
Back to the plot. He kills his father and rampages across Europe until in the late 1800s, 1898 I think, Darla gives him a gypsy girl for his “birthday” (though it seems that he and all vampires measure their birthdays by when they became a vampire, not when they were actually born). He eats her seductively in front of Darla, and the gypsy family casts a spell on him that restores his soul. The object of that punishment is to force him to live with the hundreds of murders he’s committed, while feeling all the regret and remorse that was absent when the demon had complete control over his body. Darla called him disgusting when his soul was restored and threw him out of the house threatening to kill him. He wasn’t human or vampire. He was ultimately a reject from vampires, humans, and his father.
Now with a soul, Angel (the ‘us’ is dropped) wanders the globe feeling sorry for himself and suffering from his curse. Then somebody comes along and reforms him, offering him the chance to use his curse as a gift. He has the opportunity to do good. This same guy, Whistler, shows him the slayer in a nearby city named Buffy Summers. Angel sees her and instantly commits to her. He’s smitten with love for her and becomes determined to help her and help the world. He watches her from afar. Let me put their relationship in a few words before I bore you with everything it consists of, thus offering you the opportunity to skip that part. Buffy+Angel=Edward+Bella, but done right. Now here’s the paragraph you can skip if you’d like.
I do believe in true love and one perfect soul mate. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily ideal matches that will never face any problems, but it means that you are destined to be together by design. God’s design. These soul mates will always love each other no matter the distance or time between. No matter the circumstances. It is completely unconditional and authentic love. This is what Buffy and Angel had. It was the instant connection. It was flawed, but it was perfectly flawed. Buffy is really the redemption of Angel. She inspired him to do good and help people. He loves her no matter what and from what I’ve seen so far, has refused to settle with anyone other than Buffy. Buffy is his world, the reason that he fights for goodness, and to a certain extent, that’s what Angel is to Buffy. He is her rock, the completely dependable and perfect match for her. Riley was a pathetic boyfriend and was gone fast, no matter how much pleasure was involved there. No matter how much sex they had. Through it all, evidenced by the series finale and the episode before it, Angel and Buffy love each other. They kiss, and Angel comes to save Buffy and offer help and the like. I don’t buy Buffy and Spike. Spike was in love with the Slayer, not exactly Buffy. He got off on challenging Slayers and only ended up “falling in love” with her because he couldn’t kill her. An argument could be made about Spike getting his soul back and actually working for it. Actually, he couldn’t deal with not being able to kill her and the pain that caused him and the fact that Buffy was horrible to him, that he sought an end to his pain, not his soul. His soul ended up bringing an end to his pain in a way, but still. This is a ramble now. Buffy and Angel are the perfect pair. I think I could come up with a lot more about this, but I’ve rambled enough.
So Angel and Buffy have their fighting moments but always come together as a perfect couple. She kills him as Angel, he comes back, she brings him back to sanity, they (foolishly) believe that they can’t have a perfect life together and decide to break up. Then in Angel, is one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen. Angel becomes legitimately mortal human again and hooks up with Buffy for a day or two. But then Angel realizes he can’t keep Buffy safe as a human without his vampire strength and stuff. He knows that there are more trials ahead and he needs to stay alive for Buffy, and to keep Buffy alive, so he trades his mortality back to “gods” (Oracles). He becomes a vampire again by turning back time so he can execute his day differently than he originally did. In the moments before the clock is turned back, he has to come clean to Buffy and he’ll remember everything that happened on that day(s) that technically never happened, while everyone else will be completely unaware of it. They hug and kiss and cry as the clock ticks down and then it happens and Angel confronts Buffy knowing what could be if he does the same stuff. Buffy doesn’t and is angry at Angel when she confronts him. So they just basically say hello, pleasure doing business with you, and break apart again. Destroyed my heart.
I’ll get the last of this Buffy stuff out of the way so I can get to the main point of this post. Buffy comes back later pursuing Faith, an evil Slayer that was called when Kendra died. Two slayers, unimportant here. Faith was a total b**** to Buffy and went all evil rogue slayer, and was put in a coma, then went to Los Angeles, where a law firm hired her to kill Angel. They duke it out and Angel doesn’t want to kill her, knowing inside Faith wants redemption too for all her evil deeds. So he just fends her off and lets her beat him up until she’s spent all her rage and sadness. Buffy walks in on them embracing while he’s trying to help her and gets all jealous. Faith turns herself into the police which sort of redeems herself to Buffy, and Buffy is jealous of Angel hugging her. So Buffy talks about how she’s moved on and has a boyfriend (which Faith accidentally mentioned earlier and devastated Angel) and how she still cares about him and seeing him help someone who caused her so much pain and sadness is a betrayal. Angel says he was doing the right thing and that he can’t move on from Buffy, that she is the only one for him and she can’t take her problems into “his city” and expect him to adapt to her needs 100%. So he tells her to leave and go home out of anger. She leaves and he feels instant regret at having a “big mouth” and saying what he did. I still have hope for them though, knowing about Angel’s future appearances in Buffy.
So FINALLY to the humanity. A scroll tells Angel that he will die and he doesn’t seem to care that he’ll die. Wesley and Cordelia wonder why that is and suspect it’s because he doesn’t want anything in life. What really fuels are will to live? Desire. Desire for something. Angel sees himself as inhuman because he’s a vampire. Most people see him as inhuman because he’s a vampire. He’s going to live forever, he’s done AWFUL things to a lot of people, and he’s technically dead. He can’t go in the sun, he only drinks blood (though he eats/drinks other things for custom I guess). He’s a demon, and he’s not human. The world isn’t for people like him. He can’t find love (oh Hell !@#$%^& no! You so most definitely can!). So he doesn’t want anything.
I hated hearing that! Angel is human! He’s a vampire sure, but he’s a vampire with a soul, and that’s what I’m going to argue is what makes us human. A soul. An intangible idea that some people believe in and others don’t. But a soul is what makes us human. Being human I think goes beyond simple chemistry or biology. It goes beyond being alive. George Washington is a human. The pharaohs of Egypt are human. Being dead doesn’t stop you from being human. Being a vampire might, but not a vampire with a soul. Who cares if you’re different than others? Angel is embarrassed to drink blood in front of Cordelia and Wesley. What does Cordelia say back to him? Something like, “Oh come on, we’re family.” CORDELIA YOU ARE LITERALLY THE BEST EVER! Well, not total best but still, I just LOVE Cordelia. Guys, they’re a family! Family to me is not defined by blood or who your mother is. That’s one definition, and I say not the important one. A family is a group of people who love each other for who they are, flaws and all. Unconditional love. Angel may not technically be “a human” in the noun sense, but he is definitely human in the adjective sense. At least in my adjective sense. He does feel emotions, he knows right from wrong, he loves, he feels. He’s flawed. We are I think defined by that. He is just as human as you or me.
Now I know that since this post is winding down, maybe many of you didn’t reach the bottom, or didn’t read all of the middle. I’m guessing you’re thinking something like this:
“Why do you care so much about a character who doesn’t exist?”
“How is this applicable to me?”
“Why did you need to rant so long about who Angel was and where he came from in order to tell me what it means to be human?”
Or simply, “No. Angel isn’t human. A human can’t live forever and throw people through doors.”
Well I’ll answer that question. Because I’m human. I’m imperfect, though I don’t exactly think this is a matter of imperfection. I care about Angel (and other characters for that matter) because he feels real to me. I relate to him, I feel for him, I feel with him. He is such a well developed character and within the context of the story believable character that he is real to me. I do care about what happens to him.
It’s applicable to you because I’ll bet somewhere in this web of fanboy philosophy, you can find something you agree with or relate to. Don’t tell me everything that happened to Angel is the EXACT opposite of what happened to you. You can relate to him, I’m sure of it, and you’re also human without a doubt in the world. It is applicable to you.
I spewed about Angel so much because I personally couldn’t keep it all trapped in my own mind. I had to put it out there. That’s the way my brain works. I can’t keep everything in my head. Also, I think his entire back story is relevant. You are the person you are today because of everything that you’ve done in the past, or has been done to you in the past. It’s not fair to anyone to present just one part of anyone’s story, even a fictional character like Angel, when dealing with the subject humanity and what it means to be human; to be you.
And lastly, yes, he is.
Let me know your thoughts about this post, my writing, (love of Angel and Buffy shows), or just anything really. Thanks for reading. By the way, it’s now my ultimate goal to meet David Boreanaz. He’s just great. Ok, bye now.