Archive for December 7th, 2011

2011/12/07

Vampire Willow

That’s a fun title! All sorts of possible meanings. But only one in the Buffy context, and this time we are in the Buffy context because I have been watching ancient Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes again (or, as I keep saying by accident much to M’s hysterical amusement, “Bumpy”).

That’s Vampire Willow over to the right there (or somewhere nearby, or else you just have to imagine a picture, depending on how you’re Experiencing this Content). She appears in two Episodes: “The Wish” and “Doppelgängland”. She is, obviously, the vampire form of Willow, the shy quiet bookish young hacker girl that everyone with an inner geeky highschool gynophile has an enormous crush on.

Vampire Willow is the sultry sexy id of the Good Girl Willow. She has Willow’s cute mannerisms, without the insecurity and repression. She also looks on humans as primarily a food-source, and enjoys causing fear and suffering, but our inner geeky highschool gynophiles are willing to overlook that because she looks so good in leather.

Besides fanboying all over the character, I bring up the topic of Vampire Willow because the episodes, especially “Doppelgängland”, touch on the question we considered the other week: just what is the relationship, in the Buffyverse, between a person and the vampire that that person becomes after they are, um, made into a vampire? And what does this tell us about personal identity, moral responsibility, justice, and so on?

One delicious and relevant moment in “Doppelgängland”:

Willow: It’s horrible. That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil, and skanky… and I think I’m kinda gay.
Buffy: Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.
Angel: Well, actually…
[pauses as Willow and Buffy look at him]
Angel: That’s a good point.

Now Angel was about to say something along the lines of “actually, a vampire’s personality is shaped to a surprising extent by the personality of the person” (and of course the “kinda gay” thing is lovely foreshadowing since it will turn out that Willow is in fact kinda gay, for various values of “kinda” and “gay”).

This suggests some sort of subtle grey area between our previous wondering whether a vampire is (a) the same person, just with the soul / conscience / goodness removed, or (b) a completely different person (well, demon) who is just using the body of the (now dead or whatever) person.

Perhaps the vampire is a demon who is using the body, and also using the personality of the original person, only with the non-demonic bits left out, maybe because this flavor of demon doesn’t have a personality of its own. When looking at the vampire, then, we might draw conclusions about the person, not so much that they are culpable for the vampire’s acts or anything, but something along the lines of “this is what Willow / Angel / whoever would be like if they cast off the shackles of conscience“.

This still doesn’t seem to justify (for instance) Xander or Giles hating Angel-with-soul for what demon-Angel actually did, so we still have a puzzle there. But one can imagine that knowing things of the form “if he were to cast off the shackles of conscience, Angel-with-soul would be capable of X and Y and Z” might make one sort of uncomfortable to be around him, at a visceral level. (As might, I admit, just knowing that his body had in the past done these various very unpleasant things.)

Nor does it really make any sense of the gypsies’ (gad, is that the right spelling?) wanting to give Angel back his soul so he could suffer for what he (“he”) had done. The closest it really gets is “we will give him back his soul so that he can see the awful kinds of things that he might do if he didn’t have a soul!”. But that’s kinda stupid. If not any stupider than any other explanation we’ve been able to come up with for the gypsy thing.

Presumably (or at least this is worth thinking about) we don’t hold anyone morally responsible for things that they would do if they had no conscience, because when we judge someone morally we are judging (among other things) exactly their conscience. If we found out that someone would be a murderer if only they were a better shot, we might judge them harshly; but “he’d be a murderer if only he had no conscience” is not nearly the same sort of accusation.

Of course I’m awful at explaining human behavior in general. :) Don’t get me started on sexual jealousy, for instance (another common Bumpy theme); why is Willow hiding in the girls’ room crying (in “Consequences” I vaguely think it was) because she’s found out that Xander (whom she loves but is carefully not physically involved with because she is going all steady with Oz who she probably also loves) has had sex with ummm Faith, and why does she dislike Faith intensely as a result?

It’s not like she and Xander had pledged mutual fidelity and he’s broken the agreement; quite the opposite in fact! (That is, they’ve promised not to get physically involved with each other.) Is no one she loves allowed to have sex with anyone else? (That would probably condemn Xander to a life of celibacy, given the Oz thing.) Is she envious of Faith? Is she wishing that society wasn’t so annoyingly monogamous so she could snuggle with them both? (That one would almost make sense to me, come to think of it.) But it doesn’t seem to be that kind of crying.

(Maybe it’s more the “In this situation I’m supposed to cry for no rational reason, like in the hundreds of similar love stories you’ve seen throughout your life, and don’t question it or you’re some kind of sick pervert!” kind of crying, heh heh.)

So okay, that (and for that matter my relative incomprehension of the immediate “never speak to me again!” reaction of Cordelia and Oz finding Xander and Willow kissing that time in “Lover’s Walk”, when you’d think that if there was any actual, y’know, love involved it’d be more like “I understand, pumpkin, you both thought you were going to die, it’s a perfectly normal reaction”, or in Cordelia’s case “whatever, as long as you continue to turn me on with your wild chemistry”) — ehem anyway, that is my cluelessness about human nature for the night.

I will go back to interacting with nice rational computers now. :)