Thursday, August 13, 2009

Faceless Victims and First Responders


(Edvard Munch, The Scream).

I've written once before that
"I've....been struck by how, in a lot of episodes, the victims are practically faceless. Angel and his crew would strike quickly to defeat the demons, then disappear almost as quickly. Most of the interactions with the victims involved a simple shouted warning to run!"
Notice how you have to pause and practically go frame-by-frame to get a good look at a victim's face on Angel. Even when you're able to get a clear look at the victims, they often don't seem to have any features that you can remember them by.

I saw "Disharmony" again a few weeks ago, which featured a lot of victims being kidnapped by a vampire cult. When Angel Investigations came across the victims all locked up in the cage on the theater stage, I noticed how they swarmed around like a bunch of single-celled creatures in a Petri dish. Wesley must have set some sort of record (outside of Season 1) earlier in the episode when he helped a woman to a park bench and (I think) covered her with a coat or something.

For a bunch of idealists who were on a mission to "help the helpless", they didn't seem to want to spend much time with victims unless they were well-paying clients.

I'm actually not criticizing the show for treating the victims like this. For one thing, it would slow down the story lines too much if the writers took the time to get into the after-effects of the attacks on these people. It might have also been a self-defense mechanism for Angel and his crew to not get personally involved in the lives of these people. The victims' burdens would have been their burdens, and that would have been way too much extra baggage to carry around. Even stopping to offer referrals for counseling would have been too much, since that would have offered just enough opportunity to start bonding with the victims.

There is a certain hierarchy or spectrum of job classifications that are set up to treat victims. Each level requires its own areas of expertise, and people are drawn to different jobs based on their own personal strengths and weaknesses. Although there is the inevitable overlap between certain areas, it's best to let people do their own jobs. Angel Investigators, as First Responders, marked one end of the spectrum. AI members swooped in, killed the Big Baddies, and sent the victims on their way, or at least stabilized them if they were injured until medical help arrived. Annie, who ran the teen shelter, marked the other end of the spectrum, where she worked with victims on a day-to-day basis and assisted them with putting their lives back together again.

A case could be made that Angel Investigations was at the top of the hierarchy, since they needed to be highly skilled to defeat the worst demons of the world on a daily basis. However, it would be unfair to say that people like Annie are at the lower part of the hierarchy, since they need to deal with the shattered lives of these victims who might be in complete denial that anything had really happened. People like Annie were faced with those difficult questions victims always seem to ask like, why did it happen to me? Am I safe now, and, why can't something be done to make sure this doesn't happen again? A case could be made that the members of Angel Investigations had the easy job, since once the demon was defeated, they could chalk that up as a job well-done and head home for the night. For people like Annie, the defeat of the demon was just the beginning of a job that could last for years.

I heard an interview with a war correspondent on NPR several years ago. This particular woman was a journalist who worked extensively in the war-torn Balkan region, and she had started off by attending a class run by the U.S. State Department (I believe). The journalists were taught that in case of a direct attack, their first actions should be to attend to the civilians, do what they could to help lead people to safety, and give initial first aid treatment as necessary. As medical and rescue personnel came to the scene, the journalists were instructed to step back and let the responders do their jobs, which would therefore allow the journalists to do their jobs of reporting on the action.

I can't remember exactly how the woman addressed the issue, but it was implicit that the journalists should not get too involved with the people that they were reporting on. This is not as cruel as it sounds, since this conduct protected journalists and the journalism profession in general. These instructions from the State Department helped define a code of ethics for the reporters to operate within and allowed them to do their jobs without interfering with local operations.

It takes a certain type of person to be able to work closely with victims and not allow the victims' miseries to overrun his or her own life. Far from not caring for victims, the members of Angel Investigations probably had to bring any sort of self-defense mechanisms along that they could carry in order to allow them to keep performing their duties. Detaching themselves from the victim was probably just as potent a form of self-defense as shooting a vampire with a crossbow.

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