How Xena: Warrior Princess Opened my Horizons
I am uploading this as a companion to my latest piece. According to the file creation date, I wrote it 2005, September 15th. It was for a class on Western Culture. We had an assignment to write about how culture had an impact on us. It’s short because the professor didn’t like reading more than one page. On a side note, I wrote this in Microsoft Works. I’m lucky I was able to open it at all. I lost all the formatting, which I have tried to recreate here.
Xena: Warrior Princess premiered on television as I was going into my freshman year in high school. This is a pivotal time for any kid, and in my case, all of my friends had been sent to a different high school, so this was especially true for me. I had been a casual fan of the wacky adventure show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. I had heard there was a spin-off, so I stayed up late one Sunday night and watched it. I can no longer remember which episode I saw first, but I remember being struck by how very different Xena was from everything else on television.
It was a female-oriented action show (unusual at the time) which, while on the surface was fun anachronistic camp like it’s parent show, clearly had a dark and serious core about friendship, morality and redemption. It follows the adventures of reformed murderess/warlord Xena and her wide-eyed innocent companion, Gabrielle as they travel across ancient Greece as Xena tries to make up for what she’s done and Gabrielle tries to see the world and experience life.
This affected in several ways. The most obvious way is it cause me to break from my parents. I had watched a lot of kid’s TV and I had watched Star Trek with them, but this is the first adult-targeted show I took a serious interest in that my parents did not. And since it came on at 11:30 at night, later if there were a football game, I had to defy my bed time to watch it. At first this was quite difficult with only one TV in the house, but generally found a way to record it or sneak out and watch it. Eventually, I got a 3-inch black and white TV in my room for this purpose, even though this was not allowed.
The fandom was also one of the first things that got me into the internet. I had been using the internet here and there since it first became available in 1994 to find pictures of Green Lantern and various X-Men characters, but Xena fandom was the first thing that really got me participating. A bored Metacrawler search one day brought me across some various Xena fan-fiction pages, which were fascinating on their own, but several made mention of the newsgroup alt.tv.xena.
I signed up for this discussion board not really knowing what to expect and was surprised at the passion of the fans, the depth of the analysis and their overwhelming femaleness. In fact, this was my first real exposure to pop culture analysis, lesbian culture and fan-obsessiveness in general.
Lesbian culture was quite important to me was a big step. There was a lot of talk in the first season about subtext, but I didn’t really believe it. I figure it was just lesbophiles putting their own interpretations in. By this point, I was somewhat acquainted with lesbian acts as I was a 15-year-old with occasionally unsupervised internet access. However, I had had no knowing exposure to real lesbians and showed me ideas that were at once foreign and familiar about romance friendship and culture in general.
The passion and analysis are what led me to understand how very important TV and pop culture in general were. My family did not have a television until I was 10, so I was perhaps less familiar with this than most people. I found myself surprised at how angry I got when arguing about the character and intelligence of Joxer, a supporting character who was a rather unremarkable man with dreams of heroics. I had never gotten this way when talking about Ninja Turtles with my friends. I never saw my dad, who’s a generally excitable guy, start yelling at anyone about Star Trek. I finally understood what it was really like to connect with and care about a piece of art.
Whoosh.org, the institute for online Xena studies, and the alt.tv.xena discussions that fed it were my first real exposure to the idea that TV shows were supposed to mean something. I came to realize all narrative arts could be seen as literature. I read fascinating articles about the nature of redemption, comparisons of the sexual mores of ancients Greeks to those of modern men, commentaries on how mythology is transformed into popular entertainment and so on.
If not for Xena, I may not have developed an interest in debate, pop philosophy or subcultures. I probably would not have taken . Xena was a show about transformation and it happened to come along at a very important time to me. It was the first show I really liked on my own and it started me down a road of taste that covers almost everything I like today and do today.