Integration: Primary Activities, Social Groups, and Argumentative Alliances



Two other nodes in "The Xenaverse in Cyberspace" data sector, "Entry: Making Contact in the Xenaverse Culture" (Gabrielle's Staff) and "Initiation: Ethos and Interaction Across the Virtual Landscape of the Xenaverse" (Xena's Sword) discuss primary elements of the Xenaverse, essential features to orient non-Xenites to this uniquely constructed cultural space. However those features are quite obvious to most casual online fans. In this node I want to go beneath the surface and focus on social groups and forces as they are actively shaping what avid Xenites call their "community."


It is difficult to document social groupings, movements, and forces in cyberspace because users cannot "see" the other users surfing around them. There is no waving and honking at other "drivers" on the "Information Superhighway." Despite the ubiquitous communication forums online, when a user surfs, she usually surfs alone.


I cannot simply observe social groups doing this thing or that thing in cyberspace, because the only way such activities become apparent is through discourse, dialogic interaction about those activities, and what's more, that same dialogic interaction often becomes the activity. My only option is to dig deeper and over time find the places where Xenites congregate in cyberspace, to observe and participate in order to learn the rules, alliances, and social norms of the different spaces. While such communications become easy to document through text captures, the communication must still come through a very narrow channel, the computer screen, and so I must glean as much as I can from suggestive comments, assent and dissent, and language patterns used.


Here in this node I document the side of the Xenaverse that I could only have learned about by becoming integrated into the community over time, as an accepted participant moving through the social groups I describe. The "Introduction" sector discusses the ethical-political issues behind my decision to interact with the community rather than simply to lurk invisibly. That aspect of the decision was very important, but also significant are the gains in understanding I made through becoming an immersed participant-observer in the various social groups. Through such participation I was able to achieve "insider" status, which in turn led to invitations to enter some of the moderated, invisible, or private sectors of the Xenaverse. While I am in some cases forbidden to use information gained from such spaces directly, my participation in those groups has deepened my understanding of the Xenaverse at large, and thus it informs all of my work.


Primary Activities: Collecting, Interacting, and Creating

Classifying social groups and forces in the Xenaverse through their primary activities was a fairly obvious distinction that I became aware of early in my research, so I chose to use this distinction as an organizing principle for my rhetorical analysis sectors. Fandom Culture is dominated by the activity of collecting and trading electronic and physical Xena artifacts, and the source providers connected to the show represent the center of this activity. A subtle shift occurs when interacting with other Xenites becomes more important than collecting. Community itself becomes the center. And one further shift occurs as Hardcore Nutball Xenites of any occupation, age, and level of skill become most active in creating, linking and reading the imaginative products of that community, producing a vast hypertextual Fan Fiction library that becomes the virtual landscape of the Xenaverse. Of course there is considerable overlap in the categories, and it would take an exhaustive survey or an impossible amount of observation to try to characterize which activity is, in reality, primary for any one Xenite. Xenites in actuality shift back and forth from one activity to another freely and in any order, so these categories are used for purposes of analysis rather than logistical description.










These shifting focal points of activities parallel phases of self-development as Received Knowing, Connected Knowing, and Constructed Knowing from the controversial book Women's Ways of Knowing (WWK) by Belenky et al. While the idea of this sort of intellectual and personal progressive development, modeled and expanding on the work of William Perry, has been widely discredited as essentializing women, as well as being overly simplistic and linear, the terms themselves are adequate descriptors of the kind of activities which dominate these sectors of the Xenaverse, particularly in relation to their constructions of authority. In a 1996 update to WWK, Knowledge, Difference, and Power: Essays Inspired by WWK, the authors, along with their other contributors, situate their work strongly in social constructionist epistemologies and set some distance from the linear developmental categories. They also move the work beyond applications only to women, beyond constructed gender limitations.





As I looked at the effects of these primary activities, it became quite apparent that large numbers of Hardcore Nutballs are putting their energies in these particular directions; in some cases, so much energy that one has to wonder what they do with the rest of their time in order to have so much of it to spend in the Xenaverse. But this is the classic outsider's assumption, most aptly parodied on "Saturday Night Live" when William Shatner, in a skit depicting a "Star Trek" Convention, told the Con-goers to "Get a life!" This skit is so well known in fandom cultures that the subtitle of Sci-Fi Universe magazine claims it is "The Magazine for Science Fiction Fans with a Life." HCNBs are well aware of the extremes of their involvement, although the Xenaverse phenomenon has only been around three short years, compared to the twenty-plus years of "Star Trek" fandom. One recurrent thread online appears under the subject heading, "You know you're obsessed when..." followed by lists of varying length. One person ended such a post with, "...I used to think Trekkers were weird for their devotion to a TV show. Now, I'm one of those people I used to wonder about!" As part of my analysis sectors, I will explore these primary activities in greater depth.






HCNBs, TPTB, and the Mainstream

The broadest and most overt social division in the Xenaverse is created through a separation of power. Lucy Lawless once affectionately referred to her Internet fans as "Hardcore Nutballs," and the fans embraced the name as their own. They often post testimonials of how they first knew they had become Hardcore Nutballs (HCNBs for short). On the other side of the great division, the people connected with the television program, who are sometimes present online, are universally called The Powers That Be, or TPTB, a rhetorical construct which is peppered throughout most of the conversations in the Xenaverse in one way or another.


But there is more to these monikers than meets the eye. In celebrating their own fanaticism in ironical fashion, HCNB fans are following the lead of the television program, which is quite serious about not taking itself seriously, as the best camp usually does. Lawless herself embodies such irony both in the way she plays the character of Xena and as she represents herself in real life. This is one reason why the two separate identities of Xena and Lucy Lawless are both widely admired and loved in the Xenaverse.


Xena is a strong, assertive woman who wears with a straight face an absurd leather miniskirt and brass bustier, often beating up evil warlords while uttering lines which parody popular culture, with only the slightest sly wink to the audience. Lucy Lawless, unlike the stern, reserved Xena, is an intelligent, frank, wildly outgoing, smart-aleck New Zealander who has impressed fans and the American mainstream media with her characteristic bluntness, her notoriously un-Hollywood-like personal values, and her self-deprecating good humor, even in the face of such embarrassing incidents as exposing her breast on national television (then going on Jay Leno's Tonight Show and participating in jokes at her own expense). HCNBs take their cue from both Xena and Lucy Lawless; they recognize that their extreme fanaticism is absurd (Nutball), yet the layers of that absurdity are so intoxicatingly humorous and ironical that they embrace it with the greatest seriousness (Hardcore). Like their heroines, Xena and Lucy Lawless, Hardcore Nutballs embody camp. The last laugh they get is on themselves.




The moniker of The Powers That Be (TPTB) is a complex construct as well. By definition, both Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor, the stars of the show, have to be seen as part of TPTB. They control how the characters are presented on the screen. However, when most fans refer to TPTB, they usually are not thinking of Lawless or O'Connor directly, except in terms of how they interact with other members of TPTB to influence the direction of the show's storylines. Lawless and O'Connor are invoked either by their names or their characters, Xena and Gabrielle, thus separating their identities from the monolithic catch-all category of TPTB. If Lawless or O'Connor are online in any way, the encounter is not described as an encounter with TPTB. As the highly honored center of worship in the Xenaverse, Lawless and O'Connor are often exempt when disparaging comments are made about the show.


TPTB are divided into two main groups of unequal power. On one side is Renaissance Pictures, the production company responsible for creating the television program. Pacific Renaissance Pictures works in New Zealand to produce both "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess," as well as several other spin-offs that are supposedly in the works. Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, principle founders of Renaissance Pictures, are best known for their campy spin on the horror movie genre, "Evil Dead," "Evil Dead II," and "Army of Darkness," as well as the "Darkman" series and the Sharon Stone-as-Xena-like-gunfighter film, "The Quick and the Dead" (technically from Tri-Star). Renaissance Pictures is not as independent as it seems, however, as the production company is housed at MCA/Universal Pictures and falls under the MCA/Universal umbrella. Obviously MCA/Universal wields a great deal of power over RP, and RP in turn gets publicity and other services from MCA/Universal, not the least of which is the creation and maintenance of the official Xena Web Site, the Xena NetForum, and Real Hollywood Chat.





These two sides of TPTB are seen as controlling the destiny of the television program most directly. RP exists on the margins of MCA/Universal in a number of ways: (1) RP shows are aimed at the world-wide syndication market, not American prime time television. (2) RP shows are made in New Zealand, outside of the Hollywood mainstream, using and reusing New Zealand actors as extras and in most of the supporting roles (3) Because of the low-budget, cartoon-like nature of the RP programs, production values are seen as low, with obviously styrofoam boulders, one or two reusable castles, and generic, reusable peasant villages.



So Renaissance Pictures, by producing for syndication, by working outside of the mainstream in New Zealand, and by employing low budget production values, would seem to exist on the margins of the MCA/Universal hierarchy, a low status, low power position. And indeed, MCA/Universal has exerted at times oppressive control over RP, censoring both for blood and violence as well as sexual content, and, through strict publicity rules, enforcing gag orders on Renaissance PTB over what they are allowed to communicate to Internet fans. However there is a certain power in being on the edges of the limelight that RP surely enjoys, the power to take risks, to push on the edges of social mores, to take characters through dark storylines, to do things that mainstream, lowest-common-denominator, look-a-like prime time programming cannot do. In an interview, Lucy Lawless talked with an interviewer about this power:

LAWLESS: ...And I have to say that we do want to push the boundaries of what's acceptable on television. Nobody wanted to put on a female hero show, so we always felt like the underdog and we still do. We're just going to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep challenging mores. ...We mean to make a path and be radical and challenging.

YIL: Do you think you're allowed to do things on the show because it is made so far from Hollywood?

LAWLESS: Definitely. More to the point, it's because we're not on a network. Network shows are usually ruled by consensus.

YIL: Yet many of TV's best shows are indeed network shows.

LAWLESS: Generally [made] by producers with the clout to have everyone leave them alone. Well, we can, too. For us, the buck stops with our executive producers. We can experiment. We can make exciting television.

YIL: Much of the Internet itself is about individuals expressing themselves and being who they are. There's no consensus. Is there a connection with "Xena"?

LAWLESS: There is. I've thought about it. It's people communicating from outside the establishment. There's another thing that ties us together, I think. I don't want anyone to be offended, but there is a similar type of nutball who might be on the computer day and night and who might go to a Star Trek convention or otherwise gravitate towards cult television or some other form of pop culture. They have this funky taste. They're hip without necessarily being part of the hip world outside. They're hip in their own funky way, in their own studios, in their own offices, in their computer rooms. They're influencing pop culture in a more underground kind of way. I think they are people that might like a show like mine. Computer nerds like it.

Lawless may be speaking her mind here, but the scene she paints is highly idealistic. Fans on the Internet can state several instances where MCA/Universal has restricted or censored storylines, from editing out of some of the blood and gore in "Is There a Doctor In the House?" to influencing the manner in which Gabrielle revives Xena with ambrosia to minimize some of the lesbian suggestiveness in "The Quest."







While MCA/Universal may be seen by fans as the biggest bogeyman of TPTB, that position is highly dependent on a certain rhetorical construct invested with mysterious power by both TPTB and the HCNBs: the Mainstream. But what is the Mainstream? Does it even exist? Insofar as television programs, even syndicated programs, live and die by ratings, it does. It exists in the Nielson numbers published each week in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, ratings that several Xenites monitor and post online. It exists in focus groups and demographic surveys, which mean a great deal to the collaboratively orchestrated production machine that is MCA/Universal. And while Lucy Lawless may have commented in an interview that she worries more about the tomatoes in her garden and putting her "undies" on one leg at a time than she does about ratings, at some level mainstream marketing has to matter to Renaissance Pictures.






This was perhaps indicated by Executive Producer Rob Tapert's public distancing from the Internet forums following a particularly nasty flame war. From related public statements made by Tapert, one can gather that he has some serious doubts as to whether the HCNB Internet fans represent a true cross section of the "Xena" audience, the Mainstream audience. Whether his perceptions are accurate or not remains to be seen. That issue is a recurrent subject of debate in the Xenaverse as well.


However, Renaissance Pictures clearly enjoys being seen as an iconoclastic and visionary production company, willing to take risks with new genres (such as action/adventure), unknown actors, unusual special effects, and most recently, depressing and emotionally draining storylines. In doing these things RP indicates that it is not entirely audience-driven and has no desire to be. In that respect it seems to enjoy its position on the margins of MCA/Universal and the Hollywood Mainstream. And insofar as the HCNB Internet fans exist on the margins of RP, the fans feel they have a champion in a production company that will take them beyond lowest-common denominator television to something that will appeal to their own iconoclastic interests, demonstrated by the extreme diversity and dialogic interactivity they have used in creating the online Xenaverse. And their greatest fear, often expressed online, is that RP will sell out the HCNBs to court the Mainstream.




The crucial factor in this HCNB activist cause of keeping RP "on message" hinges on the question of whether Internet fans actually were the powerful force that made "Xena" a hit, or if they were merely one facet of the audience, as Tapert and a number of rhetors online have argued. I don't know the answer to that question, and it is larger than the scope of this dissertation. Its ramifications go far beyond the Xenaverse, however, as media researchers such as Jay Bolter, George Landow, Charles Ess, Stuart Moulthrop, and many others in collections such as Hyper/Text/Theory (Landow ed.) and Philosophical Approaches to Computer-Mediated Communication (Ess ed.), try to determine if a crucial power shift is indeed taking place. Can social forces using interactive media, namely the Internet, generate enough power to exert control over other forms of mass media? That issue in itself would speak volumes about the potential democratizing influence of the Internet.


Social Groups and Alliances in the Xenaverse

Beyond primary activities, the finer distinctions of argumentative alliances and demographic groups provide narrower categories for thinking about social groupings, movements, and forces in cyberspace. Rhetorical actions occur directly within these contexts, and the actions themselves create various online personae, or "names" within the Xenaverse. In my analysis nodes, I will look more closely at how the ethos of a name contributes to the overall group ethos in the various forums, which affects further rhetorical actions and alliances. Here I will introduce the most prominent alliances and discuss how they have been affected by splintering and factionalizing.



One prominent group in particular sets the Xenaverse off from society at large, a group so prominent that it has been focused on exclusively in mainstream media coverage. Lesbian-Subtexters (lesbians who see a romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle) suffered from no lack of attention once the Xenaverse phenomenon was discovered by the Mainstream. One would think that lesbians were all there was in the Xenaverse, which is not the case.



Bisexual, bi-curious, or queer women who are sexually ambiguous and eschew labels also fall into the Pro-Subtext camp. What does make the Xenaverse unusual, however, is that the Pro-Subtext argumentative position appears to be in the majority in most online forums, even when disrupted by adolescent trolls or people making oppositional religious arguments. TPTB have said in interviews that the lesbian subtext was deliberately put into the show. In doing so they took some of the fire of contentiousness out of the debate.



There are also significant numbers of heterosexual women who are Pro-Subtext, as well as heterosexual men who are Pro-Subtext. These men and women should not be lumped together into one monolithic heterosexual contingent, however, for their motivations and actions are viewed differently by the lesbian majority.


Heterosexual women who are Pro-Subtext are easily accepted by the predominant lesbian ethos, although some have on occasion posted inadvertently homophobic comments and been taken to task for it. However for the most part heterosexual women are easily accepted and given the benefit of the doubt in the Xenaverse. The lesbian majority finds no reason look for duplicity in their motivations. From a feminist standpoint, heterosexual women are seen as natural allies, sharing the same low status position of women in a predominantly patriarchal society. Xena is seen as a hero who is a role model for all women and girls, not just lesbians.



A number of heterosexual men are prominent figures in the Xenaverse, despite their proportionally fewer numbers. Clearly men do not feel silenced by the predominantly lesbian ethos in the online forums. They tend to make their presence known in the same manner as found by Susan Herring in her studies of gendered participation in listservs, which means that in spite of their lower numbers, the men who are online participate prominently and often at length on almost every topic. While I have not done a statistical study like Herring's, I have noticed that women seem to pick and choose their topics, and do not "hold forth" as often as the men. (Of course there are always exceptions with both women and men.) These men do have to rhetorically adjust their actions to fit into the Xenaverse, a much more delicate negotiation, as seen below. No one doubts that the heterosexual men are Pro-Subtext when they say they are. However that does not exempt them from being treated with a guarded suspicion.



Given the proliferation and success of female-to-female sexual depiction in the United States pornography industry, it is clear that many heterosexual men find the idea of two women together to be a turn-on. Male-produced pornography and erotica depicting women together is quite distinctive in that the women's actions usually are performed more for the benefit of the male gaze than for the satisfaction of the participants, a perspective shift that stands out when such pornography is contrasted with female-produced erotica and pornography. However the suspicion that can sometimes greet a heterosexual man who is Pro-Subtext in the Xenaverse (until his rhetorical actions prove otherwise) is that, through lack of exposure to anything different, a heterosexual man may inadvertently operate under the assumption that women make love with each other primarily to turn him on.


Many lesbians and bisexuals find that assumption offensive, and thus tend to remain guarded around an unknown man (or a suspected man using a female pseudonym) until they see by his actions that he is not going to leer and breathe heavily in their direction. Even if no single man in the Xenaverse behaved boorishly (and I have not encountered boorish behavior myself), many lesbians would still remain guardedly suspicious because they have learned to expect such behavior from the general population of men outside of the Xenaverse. Undoubtedly a number of men do populate the Xenaverse in order to read explicit lesbian fan fiction for the most prurient reasons (as do a number of women), but if men openly behave as if they are drooling over the lesbians, they will not be well-received within the predominant lesbian ethos.


The net result is that the significant number of prominent heterosexual men in the Xenaverse are a fairly rare breed who have managed to earn the respect of what is an admittedly very suspicious crowd, no mean task. Several of these men have distinguished themselves by defending subtext to the homophobes, marching in gay pride parades, creating Pro-Subtext web sites, to the extent that they have been nominated as "Honorary Lesbians," a humorous title that, for these men, is the highest form of acceptance they could receive.



Many of these men are also strong feminists (as are many of the Pro-Subtext heterosexual women), and their support of lesbian/queer causes is keenly felt, given the sexism that some lesbians encounter when dealing with gay men in political and social movements. Gay men are virtually invisible in the Xenaverse, if present at all, as several online surveys have confirmed. Evidently the campy pop culture of "X:WP" does not attract gay men in the same way that other kinds of camp does. But that didn't stop their presence in absentia to cause a minor skirmish, as one politically sensitive heterosexual man called an open lesbian on her homophobic comments about a gay male employer. He inadvertently stumbled into what another writer called a "family battle" between lesbians and gay men. It was intriguing to watch the social dynamics as a well-respected heterosexual man called a prominent lesbian "homophobic," and then another open lesbian set out to politely educate the man on the "insider" political tensions between gays and lesbians. It clearly establishes the lesbian ethos as the dominant social force in that forum (the Xenaverse listserv) and the arbiter of social norms.


There is not a strong Anti-Subtext contingent in the Xenaverse. No one would call the heterosexual or non-sexual fan fiction Anti-Subtext, especially since many of those writers are also strong subtext supporters, as are the loose alliance of alternative fan fiction bards and their readers. The "Homophobic Hit Parade" tends to be more hit and run, rather than an organized argumentative alliance. However, one argumentative alliance tends to create a somewhat roundabout way for the heterosexual view of Xena and Gabrielle to come out of the woodwork, and that is through the infamous "Joxer Debate," what are sometimes known as the periodic Joxer Wars.




Anti- and Pro-Joxer Contingents

Joxer is a bumbling, idiot warrior who fell in love with Gabrielle during the third season, Fall 1997 to Spring 1998. The actor who plays Joxer, Ted Raimi, is also the younger brother of Sam Raimi, one of the founders of Renaissance Pictures. The Joxer Wars have inspired political activism which has reached the ears of TPTB and in some ways served to alienate TPTB from the Internet fans. The Anti-Joxer faction (which is filled primarily with adamant Pro-Subtexters) demanded that the character of Joxer be taken off the show, citing the characterization of Joxer as sexist and an unnecessary distraction from the more interesting relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. Other recurring characters don't represent as much of a threat, although some of them are sexist as well according to the online debates.





The Anti-Joxer faction set the tone for their demands rather shrilly during the first Joxer War of Season 2, leading Rob Tapert and Lucy Lawless to make public statements for the fans to "lay off Joxer" because he was not going away. The second major thrust of the Joxer War flamed up in the Fall of 1997, as some members of the Anti-Joxer faction planned a walk-out during Ted Raimi's appearance at the Valley Forge Convention. Other Xenites found that form of activism to be rude and a potential embarrassment to fans who wanted to preserve their coveted access by not alienating TPTB. These Xenites managed to persuade the most vehement wing of the Anti-Joxer faction not to go through with the planned walkout.


Beyond the period of my official data gathering, which extended from April to November 1997, there was an interesting development in the then-tiresome Joxer Wars. As Joxer's romantic interest in Gabrielle developed through the third season, a Pro-Joxer contingent was emerging, with Web sites, a fan club, and statements by Ted Raimi in the mainstream media about how happy he was that fans didn't hate him anymore. Both the Pro-Joxer contingent and the Callisto (Xena's evil nemesis) fan clubs are seen by some as places where younger heterosexual men were gaining a foothold in the Xenaverse, potentially subverting the predominant Pro-Subtext ethos with the threatening power of the heterosexual Mainstream. While the Pro-Subtext contingent remains in the majority, Subtexters have lately sounded the alarms on private lists, where many had fled because they had gotten sick of the endless bickering of the Joxer Wars. Some Subtexters are worried that by having pulled out of the argument, they may have allowed the Anti-Subtext faction to gain ground, particularly in public forums that have a younger, more adolescent ethos and are the most accessible to tourists, trolls, and TPTB.



At the same time there is a growing movement among some in the Xenaverse that will erupt should TPTB allow Joxer to act on his romantic feelings toward Gabrielle. In part this is a result of the influence of alternative fan fiction on the Xenaverse culture at large. In fan fiction, the character of Gabrielle is never a useless tag-a-long, never made to look stupid, never the ridiculous butt of jokes. She is treated with respect, and her role as bard and as Xena's moral compass is taken seriously and seen as essential to Xena's quest for redemption from her dark past. This role for Gabrielle does go along with the characterization in the television program. However, TPTB have not treated Gabrielle's character as consistently as many fans would like. Joxer is always made to look stupid, always the butt of jokes, but fans feel that at times TPTB do the same with Gabrielle, especially in early Season 1 plots, and most recently in the much-hated episode, "King of Assassins" (which some fans call "King of Asses"). Fans see Gabrielle as the second lead actress in the show, not merely Xena's sidekick. If TPTB were to set up Gabrielle with Joxer, it would mean that an important character would be paired up with an idiot, a serious step down for Gabrielle's characterization. From what I gauge as the prevailing sentiment in the Xenaverse, if this happened it would be the straw that breaks the camel's back, and there would be an instantaneous boycott of the show and the blacking out of hundreds of web sites.


Some fans try to temper this extreme reaction by claiming that Gabrielle's fans have been overly influenced by fan fiction to the point when the characterizations in fan fiction have become more real to them than the show's characterizations, an interesting testament to the power of the collective fan fiction perspective. However there is one other important argumentative division in the Xenaverse which is adding fuel to this fire over Gabrielle's character. In the third season, TPTB introduced a rift in the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle as a plot device and as character development. This occurred during a dark, multiple-episode arc that challenged the online Xenaverse to its very core.


Anti- and Pro-Rift Contingents

Word of the Rift was obliquely leaked out by TPTB during the summer of 1997 and rumors ran rampant. Fans were extremely anxious when they heard that Gabrielle would have a child, and even more anxious when it was rumored it would potentially be a child from a rape. While fans remained extremely protective of the characters, they knew that TPTB were planning to "push the envelope" in what was acceptable on television, and they hoped beyond hope that the Renaissance Pictures, B-movie, low budget production staff could handle such a volatile storyline sensitively. Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor even warned at the Valley Forge Con that the friendship between Xena and Gabrielle was going to be tested, that it would arise from misunderstandings and half-truths, and that the actresses had stayed focused in the filming by relying on the love between the two characters. These reassurances aside, Lawless then joked that if fans didn't like what was happening, they should blame the writers, not herself and O'Connor.


As the third season went forward, the Rift divided the Xenaverse. A number of fans even left the Xenaverse for good, including some quite prominent figures. The Rift also caused a dip in "Xena's" mainstream ratings, perhaps proving that the HCNB Internet fans were not so different than the mainstream in either their tastes or their demographics. The majority of the HCNB fans appeared to stay on for the long haul and instead translated their frustrations into endless debates about why this character did that, and who should be blamed. This factionalizing took many forms. Some fans sided with Xena. Some fans sided with Gabrielle. The Gabrielle discussion groups splintered even further into three separate discussion lists for Gabrielle fans: Gabchat, Gabsclan, and McGab. Gabfans were a visible social presence, organizing the high profile "Gab Games" at the October 4-5, 1997 Valley Forge (PA) Con with MommaROC (Renee O'Connor's mother) participating. Meanwhile, some fans contended that the character of Gabrielle had been replaced by a "pod," a reference to the cult movie, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) (1978). Almost instantaneously, "Pod Gabrielle" entered the vernacular.


The Rift divided the Xenaverse in other ways as well. Some discontented fans stayed but continued to voice their discontent, in what I would call the "Anti-Rift, Anti-TPTB" contingent. A feminist reaction to Gabrielle being raped by the god Dahak (in the form of tongues of fire) was particularly intense. Still others, including some prominent feminists, defended the risks TPTB took with the Rift, what I call the "Pro-Rift, Pro-TPTB" contingent. They contended that, although the writing in the Rift episodes could be seen as uneven, the risks TPTB took were commendable in going beyond what was safe and bankable television. They said they would prefer the risks of the Rift to a rehashing of the same old Xena-beats-up-an-evil-warlord formula. I believe it is safe to say that the "Pro-Rift, Pro-TPTB" contingent was in the minority, or at least, as some people hinted, the "Pro-Rift" position had been shouted down or silenced in the public discussions fairly early on. There is no way I could provide an accounting of actual numbers. Every so often a Pro-Rift person would apologetically assert herself in an aside on another post as the basic debate wound down.


The fans that publicly left the Xenaverse for good as a result of Season 3 were quite often "old-timers" who had followed the show from the very beginning. They felt that Season 3 had gone too far afield from what had drawn them to the show in Season 1, when the characterizations were not as complex nor as uneven. Because I joined the Xenaverse in the middle of Season 2, I had to send off for a complete set of Season 1 videos in order to understand what they meant. In Season 1 the bad guys were bad and the good guys were good more often than not, that much was clear. Xena had turned from the path of badness and with Gabrielle as her moral compass, she was roaming the countryside, doing good, cleverly, with great gusto in rousing fight scenes against high odds.


I know some of the Season 1 fans were thrilled to see a strong woman hero. From their particular feminist viewpoint, this Xenaverse where a strong woman could be a hero, where the Amazons had their own nation, was almost utopian and should not be marred by rape. At the very least, rape should not be trivialized by using it as a plot device in order to play off a parody of "Rosemary's Baby." However, as other Xenites respectfully pointed out, rape happens in the real world, and there is no reason why rape should not happen in the darkly anarchic landscape created by the television Xenaverse (or the online Xenaverse). Rape is dealt with in fan fiction, but only with strong disclaimers at the front of the stories, and usually fan fiction writers are reluctant to have one of the main characters raped, with some notable exception such as B.L. Miller's "The Queen's Sacrifice." Usually it is an ancillary character that forces Xena and Gabrielle to deal with the issue. Rape and violence are subjects of great pain in Xenaverse fan fiction, but some of the most wrenching stories courageously deal with it.





There is one last position taken in the online Xenaverse in regard to the Rift, and it is perhaps the most fascinating. Some Xenites who are also "Anti-Rift, Anti-TPTB" have chosen not to leave the Xenaverse, but rather, to simply stop watching the television show. Their comments (and this includes some prominent names in the Xenaverse) reveal their intention to get their "Xena-fix" from fan fiction and their Xenaverse friends, because in the online Xenaverse Gabrielle has not been replaced by a pod, Joxer is virtually non-existent, and Xena and Gabrielle are soul-mates, whether they know it or not, in one of the strongest and most idealistically romantic bonds the fan fiction authors could write. For these Xenites, the fan fiction stories have become "more real" than the television stories. In the Fan Fiction analysis sector, in more ways than one the fan fiction virtual landscape provides the heart and bones of the Xenaverse.


The icon of Gabrielle's Staff tells a story of my entry into the Xenaverse. To go to "Initiation: Ethos and Interaction Across the Virtual Landscape of the Xenaverse" hit the icon of Xena's Sword. Continuing on the path of Xena's Breastplate will lead on into the beginning of the analysis of my data in Fandom Culture. As always, the "Chakram" will take you back to the Navigational Map.


The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace

Copyright © 1998-2022 Christine Boese, All Rights Reserved
Unless otherwise noted, all photos, sounds, and video clips are the property
of MCA/Universal Studios, and appear here for fair educational use only.