Taking Xena to the Streets: Effects of the Xenaverse Community Outside of Cyberspace



On the paths of Gabrielle's Staff and Xena's Sword I describe and analyze the role of convergence and divergence respectively in the cyberspace community of the Xenaverse. Like many other cyberspace communities, the Xenaverse takes extremism and polemical rhetoric as a given, yet the value of interacting in community centered around the show "Xena:WP" takes the highest priority. The strength of this online community provides a base to accommodate divisive arguments which are still "united in Xena." In this node I look at another effect of this community base in cyberspace, which is the power to proselytize, to branch out, to take the Xenaverse community into real life (IRL), to sites where it can have material influences in the walking-around-world, particularly in the real lives of Xenites themselves.


While there have been many testimonials in the Xenaverse of "how Xena changed my life," to look at fantasy themes of the material impact of Xena IRL I coded a series of discussion threads I call "Livin' Like Xena." These threads encompass a wide range of activities outside of cyberspace, of which I will only examine a few here.


Cons represent one of the first ventures for many Xenites to take their obsession out into the world. In spite of paying for the celebrity "show," many fans forge strong community connections at Cons, often through hotel room parties after hours. The non-Internettie Con-goer has a more difficult time making social connections at Cons, since these parties are often arranged online. Online friends give the Con-goer people to meet or find at the Con, especially since many Xenites report feeling alone in their Xena obsession around "real life" friends and family. A number of them come to the Con alone, or find someone online with whom to share a hotel room. Xenites have been generous and open about sharing hotel rooms with people they have never met in person, as I discovered for myself at the October 4-5, 1997 Valley Forge (PA) Convention. At the Cons people feel free to "out" themselves as Xena fans, wearing t-shirts with their favorite character(s) on the front, Xena, Gabrielle, or Callisto. One fan from Atlanta goes to Cons and Xenafests wearing a tank top that says, "Xena and Gabrielle are doing it."


Xenafests announced publicly online--and other privately arranged Xena parties among friends located in the same geographical regions--often draw a wide range of participants. Some Xenites even travel from out of state to attend a day-long festival of Xena trivia contests, skits, filksongs (popular songs with new, Xena-related lyrics), and parodies, costume contests, and very often a charity auction of materials donated by TPTB such as an autographed shooting script, a Xena "dolly" (action figure), a life-size Xena "standee," video songtapes, and other collectibles. While the Xenafests play up to the collecting fantasy themes in the Xenaverse, interacting in community is their real reason for existence. The charity auctions are not so much about winning Xenastuff as they are for community activism, because charity events have become one important way for Xenites to take the model for living represented by Xena into the streets.




The fantasy theme of charity activism is a strong one in the Xenaverse. One prominent web site, Sword and Staff, sets as its goal the application of the ideals of Xena, of championing the underdog, helping the helpless, making the world a better place. TPTB have joined in this effort, as have Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor. Because so many fans feel compelled to send Lawless or O'Connor birthday gifts, or in the case of Lawless's opening night on Broadway and her wedding, flowers or other gifts, Lawless, O'Connor, and other members of TPTB have asked fans to give to several specified charities on their behalf instead. Sword and Staff is one organization which coordinates and tracks such giving, sending periodic reports to TPTB and to Xenites of their activities. Mistophilees of Sword and Staff reported to the Xenaverse that from January 1997 to July 1998 more than $60,000 was raised, most of it for the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, one of the primary charities specified by TPTB. At a fan-run event called "WarriorCon" in Washington, DC on September 13-14, 1997, several members of TPTB (mostly production staff) bid against a couple of fans for a chakram from the show. Then the winners, two members of Xenastaff, turned around and gave the chakram to a little girl dressed as Xena in the front row. Many fans online wrote glowing reports of the "warrior spirit" at WarriorCon, and the good feelings that spread to all in attendance. A fan who flew to the Con from New Zealand got into a bidding war with another fan over an autographed "Xena dolly," which went for more than $1,000. When the New Zealand fan won, she turned around and gave the dolly to the person who had been bidding against her. Most were impressed that the Xenastaff stayed in the audience after their appearances, to participate in the auction, helping to blur the boundaries between TPTB and the HCNBs.





Activism kicked into gear for another cause closer to home when Meow Mix, the New York City lesbian bar which hosts monthly "Xena Nights," was forced to close for a time because of a dangerous stairway. Fans in the Northeast kicked in for some face-to-face benefits to help Meow Mix fix its stairway. Fans feel a loyalty to Meow Mix on the East Coast and the Chat House on the West Coast for regularly hosting these Xena events, which often included showing popular subtext episodes, fans in costumes, and mock sword fights. These bars have been featured in reports on the Xena phenomenon on CNN, Entertainment Tonight and almost every newspaper article on the Xena fan phenomenon. The face-to-face Xena communities based out of the New York City and San Francisco area have formed Xena contingents for the annual Gay Pride Parades, although they have not been as organized in 1998 as they were in 1997. One Xenite did testify to marching in the San Francisco Pride Parade in 1998 with a life-size cardboard Xena "standee," which got a lot of attention and cheers, as well as a picture in the newspaper. Still nothing compares to the 122 marching Xenas in the 1998 Sydney, Australia Gay Mardi Gras Parade, which Lucy Lawless was planning to attend (she had to cancel at the last minute). The Sydney parade generated an interesting buzz on the Internet. It was an event virtually invisible to the American mainstream media, yet a web site out of Australia ran a live video feed of the parade, which aired at 4 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States. The event and URL were posted widely across the Xenaverse and several Xenites said they stayed up to watch the parade, which became for a time an independently broadcast, world-wide gay television channel situated, like "Xena:WP" in New Zealand, on the margins, outside of the American ethnocentric media control.


The theme of "taking Xena to the streets" does not always reveal itself in organized political activism. Xenites themselves are often divisive and not the typical sort of movement joiners. Like Lucy Lawless, they are independent-minded and perhaps accomplish their greatest political change through the example they set in their lives, a kind of one-on-one activism. This is what I have traced as the fantasy theme of "Livin' Like Xena." One Xenite expresses how this becomes a kind of "warrior ethos" in the post below:

Date: Thu, 11 Sep 1997 08:15:18 -0300
Subject: Re: [chakram] Lucy's Comment

I heard Lucy at the news when she gave thanks to all the gay/lesbian and bi community for their support.

Xena's character is a role model. A model for all women that inside of themselves have a warrior. Life is a struggle, a jungle and a constant fight for survival. Xena's character shows us a way of how to fight life. That is totally independent of what her emotional or sexual preferences could be specially in our imagination. One can not judge the intimate part of a person using their preferences against the abilities of that person.

It is very true that the gay/lesbian and bi community has her support and lots of fans too as the heterosexual, democrats, republicans and for all kinds of religions, race and economical conditions.

Xena's show and the producers allows the audience to let us run our imagination. Xena will not last forever in TV but for me it will always be in my heart and mind as a way to live and the greatest model of a warrior I want to become.

It is not fair to start a controversy about her comments just because she wants to thank a part of our community that is real and part of our lives.

Lucy has been very brave to do so. That shows how deep she carries Xena in her heart. It is the path of the warrior.


This Xenite emphasizes the theme of Xena as a role model for real life, a way for women warriors to be in the world. Note that she distinguishes the character fantasy theme of Lucy from the character theme of Xena. For this writer, Lucy is the person, Xena is the ideal. Lucy "carries Xena in her heart," and, according to the writer, so should we. We should note here that the world itself, the fantasy theme setting, is cast as a "struggle, a jungle, a constant fight for survival." This view superimposes the darkly anarchic landscape of the television Xenaverse, peopled with evil warlords and corrupt feudal kings, a landscape the writers have indicated is influenced by the dark pessimism of Schopenhauer, onto contemporary life. Contemporary life is a struggle against darkness, this writer appears to be saying, and so we must all become warriors like Xena to shine like a beacon in the darkness.


The mainstream media has picked up on this application of Xena, and it shows up in numerous articles as casual references which Xenites like to post online as proof that "Xena is everywhere." This example from the Sunday Gazette Mail (City unknown, reprinted from the Xena Media Review) is typical.


THE SUNDAY GAZETTE MAIL. Sunday. Page P4E. 745 words.
"Gardenscape. A Close Encounter of the Compost Kind"
By Lynne Schwartz-Barker


At this time of year, I have a list of garden chores an arm long. I keep it on my computer and update it as thoughts occur to me... ...I got four more wheelbarrow loads out before I finished and another whole bed done. I could feel my muscles pumping up. I was Xena, Warrior Princess. I felt really strong..... 



One woman in British Columbia testified that she used the strength and courage of Xena to get her through downsizing at work and the knowledge that she was about to lose her job. She even wore a Xena t-shirt to work. She posted about her predicament first to get support and second, to let the supportive community online that responded know how it went. Both postings are instructive.

Date: Sun, 14 Sep 1997 21:27:51 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Nightingale"
Subject: Be a warrior...
To: Chakram <chakram@frontiernet.net>
cc: Xena Verse <xenaverse@umail.umd.edu>

Yesterday I went and bought a "Xena" t-shirt. No big deal, you may say. Lots of you probably own Xena t's. But I guess it is a big deal for me because I will be losing my job in two weeks and really can't afford t-shirts of any sort.

Still, I bought it. And I will wear it to work tomorrow. I really don't like the atmosphere at work these days because of the cutbacks that are happening, and because I have to watch the people who are NOT being laid off being trained to do my job.

Today, my friend (and fellow "Chakram" list member), Mia (hi Mia!) said something that helped me understand why I bought this shirt and why it is important to wear it to work. She said, "It will remind you to be a warrior in your OWN life."

So I will "battle on."


Goddess of the Rainbow, Sister of the Harpies
"I love you, you love me, I will eat your family." - Barney

Date: Mon, 15 Sep 1997 21:18:39 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Nightingale"
Subject: Be a warrior (update)
To: Xena Verse <xenaverse@umail.umd.edu>
cc: Chakram <chakram@frontiernet.net>

Thanks to everyone who sent me supportive email messages. Here is how things went today for me:

I still have two weeks left of work. Just at the same time my layoff was announced, a new person was hired full-time (I'm part-time) for a job I competed for but did not get, and she is being trained to take over my job. When I arrived this morning at work, she was already doing one of my duties. I felt angry and hurt; I want to do my job for as long as possible and not watch someone else do it. But I mentally played "Xena" theme music in my head, stood up straight and went in to the office, where my boss said "Let's see your new t-shirt." So I showed her, and she said "Xena? You're not a fan of Xena, are you?" I said yes, a very big fan. She later said she was just surprised to see me wearing a black shirt, I don't usually wear black. (I usually wear purple).

Every time I felt myself getting discouraged I reminded my self to "be a warrior." I even phoned people who had outstanding overdue books and asked them to return their books - something I normally don't do because I am afraid to (some of the people can get rather nasty on the phone).

I will do the best job I can for the time I have left at this place, and walk out with my head high.

"I can and will fight!
I can and will a warrior be.
It is my nature and my duty,
It is the woman in me."

-The Wyrd Sisters, "Warrior"


Goddess of the Rainbow, Sister of the Harpies
"I love you, you love me, I will eat your family." - Barney


The above postings echo the themes of "Livin' Like Xena," and also show the community support "Nightingale's" online friends give her, to help her "be a warrior" in real life. And when it becomes a struggle, she plays the Xena theme music in her head and charges back into it. Interestingly enough, I have coded an unusual number of postings from "Warrior Librarians," an occupation almost as over-represented in the online Xenaverse as computer professionals. The American Library Association (ALA) has issued a Xena poster and bookmarks that say "Vanquish Ignorance READ," and many librarians have put up Xena displays. Librarians often post bookish research out to the various lists, such as a comprehensive background on the histories and myths of the Amazons (the Amazons themselves are strong fantasy theme characters in the Xenaverse), or other Greek gods and goddesses. The classical background in the Xena stories seems to draw librarians to the show. Warrior Librarians linked up with adamant Gabrielle fans for a activist project outside of the Xenaverse as well. Together they lobbied the ALA to produce a Gabrielle poster and bookmarks and were successful.



Another small but sometimes vocal contingent of the Xenaverse are what I call "Young Xenites." These are teenagers who post to the discussion groups along with everyone else, as just another voice in the fray, but their rhetoric is colored by the language of high school, sharing anxiety over biology tests and doodling Xena figures all over their notebooks. I am not referring to the more juvenile teenagers, often boys, who sometimes act out as trolls on NetForum. Rather, I am referring here to the more invested teenagers who have become accepted members of the Xenaverse community, usually on the listserv discussions. Their voices are "heard" with a distinctive flavor: Evy, her exuberant messages peppered with lines of "LOLLOL!!" (laughing out loud); Jade, with her hilariously long episode spoilers that read like one big run-on sentence; and "Vive, the psychotic shaved head warrior chickadee" who calls everyone "dude" and will say anything. And there are others. I place them in this section on "Livin' Like Xena" because when they take their Xena obsession into their schools they face an interesting dilemma for high school students, one that demands the courage of a "warrior."



High schools are some of the strongest remaining bastions for unabashed homophobia in our culture. And socially high schools can be very cruel places for people who are "different." Most high school students have caught the buzz on "Xena:WP," that the show has a strong lesbian following. I have coded a series of postings from adults that I call "Xena-phobia," where adult heterosexual women expressed discomfort at people assuming they were lesbian because they were open about their love for the show (people online told them to say "Thanks for the compliment!). This "Xena-phobia" is magnified in high schools. Many of the high school age Xena fans online are not gay, and they tell stories of standing up to people who would taunt them because of their love for the show, people who call them names. These young people often display a great open-mindedness online, which has helped them earn the respect of their fellow Xenites. And then there is the occasional payoff, as one young Xenite writes on how "Livin' Like Xena" got her out of a speeding ticket:

Date: Sat, 20 Sep 1997 10:53:08 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Mary"
Subject: [chakram] Thank you Xena!!!!

My mom has always said "if you don't slow you're going to get a ticket!!!" Well my teenage immortality was finally attacked. As I cruised rapidly to school I was shocked to see red and blue lights flashing in my rear view mirror. I was so upset!!! I was already running late, my dad would flip for sure, insurance would rise, and most of all my carefree driving would never be the same.

I pulled over and the officer sat in his car for about five minutes, I think it was just to intimidate me. He came strutting up to my window and as I was prepping myself to deal with this hitleresque man in uniform he threw his leg up in the air and let out one of the best battle cries I ever heard....well for a guy that is. He had seen the chakram sticker I have on my back window, and came up giddy and revved to talk Xena. He immediately broke into rapid conversation about the latest reruns, spoilers he'd read about, and Lucy's Broadway breakthrough. I don't find many people that can share a nonstop Xena conversation for twenty minutes. At the end of our outpouring he said "oh yeah, the ticket...forty-five in a thirty I shouldn't be doing this but go ahead but just be a little more careful next time." In return I had to promise to get him a picture of Lucy when I'm New York. Thanks to the mass appeal of Xena I avoided what may have been a hell of a day.


"Mary"---no longer silent.







In this node we have seen material effects of the Xenaverse on people's lives, not just because of a television show, but because the strength of the online community helps them to see the warrior archetype enacted by the fantasy theme character of Xena as a model for living IRL. Fans have organized social events to deepen the community connection and to foster activist projects, some with a deliberate political goal, and some just to assert the visibility and empowerment Xena helps them to feel. On the one-on-one level, the strength of the community and the example of Xena have led to similar fantasy theme stories of personal heroism, the most wrenching of which are stories I will not quote here-- of women in abusive relationships who, through their friends in the online Xenaverse and the example of Xena, find the courage to fight back or get out of the abusive situations. All of these examples serve to show that the boundaries of the fantasy theme setting of the Xenaverse are not in cyberspace or on television. The Xenaverse extends into real life, both in the casting of the world as a dark place that needs warriors, and the casting of individual Xenites as those warriors.


The icon of Gabrielle's Staff connects with "Interacting Themes: When Community Becomes the Primary Activity," while the icon of Xena's Sword goes to "The Power of Rebellion: How the Xenaverse Community Handles Resistance." Continuing on the path of Xena's Breastplate takes you to the Fan Fiction sector of this dissertation, exploring the character themes of Xena as a potential archetype. As always, the Chakram returns you to the Navigational Map.



The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace

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