The Power of Rebellion: How the Xenaverse Community Handles Resistance



On the path of Gabrielle's Staff I tell the story of how community becomes a primary activity in the Xenaverse, of interacting taking precedence over collecting, of what happens when the actions of The Powers That Be (TPTB) take a backseat to online friendships and community activities. Even when that happens, or seems to happen, Xena is still the group's raison d´être. The character fantasy theme of Xena becomes too large for the television show itself. Communities of fans cut the character of Xena loose from her moorings as a property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal and make her a symbol, a model for living, a model for friendships, and even (as we see in this node) a model for rebellion and resistance. The sector of Fan Fiction analysis takes the character theme of Xena even further from its marginal Hollywood origins and makes it an archetype, a heroic goddess figure like Athena who can be brought to stories far afield from bastardized Ancient Greece.


Before we explore fantasy themes of convergence and divergence, we need a definition of community that provides a frame for thinking about social norms and resistance to social norms. Too much social constructionist scholarship, particularly in rhetoric and composition (Althusser, Bruffee, Bizzell, Bartholomae), emphasizes the socially constructed nature of individuals and groups through collaboration and connectedness, downplaying the possibilities for divergence, for resistance. To a large extent a social constructionist framework underlies this study, most explicitly in the way Bormann draws on social constructionism in the development of Fantasy-Theme Analysis. I have some reservations about the ability of social constructionism to account for resistant behavior, particularly in cyberspace. Much computer-mediated communications (CMC) research has studied the contentiousness of cyber-societies, the phenomenon of flaming, and anti-social behavior (Lea et al, Herring "Politeness," Walther "Social and Anti-Social"). Not as much has looked at the strength of the connectedness of cyber-societies (Gurak). I hope the present study will contribute to the latter category. I would argue that when a certain level of community connectedness is reached online, a good deal of resistant and divisive rhetoric is also present, tolerated, and encouraged.



One could attribute the contentiousness of online communities and forums to the peculiar ethos that has developed in cyberspace. Gurak, in her study of the protest against Lotus Marketplace, examines this phenomenon. The relationship between convergent rhetoric and divergent rhetoric apparently creates a paradox in cyberspace analogous to the paradox of a traveler who is independent yet searching for connection. People caught in this ambiguous position are perhaps drawn to certain sectors of cyberspace because they desire community; yet their communities tend to become highly interactive, often contentious, with deep and recurrent habits of dialogic and persuasive rhetoric. Many scholars observe the contentiousness and then doubt that anything like "real" community can exist online. Yet the self-selected groups which cluster around particular discussion topics in cyberspace seek out these kind of groups because they are divergent thinkers, perhaps even extremist in some sense (like extremes in fandom). They appear to be looking for others who also are divergent thinkers, just like the personality types who were drawn to Alaska because they were often too extremist in their views to fit in anywhere else. Cyberspace helps divergent thinkers to connect and argue.


Tharon Howard explores these issues of convergence and divergence in community on multiple levels, through communitarian definitions of community as well as definitions of rhetorical communities and discourse communities. Howard frames his definition in terms of two views of subjects: "subjects whose identities were constituted by the community" (known as "constitutive communities") and "subjects whose identities existed prior to the community" (known as "individualistic communities) (83). Howard draws on the work of Sandel (1982) and Corlett (1989) on the status of the subject within communities. According to Howard, Sandel broke down "individualistic communities" into two types, "instrumental" and "sentimental," "based on whether the subjects had access to and were motivated by higher, supersensible truths (the sentimentalist view) or whether they had access to and were motivated by the empirical, sensible facts which they objectively perceived (the instrumentalist view)" (83-4). Sandel's "instrumental" and "sentimental" distinctions have to do with motivations. The "instrumental view" sees community almost as an economic exchange, with a kind of balance sheet keeping track of what you get and what you give. The "sentimental view" focuses on the intangible benefits in community interactions, perhaps what Howard Rheingold describes as "...more of a kind of gift economy in which people do things for one another out of a spirit of building something between them, rather than a spreadsheet-calculated quid pro quo. When that spirit exists, everybody gets a little extra something, a little sparkle. . ." (Virtual Community 59).







It is difficult to reconcile the strictly economic instrumentality of reciprocity, of giving and getting, in the instrumental approach with the kind of heart one expects to find in a "real" community. The spatial dimension (place-ness) of some definitions of community is a criterion I don't believe applies to communities connected in cyberspace, unless we want to ascribe a "place-ness" to cyberspace, as Gurak also suggests (10). But if one can find community on the road, however temporary and transient, then we can find community in cyberspace, however attenuated or disembodied. Community and transience need not be opposed. Community can be something we carry with us. That said, it is hard, if not impossible, not to yearn for a community with "heart," what Rheingold calls that "little extra sparkle." Social scientists may not find a way to measure something like "heart," but the fantasy themes expressed may allow us to see its shadow.



Howard uses the free play between the binaries of individualist (influenced by Kant's reasoning subject) and constitutive (influenced by Althusser's interpellated subject) subjects to envision a definition of community that can bring social constructionism to the individualistic model, or the possibility for resistance to the social determinism of the constitutive model. However it appears that we still have not gotten past the paradox. The dynamic tension of paradoxes give them a power for "both/and" thinking rather than "either/or" thinking (Bernstein, Elbow "Binary"), perhaps with increments of time between cycles of the binary, as Elbow suggests. In the case of the Xenaverse, no one has suggested to the highly contentious and divergent thinkers that they cannot converge and diverge at the same time, because in the synchronous and asynchronous interactions online, time can be bent in different ways. That is perhaps why, as fantasy themes chain out in the Xenaverse, they sometimes polarize into highly oppositional factions which co-exist around a sense of community united in their love for the character fantasy themes of Xena and Gabrielle. Do we have to limit ourselves to an analysis of the fantasy theme of community, or can we say the socially constructed culture, at some level, has found the "heart" for community, even in its divisiveness? I believe the answer is the latter.



With a strong community "center" as a socially constructed base of sorts, we start to see political action emerge. The issues chained out into fantasy themes in the Xenaverse begin to set in motion an agenda for agitation outside of the Xenaverse, if, with the community as center, we can now place TPTB on the "outside." Especially as the mainstream media began discovering the online Xenaverse, HCNBs have felt as if they have been gaining in political power and leverage over the show itself. Some even let that power go to their heads, and the seeds were sown for outright rebellion against TPTB.


Various argumentative factions in the Xenaverse are described in the data sector of this dissertation. Here I want to focus on one of the most divisive issues in Xenaverse rhetoric, the fantasy theme of the ongoing Joxer Wars, and how it became an outright rebellion against TPTB. A move of ths type would be possible only if TPTB were no longer the center of the universe, possible only if the fans felt powerful enough to try to force TPTB to remove a character from the show, even when the actor was the brother of one of the heads of Renaissance Pictures. It was an audacious move to risk alienating TPTB so completely. Rob Tapert was starting to make limited public statements to the effect that the Internet fans were not representative of the larger fan base. The entire incident illustrates the character of the struggle the Xenaverse had over ownership of the show, a power that the communications medium of the Internet may have facilitated.




The Joxer War Part Deux

The Joxer Wars represent a long drawn out, divisive issue in the Xenaverse. Here I want to focus on the strength and the shrillness of the rebellion and the threat of political action during the second major Joxer War, at the end of Season 2 and extending into the summer reruns of 1997 (Xena Withdrawal Syndrome period). Previously, Lucy Lawless and Rob Tapert had told fans to "lay off Joxer." The exchange from the first Joxer War had created some animosity between the fans and TPTB, who found the actor Ted Raimi to be a likeable guy that did not deserve the hatred being directed at him. The reaction to the fantasy theme character of Joxer online is extreme, primarily because in his bumbling idiocy he also imagines himself as a "mighty" warrior. That attitude leads him to act with arrogance (and some charge sexism) toward Gabrielle. The character fantasy theme of Gabrielle has an extremely vocal fan base online (three separate listserv discussion groups) who advocate an interpretation of Gabrielle's role as more of an equal partner to Xena, a second lead in the show. Every time Joxer puts Gabrielle down, these fans see it as a personal affront to Gabrielle, even though Joxer is supposed to be secretly in love with her. Their other worst fear is that TPTB will write a romantic relationship between Joxer and Gabrielle to please homophobic forces from MCA/Universal. Not only would this mean a retreat from the subtext, it would also represent a diminution for Gabrielle's character.






The rhetoric of the Joxer War came to a head in the weeks preceding the October 4-5, 1997 Valley Forge (PA) Xena Convention, where Ted Raimi would be appearing. When one fan reported that Joxer had gotten cheers at the September 13, 1997 Sacramento (CA) Convention, some Xenites decided more drastic action had to be taken because TPTB weren't getting the message. As one fan wrote:

They do hear us when it comes to our general opinion on Joxer. I know that because Brad Carpenter, a producer of some sort, at the Sacramento Convention asked the crowd about him. He asked "Who here likes Joxer?" and most of the crowd clapped and cheered. He then said something about not understanding why the internet fans have such a problem with him.

I believe the Xena producers are of the opinion that a minority section of the fan base (internet) dislike him, but the general population does like him. From the positive reaction his name got at the Sacramento Convention they may be right. And after all, the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis were popular as well so that level of humor a lot of people like for whatever reason.







The action that was proposed was a public walk-out during Raimi's appearance at the Valley Forge Con, an action designed to demonstrate that the Anti-Joxer faction was more than a "minority section of the fan base." The support for the walk-out was substantial (as were the voices against it), but the usual Xenaverse contentiousness emerged over how rude it would be to walk out, versus the necessity of making a political statement. This long response by Barron Chugg addresses several issues making the rounds in the debate:

There have been so many messages on this topic that I am choosing Deb's because she responded to mine. If I mention other posters, please forgive my lack of exact quotes...

At 9:50 AM -0700 09/14/97, 'Deb7' DE McGhee wrote:
>On Sun, 14 Sep 1997, Barron Chugg wrote:

>> Ted will not be appearing _as_ the character. If he were I would gladly
>> join you in walking out. No, he is appearing as an actor. Since I believe
>> he should be separated from his character, I really cannot justify the
>> personal affront that walking out would symbolize. As of now, I have
>> decided that I will not applaud and will sit quietly during his appearance.
>> One hopes that TPTB will be able to see the difference between that
>> reaction and the HUGE response Hudson will receive.
>I understand the distinction you are making Barron, but TR is appearing as
>the actor who portrays Joxer... not just some random actor. In my mind, to
>sit there is to implicitly show support for the role that TR plays in XWP:
>I despise that role and I did *not* pay $67.50 (plus expenses) to see TR and
>will not suggest by omission of action that I did.

I agree with you here. Ted definitely deserves some of the blame for the character, just as Lucy and Renee deserve the credit for their characters. I doubt you would hear anyone arguing that Lucy should not receive kudos for Xena because John Schullian is listed as the "Creator" in the credits.

That said, I would like to advocate for a middle ground. Call it the "empty seat" idea. Since Creation schedules their conventions fairly tightly, I recommend simply not being in your seats during his talk. This way there is no person quality that "walking out" en masse would have, and yet you have still made your disinterest/displeasure known. As someone who spent time in theatre as a beardless youth, I am seriously troubled by offering a personal affront to an actor. So leave your programs on your seats and take some air. You'll be sure to meet other similarly minded folks!

>Civil action often crosses the line of civility; it is often the last line
>of attack but often the most effective. Obviously, other methods have
>proved inadequate. The "no applause" route has already proved its
>inadequacy: Previous reports have suggested that even though folks were
>only "politely" applauding, their reactions were seen as "warm" and

That was from Spectrum, I believe. They are not exactly a voice of rationality, IMHO. I bitched about that line too.

On a side note, it seems that there is some understanding that the character is not that popular...look at the dearth of merchandise for him. It's funny that we can adopt a cynical, ultra-capitalist attitude when wondering if TPTB are cutting back on subtext, but not here. In a way, TPTBs willingness to stick by Joxer in all this is a good thing, it means that they are willing to hang tough on a potentially unpopular issue (like, say, subtext). Just a random thought I had...not meant to be seen as a criticism of my fellow detractors.

> Welp, I don't want my lukewarm response to be mistaken for warm
>reception, but neither will I boo and hiss the man. I will let me vacant
>seat speak for me.

I have no problem at all with people leaving for his presentation. I just want to advocate for not walking out when he comes out.

>(and i hope this difference of opinion doesn't bode ill for that ride >from the airport! <g>)

Just makes for more interesting discussion! :-) We're _much_ more in agreement than difference.


ROCoholic Bay Area Xenite








Several fantasy themes run through this long posting that echo throughout the Xenaverse in one form or another. First, in the top paragraph, the speaker being quoted makes a clear distinction between the character and the actor, the same courtesy that is extended to the character fantasy themes of Xena and Lucy. The message is that Ted should not be punished for the actions written for Joxer. This distinction is countered by both the speaker quoted (Deb7) and Barron, who argue that the actor should get at least "some" of the blame for the character of Joxer. On the subject of the walk out, which had already been advocated in extreme fashion in previous posts, Barron calls for a middle ground, the "empty seat approach," although both Barron and Deb feel that it will have limited effectiveness as a "civil action." Booing and hissing has already been ruled out as too rude, although at some level many posters wished it could be done. Even in a highly polarized argument with extreme positions being advocated, the irony of a populist movement having no effect on TPTB echoes an issue near and dear to most Xenite's hearts, the subtext fantasy theme. Barron draws the analogy that, if TPTB are able to resist overwhelming power and pressure from Internetties to remove Joxer from the show, they are also likely to defend the subtext from the mainstream forces who find it offensive. Finally, even in the heatedness of the debate, community wins out. Deb7 will still get picked up at the airport to go to Valley Forge.


TPTB's support of the unpopular Joxer character theme and the popular subtext theme introduces another aspect to the character fantasy theme of TPTB. They are cast as visionaries who are not influenced overmuch by audience. The theme may or may not be accurate, but it is chained out repeatedly in the Xenaverse. How does the online Xenaverse construct itself in relation to that fantasy theme? The visionary nature attributed to TPTB is seen as a double-edged sword. TPTB visionaries give HCNBs subtext and Joxer. And they will back down from neither. As the Xenaverse community gains power, they feel a struggle between a populist, democratic majority kind of power exercised in civil action, and a marginal niche kind of power that celebrates the holding of unpopular positions. Do HCNBs crave the power of convergence with the mainstream or divergence from and critique of the mainstream? Up until now, the power of the margins has been celebrated over the power of the mainstream. The lesbian margins are chic, "hip." Renaissance Pictures' marginal status gives TPTB greater freedom to take risks with the television program.


Certainly, as a general movement, Xenites would like to see the mainstream become more tolerant of alternative relationships and families, more tolerant of strong women and female heros. The margins need not remain marginal forever. The character fantasy theme of the HCNBs seems to reinforce the position that principles are more important than mainstream popularity. For many HCNBs, the character theme of Joxer goes against too many principles. The issue is stalemated with TPTB because the character theme of Joxer does not go against the principles of TPTB.


How much power should an Internet fan culture hold? The Xenaverse may well end up being seen as an opening move in a long-term struggle between interactive media and programmed media sometime in the near future. Most notably, the Xenaverse community backed away from the civil action directed toward Ted Raimi at the Con. People said it was too rude. At the Valley Forge Convention, I did not notice very many empty seats during Raimi's appearance, although there were some, in the more expensive seats. General admissions folks couldn't really afford to give up their seats for a relatively empty political gesture. The Joxer Wars still rage through the Xenaverse. Even people who no longer enter the debates because they have grown too tiresome still refuse to type out Joxer's name, using asterisks instead. Very rarely is he ever included in a fan fiction story. Fans did initiate a snail mail letter campaign to let TPTB know that they were refusing to watch or tape any episode that had Joxer in it. TPTB's apparent response was to option Raimi for all 22 episodes of Season 4 beginning in the Fall of 1998. That action launched the Joxer Wars Part Three in the Fall of 1998. Frustrated at their inability to communicate to TPTB their extreme reaction against Joxer, fans took one of two approaches. Some continued the endless ranting and debate online, getting nowhere but unwilling to let the issue drop. Others found their cherished communities so disrupted by the endless bickering that they factionalized and retreated into specialized or private discussion groups, just as the Universal NetForum was once abandoned to the flamers by veteran Xenites. The third Joxer War, coupled with debate over the "Rift" controversy, precipitated a migration away from general interest public listservs, into more insular enclaves. It further factionalized the Xenaverse from one large community to a number of smaller, closely-knit communities.


In this node I have attempted to forge a definition of "community" that takes into account rhetorics of "accommodation" and "resistance," either in the free play between the binaries, as is advocated by Howard, or in the dynamic tension of the paradox, as a way to incorporate "both/and" thinking as suggested by Bernstein. Perhaps the most significant criterion in my own definition of community is that it have heart, an intangible unifying spirit in spite of varying levels of surface divisiveness. In our excursion through fandom culture we have seen how the indirect power of the Xenaverse changed the direction of a television program toward the inclusion of deliberate subtext. In this node we see how the direct rhetorical and political action of the community of Xenites failed to change the direction of the television program, despite extreme demands and threatened civil action. The icon of Gabrielle's Staff explores the range of community connections that are forged in the online Xenaverse. The icon of Xena's Breastplate moves into a broader view of the Xenaverse Community as it affects Xenite's lives in real life (IRL). As always, the Chakram icon returns you to the Navigational Map.





The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace

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