| ||Exploring the Xenaverse in Cyberspace: |
Xena and Gabrielle's Garden of Forking Paths
This dissertation is a case study of the Xenaverse, the more than 1,000 Internet sites devoted to the world-wide syndicated television program from New Zealand, "Xena: Warrior Princess." When I began this research in April 1997 there were 600 sites catalogued at one of the largest Xena resource Web sites. In August 1998 there were 1,100. By the time you are reading this the list will have grown further. But what exactly is a Xenaverse anyway? And how does one get there?
There are actually three different Xenaverses. One of them, the "Xenaverse listserv," the largest email-based discussion group in the Xenaverse, will always be referred to exactly as above, in quotation marks. There is no easy way to keep from confusing the other two Xenaverses, because technically they overlap each other. The first so-named Xenaverse was a designation used by fans for the unusual features of the fantasy world within the television program itself, ostensibly pre-classical Greece, on the barbaric frontiers of Thrace near the Strymon River. Historically, one tribe of the Amazons, fierce warrior women, is said to have come from this area, although Xena herself is no Amazon. However this setting in no way accurately represents pre-classical Greece. This is a tongue-in-cheek world, a place where characters speak in modern American idiom among lush New Zealand palm trees, where Olympian deities or giants and other monsters can appear at any time, and where Xena crosses timelines to interact with Helen of Troy, Julius Caesar, and David: psalmist for the Israelites. How do fans explain the obvious and campy inconsistencies of this world? Simple: this is the Xenaverse. Xena, a mortal woman, can accomplish impossible acrobatic stunts, leaping three stories over a castle wall, running up trees, turning high mid-air backflips over her enemies. This world has its own version of history, language, logic, and laws of physics.
And it does not exist only in TV land. The television Xenaverse is only the tip of the iceberg of the Internet Xenaverse, which substantially extends the imaginative landscape begun on television. The Internet Xenaverse is the central subject of this dissertation. This Xenaverse owes its genesis to the television program, as well as its free play of fantastical history and physics, its picaresque spirit, its Schopenaurian sense of ethics and metaphysics, and its indomitable female avatars, Xena and Gabrielle. But the Internet Xenaverse has absorbed and outgrown its television-based model, to the extent that when Xenites (as they are called) refer to the "Xenaverse," they mean the television and Internet worlds merged into one.
The Xenaverse has many layers of engagement for the would-be Xenite. Yet many of the people I have gotten to know have had a similar experience as sHaYcH in this story of how the Xenaverse affected her life. Like many Xenites, sHaYcH places her primary emphasis on fandom rather than on the television show. She has found a community in the online spaces of the Xenaverse, and feels that the Xenaverse is unified not so much by a television program as by the power of the symbols of strong women that the show has generated. For many online, these symbols have taken on a life of their own. sHaYcH writes,
The icons below will take you through the story of the Xenaverse as told through my data collected from April to November of 1997. As usual, Gabrielle's Staff will follow a narrative path, Xena's Sword an expository path, and Xena's Breastplate, the hidden side of the Xenaverse. The rebounding Chakram is always a link to navigational maps.
The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: The Xenaverse in Cyberspace