Let's All Just Move to New Zealand
Subject: Letter to the Editor
Date: Sun, 06 Dec 1998
There is a lot of New Zealand in Xena.
It was a joy to see the warm waters and black sands of a familiar landscape in today's Iron Woman pursuit at Piha Beach, near Auckland.
There was also something metaphorical in the broadcast, reminiscent both of the effort and achievements of each Xena episode, and of the first three series in general.
Or perhaps it is not a metaphor, just the same atmosphere and spirit of cooperation and organisation in both the Iron Woman competition and XWP, as if there was a common denominator.
In case your readers are interested, I've attached some screen captures.
Does knowing one of the Xena beaches exists outside the Xenaverse dissolve the magic, or enhance it? On the other hand, the place is evocative of what the ancient world must have been like, with humans, sunlight, wind, waves and greenery all on an equal footing, like partners at a dance.
Lion Rock does look like a lion from some angles. I was half-expecting to see some torch-lit citadels or bannered castles perched on the pinnacles.
Iron Women are entirely natural in New Zealand (and Australia). Do they exist in the US? If not, would they be as popular as Xena, and for the same reason? Does the need of the audience outweigh the intentions of the participants/organisers?
For information, Meadow Lea, the sponsors of the competition, is a margarine.
Subtext vs. Maintext: The Eternal Battle
Date: Wed, 02 Dec 1998
Subject: Why Subtext Should Never Be Maintext: A Response
Although I know you're going to get roughly 1.5 million responses to Fiona Hough's article "Why Subtext Should Never Be Maintext on Xena: Warrior Princess" (http://whoosh.org/issue27/hough1.html), this is a subject I've had a lot of discussions about recently, both online and in the "real world", and have to share some conclusions. Better go get yourself a drink or something and get comfortable, because it's going to take a while.
1. Lucy Lawless is not Bruce Willis, Gabrielle is not Scully
Hough's main argument is that shows like Moonlighting and Lois and Clark immediately drop in both quality and ratings when "unresolved sexual tension" between two characters is ultimately resolved. First of all, it's important to note that in the case of Moonlighting (and I believe L&C, although I never watched that show or followed its progress in any way, so I can only guess), the creative team had long since run out of ideas and the ratings were at an all time low to begin with. Having Maddy and David finally get together was a last ditch, desperation move to try and resuscitate a dying show. But that still left them bereft of other new ideas, and it in the end it didn't work. One would hope (no pun intended) that TPTB at Xena still have plenty of creative steam, and could continue to come up with interesting, thoughtful shows whether Xena and Gabrielle are explicitly a couple or not (more on this later).
"Unresolved sexual tension" between Mulder and Scully adds a great deal to The X-Files, true enough, but this is largely because in prime time TV, having two such attractive, obviously heterosexual leads (the odd Mulder/Skinner "slashers" aside) who explicitly share a supportive, loving emotional relationship and occasionally flirt with each other, yet remain conspicuously celibate, is highly unusual. The conventional approach would be to either have them sleeping together by the end of the first season, or at least have romantic partners outside of each other, but X-Files does neither. It makes us wonder exactly what's going on in the character's heads in an episode like "Detour", for example, when Scully brings wine, cheese, and a smile to Mulder's motel room, and he responds by throwing on his trench coat and leaving (alone) to search for a monster. It's not something you'd see on any other show, and therein lies part of its unique, quirky charm.
On the other hand, part of what makes XWP unique is that the sexual tension has been created between two attractive lead characters that happen to be the same sex. Further, the characters are very different from those in any of the other three shows discussed here: Xena, for example, despite her rather promiscuous past obviously has a lot of intimacy issues, and has progressed nicely from barely being able to return a hug for much of the first season to occasionally initiating an embrace by the third and fourth. Gabrielle too has developed from the virginal village girl into a much more confident and mature young woman (who still has only managed to have sex once -- more on this later too). Explicitly acknowledging that the two of them are, in fact, sleeping together can be seen as not only in keeping with an aspect of the show that has and continues to make it stand out, but is also an arguably logical step in the progression of its two leads.
2. The specter of Ellen, or Could They?
I'm actually glad Hough brought up Ellen, because there are some very important lessons to be learned from its rise and fall which are important ones for XWP. To begin with, Ellen was a modestly successful sitcom that had long since run out of creative ideas, whose ratings were steadily dropping, and which was limping along towards cancellation in a season or two. Then Ellen came out of the closet, her character did as well, and lo and behold the "coming out" episode was one of the most watched shows ever put on television (I'm told that more people watched Ellen come out than watched Seinfield sign off).
Clearly this demonstrates the fallacy of the idea that the mass audience is so overwhelmingly homophobic that depicting a lead character as gay (or at least a lesbian -- all seriousness aside, it's a lot hipper to be lesbian than a gay man) will instantly alienate the audience and they'll stop watching. 42 million viewers do not watch a show in protest, and the ratings continued to be strong for a few weeks. In fact, this demonstrates there is at least some mainstream interest in gay characters, voyeuristic and fleeting though it may be.
The big question then, is why did the ratings plummet? The answer, I believe, is twofold. First, everyone who had begun tuning in out of curiosity quickly realized why they never watched the show in the first place: No matter what Ellen's sexual orientation, it was still an uneven and thoroughly mediocre sitcom.
Second, and perhaps more important, is that Ellen quickly changed from being a sitcom with a gay character to being a gay sitcom. We can debate the reasons for this, but the fact is that before long every episode revolved around gay issues, and often featured humor that relied heavily on a knowledge of gay lifestyles and gay culture. The majority of the audience, being straight, found little to connect with at best, had no idea what was going on at worst, and quickly lost interest.
The real problem is not outright homophobia, but overwhelming homo-indifference. The mass audience is not, by and large, gay themselves, nor do they know anyone who's gay (or at least they don't know they do), so while it's sad, there's really no reason for them to care. Still, there's nothing particularly sinister in this either. I, for example, have little interest in fishing, and don't really understand why people do. So while I can enjoy an occasional XWP episode like FF&G, if the show were to suddenly change into Xena: Fishing Princess I'd probably stop watching. And here lies the key: No matter what your show is about, don't let it become a one trick pony.
Which is why I firmly believe XWP could feature Xena and Gabrielle as a couple and "get away with it", for want of a better term. Their relationship is already a loving, deeply emotional one, and is central to the show's appeal, a fact which appears to be OK with everyone who tunes in (and more importantly, tunes in regularly). The step from that to acknowledging, "yeah, they're sleeping together too," is, dramatically at least, a very small one within the confines of what can be shown in prime time, and especially within the context of other explicit romantic encounters that have occurred in the show so far -- usually a kiss followed by a fade-out. There's no reason why the relationship should grow in importance, or at least take up any more screen time than it does now, no matter whether they're having sex or not.
For one thing, TPTB have the luxury of producing a fantasy show, which gives them a lot of leeway. They can assume that whatever "Time of ancient gods" in which XWP is set, a same-sex couple simply isn't a big deal, and treat it as such. This allows them to examine gay issues, or ignore them as they wish, and even have some fun playing with the conventions of gay cinema and literature (Gabrielle's parents have plenty of reasons to be upset with her choice of Xena as a life partner that have nothing to do with the fact she's another woman -- a missed opportunity in AFA. And can you imagine? Hecuba: "I just always figured the whole Amazon Queen thing was a phase!" Gabrielle: "Mother, being Queen of the Amazons is definitely not a phase!"). Also, because the setting is an exotic one which requires suspension of disbelief to start with, it allows that part of the audience which might be uncomfortable with the idea to "distance" themselves a little, i.e.- "Well of course they're gay -- it's ancient Greece. Never happen these days." (Again, sad, but true).
The important point is that no matter what the nature of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, the show has been and always should be about much more than that. Even I'd stop watching if Xena didn't kick warlord butt our outsmart an evil god every week, and doubtless so would most others. But during those times when the two of them might already hug, would it hurt for them to kiss a little too? At the end of an exciting episode with lots of aerial stunts and a Gabvault, when they make camp for the night would viewers turn away in droves if they happened to snuggle up together next to the fire? I think not.
In fact, if history held true, "outing" Xena and Gabrielle would likely result in a short-term ratings boost. The trick then is to continue to provide the same kind of content the show always has always had and which the straight audience can enjoy, so those who tune in out of (again, I admit, voyeuristic) curiosity will keep coming back for the action and humor.
And don't go harping about losing sponsors and affiliate stations: All that matters to them is money, and if the ratings stayed high (which I obviously believe they could), few if any would care. Sure, they might lose one or two on "principle", but others would clamor to take their place. A high audience share speaks a lot louder than a few outraged Fundamentalists -- just ask NYPD Blue.
3. And now the Big Question: Should they?
Obviously, if I've gotten this far the answer must be "yes".
The only real objection I can raise against Xena and Gabrielle being lovers is if Lucy Lawless and/or Renee O'Connor have some personal reason for being against it. Frankly, it doesn't even matter what that reason might be. I'd much rather they portray characters they're comfortable with than be uncomfortable and either feel awkward in their roles or (worse), quit the show altogether.
Given that Lawless was willing to visit club Meow Mix, and that, by all reports, it was Renee who ad-libbed the line, "She likes what I do," I'd like to think it's not a problem for either that they play lesbians on TV. Still, not having personally met or talked with them, I simply have no information to go on regarding Lawless' and O'Connor's thoughts on kissing and snuggling together every other week. Might be a problem, might not. So on that point, I don't know.
But as far as the show goes, would it be a good thing if they were? Hell yeah!
Thinking again just about ratings, it's worth pointing out that the audience share for every syndicated series is dropping across the board. There are more original syndicated shows now than ever before, in the last five years two new networks have been created, cable subscription is at an all time high, and the potential audience is becoming fragmented at an alarming rate. Simply put, the average TV viewer has so many options, it's becoming increasingly difficult to stand out. This is a particularly acute problem for XWP, which, although it remains a top rated syndicated show (second only to X-Files reruns), the heady days of a 5.5 or 6 share are clearly over.
Worse, these days Xena and Gabrielle are no longer the only babes in the b*tt kicking business. There's Buffy, Profiler, Highlander: The Raven, Nikita (who, by the way, has been explicitly bisexual for a season or two with no apparent loss of audience interest), and about a dozen others in lesser roles scattered over a number of other shows. Whatever the relative quality of these competing programs, the fact remains that TPTB can no longer count on featuring "girls who kick ass" as being unique enough to draw viewers by itself. The audience at large has too many other options -- too many "flavors", if you will -- to choose from.
Which is why it's especially disingenuous for them to be discounting subtext so publicly lately. Well before they began consciously adding it in "Altared States", the idea that Xena and Gabrielle might be more than just friends was among the most conspicuously unique (and yes, titillating) elements of the show. Indeed, it's arguably the one thing that makes it stand out, in the mind of the mass audience anyway, grabbing what media analysts like to call "mindshare". In the face of an increasingly niche-oriented viewership, far from disavowing the subtext they ought to be playing it up for all it's worth. It is, let's face it, a real attention getter, and that's exactly what they need right now.
But beyond such mercenary concerns, just think about what turning subtext into maintext would do for the show itself. First of all, it would introduce a regular element of romance, which is about the only thing missing from it now (the odd, usually awful "Red Shirt" episode aside). Yes, it would be one woman romancing another, but facing facts, that's something it seems both men and women, straight and gay, can enjoy watching (granted, for vastly different reasons, but come on -- who doesn't like seeing beautiful women together?). And, being mercenary again for a moment, considering that a substantial portion of XWP's audience are women, adding romance to the mix couldn't hurt ratings either.
It would also add some stability to the characters. Right now, we have to constantly ask ourselves where this relationship is going, what do Xena and Gabrielle really mean to each other? To say they're "beyond sex" is utterly nonsensical -- have they become beings of pure energy or something? Of course not. They're very human, with very human feelings and desires. It's a big part of why we love them. To deny them any sexuality is simply dumb. OK, on the surface "beyond sex" seems to makes sense: It's possible to have sex with someone and not attach any real emotion to it, and (I'm told) it's also possible to be deeply emotionally involved with someone without wanting to have sex with them. But face it people, it's putting those two together, being able to making honest love to someone, to connect with them both emotionally and physically, that we're all looking for. To say that Xena and Gabrielle are not only not sleeping together but that they never will is to say that despite everything they've been through together, despite everything they've said to each other, they really aren't the be-all and end-all of each other's lives. That somewhere out there, there's someone who's better for each of them. That sooner or later, someone is going to come between them and they won't be together anymore.
I don't know about you, but to me, that's a depressing thought.
Making them lovers would also do wonders for both characters. For someone like Xena, who long ago learned to make herself feel nothing, who detached herself from the emotional side of sex and used it like a weapon, learning to feel again, to let herself be that vulnerable and trust someone so intimately, to give of herself completely, without reservation, would be a major positive development. For Gabrielle, it would give her a soulmate, someone she's not just a sidekick to but a true partner, in every sense of the word. Also, ever since the first season (all through her "boyfriend of the week" phase and since), it's been clear that Gabrielle needs physical contact -- she's constantly touching people, putting and arm around someone's shoulder, hugging people. Certainly one of the things that initially seemed to attract Gabrielle most about Najara in "Crusader" was Najara's openly physical expressions of affection. Gabrielle is a young, healthy woman, but except for a single night with Perdicas (who might have been a good lover, but given his other failings I, at least, tend to doubt it), she's been denied any sexuality or exploration at all. That's an important part of human experience to miss out on.
And what, exactly, does Gabrielle get out of her relationship with Xena now? Adventure and excitement, yes. A life she never could have dreamed of as a village girl, but she shares that life with a taciturn, frequently annoying, often dangerous person. I'm constantly amazed she sticks with it. If Xena were her lover however, not just saying "I love you" but honestly in love with her, the balance would shift dramatically. Not in the sense that, "Yeah it's tough sometimes but the sex is great," but that Gabrielle would be sharing her life with someone she's going to be with forever, who she knows won't just drop her off and the next town some day and drift off for good. Someone who wants her, who needs her as more than a moral compass.
This is the really important point: Making them lovers would give them a clear motivation for opening up to each other, to breaking down the last barriers between them, to be a source of ultimate trust. No more mind games, no more subtle and not so subtle manipulation. It would go a long way towards healing everything they've been through and give them a reason to keep going. Committed to each other, it would once again be Xena and Gabrielle against whatever the Fates can throw at them, together. Forever.
Subtext should never be maintext?
In what universe?
Commentary on the Crusader Commentary
Date: Wed, 09 Dec 1998
Subject: Whoosh's Dec. Letter Page
I caught Videntur's Crusader commentary in WHOOSH!, and I wanted to comment on just a smidgen here, cause I loved this episode. First, I will warn you that I am Gab-sessed, and so any bad thing she does will be ignored by me, while anything bad Xena does will be blown out of proportion. [G]
Anyway, Videntur wrote:
"In giving credit to Gabrielle, she did throw her body over Xena to prevent her from being killed and again stated that Najara would have to kill them both - again showing the loyalty she showed in last week's prison episode. However, when Gabrielle left with Najara, leaving an unconscious Xena laying on the floor, Gabrielle never even tried to help Xena's bruises or even just lay her hand on her forehead or face before she left to show that she cared."
Ha! I guess you missed 3rd season's FORGIVEN, where Gabrielle has claw marks all over her, including across her face, and part of her ear bitten off, bruises, and Xena doesn't lift a finger to attend to her injuries. And yet when Tara gets the thrashing she deserves, Xena is shown carefully tending every scratch, while Gabrielle stands there still covered in horrible injuries. Fair's fair!
I was rooting for Gabrielle in Crusader to leave Xena, and hook up with Najara. Xena is a wife-beater, plain and simple. She already tried to beat Gabrielle to death once, and she may do it again. The writers tried to mitigate this in the revisionist episode forget me not. There, their message was "Hey, Gabrielle is just as bad as Xena. Now they're even." Not!
Anyway, back to Crusader. I loved this episode as it was drenched in Subtext, as well as acknowledgement of Gabrielle's concerns about staying with a serial killer like Xena. (Her actions in "Locked Up and Tied Down" clinched her character as a serial killer in my book. I don't think anything Callisto or Velasca did was that cruel.)
Finally, this episode confirms TPTB statement that this show is really about Gabrielle's journey through life, as Xena is being painted in such blood-drenched tones to make her totally unworthy of any redemption.
Thanks for the commentary!
Another Walking on Sunshine Fan
Date: Wed, 25 Nov 1998
I am a relative newbie to the internet. I came on-line sometime in June of this year, and ever since I discovered WHOOSH! (which was practically the very first day I came on-line) it has been one of THE sites for me. I also visited your family's home page and loved your "Walking on Sunshine" tune. Anyway, I hope this does not sound odd or corny but I just wanted to say "Thank you" for all that you have done for us Xena followers. Whoosh is great! Take a bow...you and the whole crew responsible for it deserve our gratitude. I know that everyone dedicates their time and life to the continuity of Whoosh and I just wanted you to know that someone out there (me!) appreciates all you do. I don't know what I would do for my Xena fixes without you. Thank you. Battle on. God Bless!!!
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