From the Editor-in-Chief: GET A GRIP XENITES
From the Graphics Editor: THE NIGHT OF THE BIG BLOWOUT
From the Coding Editor: FRIENDS AND NUTBALLS (FANs)
From the Editor in Chief: Get a Grip Xenites
What is wrong with us fans? A Xenite contributes $31,000 to charity and some of the fans of the show feel as if it's open season to vilify her? Why? Because it is unfair that common fans can't get a signed sword, as well? That she was doing it just to get the donated item? She wanted to get her picture taken with "the star" and thought this would be her ticket?
What led to this public scourging was this. An actor of a relatively popular television show donated a prop sword, which she used on the set for a while, to be auctioned off for charitable purposes. The auction was held and $31,000 was the top bid for the sword. This should have been a cause for wonderment and pride for the Xenite community; but no, on many public lists and forums there were statements impugning the character of the fan that won the bid.
$31,000 worth of stage prop?
The object was a unique collector's item. Its overall value was subjective and was way more than that of the physical value. That is why it was chosen to be the "big item" for the auction. Example, remember that baseball recently caught by a fan in the stands? He caught it, and he auctioned it off for OVER A MILLION DOLLARS. Not one bit went to charity, by the way. All of the $31,000 in this case went to three different charities. That baseball had a very high subjective value to the person who paid the million plus to get it, although he or she could have just picked up another baseball for ten bucks or so. Therefore, we exist in a world where our society allows people to put a subjective price on items, which become consequently known as unique collector's items. Is this our donor's fault? No. This is the world we live in. So, what was her crime?
Did she block the possession of the sword from "common" fans? I guess, that means fans that do not have $31,000 to give to charity. Yes, she did. But what's the big deal? These charity drives and auctions happen all the time. They auction off play tickets, dinners with celebrities, etc. This is no different. Also, what happened to the great American capitalist mantra that if you have the money and you want something, then buy it? And, its fellow tenet, if it is for charity, then it is even better. But I guess not for some fans in the Xenaverse.
Did she not care that it was for charity? That she wanted the item and would have done anything to get it? I guess this stance views her as some type of robber baron monopolist who is going around buying up all the Xena memorabilia with inflated prices. But she isn't. She did not go to a used prop store and see a sword for $2,000 and say, "Hey, I want that sword. I will give you $31,000 for it just to keep other common folk from getting it." She is not Prince John or the Sheriff of Nottingham! It is clearly ludicrous that anyone in his or her right mind would go about purchasing something that way. And you know, she didn't. She received the sword as an incentive to bid on a charitable contribution. Is it her fault that someone else bid against her? Is she to be vilified because not only can she afford to give large amounts to charity, but in reality DOES?
Furthermore, who really cares what her real motives were in bidding? The critical issue is that regardless of her personal motives, three charities get to share $31,000. In this age, charitable giving is not going up, it is going down. Giving should be commended not criticized. Also, for someone who is able to give $31,000, that implies that his or her tax planning is a tad more complex than shall I presume, most of us (and I refer to my professional knowledge as a tax attorney)? As you get wealthier, you have to have tax strategies, which can include either large charitable donations or tax shelters, which are designed to hide a person's wealth. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that charitable donations are a good, solid, and conservative way of tax planning which benefits society at large. Yes, she paid much more for the sword than what it was worth. That's the whole point of a charity auction. They want as many bucks as they can get. Sweeten the pot, and the bids get higher.
She would not have donated the money if it weren't for the item? Duh. This is a no brainer. Why do charity auctions give items? It's called incentive. Have you ever been to a charity auction where they just sit there and yell out how much money they are bidding without having anything to bid on? The item is symbolic. It is the nominal symbol. The item itself is not that valuable. It is similar to how some things are assigned a $1 value in order to make it have a nominal worth. The items are to give incentive to the potential donor.
In case you are curious, what the other side looks like!
The item in this case was a unique collectors item and I can guarantee that after the amount got to the low thousands of dollars, it was only serious collectors bidding. Had the person who did the highest bid not been there, some other serious collector would have gotten it, and you know what, the charities would have gotten less money. Is that what the critics wanted? Of course not, and they are all very up front about how they are not criticizing charitable giving. They may think they are not, but they are by criticizing how one specific person has decided to exercise their right to give charitable donations. The result of that is to put a chilling effect on charitable contributions. That is harmful to the spirit of charitable giving, to say the least.
Did she do it to get closer to "the star"? Did she do it to look important in front of the fans? This is so ludicrous that I am slapping myself for even mentioning it. But here it goes. I hate to be the one to inform the critics, but she couldn't get much closer to either "the star" or to "the fans" than she already was. When she won the bid on the chakram auction two years ago, she got to personally meet "the star" and have a conversation or two. Wow. From that, she met some of the other production people. Wow. When you meet with people, you get to know them. Wow. Sometimes, you find out you have similar background interests. Wow. Imagine that! That is called "making friends". That is a private matter and one of personal choice. I doubt that forking over $31,000 for (let's say it together) a unique collector's item, is going to endear her anymore to whomever she wants to be endeared to. That goes for production and cast and all the way down to the fans of the show. In other words, the specific person who won the bid did not need this as a symbol of status or as a way to meet "the star". She already had that experience and if she had wanted it again, she could have achieved the same goal easier and cheaper.
By the way, I have not forgotten, and I am sure there are many others who have not, that this person now under attack lugged that chakram around all over the country in order to share it with other fans. It was a time when items from the show were far and few between and commercial merchandise from the show was rare. She was even requested to bring it to the Santa Monica Con, which shows that it has never stopped! She could have kept it in her living room. There are fans that collect tons of stuff, but they essentially collect for themselves. That's okay. It's their lives and their money. Then you find fans like the top bidder for the sword, who has given much more than they have received. I know personally of many times that this person has given monetary and in kind contributions and support to fan and fan sponsored charitable events both publicly and privately.
These attacks on her character and motives are so juvenile and unfair that it makes me wonder why these people feel compelled to criticize her and her deed so adamantly. My personal theory is that we are experiencing a reemergence of an ancient vestige of Puritanism, which condones the attacking of people because they are acting outside the Puritan's expected norms. In this case, it was to remind the fellow Puritans that they do not have enough money to buy much of anything for $31,000, let alone give it to charity. But wake up and smell the coffee. We live in a country where some people can afford with little difficulty (or with some great difficulty; no one has any real idea of how much this donation will affect that person's financial life, and more importantly, it is none of our business) to make large charitable donations (and this IS good, because there are many organizations which could not exist without these charitable acts). Live with it and get on with your lives. I, myself, am happy that it was a Xenite, thus continuing the wonderful tradition of Xenite generosity. If she decides never to share the item with fans in contrast to what she did in the past with the chakram, I will not blame her in the least.
The Sword of Controversy
Kym Masera Taborn
January 28, 1999
From the Graphics Editor: The Night of the Big Blowout
It's become an annual pilgrimage. And that's only the *beginning* of the metaphors. Sure, Santa Monica is a modern city right next to one of the largest metropoli in the world (Los Angeles). But there are things about the *big* annual Herc/Xena convention that hearken back to a much simpler time.
Like journeys to holy sites in medieval times, as well as today, they came. A few were local, but most have temporarily migrated from around the globe. Some came alone, and many traveled in groups. But regardless of travel method or circumstances, they all quickly merge when they arrive. Many are by now familiar -- faces, names, handles, and costumes. They squeal with delight upon recognising one another, glad to renew friendships that are at their most active for only one weekend a year. Perhaps they correspond via e-mail much of the time, or participate in various on-line chats, or they may phone one another from time to time. But for this one weekend a year, there is nothing like seeing these by-now familiar groups smile from ear to ear for at least 48 hours. When I see people recognise one another and greet each other warmly, I can't help but smile myself.
Sure it's nice to see the speakers at the conventions, hear the presentations, and perhaps get an autograph or two. But for many, the gathering of fans alone has become a social highlight, a "raison d'etre" for the season.
Personally, I saw a resurgence this year of something I perceived to be lacking at Burbank last year. Fans seemed less uptight, less stressed, and generally more relaxed. It wasn't quite like the earlier days of Herc/Xena fandom, but it was a step or two closer than it had been. Another medieval-esque observation: there was also a bit of the "touch the king" phenomenon with conventioneers and guest speakers.
As to the convention itself, I've made a few notes.
Although it was a bigger venue than Burbank was, I frankly found the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium a little less accommodating. The lobby was cramped for a gathering this size making it difficult to schmooze with other fans. It could have been worse, but it could have been better. The place was rather run-down as well. As for the seats, well... when your coach class airplane seat is spacious by comparison, you know you're in trouble. The rows were quite cramped, and in the longer rows, it was very difficult to move in and out. On the plus side, however, I found all the people who worked at the convention that I encountered to be helpful. I overheard a problem or two here and there and those were handled skillfully, promptly, and courteously. I saw people being greeted warmly and everything seemed well organised. Lines for admission and tickets moved quickly. Security, with one exception near the end of the convention, was practically invisible (and largely unnecessary, since from what I saw fans were very well behaved). Events were, for the most part, timely. There were no shifts in schedule or appearances. There was, however, one notable surprise, which I will describe further down.
Saturday was Herc day. Of course, there were many Xena fans and crossover fans as well, but from the guests appearing on Saturday, it was mainly for a Herc oriented crowd. In fact, there were more guests on Herc day than Xena day. And I found the Herc fans to be very polite; almost sedate. I saw most of the speakers but not all, so I'll only comment on my direct experience.
Gina "Nebula/Cleopatra" Torres was magnificent. She was relaxed, confident, and a wonderful speaker. She answered questions from the audience very well and without hesitation. She also sang a little, and demonstrated her talent for that art as well. She is without question a real find by Renaissance.
Paul Coyle (Herc producer) was another terrific guest. He was plainspoken and very frank with his comments and answers to fan questions. Not everyone will like what he had to say or agree with his opinions, but from what I was able to gather later, most did. In any event, his honesty and openness was very welcome. A fan friend of mine was going to get up in the question line and thank Mr. Coyle for "being the man who saved Hercules". Although my friend did not actually go through with it, I have to say I agree with the sentiment. It was Xena's loss and Herc's gain when Paul Coyle was "stolen" from Xena.
Alexandra "Aphrodite" Tydings was a sheer delight to see. It was plain she was happy to be there and it showed. She told many interesting and entertaining stories about her experiences on Herc and Xena and dropped some provocative hints of what is to come as well. We were treated to a brief "step dance" demonstration also (she was a step-dance champion when she was a young girl). Alex was bright, witty, and altogether charming. We're very lucky to be able to see her as well.
I missed the auction, Joel Tobeck, and the Young Hercules stars, but heard nothing but good things about their appearances.
The last guest of the day was Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo. If I had to sum up his appearance in one word, I would have to use "class". He was very courteous to the audience as well as thoughtful. His concern for his charity was very evident. He was excited about this season of Herc and what he has been able to do as an actor. He was obviously much admired by all his fans and he didn't disappoint. He took all the questions from the audience in stride, even a few of the odd ones or requests. But to be fair, all during this day the audience was very well behaved. There were still requests for hugs or pictures or autographs from time to time, but not as many as last year. And except for one or two this year, I found myself not minding those who did. The "scary fan-o-meter" was minimal.
Sunday was Xena day.
By contrast, the fans were a little louder and, at least to my perception, a little more enthusiastic, but that might only be a numbers thing too.
The first speaker was Claire "Alti" Stansfield. What a woman! Although she doesn't think of herself that way, she *is* 73 inches of supermodel. Not only is she beautiful but she's also very sharp. One story in particular related how she and Lucy Lawless had begun golfing together. Lucy was invited to present a trophy at a big golf event and asked Claire to accompany her as her "golfing partner" although she had golfed exactly twice before. When asked "what clubs do you use" by an expert, she calmly remembered the name on her boyfriends clubs that she had borrowed and saved the day. She told several wonderful tales of her Alti experiences as well as dropped hints of things to come. She did her Alti voice to wild cheers. She let us know she's going to be a recurring villain, and Renaissance again scored quite a coup by signing her. I also have to personally thank her for mentioning WHOOSH! during her time on stage. No speaker had ever done that before. Even more surprising was the applause of recognition from the audience when she mentioned us!
Steve Sears represented the Xena production staff this year. As usual, he was a very pleasant speaker. He got some thoughtful questions from the audience and took care in answering them. We heard some more interesting stories about script origins. One source of names for his characters is his office or what he sees from it. It's obvious to hear Steve speak that he cares deeply about what he does and is committed to it. When asked what episodes he would make given no budget limits, he candidly said he's already done them. Now *that* is writing from the heart.
Rob Field gave us another very entertaining presentation this year. We got to see a rare piece from DESTINY (36/212) that was a "before" and "after" cut to demonstrate how a good scene can be made orders of magnitude better by skillful editing. We also got to see some "lost scenes" from GREATER GOOD (21/121) and SACRIFICE II (68/322). In the case of the former, it was the "Gabrielle/Argo" scene and in the latter, it was a superb "campfire" scene with Callisto and Xena. There were some new "continuity errors" and the infamous "blooper" reel. Rob is quite an entertainer as well as editor, and he engaged and animated the audience with his presentation.
Karl Urban is clearly a man who likes to have fun. Karl has always been a very energetic speaker, and this event was no exception. He started with a demonstration to answer the question once and for all: "boxers or briefs?" Karl "dropped trou" and showed us! The audience went wild. From there, he went on to do charades and to perform some Cupid/Caesar clips. He answered all the audience questions with care, thought, or humour, as the situation warranted. Karl clearly loved the audience, and the audience clearly reciprocated. He's truly a con high point.
Last guest of the con was Lucy "Xena" Lawless.
I personally had a bit of a problem with this area.
Lucy's appearance was handled differently from any other guest at this con or at any other I'd attended. Firstly, she did not come out on stage alone. Rather, before she came out on stage, an "interviewer" came out first to "warm us up" with a "top ten" list of answers to the questions Lucy is most often asked. Presumably, this was meant to be informative as well as amusing. Then when Lucy came out the "interviewer" asked Lucy a series of questions, some of which repeated data in the "top ten" list given earlier. This whole part seemed so scripted to me. Lucy didn't look like she was being Lucy but rather like she was acting out a predefined script. This is certainly not what she did in any previous con appearance, nor was it hinted at before she came on stage. On the plus side, what she said was very informative and covered significant and memorable events in her life. But it still seemed like a script.
Then we got questions from the audience, but this too was very different from all other guests at this con or at previous cons. The questions were asked by people who were previously "hand picked" to do so. There was no mention of this in any convention literature that I saw. While I very much agree with the attempt to cut down on goofy questions, outrageous demonstrations, or constant requests for hugs, autographs, and pictures, the way it was executed struck me as a bit overly "cloak and dagger" and, well, just plain wrong. Every other guest, including Kevin Sorbo, spoke and answered questions as they always have done, and they all handled themselves superbly. There was also a marked decline in inappropriate behaviour, presumably due to screening and/or greater self-restraint.
Even so, I have to say Lucy was at her most animated during the (very brief) Q and A session. And the questions were good questions, asked by nice and good people. I just wish the con organisers had been more up front about how they handled things. I'm sure many people who traveled thousands of miles would have liked to be a part of it.
Of course there may be much more to the story than I know. More than one person reported to me they saw numerous security guards, with guns, making strict checks at the door when Lucy was in the Auditorium. Perhaps she had been threatened or there was a good reason to expect trouble. In any case, there could have been a better way.
But now, as I sit in my "spacious by comparison" seat in cattle class on the full flight home, the above is a small stain on an otherwise blotless weekend. More than anything else it was nice to see by-now familiar faces as well as new ones. They say home is where the heart is, and for me, home was definitely in Santa Monica this last weekend.
January 15, 1999
From the Coding Editor: FRIENDS AND NUTBALLS (FANs)
My New Year's Resolution was to start taking advantage of this dandy editorial space. Problem was, I had very little idea on what to write about. Fandom is a new beast to me. I've enjoyed television shows before, but I never considered myself a "fan" of those. What's the difference? What's made me stick a big "maniac nutball" sticker on my forehead for Xena: Warrior Princess instead of any of my other favorite TV shows? Hey, this sounds like an editorial topic!
So I put some serious thought into this... or at least pondered it while sitting in rush hour traffic. There's been other TV shows I watched faithfully and discussed in the office the next day. What's different in my attitude about Xena? I came up with a definition; something that differentiates the "fans" from the people who just like a show.
A fan is an unknown friend.
That's my definition. Fans are friends to the show or the people in it. Your friends are the people who believe the best of you, give you the benefit of the doubt, and defend you to others. ("Xena? Isn't that the leather BAYWATCH show?") Your friends know your faults and love you despite them, or maybe even love those faults as much as the rest of you. ("Look! Actor #42 in his 13th role in four seasons!") Friends know you better than any others do. ("Gabrielle's boyfriends? Do you want them in order of episode or of nastiness of death?")
Don't mistake any of this for saying that "real fans" are supposed to be uncritical. Friends aren't blind to your screw-ups. In fact, you can hopefully count on your friends to let you know when you're wrong about something before your enemies do. The difference is that your friends look at a problem with your good in mind. The same thing goes on when fans point out a storyline or idea that didn't work.
That "unknown" part of the definition is important, and a hard thing to remember about being a fan. We know the show and its people like family, but our opinion is no more important or personal than anyone else's in 50 billion television households. Sure, we're the ones who buy the toys like candy (and we'd buy Xena candy, too, if it was available), and we post messages, write stories, and build websites that may create a reaction wave that the XenaStaff catches. So our voice gets a Loud Talking Thing to help it along sometimes. But usually we have to remind ourselves that despite being such a friend to the show, the show doesn't really know who we are.
It's a weird gig, being a fan. I like being an unknown friend to Xena: Warrior Princess -- it has a bit of a Good Samaritan quality to it. And I like taking a step back every once in a while to see where I am and what I'm doing 'round here -- thus, my first editorial. Maybe I'm supposed to throw more opinions around and rile people up a bit more, but I'm sure I'll get to that someday. Tell the lads in the pressroom that I'm putting on my hat and heading for the bar.
Coding Editor, Critic
January 15, 1999