Whoosh! Issue 50 - November 2000

WHEN FANS COLLIDE:
NET CELEBRITY IN THE XENAVERSE

By Debbie Cassetta
50th Issue Project
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
4646 words



All That Glitters (01-07)
Everything (And Everyone) In Its Place (08-14)
What Makes A Successful Fan? (15-24)
You Want What? (25-31)
Conclusion (32-34)
Biography



When Fans Collide: Net Celebrity in the XenaVerse




All That Glitters



Of course I want to be your sidekick!  It's not like you're going to kill me or something!

Gabrielle was Xena's first big fan that stuck around.


[1] It took all of twenty seconds after I agreed to write this paper for Whoosh! for it to occur to me that I had stuck my foot in it. One cannot be around the Xenaverse for any length of time without realizing that Xena fandom is a myriad of competing interests and factions. These interests often collide head on. Ask five people in the Xenaverse what they think, and you will likely get eleven different answers. Given that framework, trying to determine why some fans achieve a level of "fame" within the confines of the Xenaverse is like trying to hold on to a greased eel. Just when you think you have wrapped your hands around the qualities that tend to define a famous fan, you realize that for every quality or characteristic you can point to, there are any number of well known fans who do not quite fit the model.

[2] I began preparing for this article by attempting to understand what leads certain fans to the spotlight while others tend to stay in the background. Also, why do some, despite their best efforts to rise to elevated levels in the Xenaverse hierarchy, continue to find fan fame elusive and unattainable. Over the past month or so, I have been trying to discover what it is that marks certain individuals with the dubious honor of being labeled "famous fans".

[3] It becomes evident quickly that achieving any level of celebrity among Xena fans is something of a double-edged sword. Many great things result from fandom. The consensus among fans is that the relationships and friendships that have come from involvement in Xena fandom have been incredibly rewarding and rank at the top of just about everyone's list of positive aspects of the Xenaverse.

[4] Chris Clogston, keeper of the Chakram and owner of the Xena prop sword, is among those who consider the relationships she has developed as a result of her involvement in Xena fandom as a very positive experience. "The most positive aspect of fandom for me has to do with the friends I've made. It amazes me to think that if it had not been for this TV show, I would have never met these people. I know that some of these relationships are going to be lifelong... . We started out because of our mutual interest in XWP, but our friendships have developed way beyond just that single point of interest. This is the unexpected benefit of being involved in fandom".

[5] It appears that the fan experience for most Xena fans is a very positive and compelling experience. Bat Morda, fan fiction writer, agrees wholeheartedly with Clogston when she says, "I've made the best friends in my life in this fandom. The kinds of friends you know you'll grow old with. Friends who've become my extended family".

[6] For Whoosh! editor Kym Taborn, "The most positive [thing] has been meeting and working with so many wonderful people. I have enjoyed reading their papers, corresponding with them in e-mail, meeting them in real life, actually developing some pretty great friendships, and finding some relationships which will probably continue until my death. I started out a very shy person and having people come to me really helped me come out of my shell".

[7] Melissa Good, fan fiction writer turned Xena: Warrior Princess screenwriter has similar sentiments when it comes to the relationships forged in Xena fandom. She says, "I've [gotten] to meet an awful lot of really fantastic people. I always felt that the cons were just a good excuse to meet friends you got to know online, and that's really been the case". Good's comments come as no surprise once you understand that most fans now attend the official conventions and Xena Fests as a way to see friends and party for the weekend. The convention is merely a sideshow. Meeting other fans is the main event.


Everything (And Everyone) In Its Place



Xena didn't kill me, but her kid did!

Some might consider Joxer a stalker, not just a fan.


[8] There are often some not so rewarding repercussions of fan celebrity, and most of the people I interviewed have been on the receiving end of fan criticism at one time or another. Anyone who has spent time perusing the Xena NetForum knows that no one is exempt from criticism in that arena. It appears inevitable that conflict and criticism all too often will result when someone makes a name for her or himself within fandom. Oftentimes she or he found themselves a target from other fans with an axe to grind.

[9] Achieving any level of success and recognition in the Xenaverse may come with some unexpected baggage as these fans tend to be judged quite harshly by other fans. In fact, the term "famous fan", which has been used quite a bit over the past year or so, now carries quite a negative connotation for many. Given its current usage, the label is now more an accusation than merely a description of many individuals who have managed to excel within the limited confines of the Xenaverse. Often, instead of accolades for a job well done, successful fans might find that they are attacked by other fans who find fault with their accomplishments, or by fans who take issue with the manner in which some well known fans conduct themselves. Thus, the term becomes quite negative in connotation. Deborah Wood (Dahak, DallasDeb) comments that "The term 'famous fan' is really a misnomer. It's used as a weapon because it's so derogatory and offensive to fan sensibilities ...".

[10] In addition to the term "famous fan", there are other buzzwords that tend to set fans' nerves on edge. They are often used to put an end to any defense someone may mount to an online accusation about their motivation. "Jealously" is very often the cry when someone levels criticism at a particular icon within the Xenaverse. If you call someone for poor performance, be it for business practice or shoddy work, that criticism should stand or fall on its own merit.

[11] In the Xenaverse, that criticism is seized upon by some who feel they must defend friends or icons against criticism, and the person leveling criticism, be it justified or not, is labeled "jealous". Applying that motivation to someone who expresses an idea that an individual or fan faction finds offensive has a two-fold purpose. First, it simply dismisses the criticism as non- valid. Second, it puts the person who has voiced an opinion in the position of defending her/himself against charges of jealousy. Rather than having their comments judged as either intuitive or critical, in the positive sense of the word, they are attacked for passing judgment on some Xenaverse issue. By attributing jealously as the motive for criticism, the critical fan often comes off looking like a fool and is placed in a position of having to defend against attacks from other fans who disagree with what was said. Truth be told, invoking the "jealous" charge is a great weapon if you want to dismantle and dismiss the validity of the statements of another person. It relieves the accuser of having to argue their point.

[12] Fan fiction writer Bat Morda agrees. "People will fall back on screaming 'jealousy', 'agenda', 'fill-in- the-blank bashing' whenever they don't have a counter argument for whatever it is their famous fan of choice is being criticized for. I might complain about someone's behavior that I find distasteful, but their zealous followers can more easily write me off as simply jealous than to consider that there might be merit to my criticism. It's the easy way out. The bigger a group gets, the easier it is to whip into a mob mentality, which has very little to do with logic. A lot of it is about feelings and emotion, leaving little room for rational thought".

[13] Fan fiction writer Joanna Sandsmark (WordWarior) comments further on the use of such buzzwords by some fans. "I think for some people it's a way of pigeon- holing someone whose motives are incomprehensible. A sort of, 'I love this fiction and the author so much, its beyond words to express. If I feel this strongly, then it all has to be intrinsically a priori wonderful.' Therefore, anyone who cannot see the wonderfulness of the writer or her work is influenced by dark and base emotions. The easiest one to understand is jealousy." So, by attributing an agenda or jealousy to a critical fan, the person's arguments can be negated, or at least dulled. Sandsmark continues, "It does diminish those opposing voices. By assigning a small-minded, petty emotion like jealousy, the person (and their opinions, criticisms, and observations) can be dismissed, without having to go through the pesky motions of actually listening to what they have to say".

[14] Well-known fans must face other issues in their day-to-day wanderings through the Xenaverse. Resentment is very much a part of what goes on. Successful fans with grand accomplishments will often come under scrutiny and attack, not so much because the successful fan has done anything to warrant the negative reaction, but because looming large in the Xenaverse very often sets people on edge. It is a difficult mentality to understand, but sometimes fans simply feel diminished by the accomplishments of other fans, as if one person's success somehow reduces someone else. The logic, or lack thereof, is that if someone gets attention and recognition for their work or efforts, it must be because that is what that fan set out to do. The other activities, hours spent writing or designing web sites, are seen as the way the "famous fan" goes about getting that attention. I have seen that as very evident in my Sword and Staff activities, and in a similar vein, Missy Good admits that she is very much aware of resentment among fans. "[I'm] always fielding resentment from folks either because they think I don't deserve the attention I get, or they want the attention themselves, and it just enrages them".


What Makes A Successful Fan?



Hey, at least I didn't kill Gabrielle!

Tara was another big Xena fan.


[15] Make a comment on any topic, and it is likely that some faction of the Xenaverse will take issue with or be offended by what you had to say. If you criticize an icon of a particular fan faction (be it Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, a bard, a webmaster, or the bartender from the last XenaFest), chances are you soon will be running a gauntlet and will be barbecued along with those defrosted hot dogs left over from the last Bat-B-Que. The question begging to be asked is why? What prompts this behavior from what would appear to be otherwise normal, rational people? When in their own element and among those who share their interests in the Xenaverse, most fans seem to be gracious and friendly. But when there is a difference of opinion, or if someone should challenge some aspect of the show that appeals to another faction, that gracious and friendly facade disappears, and we see yet another flame war erupt. What is it about Xena fandom that evokes this kind of response in people?

[16] Views on what motivates fans within the confines of the Xenaverse vary from person to person, but after conducting interviews for this article it became evident that many of those who tend to achieve a level of success in fandom did not set out to do so, nor are they particularly comfortable with the idea of being considered famous fans. Most successful fans set out to do something positive in the Xenaverse, or they simply want to have fun, and what they find as a result of their actions is that they have achieved a level of success that often sets them apart from the mass of Xena fans.

[17] Missy Good states that she never expected much in the way of attention from her writing. "I thought I'd just have fun writing, post it up on the Internet, have a few laughs, and that would be it". Never in her wildest imagination did she expect the kind of success she has achieved within Xena fandom. Good started writing because as she puts it, "I just kept thinking about the characters, and a story line that occurred to me, until it drove me nuts and I decided to write it down".

[18] That is how most fans get involved in specific projects in the Xenaverse. Bards find an outlet for their ideas and creativity. Most of the "monuments" in Xena fandom come from hard work and the creativity and resourcefulness of their creators. Some fans come up with a good idea and act on it. Such was the case with Kym Taborn and the creation of WHOOSH. She enjoyed reading on-line the involved commentary and discussion. Taborn states that she "wanted a place where I could go and read such things. There was not such a place, so I created one".

[19] Drawing on her experience with publishing and editing local community and religious newsletters, as well as a Star Trek humor newsletter entitled "Resistance is Futile", Taborn assembled a staff of people who also had experience in areas that were needed to produce what would eventually become WHOOSH. She drew on her own expertise, her own drive, and her own abilities, to provide fandom with something unique to all fandom, and it has become one of the hallmarks of Xena fandom.

[20] The evolution of Sword and Staff followed a similar path. It grew out of an attempt to track fan charitable donations and to improve the "image" Xena fans projected to the outside world. Little did I expect that it would consume so much of my time and so much space in my apartment. Nevertheless, like WHOOSH, it filled a niche in the Xenaverse, and that is what drives its success.

[21] You can point to most of the monuments of Xena fandom, and you will find that the successful sites and organizations succeed not because the people running the clubs or designing the sites are lucky. They succeed because the people doing the work are people who would succeed elsewhere if not here. They succeed and gain attention because they are who they are and do what they do. They freely give their time and talent, and other fans share the enjoyment and entertainment that they provide. That they are often criticized for that is quite unfortunate.

[22] Chris Clogston makes some interesting points about the phenomena of blaming those who succeed in the Xenaverse for being successful and the resentment that they face for their efforts. "I think a lot of it has to do with the medium of communication. People will write verbiage in emails that they would never say to someone's face. It's possible to hide behind anonymity of an email addy, and this frees people to write the most incredibly ugly and hurtful things". She continues, "I'm not exactly sure why this is so. On the surface, it looks like the haves versus the have- nots. I think the folks feeling the resentment should examine themselves more closely. Why are they resentful?

[23] "It's easy to attack very visible people or groups and being visible presents a target. My advice for people who aren't happy with the status quo is to go out and do it better. If you don't like the activities of a particular group, or you don't think it's being done 'right', start your own group. Start your own activities. But it takes a lot less energy to criticize and complain from the sidelines, so there will always be more sniping than active participation".

[24] Missy Good agrees, and she adds, "I think any time you make a judgment on someone else's motives, you're really saying more about your own psyche than the person you're applying that judgment to. I think in some ways you attribute things to other people because it's what you, yourself might do in just the same situation. On a personal level, I prefer to live my life thinking the best of everyone around me. I assume everyone has good motives. It gets me in trouble a lot, but I think I'm a happier person for it".


You Want What?



I haven't killed anyone yet either!

Some might recognise Minyas a certain sort of XENA fan.


[25] When pointing to a famous fan, it's not always possible to point to a specific "product" that would lead you to understand why that person has achieved any level of celebrity in the Xenaverse. Sometimes circumstance leads individual fans into the spotlight. It seems that some fans just wake up one day and find that they are the topic of discussion and gossip among other Xena fans. Suddenly they are famous. Chris Clogston sees it just that way. "I think that for the most part it just happens to people. I think it just happened to you and Kym Taborn. I'm told by a number of people that I've got 'fan fame', but I would really prefer to ignore the whole idea. OK, so I collected a couple of Xena props - BFD, really. This says absolutely nothing about me personally, except that I like the show enough to want to collect the props. Why should it make me famous? I just don't get it".

[26] Deborah Wood agrees, stating that real Xena fans do not seek fame or notoriety. "If a person posts frequently on a list, they will become known. That's just natural. If they go to fests or conventions and meet other fans, they become known. That's just natural. If they have gatherings, parties, create web sites, run lists, write good fan fic, they become known. That's just natural. It's about participating and fellowship. Not some f**ked up idea of 'fame' or 'celebrity'".

[27] Yet there is consensus that there are some people who seek fame within the Xenaverse, but the reality is that most fans who achieve a level of celebrity do so not because they are looking for it, but because they excel at what they do. Other fans recognize that talent and hard work, and the creator gains some semblance of notoriety in fandom. Bat Morda notes, "People do stuff like that because it's their interest, they're having a good time, not trying to be popular. However, there is another side too. I think some fans have taken an active interest in promoting themselves among the fans, of making calculated efforts to build their celebrity".

[28] In a similar vein, Kym Taborn suggests that individuality plays a part in the success of some fans. She says that with fan fame, "some seek it out, others have it thrust upon them, and others are just born to it. It is a sociological thing. Happens everywhere with every community. Some are the top dogs, some are the middle ones, and unfortunately, there always seem to be untouchables, sadly enough. For some it is a premeditated act of PR, others stumble onto it, and many others are one of many gradations in between".

[29] Petra de Jong (DutchXenaFan) agrees. She sees fandom broken into two groups that she describes as "those that really seek to be famous, and those that gained notoriety by what they've done. The first group are those fans who do things only because they want to get attention from fellow fans or TPTB (The Powers That Be)". She continues by saying that the other groups of fans consist of "fans that work within the XV but didn't start out with the thought on how to become famous fast. They only became famous because people had true respect for their work and started noticing them. For instance, you with Sword and Staff and Kym with WHOOSH. Those started out as 'small projects' whose main goal wasn't to impress TPTB but to do something within the Xenaverse".

[30] Be it a bard, or a webmaster, or the editor of an online journal like WHOOSH, there is an enormous amount of work involved in producing a quality product, or organizing a fan event, or running a fan club. Most fans will not invest the effort, time, and money that it takes to run a fan organization, or create a web site. They enjoy what other fans do, and in many instances, fans are generous with their praise and their acceptance. Nevertheless, in some cases, fans forget that other fans performing a service in the Xenaverse are under no obligation to continue to do so. The consumers of the service sometimes forget that and demand more and more from the producers. Bards are often pressured for more stories or more chapters in a story they are writing. Webmasters find that they cannot get the material uploaded fast enough to please many fans. Any number of demands can be made on the time and resources of productive fans. The result is often anger and harsh criticism when the famous fan does not live up to expectations, and that in turn fuels the further breakdown of an already fractured fan base as factions choose up sides in open debate on the lists.

[31] Tom Simpson, creator of Tom's Xena Page, came under fire when he decided to retire from Xena fandom. Simpson explained why he was no longer going to update his page, although he owed no one an explanation. Yet, anyone who knows Tom Simpson was not surprised by his desire to let fans know why he was closing up shop. Simpson explains, "To me, retiring was partly about not having enough time, and partly about no longer loving the show. I explained both points to people, and most people took exception to my thoughts on the fifth season. My guess is they thought if they could prove to me the show was good that I would continue my site. I got a lot of supportive email, but a lot of messages from people yelling at me that the show was great and wonderful and if I didn't like it I was the one who was wrong". Not exactly the kind of response one would expect given the amount of work Simpson and his staff put into Tom's Xena Page. Nevertheless, Simpson sees a positive aspect to the brouhaha that arose over his announcement. "These people were just hurt and confused that I was leaving and that I didn't think the show was good anymore, and so they seized on the issue of my complaints about the quality of the show, and that sparked a larger debate throughout the Xenite community. I think it was a good thing to debate, and hopefully we'll see a better sixth season because of it".


Conclusion



You won't kill me too, will you?

Though a high risk profession, many have wanted to take Gabrielle's place.


[32] It was not long ago that Xena fans were a cohesive group of people held together by their love of a campy little television show with a large lesbian following. The show did not take itself seriously. The cast did not take all the brouhaha seriously. The fans certainly did not take themselves seriously. The Internet was just finding itself: it was fun, new, and the opportunity to reach out to other fans with the medium was too good to pass up. Suddenly, you could discuss everything and anything with people who shared your obsession or had an entirely different perspective on the show. The exchange of ideas was alluring and seductive. The Internet allowed a level of intimacy heretofore unavailable to the average television viewer. Before if you wanted to discuss a show or interact with other fans, you had to wait until the opportunity arose at a fan fest or a sci-fi convention. However, with the Internet, suddenly there was no need to wait to discuss the show or the messages it conveyed. You could log on and join a bunch of people posting to the NetForum or the then fledgling mailing lists. There was also the safety of anonymity as most people used handles, not their names. Even hidden behind the safety of those handles, rarely did we experience the flaming that is so common on the lists these days. Everyone was content to share their thoughts, and they respected those of others. It was all very comfortable.

[33] Familiarity was something Xena fans became used to, and you tended to see the same handles repeatedly. You looked forward to reading posts that spanned the gamut from commentary on the show's content, the scripts, the special effects, to fan fiction, gossip about production problems, and issues that arose on the set. There were fledgling online personalities developing and we each encouraged and supported their development. It was not surprising to see posts from the production crew, and names like Tyldus, Avicus, and Xenastaff often were seen on the message boards and mailing lists. Anyone who might have missed an episode could get a copy quite easily by simply posting to the NetForum and asking someone to make him or her a copy. Invariably several people volunteered. The cost: videotape and some postage stamps. In some quarters, this generosity still exists, but in other quarters, tape production has stopped, because some fans were demanding a profit. All this illustrates that fandom was a tight knit community, a cohesive group the likes of which astounded many of the people involved in it. Nevertheless, somewhere along the line, this all changed, and fandom today is quite different than it was in the early days of Xena's run. Perhaps that change was inevitable, but I for one long for the old glory days, and we often hear "Old Timers" wax poetic about the old days of Xena fandom.

[34] Almost three years ago I wrote about fan celebrities in a Burbank Con report. I re-read that piece just a few nights ago. Wow! What a difference in perspective. There has been a radical change in the way I perceive the Xenaverse, and I do not think I am misstating the fact when I say that there is also a change in the way the Xenaverse views itself. Much of the fun and wonder seems to have vanished, and we are all very much tied into our own little niche and our own little cliques. We no longer laugh at our foibles and ourselves. Instead, we have staked out our little corner of the Xenaverse, and we guard it jealously against anyone who might threaten the status quo. For me, that has been a sad evolution. The question I am left with after all this is precisely when did we start taking ourselves so seriously?



Biography

Debbie Cassetta Debbie Cassetta
Assistant Editor, FAQ
Debbie Cassetta lives in Nassau County, Long Island and works at a university in New York City, where in addition to her administrative duties she also teaches United States history and social science courses. Known around the Xenaverse as Mistopholees or Mist, she is the founder and president of Sword and Staff, as well as the creator and editor of the Lucy Lawless FAQ. Debbie also wrote a chapter entitled "Into the Mix: Xena Nights, Subtext and Misconceptions" for Nikki Stafford's book, Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor: Warrior Stars of Xena. Her other interests include photography, reading, and science fiction movies.
Favorite episode: ALTARED STATES (19/119), IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (24/124), ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313), and IDES OF MARCH (89/421).
Favorite line: Xena: "I have many skills." THE BLACK WOLF (11/111); TIES THAT BIND (20/120); HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS (35/211)
First episode seen: ALTARED STATES (19/119)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515)

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