Whoosh! Issue 56 - May 2001


By Alice Palumbo
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
1620 words

Introduction (01-05)
The Way of Madonna and the Two-Fold Path Towards Enlightenment (06-08)
Conclusion (09-10)



No, really.  I used to be a handsome immortal Greek god.  Now I'm just a fat mortal slob.
Steve isn't just a name, it's a way of life, according to THE TAO OF STEVE.

[01] In the film The Tao of Steve (Jenniphr Goodman, 2000), a slacker guy worked up a life philosophy based on the movies of Steve McQueen. Being a "Steve", as he said, would help you get women without seeming to, and assist in one's journey towards personal coolness. To look at a similar, more musically based, philosophical example, one can consider Deadheads. Thousands of people spent years following the Grateful Dead and constructing their own golden roads based on the ideals of absolute democracy and absolute creativity distilled from Dead songs. In this vein, Madonna's acclaimed 1998 album Ray of Light[Note 01] can be seen as the guiding philosophy behind Seasons Four and Five of Xena: Warrior Princess.

[02] Steve McQueen may help to get you lots of chicks, but Madonna can guide you through spiritual crises, twenty-five-year sojourns in an ice cave, and dealing with an ingrate vicious mass-murdering child turned whiny religious fanatic. Madonna, in her current phase as "Not Perfect but Doing Her Best" Master[Note 02], is the spiritual force behind Xena's and Gabrielle's hectic, season-and-a-half spiritual and maternal quest. Ray of Light's songs present teachings illuminated by the actions of Xena and Gabrielle in their own quest to re-invent themselves. However, Xena and Gabrielle do not always follow Madonna's practical spirituality, to their detriment[Note 03].

[03] It is easy to see the similarities between Madonna and Xena: both are strong women with only one name and both have demonstrated, in the past, tolerant and pragmatic outlooks on life. Ray of Light appears to presage many of the plot and thematic developments on Xena: Warrior Princess of the fourth and fifth seasons, in more than its Indian music veneer.

[04] Madonna, as always swimming with the tide but faster, has many valuable spiritual lessons to teach Xena and Gabrielle in the course of their own journey. Madonna's influence can be seen in earlier episodes: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204) and A TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406) are both infused with the philosophy of "Into the Groove"[Note 04] and are cautionary tales of what happens when people do not "get into the groove".

[05] Dancing, Madonna says here, makes you feel free. It is not surprising that the Amazons in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110) place so much importance on it. Ray of Light, however, presents an entire worldview in contrast to the more concise spiritual hint in "Into the Groove", and as such illuminates many facets of Seasons Four and Five of Xena: Warrior Princess.

The Way of Madonna, and the Two-Fold Path Towards Enlightenment

[06] Ray of Light starts off with an encapsulation of the primary narrative of Xena, in "Substitute for Love":

I travelled round the world
Looking for a home
Madonna directs us here to realize that we may find love where we least expect it (with a "Beautiful Stranger", no doubt), and Xena and Gabrielle know this. Season Four, after Gabrielle returned from the hospice she landed in (after her leap into the abyss with Hope) and found Xena, depicts both women searching for something more, and weary of what they have. Madonna recognizes this spiritual weariness in "Swim", which teaches us that although we may tire of "carry[ing] sins", we cannot help but assume greater tasks in this world. The Not-Perfect Master suggests "carry[ing] this train off its track", but, as we see, Xena and Gabrielle choose to journey to India (as the Not-Perfect Master has done herself, musically, on Ray of Light) and to confront head-on their destinies of becoming Roman lawn ornaments.

[07] Gabrielle's spiritual quest was prompted by her sudden reconsideration of her life with Xena up to the point of A GOOD DAY (73/405), and the rest of Season Four (and Season Five) followed the ramifications of her need to reject violence. Madonna's spiritual quest, delineated on Ray of Light, has many parallels with Gabrielle's. Both women seek more meaning from their lives, and have grown weary with their previous routines and practices. Both women find the beginning of their re-awakening in yoga: Madonna in "Shanti/Ashtangi", the album's sole Hindi track, Gabrielle in PARADISE FOUND (81/413). Gabrielle's yoga master, unfortunately, is the insidious Aidan, who literalizes the goal of eliminating the self through spiritual exercise.

[08] The rest of Season Four follows the Tao of Madonna in the more superficial aspects only: light applications of Indian music and philosophy. The most important lessons Xena and Gabrielle apply from the Not-Perfect Master Madonna occur in Season Five, with its over-arching themes of recovery and motherhood. Amnesia figures in both "Skin", from Ray of Light, and Xena's recovery from being crucified, dead, an angel, a demon, and Callisto's surrogate womb, in CHAKRAM (92/502). Madonna assures us that we will always remember who and what really matters, and Xena follows suit in CHAKRAM. As we find, Xena is never able to forget everything about her past, no matter how much of her memory is wiped[Note 05]. Love, Madonna tells us, can repair even the most grievous amnesia.


Watch carefully as my hair never leaves my head
Love is all you need, according to Eli (and John Lennon).

[09] Love, of course, is the message of Eli throughout his appearances in Season Five of Xena: Warrior Princess after his introduction in Season Four's DEVI (82/414), and it is interesting to see how the love he preaches mutates into Xena's personal death-squad mission against the gods of Olympus. Here, the Not-Perfect Master and Xena part ways. Madonna, while on her own spiritual quest, is aware of others', as she demonstrates in "Sky Fits Heaven": while "travelling on [her] own road", she realizes that "isn't everyone". Madonna here is encouraging us to follow our authentic selves, but to respect others doing the same. Xena, on the other hand, is on a mission from a Supreme Being[Note 06]. The Olympian Gods must die for no other reason than that they are the Olympian Gods[Note 07]. Xena is shown stubbornly sticking to what she believes is her and Eve's destiny, even though she made a point in earlier seasons of refusing to acknowledge destiny, and of embracing free will. The Not-Perfect Master's message of tolerance appears here to have been lost.

[10] Madonna's lessons have been extremely influential on Xena: Warrior Princess. The Not-Perfect Master's primary messages of tolerance and mutability have sunk in, as Season Six has demonstrated. By the time of YOU ARE THERE (125/613), Xena and Gabrielle show that they have learned to let others walk their own roads (as Eve says, more or less, in one of her interviews in the episode, when she tells the journalist that while Xena is not a follower of Eli, she respects their beliefs), and to embrace change and not be afraid to admit their mistakes. Xena's gift of the golden apples of immortality to Ares and Aphrodite is a big turnaround from her deicidal ways of Season Five, and as such, an apology, of sorts. Xena has embraced the Two-Fold Path Madonna teaches on Ray of Light, that of Tolerance and Mutability, and is now ready to advance. "I'm still running", is the final line on Ray of Light, and can serve as Xena's and Gabrielle's mantra as Season Six continues.


Note 01:
Ray of Light, released in March 1998, won several Grammy Awards, and epitomized Madonna's mix 'n' match spiritual phase, as well as her enthusiastic embrace of the latest in British dance production technology. The album was striking in that it was Madonna's first release in four years, and demonstrated that she had not lost her touch for finding, and riding, the newest wave of dance music. "Beautiful Stranger", a single from the same period, appeared on the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999) soundtrack and demonstrated that Madonna can do the Bangles better than the Bangles could.
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Note 02:
As established in the 2000 album Music's track "Nobody's Perfect".
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Note 03:
Madonna's practicality in this parallels Season One and Two's Xena, whose distanced respect for the gods is combined with a healthy sense of self-preservation.
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Note 04:
From the soundtrack to the film Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985).
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Note 05:
Which occurs again in Season Six, in the Ring Trilogy. Even after losing her memory of life with (and without) Gabrielle, and marrying Hrothgar, Xena is able to pull something together to find her way to Gabrielle.
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Note 06:
Who knows what or which Supreme Being? It is probably the one that stocks the "New Age" section at the local Barnes and Noble. (Or Coles, or W. H. Smith...)
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Note 07:
Of course, in the Season Six episode YOU ARE THERE (125/613), Ares and Aphrodite get their godhoods back as Xena realizes that you cannot have love without hate, although Aphrodite seemed to be doing just fine without Ares in TEN LITTLE WARLORDS (32/208).
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Alice Palumbo Alice Palumbo

Alice Palumbo lives in Toronto, where she has two cats and an underused doctorate in English, as well as an excessive CD collection. When not teaching cultural studies, she watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, XWP, and CBC Newsworld, eh, and impersonates a legal secretary.
Favorite episode: THE QUEST
Favorite line:Xena: "I'm a lunatic with lethal combat skills." Xena, THE FURIES
First episode seen:CRADLE OF HOPE

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