Whoosh! Issue 62 - November 2001


By Alison Ashworth
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
6164 words

     A Brief History of Lesbian and Gay Representation on American Television (11-24)
     A Very Brief History of Lesbianism (25-26)
     The Positive Benefits of Media Acknowledgement (27-37)
     Xena and 'Romance' (38- 40)



Why it's important for your breath to be minty fresh
XENA was a lesbian icon early on.

[01] Media representation has the potential to offer emotional and cultural support to gay youngsters who are effectively isolated within the hetero-sexist institutions of early life, particularly the family and the educational system. However, media representation has historically had the opposite effect. Steven Capsuto, in his book Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television, recounts his experiences as a volunteer for a gay help-line in 1987:

Many of the phone-in clients were gay or bisexual teenagers who had internalized so much of society's prejudice that they were contemplating suicide. "What do you think gay people are like?" we would ask them. Their invariable response: "I only know what I see on TV"[Note 01].

[02] Capsuto reinforces this point with his observation that in 1974 six prime-time dramas in the United States portrayed lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters and "all were rapists, child molesters, or murderers"[Note 02]. The impact of these representations is underlined by Capsuto:

Unlike children in most minorities, whose family and friends can serve as role models, gay youth historically had only stereotypes to tell them who they were. In 1989, a federal study of teen suicide estimated that one-third of such deaths in the United States were gay teenagers who had learned self-hatred from many sources, including the media[Note 03].

[03] Given the importance of media representation to gay people, I would like to argue that the television series Xena: Warrior Princess (hereafter referred to as Xena), within the context of American television production and reception, demonstrates a level of lesbian cultural representation and affirmation unimaginable only ten years ago. Indeed, A. A. Gill, writing for the Sunday Times in 1999, underlines this point with the assertion that Xena is "the greatest lesbian icon of our century"[Note 04].

[04] This is not to say that Xena can be seen unambiguously as a lesbian text; there is considerable debate concerning the true nature of Xena's relationship with her companion, Gabrielle. However, I will argue that this 'subtext' -- as many people refer to the lesbian interpretation of Xena -- is, in fact, 'maintext': that is, it offers the most plausible, consistent, and coherent account for the narrative and character developments we witness.

[05] That the lesbian text of Xena is referred to as 'subtext', a subordinate ranking, ironically even by lesbians who, by not acknowledging the implications of their own use of the word unconsciously support and perpetuate society's hetero-sexism, is merely a reflection of the hetero-sexist world we live in. It is a world where heterosexual meanings are privileged and where heterosexuality is accepted in a hegemonic, common sense way as the only legitimate context within which romantic and/or sexual relations can be expressed between two people, both within cultural texts and within wider society.

[06] The show itself concerns the adventures of a woman warrior in Ancient Greece who has a violent and 'dark' past. She is rescued from her wicked ways by another superhero, Hercules (in the parent series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), and resolves to redeem herself by fighting for the innocent and downtrodden. Safely in the realm of her own series, Xena's first adventure sees her rescuing a young peasant girl, Gabrielle, from the clutches of slave traders, and, after agreeing to travel together, the pair embark on a journey of adventure and heroism which takes them to many historical locations and events. Sara Gwenllian Jones describes the show as an

eclectic and irreverent mix of popular culture, Greek mythology, ancient history, Hong Kong-style fight sequences, tragic heroism, ironic humour, and heavily signalled queerness[Note 05],
while Eggar observes that
"in terms of plot, drama, acting, tension and thrills, Xena is a dead loss, but then that's not the point"[Note 06].

[07] In order to argue that Xena is a culturally significant and important text for lesbians, we must seek to establish that its most obvious and coherent interpretation is that of a lesbian love story. Any such argument must therefore begin with an examination of relevant historical factors, and it will therefore seek to contextualize Xena in terms of lesbian representation on American television. It will include a brief overview of the struggles and counter-struggles in relation to the politics of gay representation, and a discussion of other American television series at several points in time over the last decade or so. This latter point is particularly important in terms of contrasting the level of representation apparent in Xena with other significant 'gay' moments in television history.

[08] This paper will also briefly explore the commercial imperatives of American television and how this has been used to justify gay exclusion. It will then turn to an examination of the mechanisms by which lesbian identity has traditionally been made invisible in society and culture and this will be important to our understanding and appreciation of the full significance of Xena to lesbian audiences. It will examine the tradition of 'tough' media representations of women, the positive effects that such portrayals can have, and the possible benefits of vicarious experience. These factors will then be linked to a consideration of the ways in which the textual elements of Xena may be understood in terms of 'romance'.

[09] Part Two of this paper, which will appear in next month's issue of Whoosh, will explore the creative context of the show itself. This will involve a brief summary of how the series was conceived and a consideration of the possible motivations for the inclusion of a lesbian subtext. It will briefly engage with the idea that portrayals of 'tough' female characters and same-sex protagonists are often linked to lesbianism. It will also consider how these factors, coupled with the show's style and choice of generic setting, conspire to create textual conditions which effectively invite us, as lesbian viewers, to see our own realities represented in the show. It will also be useful in this section to briefly examine lesbian reception of Xena and, particularly, how lesbian viewers appropriated the show and ultimately influenced its narrative direction.

[10] Finally, this argument would not be complete without a consideration of the textual elements of the series that construct a plausible, consistent, and coherent interpretation of Xena as a lesbian love story. Crucially, Part Three, which will appear in a subsequent issue of Whoosh, will seek to argue that Xena is not only culturally important but is a unique text. This argument will be pursued because Xena's status in the mainstream begins to provide some compensation for decades of lesbian cultural exclusion via the world's most popular and accessible entertainment medium. Consequently, I will argue that the show is important and progressive as a feminist text, but it is much, much more important and transgressive as a lesbian text. I will also explore how the show's finale can be argued to diminish its significance in cultural terms, but also how it may ultimately be viewed as an inspiring and politicizing conclusion for lesbians.


A Brief History of Lesbian and Gay Representation on American Television

Xena, I don't recall you having a moustache!
Reluctant to be blatant, a Second Season 'kiss' between Xena and Gabrielle took place while Xena possessed Autolycus' body.

[11] Writing in 1991, George Comstock states that 1300 of the 1700 broadcast television stations licensed to operate in the USA are profit-seeking commercial enterprises, broadcasting approximately 8.5 million hours of programming per year. There are three giant networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- which provide a substantial share of programming to affiliates and are also predominant purchasers of original programming which is subsequently recycled in syndication to affiliated and independent stations alike. These three networks' share of the audience in prime time was estimated at about 70% in the early 1990s[Note 07]. Referencing the work of journalist Les Brown, Comstock summarizes Brown's account of network competition in determining what Americans can see on television as follows:

His intent was to emphasize that the providing of programming in exchange for the attention of audiences is not the central transaction but merely a necessary preliminary one. The central transaction is the sale of that attention to advertisers. The product is the audience. Its value to advertisers is a function of size and makeup, with those because of age, income, sex, or other characteristics most likely to become consumers of the advertised products preferred[Note 08].

[12] This profit-seeking commercial imperative has had significant implications for gay representation on American television, in the context of a hetero-sexist society. According to Capsuto, when network radio broadcasting began in the 1920s,

homosexuality ... was generally considered to be so filthy, so warped, so unmentionably dangerous that even antigay speeches were banned from the airwaves.

[13] Consequently, any gay content in novels, plays, and historical events adapted for radio broadcast was censored out. The word 'homosexual' began to be used on television in the mid-1950s -- at a time when homosexual sex was a crime in every state -- but "only in non-fictional shows, and only rarely"[Note 09]. Gay author Allen Young describes how it felt to be gay at this time:

[In the 1950s, I was] overwhelmed with a sense of my abnormality; I had no idea there were millions of other teenagers going through the very same thing. Everywhere, in the newspapers and magazines, on radio and TV, in the movies, there wasn't the slightest affirmation of homosexuality[Note 10].

[14] As the liberalization of the 1960s got underway, homosexual references became permissible on television but "as far as television's entertainment shows were concerned, homosexuals were strange, unseen beings who presumably existed somewhere off-camera, and whose mere mention was cause for snickering or terror".

[15] Capsuto argues that a change occurred in the late 1960s as the social advances inspired by the counterculture, the sexual revolution, and black civil rights movements began to be recognized in the mainstream. However, he asserts that

When a lesbian [appeared], she typically was carrying a smoking gun or bloodied knife. Other acceptable roles for lesbians were as a victim of violence (often at the hands of other lesbians) and as a woman mourning her lover's death. As these descriptions suggest, gay women seldom appeared in comedies. By contrast, gay men were considered very funny ... Regardless of gender, gay roles generally were one-shot guest appearances: gay regulars were such an oddity that those few who did appear became the subject of news reports[Note 11].

[16] In the 1970s, partly in response to some outrageously homophobic depictions of gay people in episodes of Police Woman and Marcus Welby, M.D., gay organizations began to protest vociferously. By 1975, all three major networks had agreed to avoid stereotyping gay characters, and to consult gay community representatives in order to increase their shows' believability. However, in the early 1980s, the effects of Ronald Reagan's presidency and the rise of Religious Right groups (such as the Moral Majority and Christian Voice) were a sobering experience for network executives.

[17] Religious groups began to boycott sponsors of 'immoral' television shows and the networks capitulated to their demands. This situation was exacerbated by the panic associated with early reports of the AIDS virus. Although this meant that lesbian roles became more prominent for a while, activists became preoccupied with AIDS issues and, according to Capsuto, this meant that pressure on the networks was not maintained[Note 12].

[18] There were, however, important developments over the next decade or so, and in order to begin to appreciate Xena's significance in terms of lesbian representation, it will now, therefore, be useful to examine in greater depth some more contemporary gay media portrayals and issues.

[19] In 1989, a thirtysomething episode ('Strangers') attracted considerable controversy. It was to feature two gay men in bed, but, according to Capsuto, although all physical affection between the men was cut from the episode, many sponsors refused to be associated with it. ABC claimed it had lost $1.5 million in advertising, and this figure was often quoted to justify censorship of controversial subjects, such as portrayals of ordinary homosexuals as ordinary human beings[Note 13].

[20] The extent of this exclusion and its relevance to gay people becomes clearer if we consider Capsuto's account of another 'controversial' event -- a kiss between two regular female characters in the drama series LA Law -- which took place two years later, in 1991:

It was not really a "lesbian" kiss, since the scene had a bisexual woman kissing a basically straight friend. [However] that L.A. Law kiss between friends passed swiftly into gay community lore. People held house parties to watch videos of the episode, often using a copy of a copy of a tape that some distant acquaintance had the foresight to record. For straight friends of gay viewers, it was probably baffling that this minor scene should seem like such a revelation. But for many gay viewers, it was the first time they had ever seen their love reflected, however remotely, in the nation's most influential medium. Accustomed to total starvation, they savored this tasty crumb[Note 14].

[21] Three years later in 1994, a same-sex kiss was again the subject of much controversy, this time in the long-running and extremely popular situation comedy, Roseanne. Capsuto contextualizes this event by explaining that the show's star, Roseanne Arnold, was gay friendly and had already included several recurring gay characters in the show. This was allowed, he argues, because of the show's success, but consent did not extend to these gay characters expressing physical affection:

In a 1992 Christmas episode, ABC had even let Nancy kiss her then girlfriend, Marla, under the mistletoe. That caused only minimal fuss since the camera safely cut away just before the moment of truth. For the 1994 show, however, Roseanne Arnold felt it was essential to show the kiss so the audience would know what her character was reacting to. In theory, there was little to justify censoring the scene: a lesbian character was to kiss a straight woman, who would then grimace and wipe her mouth.

Some ABC executives, however, had misgivings. The issue was not who was kissed, but that the audience - and sponsors - would see it. If (as ABC's Robert Iger kept repeating) thirtysomething lost over $1 million for showing gay men not even touching, what might happen if a program showed a lesbian kiss?[Note 15]

However, the executives' fears were short-lived: the episode was the week's highest rated television show and the season's fourth most popular episode[Note 16].

[22] The same year, the issue of representing gay desire again arose, this time in relation to a regular gay character in Melrose Place. Although some advances had clearly been made in terms of gay visibility by this time, kissing or any physical affection between two gay people who were not psychopathic deviants was still strictly prohibited. Capsuto expresses the frustration felt by gay people at this time in his account of the issues surrounding the absence of gay relationships on television:

Like every installment of Melrose Place, this episode unflinchingly depicted all manner of perversity, so Fox could hardly have argued that family values were at stake. A tender kiss between men was considered more threatening than depicting murder, rape, adultery, firebombing, incestuous child molestation, or fag-bashers brutally kicking a gay man whom they had beaten to the ground - all of which Melrose Place put on-screen in the mid 1990s at 8 p.m.

What did Fox consider allowable? Where were the boundaries between tolerance and acceptance? Matt as a platonic chum and confidante visitor in his straight neighbors' lives was okay. Matt as a celibate victim of gay-bashing and job discrimination was fine. Matt as an estranged son reconciling with his antigay father was also fine. Matt living with a Russian woman and her child as part of an "immigration marriage" was just dandy. But Matt could not know romantic affection[Note 17].

[23] A few years later, the actor and comedian, Ellen DeGeneres, made the decision to come out both in real life and in her life as the title character of her television show, Ellen. This would be a first: an openly lesbian woman starring in her own prime time television show as an openly lesbian woman. As rumors of the event circulated a propaganda battle between the Religious Right and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) ensued. Both lobbied ABC's parent company, Disney, and employed direct action tactics: GLAAD campaigned for Disney to stop dithering over the issue, and the Religious Right organized a boycott of Disney merchandise in protest. In any case, the event occurred in 1997 and proved to be highly significant for many gay people, as Capsuto explains:

That spring, "The Puppy Episode" beat tough competition to win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series (Single Episode). It also won a Peabody Award. Anecdotal evidence from social service agencies suggests that thousands of people came out to family or friends that month, many citing Ellen as the catalyst. Hundreds wrote to DeGeneres thanking her and saying they wished she had been on TV when they were younger. Some young people wrote to say that she had given them hope and dissuaded them from suicide. A lesbian in her fifties said that without DeGeneres's visibility, she would never have found the courage to come out to her family, finally bringing them together in openness[Note 18].

[24] However, for any of a number of reasons - poor ratings, poor promotion, poor quality, being 'too gay' - Ellen was cancelled the following season[Note 19].

A Very Brief History of Lesbianism

lesbian n. 1. a female homosexual [...] [C19: from the homosexuality attributed to Sappho]

homosexual n. 1. a person who is sexually attracted to members of the same sex.[Note 20]

[25] It is not only in the make-believe world of television, however, that lesbian existence has been denied, although we must acknowledge that, even today, the mainstream media continue to perpetuate this exclusion by articulating a discourse which assumes a heterosexual 'us' and a homosexual 'them'. Today, Sappho is widely accepted to have been a lesbian, as illustrated by the passage above, but, according to Tasmin Wilton, Sappho's writings were publicly burned in a Christian attempt to suppress paganism in 380 C.E. and again by the Pope in the eleventh century. They were rediscovered in quoted extracts in Greek and Italian texts by Italian scholars during the early Renaissance. When translated into English, the fragments were 'forcibly reshaped to construct a heterosexual Sappho' until two Oxford scholars discovered discarded scrolls in Egypt of which many were 'unambiguously erotic and clearly addressed to women'[Note 21].

[26] This account is indicative of the difficulties of retrospectively claiming historical figures as lesbian, since history is subject to a constant process of negotiation and interpretation and what are recorded and by whom is subject to the power relations of the day. Lesbians, as women and as members of a sexual minority, are therefore doubly damned in historical terms, and Wilton draws the following conclusions concerning the relative positions of gay men and lesbians in this respect:

Homosexuality is purged from the pages of history as a matter of course. Gay men's sexuality is subject to denial, obliteration, silence. Yet their erasure is not as total as that to which the historical lesbian subject has been treated. Not only is same-sex eroticism silenced by the narratives of history, but those narratives (together with religion, science, art and philosophy) have been told by men for men and about men. Gay men's sexuality may be left out of the account but lesbians are struck off altogether, our very existence denied[Note 22].

The Positive Benefits of Media Acknowledgement

Miffed at constantly being dismissed as the sidekick, 
Gabrielle contemplates placing the soap 'where the sun don't shine'.
Subtext was part of the show from very early on in the series.

[27] We have briefly outlined how lesbians have been erased or made invisible by the media and in history, and we have established that representation is an important issue for gay people. However, we do need to address the question of why it is important in a little more depth and I will therefore discuss the positive benefits that progressive portrayals of lesbians in the media can have.

[28] One of the reasons why Xena is distinctive is because it is a mainstream adventure television series, often perceived as a children's show, in which the two main characters, and heroes, are women. Furthermore, they are independent, confident, and 'tough', which is unusual insofar as historical representations of women in the media are concerned. Such representations have traditionally tended to promote certain dominant notions of femininity and what it means to be a woman. Mellen, for example, describes typical post-war women in film as 'simpering, dependent hysterics or ... undulating sexual manikins, epitomized by Marilyn Monroe'[Note 23]. However, as women have acquired more cultural and purchasing power due to the advances won by feminism, these traditional gender representations in the media have gradually broadened out and have now progressed enough to show women acting out roles traditionally reserved for men. According to Sherrie A. Inness, representations of such 'tough' women can have cathartic implications:

Almost every woman dreams at one point or another about having the super powers or toughness of character that will make her invincible. Most of us have longed to be able to run sixty miles an hour like the Bionic Woman. Who has not wished to have the tough, no-nonsense air and the pumped-up pecs of Sarah Connor in the Terminator films? ... The tough woman hero is so scarce in American Culture that we take notice of her and recognize that her portrayal suggests that women are not as excluded from the heroic as Western history has traditionally taught us ... In a culture where women are often considered the "natural" victims of men, tough women rewrite the script. Time after time, they are shown defeating the men who attack them - an alluring fantasy in a society where women are too commonly raped, assaulted, and murdered[Note 24].

[29] Setchfield argues that Cathy Gale, who first appeared in The Avengers in 1962, was the first 'indisputably iconic' tough woman[Note 25]. However, the advances of this character are somewhat diminished by the fact that the part was originally written for a man, although the character soon developed into an undeniably transgressive female role. Emma Peel, who continued the tradition and earned Diana Rigg the distinction of an Emmy nomination in 196719, later replaced Gale. Inness, however, classifies the heroines of The Avengers and some later shows, such as Charlie's Angels and The Bionic Woman, as 'semi-tough', arguing that even though these characters made it more acceptable for women to be tough, they also 'helped to reaffirm stereotypes about the sexuality and femininity of women, attributes that worked to diminish the impact of the women's toughness'[Note 26].

[30] The 1980s and 1990s have brought us tough women such as Ellen Ripley, Kathryn Janeway, Clarice Starling, and Dana Scully. Inness argues, however, that even though Starling and Scully are tough, competent and in control, they 'also suggest that women cannot be as tough as men'[Note 27] and that Ripley and Janeway's 'toughness is lessened by the emphasis placed on their maternal and nurturing sides'[Note 28]. Inness' position is therefore that these characters are progressive and positive in many respects, but that emphasizing some aspect of their traditional feminine qualities ultimately weakens them.

[31] We can therefore conclude that portrayals of tough women can have potentially cathartic implications. Yet, at this point in time, we can only imagine the benefits that portrayals of women such as Xena can have for lesbians in terms of providing role models where previously there were none, particularly if we can accept that her toughness is not diminished to the same extent as the characters mentioned above. We will return to examine this issue in Part Three of this paper, but for now, we must consider the potential benefits of lesbian representation in terms of vicarious experience.

[32] "The power of television", writes George Comstock, "lies in the authority of vicarious experience. Vicarious experience provides information about how to behave, when behavior of a particular kind is appropriate, and what the consequences likely will be"[Note 29]. John Fowles elaborates on this positive psychological function by explaining that

The voiding of psychological pressures is precisely what dramatic fantasies do... The real world does not provide all the opportunities people desire for aggressive retribution or sexual contact, but dramatized fantasies offer a setting to carry out these drives vicariously and without repercussions. Individuals need this harmless outlet and would suffer if it were denied them[Note 30].

[33] For lesbians, however, such harmless outlets are denied. The vast majority of television programs refuse to acknowledge lesbian existence, and those that do have traditionally presented distorted and stereotypical images. Xena's significance in its capacity as a lesbian text can therefore be further imagined if we consider Steven Capsuto's assertion that:

The need to see oneself reflected in the broader culture appears to be instinctive from a very young age. Most people probably do not notice this need in themselves: If they belong to a majority race, majority religion, majority sexual orientation, and are not physically disabled, they have seen people much like themselves on screen as far back as they remember. For other people, though, any sort of media visibility, however fleeting, can have a visceral importance[Note 31].

[34] In her 1987 study Reading the Romance: Women, patriachy, and popular literature, Janice Radway considers the relevance of heterosexual romance reading to a number of women, whose consumption of such books amounts to between one and fifteen per week[Note 32]. Radway argues, from her analysis of the process of selection or rejection of particular kinds of narrative, that

the ideal romance is one in which an intelligent and independent woman with a good sense of humour is overwhelmed, after much suspicion and distrust, and some cruelty and violence, by the love of an intelligent, tender and good-humoured man, who in the course of their relationship is transformed from an emotional pre-literate to someone who can care for her and nurture her in ways that traditionally we would expect only from a woman to a man[Note 33].

[35] There are many similarities between Radway's description above and the narrative of Xena. This may partly explain Xena's broad appeal to women, regardless of sexuality. Therefore, we may conclude that Xena not only plays out a lesbian nuanced form of this narrative for lesbian viewers, but that women in general share many emotional needs. Xena can further be argued to perform an intensified form of this function for lesbian audiences whose existence has traditionally been erased in such narratives. John Storey's explanation of Radway's findings in this respect may help to clarify this point:

Radway claims that romantic fantasy is a form of regression in which the reader is imaginatively and emotionally transported to a time 'when she was the center of a profoundly nurturant individual's attention'. Romance reading, she argues, is a fantasy in which the hero is eventually the source of care and attention not experienced by the reader since she was an Oedipal child. Romance reading is therefore a means by which women can vicariously - through the hero-heroine relationship - experience the emotional succour which they themselves are expected to provide others without adequate reciprocation for themselves in their everyday existence[Note 34].

[36] Radway concludes that there are many ways in which romance reading reconciles women to the realties of their everyday existence. Yet, she is also hopeful that it may ultimately be a form of resistance, arguing that as feminists

we should seek it out not only to understand its origins and its utopian longing but also to learn how best to encourage it and bring it to fruition. If we do not, we have already conceded the fight and, in the case of the romance at least, admitted the impossibility of creating a world where the vicarious pleasure supplied by its reading would be unnecessary'[Note 35].

[37] If Radway's conclusions reflect the reality of heterosexual women's existence in a patriarchal world, then these conclusions can undoubtedly be extended to reflect the reality of lesbian women's existence in a hetero- sexist and patriarchal world. If Xena is a lesbian text, therefore, we can see that it compensates for lack in terms of these positive but vicarious psychological experiences, which are largely taken for granted by heterosexual women.

Xena and 'Romance'

Oh, sure, we get this as a Second Season ending, not a 
finale ending!
Xena and Gabrielle walk off into the sunset.

[38] If Xena is a lesbian romantic narrative, it will qualify as both rare and unique in the context of lesbian cultural exclusion and invisibility, and as valuable and empowering in terms of the benefits of vicarious romantic experience. At this point, however, it is important to pause to consider exactly what it is we mean by 'romance', and briefly consider what qualifies the show as a 'romantic' text. In the following general outline of the narrative, dictionary definitions have been utilized in order to demonstrate the many aspects of the words 'romance' and 'romantic' which are explicitly apparent in Xena.

[39] Xena narrates the story of two women who share a romantic love idealized for its purity and beauty and also share a spirit of or inclination for adventure, excitement, or mystery. Their story, although being largely set in Ancient Greece and therefore remote from ordinary life, is presented in a vernacular language, the commonly spoken language or dialect of modern America. It deals with the strange and exciting adventures of chivalrous heroes, where 'chivalry' is defined as meaning especially courage, honor, justice, and a readiness to help the weak and courteous behavior, especially towards women. It is a story dealing with love, usually in an idealized or sentimental way, where sentimental is taken to mean tending to indulge the emotions excessively and making a direct appeal to the emotions, especially to romantic feelings.

[40] It presents an extravagant ["going beyond usual bounds; unrestrained" and "ostentatious; showy"], 'absurd' ["at variance with reason; incongruous; ridiculous" and "ludicrous"], or a fantastic account or explanation. As a fantasy, Xena can be seen to represent "a series of pleasing mental images [which] usually [serve] to fulfil a need not gratified by reality". For lesbians, this need amounts to romantic vicarious experience, visibility and media representation. As an 'account', the lesbian interpretation of Xena provides an explanation ["a clarification of disputed terms or points"] "of [their] conduct'"that is an "assessment'"or "judgement'"whose "importance, consequence"and "value" will ultimately "profit or advantage" the excluded, invisible and isolated members of a "particular people": lesbians[Note 36].

To be continued next issue: Part Two: The Creative Content


Note 01:
Steven Capsuto, Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000) p. xi.
Return to article

Note 02:
Ibid. p.xii.
Return to article

Note 03:
Ibid. p.xiv.
Return to article

Note 04:
A. A. Gill, 'A Teeny Pain in the Neck', The Sunday Times: Culture, 24 January 1999, p.30.
Return to article

Note 05:
Sara Gwenllian Jones, 'Starring Lucy Lawless?', Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, April 2000, p.9.
Return to article

Note 06:
Robin Eggar, 'Is it a Bird?', The Sunday Times: Style, 27 July 1997, p.8.
Return to article

Note 07:
George Comstock, Television in America, The Sage Commtext Series, 1, 2nd edn (London: Sage, 1991), p.9.
Return to article

Note 08:
Ibid. p.5
Return to article

Note 09:
Capsuto, Alternate Channels, p.3.
Return to article

Note 10:
Allen Young, quoted in Capsuto, Alternate Channels, p.1.
Return to article

Note 11:
Capsuto, Alternate Channels, p.4.
Return to article

Note 12:
Ibid. p.5-6.
Return to article

Note 13:
Ibid. p.244.
Return to article

Note 14:
Ibid. p.274.
Return to article

Note 15:
Ibid. p.327.
Return to article

Note 16:
Ibid. p.329.
Return to article

Note 17:
Ibid. p.337.
Return to article

Note 18:

Return to article

Note 19:
Ibid. 394.
Return to article

Note 20:
Patrick Hanks, Collins Dictionary of the English Language, Second ed. (London: Collins, 1986), p.880 and p.734.
Return to article

Note 21:
Tamsin Wilton, Lesbian Studies: Setting an Agenda (London: Routledge, 1995), p.54.
Return to article

Note 22:
Ibid. p.60.
Return to article

Note 23:
J Mellen, Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film (London: Davis- Poynter, 1974), p.24.
Return to article

Note 24:
Sherrie A. Inness, Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), p.8.
Return to article

Note 25:
Nick Setchfield, 'Kick-Ass Angels', Cult TV, vol. 2, no. 3, March 1998, pp.28.
Return to article

Note 26:
Inness, Tough Girls, p.49.
Return to article

Note 27:
Ibid. p.101.
Return to article

Note 28:
Ibid. p.119
Return to article

Note 29:
Comstock, Television in America, p.126.
Return to article

Note 30:
John Fowles, Why Viewers Watch: A Reappraisal of Television's Effects, rev edn (London: Sage, 1992), p.243.
Return to article

Note 31:
Capsuto, Alternate Channels, p.413.
Return to article

Note 32:
Janice Radway, quoted in John Storey, An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 2nd edn (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall / Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997), p.147.
Return to article

Note 33:
Ibid. p.147.
Return to article

Note 34:
John Storey, An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 2nd edn (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall / Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997), p.147.
Return to article

Note 35:
Radway, in Storey, An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, p.151-2.
Return to article

Note 36:
Hanks, Collins Dictionary, pps.6, 9, 279, 536, 540, 550, 1391, 1685.
Return to article


Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin, eds., The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 1993)

Robert C Allen, ed., Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 1992).

alt.tv.xena: Subtext FAQ http://www.xenite.org/faqs/subtext.htm

Australian Xena Information Page http:\\ausxip.com

Kathleen E. Bennett, Xena: Warrior Princess, Desire Between Women, and Interpretive Response http://www.infogoddess/xena/

Paul Burston and Colin Richardson, eds., A Queer Romance: Lesbians, Gay Men and Popular Culture (London: Routledge, 1995).

Steven Capsuto, Alternate Channels: The Uncensored Story of Gay and Lesbian Images on Radio and Television (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000).

Danae Clark, 'Commodity Lesbianism', in Abelove, Barale and Halperin, eds., The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 1993), pp.186-201.

George Comstock, Television in America, The Sage Commtext Series, 1, 2nd edn (London: Sage, 1991).

Robin Eggar, 'Is it a Bird?', The Sunday Times: Style, 27 July 1997, p.8.

Jib Fowles, Why Viewers Watch: A Reappraisal of Television's Effects, rev edn (London: Sage, 1992).

A A Gill, 'A Night at the Camp Site', The Sunday Times: Culture, 20 July 1997, p.27.

________ 'A Teeny Pain in the Neck', The Sunday Times: Culture, 24 January 1999, p.30.

Sara Gwenllian Jones, 'Starring Lucy Lawless?', Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 14, no. 1, April 2000, pp. 9-22.

Diane Hamer and Belinda Budge, eds., The Good, the Bad and the Gorgeous (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1994).

Patrick Hanks, Collins Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd edn (London: Collins, 1986)

John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson, eds., The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

Patricia Holland, The Television Handbook (London: Routledge, 1997).

Stuart Hood, ed., Behind the Screens: The Structure of British Television in the Nineties (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1994).

Sherrie A. Inness, Tough Girls: Women Warriors and Wonder Women in Popular Culture (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).

Shameem Kabir, Daughters of Desire: Lesbian Representations in Film (London: Cassell, 1998).

J Mellen, Women and Their Sexuality in the New Film (London: Davis- Poynter, 1974).

Joe Nazzaro, 'Hercules & Xena: Introducing Two Television Legends', Starburst Special 27, April 1996, pp.22-27.

Queery http:\\www.queery.com

Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (New York: Harper & Row, 1987).

Nick Setchfield, 'Kick-Ass Angels', Cult TV, vol. 2, no. 3, March 1998, pp.28-33.

Anneke Smelik, 'Gay and Lesbian Criticism', in Hill and Church Gibson, eds., The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.135-147.

John Storey, An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture, 2nd edn (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall / Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997).

Subtextopedia: Your Guide to Xena Subtext http://subtext.simplenet.com/xena&gab.html

John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text (London: Macmillan, 1983).

Upbeat Entertainment News Online http:\\www.2upbeatmag.com/TUBE-FILE

Whoosh: Journal of the International Association of Xena Studies http://whoosh/org

Tamsin Wilton, Lesbian Studies: Setting an Agenda (London: Routledge, 1995)

Xena - Warrior Princess http://studiosusa.com/xena

Xena: Warrior Princess: The Official Magazine, issue 10, August 2000.

Xena Warrior Lesbian http://geocities.com/TelevisionCity/4580


Alison Ashworth Alison Ashworth

I am a 37-year-old Health & Safety Inspector from Luton, Bedfordshhire, UK and I wrote this as my dissertation for my MA in Popular Culture.
Favorite line: Callisto: "Love, love, love, love. Oh, it unites, you're right" RETURN OF CALLISTO
First episode seen: Don't remember
Least favorite episode: LYRE, LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE

Return to 
Top Return to Index