Whoosh! Issue 62 - November 2001

CONSTANT CRAVING:
A PERSPECTIVE OF THE XENAVERSE AS
INFLUENCED BY THE CONVENTION EXPERIENCE

By Valerie Foster
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
4051 words


INTRODUCTION (01-03)
BIG CON/LITTLE CON (04-17)
CELEBRATING FAN DIVERSITY (18-25)
          What Is It With Them Lesbians? (19-21)
          Straight As Folk (22-23)
          O Brother, Where Art Thou? (24-25)
LUCY & RENEE VS. SEDONA, ARIZONA (26-35)
CONCLUSION (36-37)
NOTES
ARTICLES
BIOGRAPHY



CONSTANT CRAVING:
A PERSPECTIVE OF THE XENAVERSE AS INFLUENCED
BY THE CONVENTION EXPERIENCE



INTRODUCTION



one more bad Xena comedy, and I'm over the cliff!

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.


[01] When I heard about Whoosh's plan for a Special Pasadena Convention 2001 Issue, I wanted to participate with a contributing article. Alas, I could not because right after Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor's appearance at the convention Sunday afternoon, May 6, 2001, my partner and I were hitting the highway for our much-anticipated nine-day "Great Southwest" road trip. Thus, by the time I had learned that such an issue was forthcoming; the deadline for submission of articles had come and gone.

[02] So, here I am months later, home from my wonderful vacation, fully prepared to offer up a one-fan viewpoint of that vast, eclectic, and even somewhat esoteric world of Xena fandom as experienced under the dome of the thing we affectionately or contemptibly know as the Creation Entertainment Xena Convention.

[03] This perspective will be discussed in three parts. Part One will explore the vast differences between the small, "secondary" celebrity conventions and the Pasadena/Santa Monica Cons that Creation likes to refer as the "Big One". Part Two will explore the unique makeup of the convention goers themselves. Part Three will discuss the celebrities and offer a personal perspective as to why some are more "fan friendly" than others.



BIG CON/LITTLE CON

[04] Like many fans, I have been to several conventions. Having come into fandom in the middle of the third season, my initial exposure was a very modest one. Thus, my very first convention attendance, in the fall of 1998, was near Detroit, in Dearborn, Michigan, a mere 150 miles drive from my home. Danielle Cormack was the only celebrity guest on Sunday (Xena day), the only day that my partner and I attended.

[05] I had purchased our "Gold Circle" tickets only a few weeks in advance and had first-row seats for the Sunday-only event. Because I was so new to the fandom, I had not yet made any online friends or joined any of the myriad mailing lists. I was neither a Trekker nor a sci-fi buff, so I did not know what to expect at this convention. I was pleasantly surprised. The convention hall itself was intimate and accommodating. No seat, including those in "General" seating, was a bad seat. Danielle Cormack was very amusing as she joked about wanting to take an AK-47 to Xena for breaking her arm in THE BITTER SUITE, how Ephiny and Gabrielle could have been more than "just friends", and that Renee O'Connor is the type of gal Danielle would love to take home to meet the folks. Danielle interacted well with the fans and, if my recollection served me, signed for everyone.

[06] The three subsequent "little" conventions I attended were, likewise, very pleasurable experiences. Two of them were in Chicago: one in November of 1999 and the other exactly one year later in the fall of 2000. I had again ordered my "Gold Circle" tickets only a few weeks in advance and for the 1999 Chicago Convention, was able to secure second row seats. I had not received the tickets prior to leaving for Chicago, another 150-mile drive away from home, but was assured by Creation that my name was on a roster and that my correct seats would be reserved for me, which did occur. The '99 Chicago Con was notably wonderful because of the appearance of the cast from "Xena Live", which was a highly successful theater show running in Chicago at the time.

I'm just a shadow of my former self--no, wait!  My former self is a shadow of me--no...I'm SOOOO confused!

A Humbled Hudson


[07] Likewise, the 2000 Chicago Convention was very enjoyable. Again ordering "Gold Circle" tickets only a few weeks in advance, we were able to secure front row seats. Much of the joy of that convention was attributed to Hudson Leick's appearance.

[08] Two weeks before the 2000 Chicago Convention, I flew to northern California to attend the Palo Alto Convention. As had been my experiences with Dearborn in 1998 and Chicago in 1999, I ordered tickets only weeks in advance and obtained a second row seat. There had been major changes in my life as a Xena fan since my first convention encounter. My purpose for flying to California had as much to do with spending time with some of the online friends that I had made over the course of the last two years as it had to do with actually attending the convention. Enjoying the company of pals had, for me, become an integral part of my convention experience.

[09] I have no complaints about Creation Entertainment's ability to host the small, regional convention. However, when it comes to their yearly "Big Ones", Creation leaves much too much to be desired.

[10] My first "Big One" was the 1999 Santa Monica Convention. Although I had ordered "Gold Circle" seats, I did not expect to receive front-row seats to an event that would include Lucy Lawless, but I also did not expect to be seated in such a way that made me feel like I was inside of a sardine can. In an effort to profit from as many "Gold Circle" seats as possible, Creation literally spaced the rows less than two feet apart. I am slender and yet I had to climb over kneecaps to get in and out of the rows.

[11] To further insult the intelligence of the attendees, Creation hired former Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts to "interview" Lawless for her convention appearance. Beatts asked personal questions (Catholic upbringing/mining in Australia, etc.) of which many fans were already aware and about which others could care less. During the interview portion, the convention auditorium was quiet except for the occasional snore. Lawless' appearance sharply improved when she was finally allowed to answer questions from audience. Of course, the questioners were comprised of a few hand-selected friends of Sharon Delaney, president of the Xena Fan Club and a paid employee of Creation Entertainment, but at least some of the questions were about the show.

[12] Although we had more legroom the following year, Creation's need to profit was brutally clear during the 2000 Pasadena Convention. This convention, which featured Kevin Sorbo and Michael Hurst, had the single largest "Gold Circle" seating section known to humankind. "Gold Circle" seats started at Row A and ended somewhere in the double-lettered section. Thus, the lucky individual in Row A paid the exact same $350 for a weekend pass as the poor schlep who sat in Row JJ, 36 rows back. We were in Row N and could not see squat without a 70mm camera lens or a set of high-powered binoculars. The controversy of creating such a large "Gold Circle" seating arrangement went beyond the money patrons paid. The concept of "Gold Circle" seating included the notion that individuals who paid that much money were guaranteed signatures from any celebrity willing to sign. With each row comprising of about 55 seats, signing celebrities would theoretically have signed over 1,900 autographs before reaching that unfortunate individual in Row JJ. Needless to say, most of the celebrities developed writers cramps prior to even finishing off the single-letter rows, leaving many "Gold Circle" ticket holders going home, the majority of them on airplanes, without signatures.

[13] Creation learned the error of its ways for Pasadena 2001, somewhat. It ended the "Gold Circle" section at the much more manageable Row I, but ran the "Preferred" section from Row K to Row ZZ. Under its new policy, only "Gold Circle" patrons were even allowed celebrity autographs without additional costs. Past conventions usually stipulated that "Preferred" patrons could receive autographs, but only at the discretion of each individual celebrity, thus autographs were not guaranteed. For Pasadena 2001, everyone not holding "Gold Circle" tickets was afforded the opportunity to purchase autographs from the celebrities for $35 per signature.

[14] I had no desire to attend the Pasadena 2001 Convention after experiencing the fiascoes of Santa Monica and Pasadena 2000 until it was announced that Renee O'Connor would be joining Lucy Lawless on stage. I felt it would be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the women who created such wonderful characters interacting live together. Creation obviously anticipated that notion, forcing people to pay for a full "Gold Circle" weekend pass ten months before the actual event. My online order did not make the "Gold Circle" cutoff, so I ended up with "Preferred" seats. Yet here is my poetic justice: my much cheaper "Preferred" seats, Row L, Seats 24-25, were better than the both the "Gold Circle" seats that I had had in Santa Monica and Pasadena 2000. Friends of mine who obtained "Gold Circle" seats just before the cutoff were only two or three rows in front of me. My seat was centered and only 12 back from the stage. Without binoculars, I could see the stage well. With binoculars, that notorious nose ring was practically right in front of me.

[15] As for signatures, I could have cared less. Lawless and O'Connor did not sign and I had obtained virtually every other celebrity signature at earlier conventions. Thus, the one time that I purchased "Preferred" seats for a "Big Con" turned out to be my personal best bargain.

[16] Creation's profit still should be emphasized. I ordered my tickets and my credit card was billed ten months in advance of the convention. A friend of mine ordered hers about eight weeks before the convention. She ended up in row NN, Seat 6, 40 rows back from the stage. She and I paid the exact same amount for our individual tickets. The huge screen behind the stage served as an impromptu closed-circuit television for her. Without it, she could not see squat.

[17] It is my humble opinion that when Creation Entertainment presents the smaller, secondary convention, it does a good job of providing an overall satisfying experience. However, Creation falls very short of reasonable professional expectations when it comes to those yearly "Big Ones". Do I personally plan to attend another Xena convention? Now that the show is over, other than the 2001 Dearborn, MI Con, probably not.



CELEBRATING FAN DIVERSITY



We don't just wake up being this diverse, you know--we have to work at it!

Not your atypical fans


[18] Rob Tapert and company got a real thrill out of poking fun at the fans as presented in both SEND IN THE CLONES and SOUL POSSESSION. I, of course, am still looking for those maniacs as portrayed in those two otherwise entertaining six season episodes. What I have come to discover about your average Xena fan is that there is no average Xena fan. In fact, I will venture to say that Xena: Warrior Princess attracts a diverse, in some cases, highly unusual and provocative fan base.



What Is It With Them Lesbians?

[19] I consider myself a quasi-jock. What that means is that I did not start playing softball upon being weaned and potty-trained. I started playing softball in my early 30s as a way to meet other women. When I became a Xena fan, I began articulating my love for the show to my softball buddies and the bar bunnies that many of them dated. The usual response I received was a collective "uh, you're not normal" stare. Lesbian colleagues in the legal profession shared this same collective stare. I learned an early lesson in my Xena fascination: most jocks, bar bunnies, and lawyers do not watch Xena: Warrior Princess. "Mindless sap!" is the consensus.

[20] The lesbians and bisexual fans of Xena: Warrior Princess that I have met are a unique group of women. Many of them are over 40. Most are highly literate and have obtained their post-secondary degrees. Some of my closest Xenite pals are doctors, college professors, teachers, microbiologists, medical research specialists, bookkeepers, and computer geeks. Unlike me, many of them are well versed in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. They follow shows such as Farscape, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stargate-SG1, and the various Star Trek incarnations including the now defunct Star Trek: Voyager among others -- none of which I watch.

[21] Why does Xena: Warrior Princess not attract an even larger lesbian following? My suspicion is that for many younger lesbians and bisexual women, actual lesbian images have become readily available through films, lesbian literature, cable television, and actual lesbian role models. For them, the image of two TV characters that may or may not be lesbians because they have never openly identified as such, cannot compare with these other definitely lesbian images. For the women who do enjoy the show, the need for a quick sexual fix is not paramount. The romance of Xena and Gabrielle, when it has been allowed to shine on the show, can be far more satisfying than even the most erotic imagery.



Straight As Folk

[22] Contrary to what the popular media contends, not all of Xena's fans are lesbians. Not all worshippers of subtext are lesbians. The Xenaverse has a huge, highly evolved fan base of subtext-friendly heterosexual women and men. Having not interacted with most of Xena's straight male fans, I cannot offer a clear description of who they are. I will say that most of the subtext-friendly men that I have encountered are thirtysomething or older, also follow the sci-fi/fantasy genre, and, surprisingly, are avid readers of fan fiction.

[23] A far more intriguing heterosexual subculture of the Xena: Warrior Princess fandom is a segment of the show's female fans. There are tons of straight women that worship the Warrior Princess, college-aged women, single moms, married moms, Xena/Ares "shippers", adolescent Joxerphiles, and grandmothers among others. The most notable group that I have encountered is pro-subtext straight women who are over 35, unmarried (in many cases never having ever been married), childless, and highly educated. Taking on an independent lifestyle that contradicts what is expected of them as heterosexual women, they probably share a deeper affinity to the character of Xena than even the lesbian fans, many of who are in relationships. That affinity, the ability to take on the challenges of life without the constant assistance or interruption of a male partner, is likely a life affirming metaphor for most women in general and these extremely independent heterosexual female fans of the show in particular.



O Brother, Where Art Thou?

[24] As an African-American fan of the show, the one thing that has not gone unnoticed by me is that Xena: Warrior Princess does not attract that many fans of color in general, but especially absent are black male fans. I recall seeing one black man at only one of the seven conventions that I have attended. I recall seeing the same single Asian-American man, dressed as Cupid, at several conventions. I have seen a small number of Latino fans at various conventions. Although the woman of color fan base is small, it is not insignificant. Many of these women have attended several conventions and play very active roles in Xena fandom, either as web mistresses, fan fiction writers, artists and, yes, contributors to Whoosh.

[25] I have not a clue as to what will become of fandom in the months following the show's demise. I suspect that many fans will shut down their websites and mailing lists, others will stop writing fan fiction, and others will move on to other, still viable shows of the genre. Me? For the minor exception of this article and my presumptively last fan fiction story, I have already moved on. During summer hiatus, I patiently awaited the fall seasons of CSI, ER, The West Wing, and the fourth season of The Sopranos. Would I watch another creation of Tapert and company? After FRIEND IN NEED, no.



LUCY & RENEE vs. SEDONA, ARIZONA



One of Xena's possible burial places

Sedona, AZ


[26] As I indicated in the Introduction, my Pasadena 2001 Convention attendance preceded a purely amazing road trip. Driving across the California desert, our next nine days were spent taking in such places as the Phoenix Botanical Gardens, marveling at the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, walking the west rim trails of the Grand Canyon, driving across the Painted Desert and the Zuni, Navajo, Acoma, and Laguna Indian Reservations, visiting old Albuquerque, window shopping in Santa Fe, Chimayo, and Taos, New Mexico, experiencing Sandia Crest at 10,678 feet above sea level, and exploring scenic Denver, Georgetown, and Boulder, Colorado.

[27] The single most beautiful place of all of our visits was Sedona. As my partner and I drove away from that majestically red resort community, we had both decided that we would retire there.

[28] Unlike many fans, I was not drawn to Xena: Warrior Princess because of any major passion for either Lucy Lawless or Renee O'Connor. Do not get me wrong. Lucy Lawless is a great beauty. If Ingrid Bergman and Vivien Leigh had had a love child, she would be Lucy Lawless. In addition, Renee O'Connor gave us an interesting character combination in Gabrielle, an adorable girl-next-door with a kick-*ss body. What drew me to the show was the subtext, pure and simple. When it excelled, as it did in Seasons Two, Three (although some readers may challenge that notion), Four, and Six, I credited the writers, the producers, and especially, these two talented actors with unquestionable chemistry. When it faltered, as it painfully did in Season Five, well, been there, done that[Note 01].

[29] That said, I never had any unreasonable expectations of the celebrities with respect to how they should interact with the fans at the conventions. Danielle Cormack set a personal precedent for me. She was personable and approachable, but had an air of reservation as well. She allowed fans that requested to take pictures with her to do so, but did not go out of her way to intimately interact with fans. Danielle's way of approaching the fans, I would come to notice, was very similar to others of the show's "secondary" celebrities. These celebrities included Claire Stansfield and Ted Raimi, both of whom I saw at the 1999 Chicago Con; Kevin Smith and Allison Wall who were among the celebrities at the Charity Breakfast at the 2000 Pasadena Con; Vicki Pratt and Tim Omundson, who appeared that the 2000 Chicago Con; and Willa O'Neill and Ebonie Smith who were in Palo Alto.

[30] Their method of interacting with the fans is both satisfying to the fan and probably very comfortable to the actors themselves. While some of the aforementioned celebrities were more approachable or friendlier than others, all of them, in my opinion, adequately provided for the fans a rare and wonderful opportunity to achieve a personal connection with the show through their interaction with those celebrities.

[31] Hudson Leick, Lucy Lawless, and Renee O'Connor presented three extremes to the other celebrities in their methods of approaching the fans. Simply stated, Leick blended with the fans while, as my colleague Whoosh contributors Mil Toro and Nola Johnson noted in their recently published articles, "Convention Thoughts" and "Do You Collect Stamps", respectively, Lawless and O'Connor created an invisible wall between themselves and the fans.

Hudson doesn't create walls of any kind

Under the "Hudson Haze"


[32] I first experienced "The Hudson Haze" in Palo Alto. Leick "works" her audience. She blends, performs, screams, hugs, flirts, kisses, and throws candy. She has a way of making any fan feel like a unique individual to her rather than a part of geeky group of people that presumably need to get lives. I had an opportunity to interact with her, one on one, at both conventions and Charity Breakfasts in Palo Alto and Chicago. I was far from the only one. She spoke candidly with many convention goers, seemingly taking an active interest in what they had to say. Of course, all of that could have been one huge performance on her part. She is an actor, after all. However, regardless of the genuineness of her intent, her actions alone suggest a comfort with the fans, and an appreciation for them and their responsive appreciation for her.

[33] I will not dwell on the extreme of Lawless and O'Connor's standoffish appearance in Pasadena. Others have more than adequately articulated their dismay in other Whoosh articles and I share the sentiment. I do understand that, unlike the other celebrities connected with the show, O'Connor and especially Lawless have had problems with stalkers who show up at every single television appearance on both coasts, people who crash into their personal lives, and other such nutcases committing further nefarious deeds. However, Creation Entertainment should be reminded of the outcome of both Lawless' and O'Connor's earlier convention appearances in 1997 and 1998 where they were allowed to field questions from the fans. I obviously did not attend those earlier conventions, but from what I have heard and read, none of their earlier appearances resulted in an incident of inappropriate behavior of such a heinous magnitude as to render either woman as intangible as Creation had dictated for Lawless in Santa Monica and for both women in Pasadena 2001.

[34] Many of the over 4000 people who shelled out hundreds of dollars in tickets, flights, and hotel accommodations to attended that particular convention did so in order to reconnect with online friends, attend charity functions, fan fiction functions, discussion groups, Melissa Good's Pup functions, etc, in addition to seeing Lucy Lawless, Renee O'Connor, and the others. H*ll, my partner and I even blew off the entire convention on Saturday to go to the new theme Anaheim park, Disney California. We are fans, but we are also normal people with normal lives.

[35] I will always have a place in my heart for both Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor for the rich characters that they gave us in Xena and Gabrielle, but they are actors and the show is over. In the grand scheme of things, in all that I experienced during my May 4 to May 17, 2001 vacation, Sedona still reigns as the most exciting part of the adventure. Will I continue to follow Lawless and O'Connor's career? That depends entirely on what each woman decides to do with her career. For example, will I watch Lawless' guest appearance on the X-Files? Probably. Will I go and see Spider-Man when it is released in theaters? If the trailers for the film look interesting and the consensus from critics and the public are favorable, sure. Nevertheless, if the reviews are negative, probably not.



CONCLUSION

[36] Overall, my convention experience has been a satisfying one. The vendors, the celebrities, my online friends, the Charity Breakfasts, and fan events all add to an enriched experience as a Xenite. As time passes and Xena becomes of less and less import in my personal landscape, I will cherish the memories, the friends, and "The Hudson Haze".

[37] I wonder if Creation is planning any Sopranos conventions?



Notes

Note 01:
Refer to past Whoosh article, "No, Rob, Subtext Did Not Ruin Xena"
http://whoosh.org/issue50/fosterv2.html
Return to article



Articles

Valerie Foster. Yes, Lucy, There Is Still a Subtext on Xena. Whoosh #37 (October 1999)
http://whoosh.org/issue37/foster1.html

Valerie Foster. No Rob, Subtext Did Not Ruin Xena. Whoosh #50 (November 2000)
http://whoosh.org/issue50/fosterv2.html

Valerie A. Foster. A Clue In Need. Whoosh #59 (August 2001)
http://whoosh.org/issue59/fosterv59.html



Biography

Valerie Foster Valerie Foster

When I retire, I am moving to Sedona. In the meantime, I continue to live and love here in West Michigan, where I practice law, teach, garden, golf, exercise, play, walk my dog, write fan fiction and cultivate my online Xenite friendships among other things. Favorite Episode: In addition to what has already been previously expressed, much of season six with the notable exception of FRIEND IN NEED.
Favorite line: Annie to Mattie and Harry: "Harry and Harry's 'Ho', what are you doing at a press conference?" SOUL POSSESSION
First episode seen: LOST MARINER - in rerun.
Least favorite episode: Still much of the fifth season following THEM BONES, THEM BONES.




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