Whoosh! Issue 63 - December 2001

SERENDIPITY AND META- SUBTEXT:
CONTEMPLATION FROM UNDER THE LAKE

By Edward Mazzeri
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
14314 words

Page Two



Hitting on Bedrock Streams

[21] In The Flintstones (1960-1966), Fred's and Barney's friendship is the constant stable bedrock around which the stories revolve. Fred and Barney are friends. They always have been. Although they do have their occasional disagreements (like who won the wheelbarrow race), things are usually resolved before the episode's end. Any rifts between them are quickly healed. Attacking their loyalty to each other for any length of time, say, with a Rift arc, would have turned the series into something else and most likely lost the audience share.

Say you liked Married With Fishsticks and you can have it!

Friends: Who is a little blond sidekick, then?


[22] Fred and Barney's loyalty to each other or their marriage partners was never in doubt, a fixed rule. Even in stories with bizarre settings, characters like Gomez and Morticia Addams, for all their kookiness, had a bond that was always strong and unassailable over the long term. The kookiness in the case of the Addams family was in how their love was expressed: reversals of the usual ways, like nipping roses in the bud, moon-bathing, enthusiastic arm-kissing in public, speaking French and so on. Their loyalty to each other was unquestioned and paramount. Loyalty, where it exists, endures and survives in the everyday world, and in the script-written world. Even TV's dysfunctional family, The Simpsons, never undermined these fundamentals. That went for the actors as well. As the voice of Bart Simpson, Nancy Cartwright, wrote in her diary on September 19, 1989, in her family:

we had a loyalty to one another no matter how much strangling, smirking and belching went on.[Note 09]

[23] In the various Star Trek series, loyalty to one's friends is the first rule and motivates many of the stories, with the result that

The Prime Directive has been violated consistently throughout each Star Trek series.[Note 10]

[24] A more recent example of the bond of loyalty and friendship is how the current Slayer's survival is often attributed to her having a circle of supportive friends (probably the most magical circle of all).

[25] Friendship, like Stooges and parts of Gaul, comes in three flavors: because we have to, because we want to, or because we need to. Judith Barad in her Star Trek essays says,

Sometimes, we are connected to people for utilitarian reasons; in other cases, purely for pleasure; still other times, because we recognize the sheer goodness of another person.[Note 11]

[26] The first kind of friendship is where "we need other people to provide us with certain skills and products". The second kind is where "we take a natural delight in their company". The third kind is

where one friend strives to help the other live the best life, no matter what - even if it means violating General Order No. 7.[Note 12]

[27] In this third kind of friendship, the two friends

Each have qualities that attract the other; indeed, in many ways they complete one another. Aristotle believed this kind of relationship is very powerful, because it encourages a growth in virtue that would be far more difficult attaining outside the relationship. Once formed, friendships of the good tend to be permanent because they are based on reciprocal love for each other's good characteristics - characteristics that, once formed in a person, tend to last forever.[Note 13]

[28] This is the philosophy behind Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, and in Rackham's 1934 translation:

It is friends that love each other as each deserves who continue [to be] friends and whose friendship is lasting.[Note 14]

[29] Fred and Barney's friendship falls into this third category. They borrow things from one another, and they go bowling together, but also the qualities of one enhance those of the other. The result is a harmony of action and plot that would not otherwise have been able to come into existence. That is ultimately what made the show so watchable (in addition to the icing-on-the-cake layer of the modern jokes and the incredible modern prehistoric inventions, which Xena also shares). In addition, in another layer Wilma and Betty were friends of the third type.

I had the strangest dream last night.  We were lesbian Amazons kicking man-butt.

The Captain's and Seven's ancestors enjoy a quiet moment on the lounge in an early Ready Room


[30] An interesting philosophical question arises: at what point does adding or removing components of a relationship determine that there now is a friendship or that a friendship is no longer being sustained? When do a bunch of sand grains become a boulder, and a heap of boulders a mountain?[Note 15]

[31] The Flintstone-Rubble friendship was memorable, and made such an impact subconsciously that it has been remembered ever since, coded in subconscious imagery as the height, personality, hair-color, the relationship between, and neighborliness of, the two characters.

[32] Xena applies this subconscious parallel.

[33] A possibly independent application of this image of friendship is in Billy Zane's The Phantom (Simon Wincer, 1996), where, at the end, the dark-haired, many-skilled, adventurous type (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) flies off into the wild blue yonder with blonde-highlights sidekick (played by Kristy Swanson) in the passenger seat of her plane. As one said to the other just before the big cave fight, "Us girls should stick together." Dru and Darla from Buffy provide another example, from the darkside, of this visual pairing.

[34] After a while, it becomes difficult to decipher who influenced who as the inspirational currents intermingle and dissolve into each other, merging together into a river of creativity along which many plot ships sail.

[35] If one river of subconscious imagery feeds into the Sea of Inspiration, there must be others. They do not spring spontaneously from the ground. What else was out there during the formative years of The Powers That Be?



Singing Ginger

It is impossible to overstate the influence of Gilligan's Island on American life.[Note 16]

[36] Once upon a time, there was an actor on a Pacific island, waiting to be discovered. One day someone would come along and she would get her big break.[Note 17] In THE PRODUCER (304/72)[Note 18] episode of Gilligan's Island, a flamboyant Hollywood producer (is there any other kind?) called Harold Hecuba[Note 19] (played by Phil Silvers) arrived on the island looking for inspiration.

[37] The producer eventually leaves with an idea the Castaways thought up: a musical version of Hamlet (1600/1601). It was a good production, too. Ginger sings Ophelia, Gilligan is Hamlet, while Mary Ann, in a beautiful subtext moment, dresses as a boy to play Polonius' son Laertes, with the Skipper being the advice-giving Polonius. Tina Louise has a lovely singing voice, and Dawn Wells as Mary Ann as Laertes is fetching in Elizabethan garb.



Summers and Grant

[38] "Mary Ann is the girl next door"[Note 20], "a sweet naive country girl modeled after Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz"[Note 21]. "She is [a] kind, level-headed, lovable symbol of the heartland"[Note 22] and "she frowns on Ginger's morals"[Note 23]. "While remarkably squeamish, Mary Ann displays rugged instincts. She farms the island and cooks all the meals."[Note 24]

In many ways, Mary Ann is the story. ... Mary Ann is easily the best adjusted of the characters. She exhibits a healthy sexuality, yet she is unquestionably moral and at the same time not hurtfully devout or judgmentally pious. She is the only truly competent individual on the island. She provides all that is necessary and essential for life. Full of blue-collar know-how, her rugged instincts move her to farm, cook, and provide health care and other critical services.[Note 25]

[39] There is a faint echo in the above that could conjure up an image of critter-friendly Elly May in the Clampett mansion. Who else do we know who fits the bill: someone who is from a farming life and background, and can cook, and has a career calling for the provision of health care, not to mention "other critical services"?

[40] On the other hand, the movie star Ginger is

an alluring and sexy actress, reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe ... she sews ... can't swim, and she can barely cook. She's always ... entertaining the other castaways with her singing and acting, or nursing the other castaways back to health. ...Ginger shares a hut with Mary Ann. They aren't best friends, but they fish, take mud baths, sew, cook, and do the laundry together.[Note 26]

[41] This is beginning to sound vaguely familiar. Swap Ginger's ginger Wilma-style hair with Mary Ann's Betty-like brunette locks, and the deja vu becomes even stronger all over again.[Note 27]

[42] Gilligan's Island uses a story structure that stretches back to antiquity. Since Xena draws on the same bardic tradition, it is not so surprising that there are shared elements of imagery and story-telling techniques.

[43] The idea is of a group of people more or less alone on a ship. It is a common, recurring pattern as if, say, the Pinta (1492) or the Mayflower (1620) provided a story-telling template. Citing some examples from relatively modern television, we have the Robinsons on the Jupiter II [Lost In Space (1965-1968)], Blake and his crew on the Liberator [Blake's 7 (1978-1981)], Crichton and friends aboard the leviathan Moya [Farscape (1998-)], Kirk and company on the Enterprise [Star Trek (1966-1969) and the sequels], Nelson and crew on the Seaview [Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-1968)] and its revival seaQuest DSV (1993-1996), the Spindrift passengers and crew [Land Of The Giants (1968-1970)], all the inhabitants of the Moon [Space: 1999 (1975-1978)], Stanley and Xev and friends aboard the Lexx [Lexx (1997-)], and, of course, the castaways on Gilligan's Island (1965-1967), not to mention other survivors of shipwrecks and plane wrecks, and spaceship crashes in general.

[44] In a further variation, the ship itself becomes an island and a home, in turn becoming an anchor point in the countryside. It is a little house in the wilderness and a base from which the heroes explore. They make contact with, and observe the antics of the alien inhabitants of places like Hooterville in Pettycoat Junction (1963-1970) and Greenacres (1965-1971); Gronk and Shad and other prehistoric cave people in It's About Time (1966-1967); a friendly stranded Martian in My Favorite Martian (1963-1966); an unbottled genie in I Dream Of Jeannie (1965-1970); more outer space aliens in Alf (1986-1990) and Mork And Mindy (1978-1982); and, most alien of all, teenaged children, all the way from the recent Married ... With Children (1987-1997) back in time to the embarrassment of a model niece in The Munsters (1964-1966).

[45] Then, shifting the focus from home base to home life, the family group receives the focus rather than the locale they live in and in the spectrum of family-based-story shows ranging from My Three Sons (1963-1972) to The Addams Family (1964-1966), with The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971) somewhere in between, we find the natural abode of a recurring Joxer-like character.

[46] For example, The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) had Don Knotts's Barney, deputy-sheriff of Mayberry,

whose visions of grandiosity hide a vul#nerable, brittle, soul... He is desperate to get some recognition and often engages in charades to do it, although most of his pretenses are in the nature of bragging, swaggering, and putting on airs.[Note 28]
He is "a pretentious, lovable, fool".[Note 29]

[47] Similarly, McHale's Navy (1962-1966) had Tim Conway's bumbling Ensign Parker; and, of course, Gilligan's Island had Gilligan.

[48] The counterpart to the annoying and bumbling younger sibling character is the skilled, admired, hero, like the one in Kung Fu (1972-1975), The Lone Ranger (1949-1957), The Cisco Kid (1950-1956), Robin Hood (1955-1960), The Rifleman (1958-1963), Macgyver (1985-1992), Zorro (1957-1959), and Annie Oakley (1953-1956), usually with accompanying sidekick(s), either temporary for an episode or two, or more permanent.

[49] The Web allows the most surprising and pleasant discoveries. There really is a Sleepy Hollow, after all. In this particular Sleepy Hollow, there is a school, Pocantico Hills School, whose Encyclopedia of Women chronicles that sharpshooter Phoebe Moses, who chose the stage name of Annie Oakley, kept her family fed, and paid off the farm with her skills. Later, she went on tour, and was adopted by Sitting Bull[Note 30], because she reminded him of a lost daughter[Note 31]. While in Europe touring with Buffalo Bill, she impressively (and nervously) shot the ashes off the future Kaiser's cigarette[Note 32]. A sneeze at a crucial moment could have changed the course of world history[Note 33].

[50] With the family unit base established, group excursions from the home-cave are undertaken. They originate from a bunker in La Femme Nikita (1997-2001), a bigger bunker in Stargate SG-1 (1997-), a supportive base in Mission: Impossible (1966-1973), a real cave (with neat labels) in Batman (1966-1968), a real muddy forest in Maid Marian and Her Merry Men (1989-1994), or a beautiful paradisiacal ocean island in Ocean Girl (1994-1998) similar to the hardly-ever seen home of the Amazons that Diana Prince came from in Wonder Woman (1976-1979).

I had a dream last night.  We were lesbian cavewomen kicking man-butt.
Friends Blonde sidekick:
He's such a _fox_!
Tall, dark, and many-skilled:
Why do I get the feeling that we all might be the hens?


[51] In the case of Xena: Warrior Princess, home base is wherever Xena and Gabrielle happen to be at that moment. No city or town, village or valley is big enough to hold them permanently. They are equally at home in the hay of a barn, on a rug on the forest floor, or in palatial sleeping quarters with embroidered pillows. More specifically (and probably unintentional, at first), their home base is strongly located in the spiritual realm, and it is to there that they always return (sometimes literally): the trust, strength, faith, and loyalty of the one in and for the other is what sustains them and protects them. It exists and survives more robustly as this non-physical construct, than just as does a campfire and a bedroll in the forest under the stars. From this, paradoxically more robust and solid home, dreamscape journeys and adventures become possible, as well as the literally mundane and more usual warlord mopping up in sunlight and moonlight[Note 34].

[52] From this level, MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS plugs into, surprisingly, THE BITTER SUITE which, in turn, echoes REMEMBER NOTHING. At the story level, these three episodes have nothing to do with each other, and their styles (comedy, musical, and drama) are completely different.

[53] In REMEMBER NOTHING, alternative-timeline Gabrielle hated Xena for allowing her, in a brief moment, to remember what life had been like before slavery. Gabrielle was completely unaware of her other-timeline self and so could not notice the change in her circumstances that so shocked Xena. She has no say in how the river of her life would run.

[54] In THE BITTER SUITE, Gabrielle passes through an earthly gauntlet made up of the alchemical and ancient Greek elements of fire, wood, water and air before expressing her hatred of Xena, after which they both tumble off a cliff towards the beginning of a spiritual redemption where, mediated by music, they emerge from the cold waters of the past into the bright dawn of the future. Since the location of Illusia is "carved out of space in the absence of time", this could count as a brief moment also. Gabrielle is aware, at the instinctive/emotional level, of how circumstances have changed around her and who changed them, and accordingly harbors resentment (and eventually forgiveness). She has little choice in the decisions, including her own, being made in the sphere she inhabits, but what choice she does have, she gives voice to, and chooses well. (As an aside, watching THE BITTER SUITE in slow motion is recommended both to soothe the soul and to reveal the story-telling techniques that resulted in no long-lasting harm coming to any bards involved, both genuine and simulacrum.)

[55] In MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS, in what turns out to be another moment, the level of control goes up another gear along several dimensions, and Gabrielle takes responsibility for her actions (and a broom). Her reward for overcoming fear is a satisfying confidence that multiplies in bringing pleasure to others. The episode has a fairytale life-changing drama at its structural core and its presentation is as comedy, overlain with the usual sprinkle of post-modern references. In addition, we get to see Gabrielle's fins.

[56] For those just joining us (to borrow from a Hercules episode title), MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS is a fish story. We get to see Gabrielle of Mermaidia trying to cope with a lifestyle where she is, thematically, a fish out of water in several senses. In the usual Xena trait of turning metaphor into the literal, and the literal into metaphor, Gabrielle becomes a fish in water, more specifically, a mermaid, and one with a husband, a house, a family and amnesia. She has no memory of her prior circumstances, until later in the episode. The water motif of the story continues and extends one from THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), where Gabrielle in Illusia wore a green fish-scaly half-carapace (amongst other things), and the Callisto-imago in the prologue informed the audience that

she dwelt in the waters, and was as a fish therein

[57] The motivating psychology of MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS is a fear of holding infants, probably stemming from an apparent lack of self-confidence. Gabrielle is afraid of dropping a fragile young Eve or not holding her right or somehow perhaps upsetting Eve's mother, Xena. The opportunity for the story is a catfight down at the harborside one day between Love-goddess Aphrodite and her niece, the acerbic Discord, with the result that Gabrielle is knocked off the jetty and falls into the water and drowns, like Buffy, for a whole minute or two. What happens when she is in the water fills the rest of the episode with scenes of everyday family life, like a tsunami fills a beach with pieces of everyday life aboard a ship at sea. Incidentally, two episodes later Gabrielle was getting ready to settle down to domesticity and doing a far better job at it in KINDRED SPIRITS (107/517) in northern Amazon land. Using a pink ostrich feather to do some minor dusting in the Queen's throne room there just before an official hearing was a nice touch. The underwater housekeeping practice must have helped a little, at least psychologically.

[58] The title of MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS must be a reference to Married... with Children, a show about the bliss of married life and the joy of children. Xena: Warrior Princess does a homage in atmosphere (actually, in hydrosphere) to early 70s television (both original screenings and repeats), and a homage in plot to Goldie Hawn's Overboard. The plot-twist at the end has us asking, "Was the whole thing a Gabby-dream? Did her life as it might have been (in a bardic imagination) just flash before her eyes?", and then we see the pearl ring on her finger and we realize it must have been real. However, Gabrielle is too busy with life to notice. She has her hands full of baby Eve: the resolution of the episode is that Gabrielle is confident enough now to hold Eve without any fear.

[59] Continuity has wandered off track slightly because, in one case, Gabrielle had held a baby before, in CRADLE OF HOPE (4/104), the baby-catching episode all those years ago. Then there is the Hope-in-a-basket case of the Britannia arc episodes THE DELIVERER (50/304) and GABRIELLE'S HOPE (51/305). Gabrielle also knew how to playfully entice Solan into athletic competition in MATERNAL INSTINCTS (57/311) and she has a younger sister, Lilla, with which she has a good relationship. Therefore, she has been around children before. Maybe it is just that Gabrielle would hate to do anything that would upset Xena.

[60] I do not know what fishsticks are. They must be a northern hemisphere cultural reference thing. I expect they will turn out to be like fish fingers. Alternatively, crabsticks? Or a type of ice cream? Are fish finger jokes allowed?

[61] Perhaps the wigs wigged out the viewers. Yet, the visual puns were too groany. Or it was a Joxer-lookalike as a modern-day Prince Naimor of the Deep. Was the story too shallow (pardon the pun), or was the story telling too weak and watery? Did the setting revive memories of the viewers' own Saturday mornings and clamoring six-year-old siblings?

[62] We got a minnow, it seems, instead of a whopper (technical fishing term for "big fish"). The consensus, if there is such a thing among so many people, seems to be that there are better episodes. This article conjectures that there is an ichthyological hook to be found in MARRIED WITH FISHTICKS, and maybe a treasured jewel, too.

[63] So, the question arises, are there stories that can never become good and popular stories about the adventures of Xena and Gabrielle, or can all stories be satisfactorily Xenafied?

Queens from Queens

Luck is my middle name[Note 35]







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