Whoosh! Issue 63 - December 2001


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

Page Three

The General Fan

[64] The mirror images of the characters on-screen are the people in the audience watching them. The audience participates interactively in the creative process as much as the actors do.

[65] For the totally alien aliens that are the classic Borg of Star Trek, strength, freedom, self-determination, life, and all other values that are central to human societies are, to them, irrelevant. This irrelevance is, according to a serendipitously purchased book[Note 36]

"Something radically other, something with which the human-centered Federation really has nothing in common."[Note 37]
This makes them incomprehensibly alien. Nothing like them has ever been encountered before. Their way of thinking is completely different from that of humans.

[66] On the other hand, dipping into the subconscious with its love of metaphoric images, these aliens actually have been encountered before, and quite recently, too. Who else but the Borg would consider the loyalty of fans and the general viewing audience, inspiring stories, quotable dialogue, enthusiastic creativeness, good photography, music and direction, and even ratings, to be totally irrelevant for a show (besides a committee of television executives looking at next week's schedule)?

[67] It could be said, looking back in the opposite metaphorical direction, that there already is a rhizomatous, center-less, unstructured society of mindless drones who combine into an inexorable force into which all things of value will be assimilated, and against which resistance is futile: namely, the fans (as perceived by the television executives). However, it was not a network executive who wrote the first Borg scripts, and the soul-less life-sapping corporate mentality and culture has been documented elsewhere[Note 38].

[68] At the beginning, the Borg were being subconsciously presented as a metaphorical image of the audience, standing in the for audience as an unrelenting juggernaut, and equally easily adapted to stand in metaphorically for the alien unemotional decisioning process of massive studios. Voyager cannot exist without them.

[69] Another metaphorical image of fans discussing their favorite episodes is a group of people around a table, usually with a map, discussing what happened and what could have happened. Fans on the other side of the screen are called scriptwriters. Imagine them around a table discussing episodes and story arcs. We have that exact image with the generals in Hades' realm standing around a table and forever going over campaigns in the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode NOT FADE AWAY (H/42/305). For some people there could be no worse punishment. For others, there can be nothing more heavenly than re-runs and sharing with friends.

Could-Have-Been Threads And Arcs

[70] What would have been the following paragraph at this point was about to be edited in the final draft version. The time was a couple of hours before midnight here in Australia, spring in the southern hemisphere, early autumn in the north. The television began showing pictures of a burning skyscraper in New York. Then a second building. Everything anyone was doing at that moment became overtaken by the events of September 2001.

[71] Instead of that intended paragraph, let us digress and imagine something very big, similar in size to the planet-high Crystalline Entity of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), but with feeding tubes trailing down and behind, like the tentacles of a giant hyperspace jellyfish.

[72] Imagine something very slow moving, very dangerous, very fragile, avoiding strong light, and with no intelligence to communicate with but with some basic eating instincts, like the almost-invisible hate-feeding alien intruder of "Day of the Dove" (62/307 Star Trek, 1966-1969), an episode that explored the third character of the Cold War.

[73] Imagine, further, that our GHJ feeds on light-bearing chi (the same chi that acupuncturists deal with and tai chi exercisers dance in). It feeds on the chi that falls into its hyperspatial world, into the sunless region of (what shall we call it?) the gloomy and cold part of the land of the dead represented in classical mythology by the waters of the River Styx.

[74] Imagine that this creature is chi-aware, and no more aware than that. That its usual feeding technique is drift feeding, absorbing what sparse chi-light there is from other shadow creatures, mere thought-shadows and remnants, drifting in the same dark ocean. Its feast-feeding technique, when it detects an abundant nearby supply of chi, is like an anglerfish with its lure. It instinctively, and without thought (for it has no consciousness), wiggles the nearest mind so that sweet words come out of that mind, enticing others into acts that bring as many chi-bearers as possible into its cold dark realm and within reach of its feeding tubes. The effect is as if the deadly poisonous box-jelly (sea wasp) of the Coral Sea was able to hypnotize a lifesaver into declaring that it is safe to go into the water.

[75] Its action on this side of the world is of perpetrated events that are senseless and that achieve nothing. Senseless because there truly is no mind directing things, just a reflex instinct; achieving nothing because, without a mind to formulate goals, there appears to be no sustainable reason or purpose behind the events, even after "explanations" have been given by the perpetrators. As for the people whose minds have been "wiggled" by the GHJ: they do not know what they are doing. They are convinced they are right, and have the reasons and certainty to convince themselves. Their yardstick for measuring such things has been compromised and can only be reset the same way they learned to walk and talk, that is, with patience and love.

[76] How to counter this entity: for the general populace, the old adage, "Do not kill" holds true because the only thing that killing does is feed the creature and encourages it to stay. For those people who fall into the category that Babylon 5 calls Rangers, luminosity is required and lots of it, more or less permanently. For fans of Xena, imagine a living chakram formed of light, light streaming from the lines of the mehndi, a continuous brightness, arcing upwards with the strength and speed and determination of a solar flare, illuminating the night, driving the creatures away. "Taste this!", Xena would say.

This enemy hides in shadows, and has no regard for human life.
-- (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010912-4.html)

[77] My condolences to all for the sadness that has occurred. I have no physical flowers to lay on the embassy steps today, for the memorial service. Let these words be my floral tribute, carrying my sympathy. These events have touched everybody.

[78] As mentioned above, there was a paragraph originally intended for this location. It was going to draw some parallels between the story-styles of Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, in particular how similarly they portray the "prehistory" and "ancestral" components of their respective universes. Those parallels are bigger and deeper than a first glance suggested, and should more properly be dealt with in greater depth in a separate essay rather than briefly skimmed over here[Note 39].

[79] Suffice to say, as an example, that Xena's idea of its own ancient world, in LIFEBLOOD (106/515) say, shows us exactly what we ourselves nowadays think our ancestors would have been like: unsophisticated cave-types in bear-skins. Out of the squabbling unkempt rabble, there would arise someone with the principles and ideals and abilities of a Queen Arthur.

[80] There was a missed opportunity here: in mythology, before the current age of Iron, there was the Bronze Age, and before that there was the Silver Age, and before that the Golden Age. Hence the gold, silver and bronze medals of the Olympics. In addition, before or during the Golden Age, there are stories of something like Atlantis (which Hercules touched on briefly, with Cassandra and aircraft and crystals). Even further back in time, the Titans, perhaps?

Writers Talking Directly To The Audience

[81] Post-modern remarks like the mention in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) of birch trees[Note 40] (which I missed completely the first time round) would need an encyclopedic cross-reference to follow and understand. At first I thought that remark was intended to refer to the stand of gum trees by the dirt-tracked lane seen in A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209) and many other episodes, with the writers substituting "birch" for "eucalyptus" because there were no eucalyptus trees in ancient Greece (although "eucalyptus" is almost perfect Greek, meaning "well-covered", in reference to the flower buds).

[82] On second thought, maybe the writers meant to say "birch" after all, for there seem to be birch trees lining the roads in other episodes. Postmodernism is very fragile, it could easily disappear with an inappropriate or unintended snip of the editing shears, or take on entirely different connotations. For example, a spellchecker could do it: a recent local video release of ALTARED STATES (19/119) titles the episode as Altered States, and so the pun is lost.

Serendipity Of Episodes And Real-World Events

[83] The intended Valentine's episode A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222) missed its transmission date because of scheduling, but the love sprinkles of YOU ARE THERE (125/613) were perfectly timed. Bacchae stories and Solstice stories lined up with their respective holidays well.

[84] I wonder how closely Shakespeare's plays lined up with the festivals back then, midsummer, Twelfth Night, and so on.

Psychological Constraints And Restraints

[85] What the audience likes to see and is allowed to watch reveals much about the psychology of the audience. For example, after seeing Gabrielle being struck by Cupid's baby's arrow in A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222), as she loosened her bonds and began turning around in slow-motion calling Xena's name, the first person she was going to set eyes on being Xena, my first thought was "Oh, no! They [the main market American audience] will go ballistic! It is too much too soon! There will be such a huge negative reaction, the show will be cancelled!" However, Joxer stepped in at the last moment (literally) and saved the show from an audience backwash: he does have his uses after all, him and his furry tongue.

[86] Another example is in CHAKRAM (92/502), where Xena's amnesiac bathtub advice to the lovelorn Joxer is "Of course, you can just kiss the girl", but by then Joxer had walked out of the chamber and did not hear her. Xena should follow her own advice (when she gets her memory back). Note to season six viewers: she does.

Multi-Phasic Plots

[87] In Perry Mason (1957-1966 and later) and Ben Casey (1961-1966), and a horde of other shows, the formulaic single-thread single-meaning plot became almost fetishly ritualistic. Perry would skillfully cross-examine the witness, who would dramatically break down in the last few minutes of the story, and histrionically confess to everything. Dr. Casey would walk out of the examination room saying, "It's a brain tumor." (cue dramatic music and commercial break). Xena follows a different path: the Shakespearean pattern of doing everything: cheese, ham, coconut-cream pies, meaty fare, I-do-not-eat-meat episodes, ghost stories, pirate stories, westerns, and even horse stories in the tradition of Black Beauty (anywhere from 1910 to 1999) and My Friend Flicka (1943 movie, 1956-1957 series).

[88] Xena cheese is cheesy, and Xena ham is really hammy, and so on. This is confusing to television executives and promo announcers. Shakespeare writes comedies, right? So, why is this year's play about someone in Scotland or Denmark with everyone dying at the end? What is going on? Or with Xena: one week they're swinging (as in, "through the trees") and yodeling, and in the next, Caesar and Brutus are no longer as friendly as they used to be, and in the next, the girls are playing Girl Guides in the forest with big and little princesses, and/or they are having babies. What is going on? It is getting to the stage where promo announcers need to have degrees just to keep up[Note 41].

[89] Actually, what is happening is that Xena, as a current in the science-fiction/fantasy stream, is following that stream's course, which is, in Roberts' thesis,

its ability to open the minds of its readers to ways of seeing that challenge the conventional, the narrow minded or the bigoted[Note 42].
because, after all,
There is nothing like constructing a world, or recognizing a constructed world, for teaching you how to see your own world as a construct[Note 43].
Science fiction usually does it with monsters, like Penny's invisible Mr. Nobody in Lost In Space who turns out to be a baby galaxy, or Godzilla who easily fits the bill as an science fiction subconscious emblem of city-sized clouds of disease-bearing normally soil-dwelling bacterial spores released into the atmosphere by inappropriate human environmental activity. A skyscraper-sized fire-breathing prehistoric monster is a much more attention-grabbing visual than an ordinary cloud of invisible ailment-causing spores swirling out of a dust bowl. Once an image is in the conscious mind, the subconscious has a bridge to communicate the meaning. The message ultimately is "Let go of the fear (to seek understanding)." Do not panic at the plague or approach it with superstition. Understand it.

[90] Roberts' thesis is that science fiction encourages people

to take nothing for granted, to challenge all their assumptions, to think through how things might be different...Alterity, the radical alterity of human diversity, is something we need to train ourselves into accepting[Note 44].
Being aware of alterity and diversity, rejecting it, compartmentalizing it, dismissing it, classifying it, running away from it, and censoring it from the conscious mind, is not enough. It has to be encountered, to be actively apprehended as being diverse. Another word for this fearless encountering is "love".
The passion that SF fans feel for their favorite books, films and comics, this love is precisely this[Note 45].

[91] Does this mean Xena and Gabrielle are perceivable as monstrous by sections of the audience? Xena and Gabrielle are subconsciously presented as a family; that is, on the one hand they do things for one another without expecting anything in return, and on the other, outsiders treat them as a unit, and know that honoring or degrading one, honors or degrades the other.

Riddle me this

Are all your ways built around the lives of these two monstrous creatures?[Note 46]
(click the graphic for cover detail)

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