Whoosh! Issue 69 - June 2002

OF BANGS & BANGLES, XENA & BLISS
By Deborah Monroy
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
2718 words


Caveat Lector:
This appears to be an essay, and it is not. It is closer to a prose poem or even a sermon.
This may well be a sermon in sheep's clothing.


Hook, Line and Metaphor (01-04)
Dude, Where's My Prophecy? (05-06)
Got Myth? (07-08)
Medusa, By A Hair (09-12)
Ur-R-Us (13-17)
Dedication
Notes
Articles
Biography



OF BANGS AND BANGLES, XENA AND BLISS



Hook, Line And Metaphor

[01] How long will I dwell, wedded to this awful bliss, with these images of Xena? She leers posing on my wall in 8 X 10 glossy format during an out-take from the finale. She stands sneering, snarling, glaring, growling, with her hands thrown up in a parody of a satirical stance communicating clearly to the viewer, "F--- it. F--- it all." She is wearing that "red and gold kill-me-now" costume.[Note 01] Xena has truly suited up for suicide.

[02] She is dressed to kill and one might laugh about the excess of the costume now. Yet, the Xena: Warrior Princess sixth season finale is not amusing even though the latter-day director's cut takes a stab at some typical Xena silliness. [Note 02] This is fantasy. Yet, I suffer in reality having watched these episodes several times. The sadness raging in this mythical land of Jappa is the maximum allowable by law, for in the end, Xena is judged harshly. She must pay the ultimate penalty for that long-ago time when she was super strong but turbo bad, far too bad for her own good. First, she takes a beating even beyond that endured earlier in CRUSADER or WHO'S GURKHAN? Then she must leave Gabrielle and die forever so that this death is not the same death as in THE QUEST or THE GREATER GOOD or DESTINY or IDES OF MARCH or LOOKING DEATH IN THE EYE. This death must counter the illusion that death never has to be the end.
Practicing for her new career as a Motley Crue pole dancer
Communicating clearly to the viewer

[03] "Sometimes only fiction can make reality real," writes Wendy Doniger in The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth. [Note 03] "Xena" may be fiction, but she is all about my own family, about women who are unafraid of fury and fierceness, anger and competence. Xena is all about my mother and myself. Having watched so many of the episodes I have come to identify fiercely with Xena: she is now a member of my own first tribe. Therefore, Xena: Warrior Princess becomes what I call "investment fantasy". Like investment real estate, you want to have some of this in your portfolio though you most likely will not dwell there. However, investment fantasy is in reality far closer to home: here I am investing in an alternative yet closely held identity. I am not investing for tangible profit yet the stakes are much higher. Accepting Xena into my portfolio of identity, I gain a double. However, when my alter ego dies a part of me perishes painfully as well. Here is the paradox within the "vicarious" medium of TV, where the viewer dwells vicariously among the superheroes, then identifies increasingly closely, and then becomes invested.

[04] Now the connection is no longer at a distance and we have no detachment, we are bound tightly. I am connected closely to the Warrior Princess. Naturally, I suffer watching Xena succumb to that guilt business which she outgrew so long ago, around the time of ONE AGAINST AN ARMY when Xena herself declared she was tired of paying for the past. Yet here is guilt resurrected so that Robert Tapert and R. J. Stewart can push the envelope farthest of all: this last death is not like any other. [Note 04] Tapert et al wins and Xena loses. The loss is mine as well, as I grieve for that rampant metaphor of myself I have seen slaughtered on the screen.


Dude, Where's My Prophecy?

[05] "I know they have a message for me," my friend Chris insisted as we listened to Radiohead while working. [Note 05] Likewise, I know there is an important story here for me in these telefilms, in this series of telemyth about Xena and her struggles and her triumphs. However, after six years of struggle the finale shows us no triumph at all.

[06] Compare those jpegs posted last winter on the Internet of Lucy Lawless and her daughter Daisy posing outside the theater at the premiere of Lord of the Rings. Her hair and makeup are composed carefully. She wears a long coat with a scarf of faux fur while her daughter, appearing both pleasant and prosperous, stands smiling at her side. Clearly, Lawless is a woman triumphant in her daily life. [Note 06] This is what I wanted for Xena, too, at the end: a final triumph. She earned it. As devoted viewers, we deserved it. Although the show is fantasy, we have let six years of Xena enter our lives and our investment should show a real profit.


It's not EVERY warrior princess who can look good with a katana slung across her midsection.
Dressed to kill and far too bad

Got Myth?

[07] Investment in fantasy is so old and oddly taken for granted. For many of us, it occurs first at the end of that third episode in Genesis where Adam and Eve are banished from the garden. This is clearly not a happy ending. God "stationed the cherubim and a sword whirling and flashing to guard the way to the tree of life." [Note 07] The sword whirls and flashes while no one holds it. In Hebrew, the word used to describe this turning motion means "ever-revolving" and the verb indicates that this motion will continue indefinitely. [Note 08] Yet the sword is not held but whirls suspended, no doubt by the reader's belief, in air alone as it turns, and turns in self-reflexive mode. Here is a first scene of science fiction whirling in Western literature.

[08] After the 9-11 event in New York, there arose a real online backlash against investment in fantasy. Heroes in daily life are needed of course, and we are most fortunate if they come from among our own friends and family, yet fantasy heroes are still very necessary because our best fiction is not about escape. Fantasy builds, in a leisurely way, a working perspective. It creates singular mirrors and windows and wide open doors which invite re-entry from another angle. We need both the real and metaphors around the real to make sense of our lives.


Medusa, By A Hair

[09] As much as he means to me, my friend Chris is not iconic. Like me, he is prematurely gray, and I should identify with him in this. Yet, I still see myself with long dark hair like Xena, or Wonder Woman. The latter is my mother's hero. Imagination is the shortest distance between two points, between then and now. I still see my mother with long dark hair, with her love of copper, heart's metal, or with the silver bracelet, and so much younger, reading comic books devoutly. "Wonder Woman" has always been her favorite.

Hmmm, I *wonder* who that is. Get it? I WONDER who that...Oh, never mind.
The trademark bangs and bracelets

[10] "Just a hair more to the right," Chris advised while a group of us was installing a huge, 800-pound stone head of Medusa in the gallery. We arranged the lighting so she glares out of the darkness all around her. Her curls are assertive, darkly. Bangs or bracelets do not encumber her. Chris shaves his head for whatever reason or perhaps because he is bald. He has lost more than the vital color of his hair. Otherwise, we each would most likely have an equal amount of white hair that is no less than solid obsidian loss. Lately I have found a few silvery bristles among my eyebrows also, formerly the last bastion of absolute blackness upon my body. Now that last bastion is lost. Nor is memory necessarily a friend of mind for remembering the past I mourn for the past. It is the vitality of black I long for: dark remains best because black is absolute magic, a unity, the charm of darkness hovering over the quarrel of light. The dark tangle of Medusa's reputation among the ancient Greeks tells us nothing of her own ethic. Or, her love of her own darkness, her rage, her power.

[11] For whatever reason, in the finale, Xena is reduced to the stature of a tragic Greek hero since she is allowed no triumph in this life owing to her debt, her past mistakes. Or, curiously, in a sense she adopts Akemi's code of honor and dies for the deaths she has caused. [Note 09] Here I am at a loss to explain why Xena would recreate the same grief for Gabrielle that Akemi left with Xena: the beloved dies, the beloved goes away, the lover is exiled to dwell among loss.

[12] Or, Xena becomes a Christian martyr dying for others. Yet we know what opinion she held of the Greek or Christian outlook. Would she have chosen this path of her own free will? Xena is a fantasy thus unnatural by nature yet what we know of her nature says she would have chosen, finally, otherwise. Xena makes her habitual statement: "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will not leave you." However, Xena lingers on only as dilute fantasy, as a phantom, a ghost. Does Xena not deserve to live out the logical outcome of her own growth during the past six years? If fantasy is faux logic then logic is dilute fantasy. [Note 10]


One last heroic pose before syndication
Copper and silver, Xena and bliss

Ur-R-Us

[13] How old is our investment in fantasy? Think of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible [Note 11] who cut together events of the past with their own desires for Israel's future. Then their fantasy was rewritten as "biblical history". [Note 12] It is cut and paste, pure and simple from another age. In our own time Jim Smith characterizes Xena: Warrior Princess as "a television series unlike any other, the very embodiment of nineties cut-and-paste culture".[Note 13] However, the cut-and-paste aesthetic has flourished for millennia.

[14] Xena is facing death, she is facing death alone, and she closes her eyes to look within for strength. Just for a moment, it is not the power of the sword she is seeking. She escapes into reflection. Nor does any word comfort her. She is an image alone. She remains in the imagination well after the finale.

[15] Meanwhile Gabrielle, all sweetness and bite, stalks into the battle. However, she is left behind in this ending for Xena chooses, apparently, death over Eros or love. Xena is the "woman clothed in the sun" [Note 14] and this tribe never quite finds happiness though they remain resplendid graphically.[Note 15]

[16] The "director's cut" version of the finale attempts to soften the blow of Xena's death. That final scene of Gabrielle alone on the ship is not shown to the viewer, who nevertheless has seen and agonized over this exact scenario of loss-writ-large already. Thus the fantastic logic of the story becomes dilute and false, and worse yet, Gabrielle is not allowed to mourn the loss of the love of her life.

[17] Xena is my fantasy now. In my dreams and imagination, she remains real. Dream along. As the dreamers who give life to this dream, we are more important than the dream itself and we should not sell ourselves short: peace and pleasure be unto us this day and every day. We deserve every happy ending. Only, Xena earns no happy ending. The finale is all about loss incarnate and the death of a dream. Nevertheless, I linger.

Places among the stars,
Soft gardens near the sun,
Keep your distant beauty;
Shed no beams upon my weak heart.
Since she is here
In a place of blackness,
Not your golden days
Nor your silver nights
Can call me to you.
Since she is here
In a place of blackness,
Here I stay and wait. [Note 16]
Yes, I know we've already used this picture once, but it's so cool that we couldn't resist using it again. Or maybe we just couldn't find anything better. We'll never tell.
Slice of sword: the finale is final


Dedication

This document is dedicated with gratitude to Erin. A. Mooney whose editorial lack of loss of patience in reading my work helps inspire these words.


Notes

Note 01
Mary D's phrase is from comments made at her site The Australian Xena Information Page. It would be difficult to negotiate the Xenaverse without ausxip.com
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Note 02
Consider the bird business. As Xena and Akemi transform into birds we are reminded of just how silly Xena: Warrior Princess can be, although we know tragedy is about to happen.
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Note 03
The Implied Spider by Wendy Doniger. Columbia University Press, New York. 1998.
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Note 04
Without the storyteller, there is no story. Then how much of the tale is about the teller? Real stories (about fictional characters) take on a life of their own. The teller may respect or betray this vital fantasy.
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Note 05
Chris is the real hero of this story since he listened so patiently to my endless lament over Xena's end at the beginning of last summer.
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Note 06
In his publication Spectrum: the Magazine of Television, Film and Comics!, Craig Miller writes concise praise of Lawless: "... when we think of Xena, first and foremost we think of Lawless' great portrayals of Xena in battle, sword and chakram in hand, an intense gaze in her eyes, always ready to fight to the end ... Lawless' ability to bring some dignity to such a role is a credit to her abilities as an actress..." Spectrum, volume 1, # 29. This issue also contains a critique of the sixth season in its entirety.
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Note 07
Genesis 3:24, in The Oxford Study Bible, page 14. Edited by M. Jack Suggs, Katherine Doob Sakenfeld and James R. Mueller. Published by Oxford University Press, NY. 1992.
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Note 08
From Bereshit 3:24 in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, page 5. The phrase reads "hacherev hamithapechet" [mithapechet is a reflexive verb]. BHS "Editio Funditus Renovata" published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart. 1997.
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Note 09
Perhaps Akemi is an inversion of the salvific character Akemi who appears in David Mack's comic book/graphic novel series Kabuki: Masks of the Noh. Published by Image Comics, 1998. The cover of Kabuki: Images (June, 1998) shows the heroine with a dragon tattoo very like Gabrielle's in FRIEND IN NEED.
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Note 10
Compare Buffy's remark in an early sixth season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer written by Jane Espenson: "It's hard to get a good night's death." [October 2002]
In television logic, death can be relived repeatedly from various perspectives. Thus, we rehearse our grief for the ending of each series perhaps.
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Note 11
For more discussion, see Frank S. Frick, A Journey through the Hebrew Scriptures. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Florida. 1995.
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Note 12
Richard D. Nelson, The Historical Books. Abingdon Press, Nashville. 1998.
The first chapter ends with a discussion of "kerygmatic history, that is 'preached history.'"
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Note 13
From The Official Xena: Warrior Princess Magazine, page 29, vol. 1, issue 24, October 2001.
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Note 14
Mary D's recent montage "A Sacred Trust" shows an excellent view of Xena as the woman clothed in the sun. From the The Australian Xena Information Page, printed 21 April 2002.
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Note 15
Review The Book of Revelation 17:5. John's hero is the woman clothed in the sun who is banished to the wilderness ostensibly for her own good. Meanwhile John's real passion is festering for the Whore, formerly known as Babylon.
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Note 16
From The Complete Poems of Stephen Crane. Edited by Joseph Katz. Cornell University Press. 1972.
Not unlike Xena, Crane wrestled with a real grudge against the gods.
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Articles

Deborah Monroy, How Xena Saved My Buttons Whoosh! #60 (09/01)


Biography

monroy Deborah Monroy
I now wield the sword and various other implements between departments of Curatorial and Exhibition Design at the Carlos Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.


Favorite episode: FALLEN ANGEL
Favorite line: Xena: "Who threw that pie?!" PUNCHLINES
First episode seen: THE BITTER SUITE
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS


 

 

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