Whoosh! Issue 77 - May/June 2003

LET US CALL IT WHAT IT WAS: EXPLOITATION!
By Melinda Tanner
Content © 2003 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2003 held by Whoosh!
2731 words


Prologue (01-05)
The Truth about "Subtext" (06-15)
But She Has Died Before, or, Excuses, Excuses (16-20)
The Curse of William Shatner and the Ghost of Donna Summer (21-29)
Biography



LET US CALL IT WHAT IT WAS:
EXPLOITATION!



"For people in Hollywood, it's not about gay and lesbian equal rights. It's about money. They could care less about the fight for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. They basically consider us a ribbon they wear to awards shows. That's why I don't bother with Hollywood. They're a bunch of bull--------."
--Lea Delaria, openly lesbian comedian and actress an interview in the August, 1997 issue of The Lesbian News

Prologue

[01] It has been almost two years since Xena: Warrior Princess ended its six-year run, and it is amazing how television has changed, especially in regards to the portrayal of and marketing to the gay and lesbian community.

[02] Now, Queer as Folk, a real gay television show about real gay and lesbian people, dominates the gay and lesbian entertainment "scene". Most everyone I know watches Queer as Folk. They comment about how nice it is to finally have a presence on television for gay and lesbian people, instead of hinting at a character's homosexuality, or turning that character into a sexless, emotionless "saint". HBO and other networks are racing to put their versions of Queer as Folk out there. Television has discovered that the Gay/Lesbian community really DOES have power, the power to affect their ratings and their wealth. And the networks are finally treating us like adults, rather than ghosts who cannot be mentioned under any circumstance.

[03] How refreshing these changes are, especially after six seasons of lies, insults, and homophobia from the producers of Xena: Warrior Princess. All you have to do is look at LYRE, LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE to see how they really felt about the Gay/Lesbian community. Another example was SEND IN THE CLONES. Compared to the homophobic stereotypes displayed in those episodes, The Birdcage is a virtual essay about gay and lesbian rights.

[04] Now mind you, these are the thoughts of a casual Xena fan, who was introduced to Xena fandom during the third season. I periodically watched the first and second seasons of the show, and frankly thought Xena: Warrior Princess was a brainless jiggle show wrapped up in "Feminist empowerment" nonsense. It was not until the BITTER SUITE that I saw the true reason why Xena: Warrior Princess was on the air, and it was in the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. There was no other reason to watch the show for me. I found the real story in the fan fiction that fortunately, still survives.

[05] Thank the Goddess I never bought the Big Lie. What is the Big Lie? That the creators, producers, directors, writers, and some of the actors that brought Xena: Warrior Princess to life actually gave a darn about the people who watched the show, specifically gay men and lesbians. Essentially, they exploited the gay and lesbian community for ratings. That is it and that is all.


The Truth About "Subtext"

[06] From the beginning of the whole "craze", the producers, directors, and at least one of the actors (all power to you, Renee O' Connor, you had the guts to tell the truth) were lying about how "accepting" they were of gay and lesbian fans. Look at the behavior of many the "RenPics" fans toward the Subtexters. They were downright hostile, mean, and homophobic for the most part. I do not think they wanted anyone else making comments about how the show should have been produced. To them, lesbian fans were "outsiders", nothing more. Executive producer Rob Tapert proved that he was more or less agreeing with the hardcore "RenPics" fans with the final episode of the show, FRIEND IN NEED. That episode exposed The Big Lie.

[07] There is another big fib that needs to be exposed. Despite what you may believe, subtext was never intended to attract a lesbian audience. Subtext was for the heterosexual male audience that refused to watch the show because it had a female protagonist. I knew this in 1998. They had to make it look like the guys actually had a chance with either Xena or Gabrielle. Xena and Gabrielle were never real lesbians, and were never meant to be characterized as real lesbians.

[08] I have talked to many lesbians who never watched Xena, and they could see that right off the bat. Those women KNEW they were going to be exploited by the producers of Xena, and they told them to "shove it" by not watching the show, not buying Xena memorabilia, and not buying the Big Lie. I wonder why otherwise perfectly intelligent women (and men) continue to believe a word that comes out of the mouths of Rob Tapert and Executive Producer RJ Stewart. All you have to do is look at Tapert's comments blaming "subtext" for the demise of Xena.

[09] On the contrary, subtext, and the gay/lesbian (and heterosexual male and female) fandom that supported it was the only thing that Xena: Warrior Princess had going for it. Let us look at the facts:

[10] 1. The only other movie or TV series similar to Xena was the motion picture Red Sonja, released during the Conan the Barbarian craze in the late 1980's. Red Sonja was NOT a well-done motion picture, so most of us saved our money. There had been other movies and TV series before Xena that had a female action hero. Red Sonja was one of them, along with the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman, Police Woman, Charlie's Angels, and the children's show Isis. I could go on and on. Therefore, Xena was NOT the only TV action show to have a woman as the hero. That is another falsehood. To say that Xena: Warrior Princess was different in any way is just nonsense.

[11] 2. The quality of Xena: Warrior Princess was overrated. As I have said before, Xena was a brainless jiggle show wrapped up in "girl power" nonsense. To pretend anything else is just foolish. It was not awful, but it was not Shakespeare, either. That is okay, but that is NOT going to get consistent numbers of viewers.

[12] 3. Heterosexual men do not like action shows with female heroes. They prefer Jean Claude Van Damme to anything like Xena or the other shows mentioned above. Therefore, the producers of Xena had to do something to attract the hetero males. Hence, they decided to use a heterosexual male's fantasy of lesbians to attract them. Moreover, it worked, for a few years anyway.

[13] Therefore, for Tapert to blame the demise of Xena on the lesbian fandom is just ridiculous. Instead, the blame should be placed on poor production quality, lack of theatrical substance, and a lack of knowing its viewer base. Frankly, the gay/lesbian fandom was the only thing Xena had going for it. He is lucky the show lasted as long as it did, considering how many strikes there were against it. Subtext made Tapert a wealthy man. Too bad, it did not make him gracious, or smart.

[14] At the beginning of the Xena craze in the lesbian community, everyone commented on how wonderful it was to be listened to by Hollywood producers and directors; something that had never happened before. I bought into that for a while. That is, until I began reading interviews that Tapert did, and began listening to what he and Renee O'Connor were saying.

[15] We had been warned that this "subtext" thing was a fraud several years before A FRIEND IN NEED aired. O'Connor admitted in her TV Guide interview back in 1998 that "subtext" was simply a device used by the writers and producers of Xena: Warrior Princess to attract viewers to the show: MALE viewers, not lesbians. It had worked so well, so they thought, what the heck, nobody takes this seriously. So they thought.


But She Has Died Before, or Excuses, Excuses

[16] I never had much to do with Xena fandom in the first place, having better things to do with my money and time. I did not consider paying $375 to go to some uninteresting convention in an overpriced hotel. It was not my idea of fun. I did not consider buying the merchandise that Creation Entertainment pushed. I was not interested in buying T-shirts made in China, overpriced fake swords, and ugly jewelry you can get on the Home Shopping Network for less. What is amazing is that Creation Entertainment has no clue about how badly the ending affected lesbian fandom. I had this conversation with a telemarketer from Creation Entertainment trying to keep me on their mailing list:

Me: "I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm going to buy any Xena memorabilia after what happened."
Telemarketer: "But she's died before."
Me: "Yeah, but she wasn't trussed up like a piece of meat and beheaded. She was not separated permanently from Gabrielle. That was the most horrific, misogynistic, homophobic ending in the history of television. I want nothing more to do with Rob Tapert or the rest of those people. Take me off your mailing list."
Telemarketer: "But she's died before."

[17] If all they can say to the millions of subtexters who are bitter about being flipped off by Rob Tapert is that "she's died before", then these people are far more stupid than we ever thought they were. It is true that there are many people who will remain Xena fans, but do you know how many lesbian Xenites will no longer have anything to do with Xena: Warrior Princess since FRIEND IN NEED aired? Many more than you will ever know.

[18] For us, the story was Xena and Gabrielle's relationship, not what they did or where they went. We could have cared less about that, as long as Xena and Gabrielle were together. That Tapert and company either made fun of, or disregarded our opinions altogether made us even stronger. The fan fiction that has risen out of the show's demise has only gotten better. I bet Mr. Tapert is not too happy about that.

[19] I personally do not care how happy Mr. Tapert is. He no longer owns Xena the show or Xena the character. She is the property of Universal Studios. Eventually, there will be another Xena movie, without Mr. Tapert's involvement. Then and only then will I support anything having to do with Renaissance Pictures. Many people like me feel the same way. All you have to do is look at Gay Pride festivals to see the shift in the landscape.

[20] Back in 1997-98, Creation Entertainment had a booth at every Gay Pride festival from Long Beach to New York. They made TONS of money selling to lesbian Xenites at these festivals. After 1999, there were no booths with Xena stuff, I guess because we stopped buying the lie that they were supportive of the gay/lesbian community. This year, the only sign of the Xena "craze" left was bargain basement prices for leftover posters. The honeymoon was over with the gay/lesbian community a long time ago.


The Curse of William Shatner and the Ghost of Donna Summer

[21] Another aspect in this sad tale is the future career of Lucy Lawless, if she even has one. Lawless had much disdain for the lesbian Xena fandom from the beginning. At first she hid her hostility well, but then as Xena: Warrior Princess progressed, she grew more and more resentful of the fact that for the rest of her career, she was going to be remembered as Xena, not as Lucy Lawless, and that she would be identified as a "lesbian sex symbol."

[22] She did another lesbian movie BEFORE Xena, and she apparently did not have any problem with that. However, in the politically correct, let-us-hide-from-controversy world of Hollywood, it is not a good thing to be identified with gays and lesbians. It is too controversial!

[23] Let us not forget the well-known notion that it is also not a good thing to be identified with what is politely referred to as "genre television". Most casting agents know that "genre television" is full of actors who cannot act their way out of a paper bag. Lawless is on the cusp of being one of them.

[24] She is not bad. I cannot think of another person who could fill the boots of Xena. However, she is hardly the quality of actor that Renee O'Connor is. If it was not for O'Connor, there would not have been a show. O'Connor is currently busy doing stage parts, honing her skills. Lawless? She has retired. She is not interested in the stage at all. That tells me who is one more focused on her career right now.

[25] There have been many recorded incidents of this kind of thing happening, where a television actor resented the character that made him or her famous. The most well-known incident is when William Shatner went on Saturday Night Live, and portrayed himself in a skit parodying Star Trek fandom. What happened? William Shatner has been reduced to hosting VH1 shows and making periodic appearances in the National Enquirer. Lynda Carter went through much the same thing. She is now hawking contact lenses. Of course, Lynda Carter left Wonder Woman to pursue a singing career and diversify her activities. Lindsay Wagner, Sarah Michelle Geller, Lucy Lawless, and several of the original Charlie's Angels left their roles or will leave their roles because they were tired of the role, the schedules of TV shooting, an unwillingness to be underpaid or exploited, and the losses of movie opportunities. The resentment we see may not always be toward the character as much as other aspects of the show, however, eventually many succumb to hating the character as much as the circumstance.

[26] However, in defense of Lucy Lawless, it seems that she is now changing her tune about both Xena and the lesbian fandom that made it successful. I read this on AUSXIP, the Australian Xena Information Page, run by the capable Mary D. It came from a recent interview with Lucy Lawless for Upbeat Entertainment magazine:

"And you know, as well as I do, that they will eventually resurrect that character again, she's far too great a character not to resurrect. So they will find a way to do that. Xena will return. But as of yet, there's been no talk of reviving it, at least not at this stage. But I have to assume that they will."

[27] Lawless is beginning to understand what Rob Tapert did not: if it was not for the lesbian fans who were the majority of people watching Xena every week, she would not be as well-known as she is. Period. The outcry over the killing of Xena and the separation of Xena from Gabrielle has made her a believer in the power of the gay/lesbian dollar, and that it is very important NOT to p--- us off. That is why she is talking about reviving Xena eventually. And, I would bet the farm that they WILL revive Xena, only without Rob Tapert, if they are smart. Lawless is a smart lady. That interview proved that to me.

[28] In my opinion, Lawless saw the outcry over the homophobic, misogynistic ending of Xena, and it scared her, because she saw that her career as an actor just might be among the casualties of the FRIEND IN NEED fiasco. You do not believe me? Ask Donna Summer. She is just now starting to have a career again after allegedly saying some homophobic remarks back in the early 1980's.

[29] In other words, do not mess with us. You will end up regretting it.


Biography

the author Melinda Tanner
Melinda Tanner is a 37-year-old web designer who also writes fan fiction and runs Panic Magazine, a webzine devoted to Artistic Gymnastics.


Favorite episode: ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, pts I and II
First episode seen: FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS and LYRE, LYRE HEARTS ON FIRE

 

 

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