Whoosh! Issue 25 - October 1998

IAXS project #621
By Kelly Rowett
Copyright © 1998 held by author
1982 words

Disclaimer: The following article may contain lurid and unsettling descriptions of academia.

Prologue (01-05)
A Stomach of One's Own (06-09)
Okay, But Why the Stomach? (10-12)
A Stomach Totem (13-17)
Epilogue (18)

They're Letting You Write Your Thesis About That?

Look for the new 'TV Time-Wasting' course available soon!

UNC, bastion of academia, is home to at least one fanfic fan.


[1] In Fall 1998, I will be completing my thesis on online fandom and Xena: Warrior Princess (XWP) fan fiction. You mean, Xena, the TV show? What do you mean, fan fiction? They write stories about the show? What kinds of stories? They are letting you write your thesis about that?!

[2] Even if it were easy to talk about the different practices of a large group of people, or if it were simplicity itself to address the relationship between online communities and offline behavior, and even if we knew definitively why hundreds of individuals from around the world dial into their internet service providers to discuss a syndicated television show set in the "time of the ancient gods", academia would still find a way to confuse the issues. Yet, fandom has recently come into ivy wall vogue. Fans may fill the seats in a subculture (assuring us that there is only one culture from which all others descend), or serve as the key/index of a greater implement/impediment to our understanding of human nature.

[3] An odd collection of pop culture theorists from Dick Hebdige to Jennifer Robertson have mounted a war against high culture elitists, who are looking to guard their perceived power, and cultural critics, who see a capitalist society creating passive consumers. While we may applaud their efforts to give theoretical depth to the misunderstood masses, we might also be a little unnerved that they all return with the same strategies, over and over: resistance (of authority), ambivalence (toward society), and negotiation (with The Powers That Be). If these qualities characterize fandom and fan activities, what differentiates fan behavior from anything else that humans do?

[4] Forgive them. The game is rigged. Contemporary theorists have embraced the metaphor of geography for items as diverse as cyberspace, mini-malls, and the brain. Even Janet H. Murray [Hamlet On The Holodeck (New York: The Fress Press, 1997)] and Espen J."arseth [Cybertext: Perspectives On Ergodic Literature (John Hopkins University Press, 1997)], whose works have challenged long-held notions about writing and culture, describe fiction on the internet as potentially shaped by geometry ("multiformal" for Murray, "labyrinthine" for"arseth). Such an approach provides us with inanimate objects and inarticulate spaces for our pondering.

[5] However, fandom has possibilities that do not depend on fixed places. Rather it moves relentlessly as a phenomenon and a practice. Fandom has functioning parts that require the continuing operation of each other. It is an entity, alive. True, the "body" has been used and abused before by scholars. This paper does not mean to suggest that fandom carries with it all of our earthly carnality in one handy package, nor that online exchanges necessarily have the same force or qualities as embodied interaction, though it certainly could be. On the contrary, it proposes that fandom exhibits a fierce desire to engage, to create, and to share. So, for the moment, let us consider fandom as a living body, as a fleshy anatomy we can explore. Let us call fan fiction the stomach, the craving center space, of this organism.

A Stomach of One's Own

Life insurance?  Why would I need life insurance at this age?

Perdicas not dead? It can happen in fanfic.

[6] The stomach has a process. It works through hunger. There are different types of hunger and different responses to hunger. As Missy Good notes in her "From the Bard's Quill" entry, "because there are as many flavors of fanfic [fanfiction] as there are species of insects, you can almost always find what you want in the wide array presented". Most fanfic works within the "Xenaverse" created by TPTB. Some fanfic directly addresses a specific episode, altering an event or changing a detail (e.g., a retelling of RETURN OF CALLISTO [29/205] in which Callisto does not kill Perdicas). Murray's model of the "multiform" story seems to make much sense here: a story that asks, "what if" or "why not". This invites tales of parallel universes and second chances, and much of the fanfic out there in cyberspace, from all of the different fandoms, poses alternate possibilities to the show's "bible".

[7] In"Uber-Xena" stories, the question answered is not "what if", but "what could be beyond". Uber-Xena fiction goes beyond the character dislocation story, allowing writers to strip away all but the essential character components. Consider the shape-shifting characters in Tammy's futuristic "Forests of Eyulf: Instincts of Blue":

"You know me, Brielle; look into my eyes," the large woman projected. Zya pushed her long ebony hair off of her chest and crooned her request to the woman's mind once more.

"Yes, that's it; relax..... you know my eyes, Brielle , don't you?" Zya said aloud as she lowered her naked frame to the edge of the pelts.

[8] But do XWP fanfic writers bite off more than they should? By Henry Jenkins' figuring in Textual Poachers (New York: Routledge, 1992), fan artists are already outlaws of a sort, profiting by pilfering from another's work. This suggests that a show comes to us, through our television screens, as a complete offering with established edges. However, XWP maintains an uneasy balance between a serial drama and an episodic adventure show. Do the show's writers employ the Hurt/Comfort motif, in which one character's life or well-being is endangered in order to elicit certain emotional reactions, all too familiar to regular readers of fanfic? You bet. Satire? Yes. Is there Uber-Xena? Definitely. One might see the television show itself as a series of fanfic stories (uber-fanfic?).

[9] Fanfic writers digest the televised episodes in order to create something else out of them. "Digest" does not equal "consume" in this instance. The notion of the consumer has long been mired in Marxism, and it places most of us at the end of the receiving line, disempowered and faceless. With writers dialing in from all over the world it is presumptuous, if not totally misguided, to believe that we share the same socio-economic environment that Marx described. Neither does "digest" mean one has to swallow something whole. Fanfic writers, as well as the rest of us, tend to be an intelligent lot, capable of criticizing and enjoying, debating and cheering. By invoking digestion as a variation on consumption (as, perhaps, fanfic is a variation on the show's texts), the conversation about fandom and fan fiction can be re-started, away from the pathologizing strains of most cultural theory and towards a non-psychological, organic perspective.

Okay, But Why the Stomach?

[10] The stomach has a purpose. It churns out usable material for the rest of the body (consider the fanfic recommendations we make to each other online). The stomach works through its subject matter with different tools at its disposal. For example, Elaine Sutherland's "Pappas Journals I" and "Pappas Journals II" can be described as epic, uber-Xena, altfic, hurt/comfort, and historical fiction. Furthermore, the stomach feels the stress of the body (evidenced when some fanfic authors tossed in the quill to protest the storylines of the third season). But what summons up the idea of the interactive, intelligent, and hungry stomach very clearly comes in the tricky act of self-cannibalization that fanfic can perform.

[11] Self-cannibalization does not sound like a feat that would be on the list of anyone's "many skills", but it starts in a spirit of mutual admiration. In short, fans of the show can also be fans of other fans, and this creates a self-reflexive, critical perspective of fans by fans. Tom's Xena site sponsors the Eddies, awards given to fanfic writers. Mary Draganis maintains an "Official WordWarior & Clan MacBat Fan Club Page" at her site, dedicated to the two fanfic writers, and Barron Chugg has a "Bat Morda Admiration Page" with covers he designed for some of her stories. Fans find their ways into stories, such as Bat Morda making a fatal cameo (Mary Sue, is that you?) in her own [currently unfinished] "Ubermadness (The Battle for the Third Age)" and peopling the story's hacker bar with some of her fellow writers.

[12] Unlike the physical stomach, but with the persistence of the flesh, fanfic devours its own components, and yet, the writers live to tell the tale. This renders the stomach model somewhat incomplete. Perhaps the stomach needs a mouth. Then again, perhaps the internet, an environment of perpetual re-creation, allows the stomach to breach its own walls without needlessly losing what it has to share.

A Stomach Totem

This is much preferable to my own cooking

Gabrielle's gastronomic adventures are legendary, even lampooned in episodes such as LOST MARINER.

[13] The stomach has a presence, however breachable. Fanfic offers some relief during the off-season when "Xena Withdrawal Syndrome" can take its toll. Fanfic provides another outlet for feelings and opinions that might be debated on the listservs. Also, fanfic figures into the participatory culture of fandom as a staple of behavior, a mode of handling to the show's material, and an expression of skills and interests. Perhaps it is not altogether unreasonable to assert that fanfic, the stomach of fandom, may bear some relation to the stomach on the show, the bard. Gabrielle always has an appetite. We witness this on the television show and in much of the fan fiction. The bard looks for a meal and a story with the same hopeful eye, and often this has humorous or endearing shades to it. Consider Bitrsuite's "Beware Sweet Treats"

Xena stops briefly, "Yea, well I am going on ahead, just don't be too long," Xena grumbles, but with a slight smile. She knows how much Gabrielle loves to get treats for the road, and frankly Xena liked it too.

[14] Gabrielle's love of food reveals her even when she is unaware of her "true" identity (or origin), as in L. N. James' uber-Xena "Chicago 5AM"

Meanwhile, Tina stretched out her arm across the back of the booth and finished her beer, her eyes glancing across to Mariel who took this opportunity to compose herself by finishing off her cheesecake.

[15] Some have turned a satirical eye toward this character detail. In her "Alternative Fan Fiction Cliche List" Bongobear challenges writers to create stories that do not rely on the usual elements, one of which is: "3) G wakes up with the munchies".

[16] Through this character, in both the show and the fan fiction it inspires, we find a link between writing and eating. Do we really create with the brain, or, perhaps, do our stomachs, our guts, do some of that work? Consider Wordwarior's response in "From the Bard's Quill":

I am a very instinctual writer. This may sound a little wacky, but I never have any idea what a story is going to be about when I start writing. I just start typing and find out what's going to happen as the story progresses. I don't plot, I don't have a clue what is going to happen or how it will end. I just write and trust that it'll all work out eventually.

[17] If Gabrielle's earthly appetite provides another contrast between her character and Xena's stoic nature, it also serves to show that the young woman, often driven by her ideals, is as much of the flesh as she is the spirit. In Whoosh! #06 (March 1997), "A Fan's Introduction to Fan-Fiction", Merry Gilmore argues that fan fiction offers writers the chance to "break down the walls of Xena's self-erected emotional prison". Fanfic also allows writers to show Gabrielle as a rounded character, capable of understanding her needs even when she denies herself what she wants.


[18] Perhaps this is all folly. And yet, how does one describe the large and ever-shifting populace of an online fandom and the internal mechanisms by which it promotes, expresses, and regulates itself? Do metaphors of the organic incorrectly ascribe a connectness to human processes? I hope not. Our discussions in the academy sometimes blind us to the necessary coexistence of technology and flesh. Consequently we arrive at the same answers for different questions. We need a theory of creative consumption, as a characteristic of, if not a source of, fan fiction. Our inquiries may not lead us to the stomach, but they certainly must start somewhere.


Aarseth, Espin J. "Introduction" to Cybertext: Perspectives On Ergodic Literature. (Also JHU Press: Baltimore. 1997.)

Bitrsuite. "Beware Sweet Treats".

Bongobear, et al. "Alternative Fan Fiction Cliche List".

Chugg, Barron. "Bat Morda Admiration Page".

Draganis, Mary."Official WordWarior & Clan MacBat Fan Club Page".

Gilmore, Merry. "A Fan's Introduction to Fan-Fiction" Whoosh, no. 6 (March 1997): 05.

Good, Missy. "From the Bard's Quill."

James, L. N. Chapter 3: Two Worlds Colliding in "Chicago 5AM".

Morda, Bat. "Ubermadness (The Battle for the Third Age)"

Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet On The Holodeck: The Future Of Narrative In Hyperspace. Free Press: New York. 1997.

Sutherland, Elaine. "Pappas Journals".

---. "Pappas Journals II: In The Reich."

Tammy. Part Two in Forests of Eyulf: Instincts of Blue.

Wordwarior. "From the Bard's Quill."


Kelly Rowett Kelly Rowett
Kelly studies and works at UNC where she delights in converting colleagues and co-workers to Xenaism.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Callisto: "Here piggie, piggie." RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205)
First episode seen: THE TITANS (07/107)
Least favorite episode: PROMETHEUS (08/108)

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