Whoosh! Issue 57 - June 2001

A postmodern dialogue by an avatar and Nomad
or rather Dr. Carolyn Bremer and Dr. Christine Boese
(whoever they really are)
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
2452 words

It Has Begun (01-06)
Paradigm 1: Authenticity of Identity (07-08)
Paradigm 2: Identity of Authenticity (09-10)
The Confluence of Experiences (11-15)
The Meanings of Confluences (16-19)
The Confluence of Meanings (20-25)
The Experience of Cons (26-29)
The Con of Experiences (30-35)


It Has Begun

No Kym, you cannot have any coffee

Coffee, cup of joe, java--
What is it really?

[01] Friday morning, after too little sleep with three roommates at the Doubletree, I set out to get morning coffee. I am a coffee snob and generally regard hotel coffee inferior to the coffeehouse variety, so I located someone holding a cup from a real java joint and asked for directions.

[02] I had two roommates who were also coffee drinkers, so when I ordered a double cappuccino for myself--I needed as much caffeine as I could get in a single hit because the whole idea of attending a con and simultanesouly living out both online and real-life personalities was going to take a lot of focus--I also got coffee for my two caffeine indulging roommates. Gleefully, I returned to the room and handed out my superior caffeinated morning beverages to Bongo Bear and alwayslooking.

[03] Did I mention that I had three roommates? Who forgot Kym? Was it my avatar or Carolyn? Which one was doing the thinking? What was the subtext of this agregious omission? Fortunately, subtext, and the subtext of the subtext, as well as of the Xenaverse as a whole, is what keeps me kicking when the water has drained from the pool.


[04] In a darkened auditorium of approximately 3,000 people there is a hush of anticipation as the opening rhythms of the musical Cabaret are heard. XXX Rated. Hints and expectations. What could Claire Stansfield and Alexandria Tydings possibly be planning?

[05] An hour later, most of us reeling from having our minds blown, all circuits fried, a remarkable transformation has taken place. "What an amazing validation of the fans," my seatmate said, shaking her head, still in shock.

[06] But something else had happened at that Saturday Night Cabaret. Avatar and identity, always nebulous concepts in the Xenaverse, had shifted, a shift confirmed for many the next day. The reluctant stars, by their distancing from the fans, had become "Lucy" and "Renee". By reading and enacting fan fiction that Saturday night, Claire and Alex had adopted their discarded avatars, had become "Xena" and "Gabrielle". They did what Lucy and Renee would not. Would their enthusiastic embrace of the fans lead to a transfer of loyalties? Only their fan clubs know for sure.

Paradigm 1: Authenticity of Identity

Not to be confused with that other bestseller, 'The Necronomicon'

Is it easier just to blame Neuromancer?

[07] I experience fragmented forms of identity: as a cyberculture researcher writing a dissertation on the Xenaverse, I identified myself by real name and added "Effluvia, Warrior Sewage" as an emblem of academic practice to put people at ease, I had hoped. I was careful what I said, how I presented myself. My real name was my ethos. I had to protect its credibility. When I was done, I moved to a private list and took the name Nomad. I could relax, be more myself, uncensored. But which identity is more real?


[08] I experience multiple forms of reality: as a working professional, as a dreamer, as a reminiscer, as a internalizer, as a teacher, and many more. A newer, though no less codified reality, is my on-line persona. I have conversed through my avatar for over five years. Though I do not couch my on-line remarks through any conscious filter, by virtue of the fact that I do not use my real name, my reality shifts. Which is the authentic me?

Paradigm 2: Identity of Authenticity

I'm an ACTION FIGURE!  Not a DOLL!  Got it?!

She might know more than she is letting on

[09] I can watch an episode of Xena on television or as re-run; buy an episode to own on video tape, or watch a homemade tape; place a tape on my mantle to gaze upon; place an action figure on my mantle to gaze upon; take a photograph of Renee O'Connor; wear a Xena costume; pay outrageous sums on e-Bay for a Lucy Lawless autograph; read Fan Fiction; bid for an auctioned-for-charity printout of Fan Fiction already existing on my hard drive; listen to mournful wailing of slighted Joxer/Gab fans; listen to mournful wailing of slighted subtext fans; cogitate on the meaning of the Xena phenomenon; or attend a Xena convention. Which is the authentic Xena experience?



[10] Camp feeds on layers of parody. The Xenaverse can seem like an extended game of Barbie most days, elaborate online play with characters. Didn't Athena and Artemis serve the same function for ancient oral cultures? We use stand-in avatars to enact our favorite myths and stories. What if humans are a "Barbie World" for some larger god-play, to watch, to live through, like soap operas? If humans are a living virtual reality, and the humans create another layer of virtual reality (VR), and we add a layer of parody and self-reflection on top of that VR, what do you have? And if you can count your way back through all the layers, will you ever come to an "authentic" one?

The Confluence of Experiences

Also seen on SOUL POSSESSION reporter jackets

We live in the Kingdom of Names, so badges are needed at conventions

[11] Santa Monica was my first Xena convention to attend for pleasure, not research. I felt shy. I could not hide behind that official persona. Many of the people I had interviewed in the early Cons were gone, had moved on with their lives. I walked up to people, squinted at their name tags, trying to put the faces with the online nicknames.

[12] When I came to Pasadena in 2001, my online friendships were diverse but well-established. I felt exuberant. Some of us had been talking for more than four years. Some I still had not met in person. How does it feel to walk up to a complete stranger and embrace her fiercely as a long lost friend? To find a twinkle in the eye of another with whom I had recently argued? Odd. It feels odd. All channels are overwhelmed with data. That is one thing I was unable to convey in my dissertation: the exuberance of reunion, the pang of separation.


[13] An emergent form of cultural experience is the intersection of virtual reality and the reality we normally associate with our daily lives. Since the 2001 Pasadena Con was my second Con, I can look upon the intersection of daily reality and virtual reality with a clearer perspective than in the days following my 1999 Santa Monica weekend.

[14] Cons are still a battle of mutually exclusive realities to some degree. Am I my avatar or am I Carolyn? Those who knew me well usually called me Carolyn, but even my friend Kym presented me with a Whoosh! badge that read my avatar. In Santa Monica, that same Whoosh! badge read "Carolyn".

[15] Is there a difference? Does my wearing of my name or my avatar change the reality of the experience?

The Meanings of Confluences

After their invisible braces locked, a locksmith was culled from the audience

$40,000 gets you a used chakram and a kiss from Claire Stansfield in the Xenaverse
(photo by Lida Verner)

[16] A deeply defined and often confused relationship exists between the stars of the show and their characters. Were fans there to see actress Lucy Lawless or the character of Xena? Did they come to experience for the first time the banter between two friends and co-workers, Renee O'Connor and Lucy Lawless, or did they come to see Xena and Gabrielle validate or deny subtext? From my vantage, the star was less perceived than the character. Lucy Lawless is Xena.

[17] This seems unique in the entertainment industry. All other stars are remembered not for their characters, but for their projected personalities. Not so for Renee O'Connor. She is Gabrielle. When I think back through the hordes of stars I have experienced through media and fandom, I can see the same anomaly occurring --perhaps -- with Leonard Nimoy, who *was* Spock, and to some lesser degree for William Shatner/Captain Kirk. Is the looseness between person and character a consequence of cult entertainment status?


[18] If Xena is more real for fans than Lucy Lawless, then Xena may have a life of her own after Lucy Lawless moves on. Fans come to conventions dressed as the characters, suggesting their fluid identity, but also perhaps their archetypal nature. Claire and Alex, as the Xena and Gabrielle avatars in Alternative Fan Fiction Parody gain heroic proportions, status, even as Lucy and Renee give up their status to become themselves again.

[19] This reminds me that the entertainment industry is more closely related to fertility rituals as described by Joseph Campbell and in The Golden Bough. Through contageous or mimetic magic, if you can possess something connected to the idol, or imitate her, you can control or become her. One gains heroic proportions by dressing as the hero, or giving $40,000 to charity for her chakram (Chris Clogsdon is a special kind of hero). In fiction, an author can do the same for her characters by invoking heroic archetypes.

The Confluence of Meanings

I hear $50! Do I hear $55? $55 for an only used on Sundays fan fiction writer?

Fan fiction writer Missy Good invited on stage Debbie Cassetta,
the president of the fan ran charity organization Sword and Staff
(photo by Donna Alexander)

[20] I see the dynamic between fandom and the television show in terms of the negotiation of power, and a friendly or not-so-friendly tension as that power shifts from side to side. In an Old Media world, the producers and makers held the most power chips. Audiences could make or break a program, but the thick wall of the TV screen made a good deal of market research and audience analysis into extended patriarchial voodoo.

[21] Online fans enter this equation like a self-directed focus group. They have seized the means of production in a very political power move, from shaping storylines through fan fiction to gaining two different kinds of fan writers, Katherine Fugate and Missy Good, as representatives writing for the show. Fan fertility rituals seem to be working. Initially online fans were dismissed as extremists not representative of the "real" audience. At the Whoosh! panel someone made the argument that since the Internet is in 50 percent of all households, the online fans are not as extremist as they once were, an interesting and highly suspect assumption. Meanwhile, the lines between producer and consumer have also blurred, and the effects of this interactivity on the accepted Hollywood power dynamic will be felt for many years.


[22] There is an archetypal relationship between fandom and the television show. One without the other is not my authentic Xena experience. The cultural experience of the Con is situated in *both* the fan's meeting room and the star-studded stage. And yet, meaning prescribed by two distinct spaces overlap. On which stage does Missy Good define herself? Katherine Fugate? Does the official Fan Club President belong in the Fan Room? Does fan fiction belong on the Main Stage?

[23] I would argue that the distinction between fact and fiction has dissolved. There is no obligatory relationship between subject and object, fan and actor, screenplay and short story, episodic television and convention.

[24] Fans deny meaning to actors, making the cultural meanings themselves and positioning themselves in the same type of space-- occupying a stage, speaking through microphones, enrapturing a paid audience, starting and ending blocks of time as scheduled by Creation, and so on.

[25] And in a deliciously epitomic moment, two actors denied meaning to fans by reading and acting out fan fiction on the main stage.

The Experience of Cons

Uh, Xena?   A bug just flew in your mouth.

$600 for the autographs of Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor?
An investment or highway robbery?

[26] I paid $78 for a weekend pass to the Pasadena convention. I spent most of my time talking with friends, showing out-of-towners a bit of LA (my hometown), and when at the convention center, taking in panels in the fan room. The only time I went into the main room was on Sunday afternoon to see Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor, for which I paid $78.

[27] I could not actually see them. I was in the penultimate row on a flat floor. There was little improvement in snagging a seat in the front of general admission. All of the general admission seats sucked. I pitied mightly the unlucky who paid a premium to sit but one row in front of the general admission area. With my opera glasses, I could view some of the screen, experiencing Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor through the veneer of image-to-electricity-to-light-to-image, just as I always did on my very own television. Except I can see my television much more clearly.


[28] A woman at a Creation table told a newbie that Lucy would not sign autographs unless she could sign for everyone. The woman was standing behind a table of Lucy Lawless autographs selling for more than $200. Apparently (and Lucy herself might not be aware of this) Lucy Lawless only signs autographs for rich people. Those who have attended non-Creation Conventions immediately notice the accessability of celebrities and a lack of hyperventilating and gushing over them. Could Creation be creating that wall between fan and admittedly minor celebrities to manipulate greater sales? In this respect, perhaps the celebrities are being manipulated as much as the fans.

[29] Many fans felt that the appearance of Lucy and Renee on Sunday was so highly mediated it could just as well have taken place behind the thick glass of the TV screen, for all the real interactivity it engendered in what is normally a classical oral rhetorical venue.


The Con of Experiences

penguin pullovers are all the rage in the Antarctic this year

This has nothing to do with this paper, or does it?

[30] Where can we find the "real" Con? Foucault writes in Discipline and Punish that behavior can be molded, homogenized, conditioned, through the gaze, the panoptiCon. If the Xenaverse cyberculture is one large focus group, who is watching us? And are they crassly manipulating while watching?

[31] Mil Toro's skit "XENAFANADDICTS R US" performed that night provides a postmodern wink to the question of who is manipulating whom. In a fictionalized fan focus group, Rob Tapert and R.J. Stewart directly pander to Missy Fans because "it's good publicity. The fans think they're contributing and besides...[w]hen we hire her, her fanbase will be worth tapping into."

[32] This skit was written by a fan, parodying such manipulation, then chosen by Claire and Alex, effectively acknowledging and parodying its "truth" at the same time. The show itself is a postmodern parody of high and low archetypes and cultural referents. Fan fiction simply adds another layer, as does Claire and Alex's performance of it. There is no "there" there, only reflections of reflections. The "phantasm" is how we make meaning of it.


[33] As postmodernists would argue, the use of the term 'event' leeches the singularity of actual occurrences to form a paler generality. To Foucault, the term 'event' refers to a "phantasm": a product of fantasy, a mental representation of a real object. The residual, experienced meaning of an event cannot be mapped to anything in the actual event. So--there was no Con; there is no end to the show.

[34] There is no subject of Xena. It is a nexus around which cultural apparatuses spin. Each of us dip into the center to taste its sweetness, but we are the only beings to give it meaning, to situate it in our own lives, to make it a part of our experience. The con is as each of us defines and remembers it.

[35] There, there, it'll all be okay in the end because only you can determine when that occurs.



Christine Boese. Spinning Off From the Source: Alternative Fan Fiction Changes With the Seasons. WHOOSH #25 (October 1998)

Christine Boese. Don't Forget Della Street: Standing the Test of Time. WHOOSH #46 (July 2000)

Carolyn Bremer. Duality and Completeness: An Analysis of the Xena: Warrior Princess Theme Music. WHOOSH #20 (May 1998)

Carolyn Bremer. "Anachronism Be Damned: An XWP Historiography. Part 1: Timetable and Overview. WHOOSH #26 (November 1998)

Carolyn Bremer. "Anachronism Be Damned: An XWP Historiography. Part 2: The Intersection of Myth and History. WHOOSH #27 (December 1998)

Carolyn Bremer. Archetypes in Xena: Warrior Princess. WHOOSH #30 (March 1999)

Carolyn Bremer. Anachronism Be Damned: A XWP Historiography. Part 3: The Ancient Greek Arts. WHOOSH #29 (February 1999)

Carolyn Bremer and Bongo Bear. Anachronism Be Damned: A XWP Historiography. Part 4: Ancient Greek Science: Mathematics, Astronomy, and Medicine. WHOOSH #30 (March 1999)

Carolyn Bremer. Anachronism Be D*mned: An XWP Historiography. Part 5: Biblical References in Xena: Warrior Princess. WHOOSH #31 (April 1999)


Carolyn Bremer Carolyn Bremer

Carolyn Bremer is a composer of issue-oriented, experimental and political music.
Favorite episode: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Picking just one out of the plethora of deserving candidates is utterly impossible.
First episode seen: A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Least favorite episode: FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) And I'm really hoping that doesn't get bumped out of the bottom spot by a fourth season Joxer bumble.

Christine Boese Christine Boese

Dr. Christine Boese is an assistant professor of English at Clemson University. Her doctoral dissertation is a cultural study of the online Xenaverse, titled "The Ballad of the Internet Nutball: Chaining Rhetorical Visions from the Margins of the Margins to the Mainstream in the Xenaverse" (http://www.nutball.com/). It is still being updated with feedback and comments from Xenites, who are encouraged to participate in the study as co-authors. It is best viewed with a 4.0 browser and the free Shockwave plugin (http://www.macromedia.com/).
Favorite episode: WHEN FATES COLLIDE
Favorite line: Xena: "Awake my Bacchae! It's time to FEEEEEEEED!" GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (28/204)
First episode seen: Bits and pieces in Mid-Season 2, never catching entire episodes until THE QUEST (37/213), and even then I still didn't know what hit me.
Least favorite episode: The Worser (sic) Part of Season Five. As Bill the Cat would say, "Ack!" (54/308)

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