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Xena. Ode to a Grecian warrior princess with guts, wits, awesome moves, wide-ranging appeal - and a cult following

Posted 01-12-99

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
By "Pop Stand" Page F1

Tillotson writes about XWP's wide demographic and the fan net presence. WHOOSH is mentioned and called "an online collection of 150 musings including 'Chain Mail and Its Uses on XWP' [written by our own Chris Clogston] and 'The Influence of Xena on the Medical Profession' [which has not been written yet, hmmmm]". She attempts to list the various stereotypical type of fans for the show. Michael Evans-Layng (WHOOSH author) and Kym Taborn (WHOOSH Publisher/Editor-in-Chief) are quoted.


    If you see a 9-year-old girl waving a stick on the playground and shouting,
"Don't tarry! Disperse these ruffians!" there's no cause for alarm.  She's only
been watching Xena.

    Finally, we know what the "X" in Generation X should stand for: Xena,
Warrior Princess, possibly the best female role model on television. Certainly
the most fun.  

    Part Greek goddess, part American Gladiator and part "Avenger" Emma Peel,
Xena is more cult hit than blockbuster.  But already she claims a wide
demographic appeal.  Grandmas as well as fourth-graders, academics along with
oafs, feminists and good ol' boys all love this video comic-strip.  "Xena" and
its sibling action series "Hercules" (starring Mound native Kevin Sorbo and also
filmed in New Zealand) are consistently among the highest-rated TV shows in

    Nowhere is there more evidence of Xena's popularity than on the Net.  It
could be a full-time job just to monitor the 100-plus web sites dedicated to
Xena and the actress who plays her, New Zealander Lucy Lawless.  There's a
newsletter called Whoosh - a favorite Xena sound effect - and the International
Association of Xena Studies (IAXS), an online collection of 150 musings
including "Chain Mail and Its Uses on X:WP" and "The Influence of Xena on the
Medical Profession." You can even download her war cry.

    This weekend, thousands of fans from across the country are converging at a
Burbank, Calif., hotel for a Hercules and Xena "convention."

    What has spawned such mass adoration?  Simple: Xena satisfies more standard
fantasy categories than any current supermodel, movie star or pop idol.

    - Your average ogler: If all you really want from your TV screen is T&A,
you've got a modest version of it here.  Just cover up that codpiece if Xena
catches you leering.

    - Male seeks dominatrix: A 6-foot woman in leather and studs is the
preferred, if stale, stereotype.  Xena makes it clear that she's the boss,
albeit a benevolent one.

    - I watch it for the allegory: Inside jokes and allusions to ancient
mythology help eggheads deconstruct their reasons for taking shameless cerebral

    - Revenge of the adolescent: The plot of every installment begins with
outrage and ends with justice for the oppressed, thus perfectly representing the
lives of long-suffering teens.

    - Hangin' with the big kids: Fast pace, simple messages and a vague,
harmless hint of taboo keep the grade-schoolers mesmerized, a happy medium
between Saturday-morning cartoons and that stuff Mom and Dad will never let 'em

    - Riot grrls of all ages: Xena doesn't sacrifice sexiness for smarts, she
doesn't take any guff and she's got a killer sense of humor. She's also
true-blue to her best friend, Gabrielle, unlike most pop-culture portrayals of
female relationship dynamics, which are filled with backbiting and competition
for male attention.

    From her metal breastplate to her over-the-knee leather boots, Xena is all
woman.  But she does not run, throw or scream "like a girl" (to borrow the
common phrase with which men try to insult each other and, in so doing, devalue

    This superhero was raised on Gabrielle Reece's Nike commercials, not
"Charlie's Angels" and "Wonder Woman." Unlike previous TV female action gals,
Xena does not move, or sound, like a paper tigress created by men, for men, but
masquerading as a feminist.  She can take out eight guys, no problem, with a
couple of war whoops, well-timed head butting and warp-speed scissor kicks.

    Actually, she reminds Michael Evans-Layng of his wife, Mari, "a combination
of fierce intelligence and physical beauty who struggles to do the right thing."
Evans, a 43-year-old Ph.D. whose online fan-club handle is "xenaphile," has no
trouble admitting he likes the costume.  But he watches the show with his
5-year-old daughter, for whom he considers Xena a great friendship role model.

    "XWP," as its devotees call it, blends the best of what television used to
be and the best of what it can be today, combining good old-fashioned fantasy
and farce with upstanding messages slipped in between the fisticuffs.  As for
the violence, "Three Stooges" reruns are no more likely to beget real-life
bullies. Xena is probably even less so - she has a conscience.

    "XWP is really a bare-bones morality play, like 'Star Trek' was in the
1960s," says Kym Taborn, who runs several Xena websites, including IAXS, and
edits Whoosh.  She cited an episode that showed what really happens when you get
skewered by a sword, another that showed Helen's point of view about the Trojan
War and others that presented an interracial relationship without making it a
plot point.

    As Taborn optimistically puts it, "Whether by design or luck, the creators
of XWP have unleashed a new model of what a woman can be."

    A lofty contention, perhaps.  But any challengers might want to download a
certain war cry before lipping off themselves.

    "Xena: Warrior Princess" airs locally on WFTC-Ch. 29, 10 p.m. Sunday and
repeats at midnight the following Saturday. Comments may be sent via letter to
Kristin Tillotson, c/o the Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN
55488, or e-mailed to: popstand@gw.startribune.com

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