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Night Crawler: Warrior Worship

Posted 10-21-99

SF Weekly
Wednesday, 10-20-99
Column by Silke Tudor

"Malibu-based" WHOOSH is mentioned along with a reference to Darise Error's article about the lack of kisses between Xena and Gabrielle in the 3rd and 4th seasons (issue #36, October 1999), in this article looking at the Xena phenom and a visit to the SF Convention October 16-17, 1999.


   Warrior Worship

   Not since Star Trek has a television show inspired the cult-like veneration
enjoyed by  Xena:  Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Fans
rattle off episode titles like athletes quoting batting averages; they discuss
character development with the same attention to detail usually afforded fine
wines and rare china; they ritualize their experience - surrounded by
similarly-minded converts, or alone, hidden away from the prying eyes of
unbelievers - and set aside time each week to contemplate the allegories strewn 
throughout their small-screen stories. In 1997, for the first time in a decade, 
the Star Trek empire lost dominion over the syndicated-drama charts, and, as the
mythic stars of ancient Greece eclipsed those of science fiction, Hercules fan
clubs developed,  Xena  secret societies formed, and conventions were booked
across the country for both. Of the two shows produced by Pacific Renaissance,
 Xena  seems the more highly debated and devotional, at least in our town;
although balanced by irreverence, raillery, and self-parody, the show's
complicated familial ties, dark dalliances, and copious ass-kicking strikes a
chord with fans who either admire or desire the show's strong, female leads.

   For those behind the curve,  Xena  (played by New Zealand's statuesque,
icy-eyed, raven-haired knock-out  Lucy Lawless)  was born in Amphipolis some
time between, say, 1500 BC and 129 AD (see later historical breakdown). Her real
father may or may not have been Ares the god of war (played by the rippling Kiwi
hunk Kevin Smith on both Hercules and  Xena) , but her human father is said to
have deserted the family before her birth or been killed by her mother to
prevent sure infanticide. (Regardless of the circumstance, this desertion,
coupled with that of  Xena's  first fiancee, who gave up marital bliss to become
a diabolical warlord, no doubt abetted  Xena's  pivotal distrust of men and fear
of intimacy.) Somewhere along the line,  Xena's  hometown was ravaged by
marauders, and she defended it alongside her brothers - two or three - and in
order to safeguard the town from further attacks, she set about conquering the
surrounding region. Consumed by power and bloodlust, and enjoying "relations"
with some equally sadistic characters,  Xena  did not awake from her merciless
stupor until her own men attacked her for saving the life of a baby. Struggling 
to subdue her dark impulses,  Xena  took to the open road at the beginning of
the show as an act of contrition, determined to use her skills only for good.

   Enter Gabrielle (played by pert, blonde Texan  Renee O'Connor)  who deserted 
her betrothed to chronicle  Xena's  adventures in the tradition of the great
bards of her time (more or less). Aside from her role as biographer and hesitant
comrade in arms, Gabrielle is  Xena's  calming influence, an estrogen-rich,
somewhat na ve, optimistic humanitarian who gently curtails  Xena's  more
merciless rages.

   So, what about the subtext?

   According to Malibu-based Whoosh! -- journal for the International
Association of  Xena  Studies -- within the first two seasons, there were no
less than six kisses between Lawless and O'Connor, two of them mouth-to-mouth.
There are allusions to the roles of "warrior" women within a patriarchal society
and hints, according to some, at sado-masochist fixations. (See  Xena's  steamy 
conflict with Cyane in "Adventures in the Sin Trade," or her penchant for the
villainous Draco in "A Comedy of Eros.")

   Then there are the leather unmentionables.

   "I think the show approaches real problems with humor and imagination," says 
43-year old fan Kath Dudek, whose fur cloak, broad sword, chain mail, and helmet
inadvertently draw passersby up the steps of the Nob Hill Masonic Center into
San Francisco's annual Official Hercules and  Xena  Convention. "Friendship is
not always easy to maintain, tragedy can happen in spite of our best intentions,
and anyone can be a warrior.  Xena  provides a great way to discuss issues with 
teenagers who are beginning to search for their own identity." Besides being a
 Xena  fan, Dudek teaches novice combat techniques for the Society for
Creative Anachronism, a 35-year-old historical group that hosts weekly battles
in Golden Gate Park and boasts a great number of  Xena/ Hercules fans.

   Never mind that  Xena  has Homer and Euripedes, who lived nearly 300 years
apart, competing in "Athens City Academy of the Performing Bards"; or that
Hippocrates (460 BC) and Galen (129 AD) cross paths in "Is There a Doctor in the
House;" or that the Trojan War and Sophocles are mentioned as current affairs,
despite a 700-year difference in time; or that  Xena  has had flings with both
Julius Caesar, who died in 44 BC, and Hercules, who died around 1250 BC.

   "The stories are great," says Dudek, "and it's funny. This is a town that
loves its camp."

   "One look at Kevin Smith should tell you why I am a fan," says 40-year-old
Clemens resident and Smith fan club member Lanna King.

   Onstage, Smith struts in front of a podium, his well-formed body accentuated 
by clinging work-out pants and a tight white T-shirt.

   "Since I've become famous, I've dropped all my old friends, stopped calling
my family, and cut down good acquaintances in the middle of the street," jokes
Smith in his laid-back, good-natured Kiwi accent. "Actually, being somewhat
famous, I have to conduct myself in a certain way. Normally, I'm a swine, but I 
don't have the luxury of venting my spleen any time I like. As soon as my
television career is through, I'm going to revert back to the A-hole I really

   The huge crowd laughs, and several woman in the audience scream. Hundreds of 
cameras flash in the aisles. Unlike her home, where King must downplay her
obsession among friends and family who find it childish, the convention is
filled with people whose interest is at least as great as her own. During the
two-day visit, King meets tall, dark Minneapolis resident Renee Indehar;
together they enter and win the costume contest as  Xena  and Gabrielle.

   "We thought we'd have more power as a team," says King.

   "The show's all about teamwork," adds Indehar, who admits that watching a
show that has a lead actress to whom you bear a striking similarity has its
perks. "I won free airfare out here."

   In the auditorium, small, blonde-haired lovely Danielle Cormack is addressed 
by members of the crowd as the real Amazon Regent (an insider fact; Gabrielle
has been given the title Amazon queen on the show). She is proposed to, asked
for hugs, and asked to waltz. Cameras flash as she displays a gregarious charm
and quick New Zealand wit and, although dressed in a peach satin gown and
knee-high leather boots, jokes about fanny (it's something else in her country),
beer, and knocking her kids around.

   "I'm gonna give up acting and become a rock star," she says with a toss of
her tawny mane. "Just holding this microphone makes me hot."

   Albequerque native Phil D. Hernandez claps wildly and takes notes. A founder 
of the Gabrielle and Joxer Romantic Society, a group dedicated to encouraging
romantic love between the blonde side-kick and her doltish admirer on the show, 
Hernandez is gathering inspiration.

   "Some people think the relationship between Gabrielle and  Xena  should be
only a lesbian one, but that's so limited," says Hernandez, adjusting his silver
bow tie. "Joxer loves her and, I think, if he proposes, she should accept. They 
would make a wonderful couple. I'm a lot like Joxer. The similarities are

   As the junior division costume contestants take the stage, Hernandez applauds
wildly for stocky Rachel Shing as  Xena,  willowy Natasha Kendall as Cleopatra, 
and the very poised, very small Samantha Duncan as  Xena's  son Solan. (As the
announcer says, gender doesn't matter on this show.)

   "Natasha's grown a lot since the last contest," says Hernandez, giving his
best  Xena  battle cry. "You start to recognize each other after a while."

   Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

   By Silke Tudor

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