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XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS: AN ANALYTICAL REVIEW
IAXS Project 036
By Karen Pusateri ( kpusater@calvin.pitzer.edu)
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
1760 words


[1] At first glance, Xena: Warrior Princess is an outwardly campy, fantasy-adventure TV show about a mythological warrior princess with over-exaggerated action scenes and a touch of today's humor. The show is loosely based on the mythological gods of ancient Greece with little regard for historical correctness. The story lines often merge both Greek and Roman mythology with biblical history without respect to any time line. The script is written and spoken in today's West Coast English complete with modern day slang. However, most of the actors and actresses are native New Zealanders who otherwise speak with heavy New Zealand accents including the lead actress Lucy Lawless, who plays Xena.

[2] On closer observation, "Xena" is a show about the changing of female stereotypes and traditional roles within a postmodern filmic format. Post-modernism can be described as an aesthetic which emphasizes the fragmentary nature of images, the appropriation of images from previously created images, and their resistance to a single unity logic or subject position.


A home is one's castle


[3] In the case of "Xena," we not only see fragmented representations of Greek and Roman mythology, we also see a mismatched combination of cultural dress, language, and history. In the opening episode, "Sins of the Past", we hear Balkan women singing some sort of chant with Bulgarian lyrics to what sounds like Bulgarian Bagpipes and Eastern European drum rhythms as Xena travels to her home village of Amphipolis in ancient Greece. However, it is the lush green country side of New Zealand which we see on screen.

[4] Later, in the same episode, Xena, a Greek woman warrior, uses Asian martial art moves on some villainous characters dressed in Northern European costumes whose leader is played by a Maori actor. Again, the time is ancient Greece but the dialog is spoken in today's West Coast English.

[5] This kaleidoscope of misrepresented images of culture and history draws attention to the illusionary quality of identity and helps to break down the traditional canons of our society and opens the door to accepting new roles for women and ethnic groups. This format of disjointed representations as well as the narrative use of female/male role reversals, helps to expose the outward images of women as a type of masquerade.


You are relatively safe unless she's holding a chakram


[6] The traditional male lead role of a warrior which symbolizes the essence of masculinity is now represented by a woman. Xena's outward appearance -- leather mini skirt and boots, bronze breast plates, bare thighs, long straight dark hair, and piercing blue eyes -- is one part harem girl (feminine) and one part warrior (masculine). Her clothing highlights her femininity while at the same time "shielding" it. Her sword, a masculine image of strength and power which could be seen as a phallic symbol, is worn on her back or her side. Her chakram, a circular metal disk with a razor sharp edge which can slice through steel as well as flesh when thrown by Xena, is worn on her hip. Its circular shape is symbolic for the female sex and it is her ultimate weapon and source of strength. This duality of feminine and masculine identities makes those around her uncertain. Men are both attracted to her and terrified by her. It is this confusion which serves as her ultimate weapon of control and power.

[7] The complexity of Xena's identity can be seen when comparing the opening tavern scene in "The Path Not Taken" episode with a later tavern scene within the same episode.

[8] In the first tavern scene Xena and Gabrielle, Xena's traveling companion and closest friend, enter a tavern in a small village. No one here seems to be aware of Xena's warrior reputation. As Xena and Gabrielle pass through the door we hear the typical 90's lower-class male response of whistling and wolf calls. At this point Gabrielle, seemingly oblivious of the male attention, is in the front of the camera's frame recapping the events of a previous adventure with Xena behind her.

[9] Xena's expression is one of "been here, done this before" as a seedy-looking character comes up behind her and puts his arm across her shoulders. Xena responses by nonchalantly driving her fist back into this uninvited suitor's face sending him reeling to the floor. A few seconds later another uninvited suitor comes up behind Xena with an attitude of male righteousness and starts to put his arm around her waist. As he gazes at Xena with drunken desire, she elbows this one and sends him reeling to the floor as well. However, this fellow is outraged by Xena's response and pulls out a knife.

[10] Xena, who is now holding a mug of some sort of alcoholic beverage, casually takes the torch from the wall and blows a mouth full of alcohol across the flame. At this point we see a close up of Xena's face. The lighting and camera angle emphasize Lucy's high cheek bones and intense blue eyes. Shot from slightly below her, the close up is both sexy-lookings as though she could be blowing someone a kiss-as well as empowering. This act sends a stream of fire rushing towards the approaching assailant, stopping him in his tracks and sending him running for cover. Xena now replaces the torch to its proper place on the wall, turns towards the camera and releases a sigh of satisfaction. This gesture appears to be as much for putting these uninvited male advancements in their place as for the refreshment of the beverage. This scene truly reveals Xena's femininity as a mask which attracts the male gaze and can be used as a weapon to put men off guard.

[11] However, later, in the same episode, Xena enters another tavern. This time it is filled with assassins and mercenaries who know Xena's warrior reputation well. She is received into this den of wolves as a fellow comrade and not as an object for their pleasure. The camera is angled up at Xena which gives her an added sense of power and strength. As Xena stands near the entrance, one of the men approaches her and begins to question her about rumors they had heard about her protecting local villagers from the likes of themselves. Xena responds by saying: "Just a way to gain their confidence, and once you have that...." At this point Xena reaches out her hand to greet the approaching man and then sends him into a back slip that lands him on the floor. She then finishes her sentence with: "you have them right where you want them. Now, there's profit to be made!" Her point made, she helps her questioning comrade to his feet. Now convinced of her loyalty, this fellow mercenary attempts to put his arm across Xena's shoulders as a gesture of acceptance. However, Xena glares disapprovingly at this invasion of her space and the mercenary backs off with a bit of fear.

[12] In this scene, Xena's reputation and treatment as "one of the guys" reveals her more masculine side which also appears to be a form of masquerade. Xena was no longer a mercenary; however she assumed the role in order to gain acceptance. Thus, one begins to question, how much of Xena is a mask and who really is Xena? Is her control and power a result of her masculine-like qualities or her feminine appeal?


Marcus was an okay guy, even if he was dead most the time


[13] Xena's harsh masculine side is softened in another scene within this same episode when she is confronted by an old flame. In this scene, Marcus, an old comrade and lover played by an African-American, confesses to Xena about his attempt to leave his evil ways. Xena is moved, but she does not feel safe to reveal the truth about her own departure from evil. Thus, she is still wearing yet another form of her masquerade. The camera is now looking down at Xena who is sitting on the edge of an outdoor well looking up at Marcus who is standing. The lighting is soft on her face and her eyes are filled with emotion. Xena reaches out her hand and touches Marcus' face. The camera cuts to a medium close up of Marcus and then cut s back to an extreme close up of Xena's face as she moves in to kiss Marcus. We no longer notice Xena's armor and weapons even though she is still wearing them. Although it is Xena who initiated the kiss in response to Marcus' confession of inner weakness, it is Marcus who appears physically stronger in this scene. This is mostly due to the camera angle and lighting.

[14] We can see yet another dimension to the complexity of Xena's identity in the opening scene of "Academy of the Performing Bards." In this scene Gabrielle decides to leave Xena's company and travel to Athens in order to apply for entrance into the Academy of Bards. Xena and Gabrielle are seated across a table from one another. The camera cuts back and forth to alternate close ups of both women. Gabrielle tells Xena of her plans. Knowing that this has been a long awaited dream of Gabrielle's, Xena offers her support. She begins to tell Gabrielle a story she remembers from her childhood involving two friends who spent their lives traveling together in search of their real families. Gabrielle finishes the story for Xena with the two friends realizing that their true family had been at their side the whole time. Xena and Gabrielle than exchange a gaze of friendship and sisterly love. The camera cuts back and forth to both women with extreme close up shots focusing on their eyes. Xena's eyes are filled with warmth and compassion as she tells Gabrielle that she is like a sister to her. Gabrielle fights to hold back the tears. This scene's focus on the female gaze and female interrelationships reveals Xena's inward concerns and further illustrates her outward image as a constructed illusion.

[15] The title, "Xena: Warrior Princess," describes Xena's conflicting image of warrior (masculine) and princess (feminine). Her ability to carry both these titles is made easier by the show's postmodern mismatched representations of time, culture, language, history, and physics. Since parts of the show relate to some truth while other parts are either over- exaggerated or completely impossible, we are more likely to accept Xena's dual identity as socially correct. It is ironic that in order to have a strong 90's woman as the lead character in an action/adventure series the show had to be set in Ancient Greece.



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