Whoosh! Issue Ten - July 1997

Editor's Page


There was a notice in the syndicated Marilyn Beck entertainment column in late May 1997 which read:

"Look out! More trouble is on the way for Xena: Warrior Princess. They're casting a 10-year-old girl to play the daughter of Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor), who, Xena-philes will recall, was impregnated in a rape by a god. Don't tell anybody this, but here's the plot: The little girl will look pretty and sweet, but make no mistake, she's the ultimate bad seed, a soulless half-human with godlike powers. Sounds like some celebrities we know."

Apparently this was an unauthorized leak from Renaissance Pictures (RP). The keys words of this article were "daughter of Gabrielle", "rape", and "god". To say the least, the reaction on the Internet was intense. Many fans did not take a liking to the idea at all. This in and of itself was not surprising. Internet fans are known for their volatility and Xena fans are not free from this 'curse'. In the past the news of Gabrielle's marriage to Perdicus, and of Xena's child whipped the on-line fans into a virtual frenzy. This time though, the frenzy was decidedly different. Primarily because this information contained a very sensitive word: rape.

Many fans recalled previous statements by RP and associates such as Robert Tapert's assertion:

"A lot of mythology is dark -- fathers sleeping with their daughters, begetting this and that -- those aren't tales you can tell in modern days..."

from SATELLITE TV WEEK, vol. 15, no. 22, June 2, 1996, "Hercules and Xena Take on the Universe" by Jeff Adams; or Lucy Lawless' statement:

"She's [Xena] a different kind of hero. I think it's becoming a phenomenon for the '90s. We strongly oppose violence against women, we never play sexual violence, it's degrading. The fastest-growing audience who are now taking control of the remote are women...This show has caught a wave."

from THE DENVER POST, November 20, 1996, "It's no wonder this woman has become Xena: Worldwide Cult Queen," by Joanne Ostrow.

Although raping by gods is pervasive in classical Greek mythology, one could reasonably assume that rape by a god is "dark" and would be the type of tale that Mr. Tapert was implying that RP would avoid. Also, rape is the most overt type of sexual violence perpetrated against women in U.S. society and in the majority of other societies as well. Therefore is it surprising that this notice of a rape in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (XWP) struck such a strong chord in fandom?

How did RP and associates respond? They made ambiguous statements publicly and privately which were interpreted in contradictory ways. Then after the uproar on the 'Net, they started denying it more ambiguously and more publicly. When it was apparent that they were being understood in contradictory ways, they appeared to have retreated and were ignoring it. In retrospect, they should have jumped in and straightened everything out before that point. But when they did jump in, they again started with the ambiguous statements which actually added to the confusion -- alienating their "apologists" and giving ammunition to the Internet trolls. By the time it was mid-June, there were so many rumors about a rape, a child, homophobia, and deceit on the part of RP that it was hard to form a clear opinion about anything. Such ambiguity may well have been purposely pursued in order to preserve the surprises in upcoming plotlines, but in view of the larger issues, particularly rape and sexual violence, such ambiguity only made matters worse.

What did RP and associates do after it had gone this far? They continued making ambiguous statements to the effect of, 'Gabrielle will go through a dark time', 'the newspaper report is virtually all misinformation', etc. The ambiguity was so intense that online fans started dividing into "trust RP" and "distrust RP" camps. The irony is that many in the "trust RP" camp wrongly construed the veiled statements of RP associates to mean that there would be no rape and no child. Various members of the "distrust RP" contingent theorized that homophobia lay at the base of the story idea and/or that RP was originally going to do the rape story but changed their mind only after they witnessed the fan repulsion at the idea.

If this were not disheartening enough, this all came to a head on June 25, 1997, when Robert Tapert [Executive Producer] said in a UniversalChat session in response to a query for an "exclusive" for Internet fans about the third season:

Rob_Tapert says, "What can I tell you...."
Rob_Tapert says, "I think it's common knowledge, in this coming season the character Gabrielle has a child"

From a survey of the mailing lists, forums, and e-mail WHOOSH! has received, it is obvious that some, if not many, fans found this 'revelation' rather insensitive. As one wrote to me, "This has been a serious issue for us, and RP's response to it has shown how little they think of us."

First of all, it was not common knowledge, so Mr. Tapert gave the unfortunate impression that he was either clueless as to what was happening online or he was making a very callous joke (as another person commented to me "talk about appearing to have disregard and no respect for your audience").

The latter interpretation is given more weight when considering that the question eliciting the response was "Can you tell us something exclusive for your internet fans???" If the news of Gabrielle having a child next season was "common knowledge" how could Mr. Tapert's response be "exclusive for your internet fans"? There is a paradox here which makes the most sense if you understand it as a joke. This does not bode favorably for RP and associates.

Second, it has created an interesting situation where RP and associates may have alienated some of their most ardent Internet supporters because it appeared that RP decided to play cat-and-mouse with their fans. It is the opinion of this writer that they should have just come out and said, "there is no rape but there is a child". That would not have destroyed any great public relations that they were planning (it sure as heck would have been better than what they have gotten!). Once the paper leaked the story, they should have dealt with it instead of playing this bizarre game of "we know and you do not and we are going to tease you with this by implying contradictory things." Perhaps RP did not realize their fans were organized enough to put two and two together and understand when they were being led down contradictory paths. Perhaps RP did not even realize themselves what they were doing.

The primary cause of this recent Internet "flare-up" was that ambiguous information took on different meanings to different people because of the unique contexts of the separate conversations. Releasing information in this way can be a very dangerous game to play. True, it can be an effective way of dispersing information, but it can also backfire. The online fan community is very diverse, but it is also very cohesive. It is volatile and dynamic. It is great to the power of the Internet on your side, but a living hell to have it against you.

Whatever really happened, and more importantly REGARDLESS of what really happened, as a result of what transpired on the Internet mailing lists, forums, and newsgroups, it now looks like RP and associates purposely perpetuated a policy which was to highlight the contradictions which arose on the Internet. This was compounded by various people saying one thing in private and another in public. There was no real attempt at correcting the misinformation even though the misinformation was being answered with more ambiguity. This mess is primarily the result of bad handling. The fans on the Internet were making assumptions about the rape, Gabrielle's child, homophobia, and the rest, because of the way it was handled.

Sadly, this comes off to the Internet public as the appearance of RP and associates condoning or thinking lightly of one subject (specifically in this case, rape) when instead they could easly be benignly thinking of something entirely different ("Oh, you think you know what we're doing, do you?"). Also, it is becoming clear that the "people in the know" are only just realizing that the fans on the net get some very reliable information from a wide circle of sources, and when the fans start putting these bits together and get third party confirmations of other pieces, they can come up with quite a comprehensive picture of what is most likely going on.

Another sad result of this misinformation and misunderstanding is that the negativity on the Internet has affected production people who frequent it. They are spending less time online. Some would think this bad while others not so bad, but nevertheless, the situation has affected all parties. XWP has been in the midst of an interesting social experiment where the door has been open both ways. It is a pity to have this trend altered because of plain and simple mistakes -- mistakes on both sides.

Compounding all this, of course, is the speed of the Internet. RP and associates perhaps do not appreciate this. Do they understand that when they (whether intentionally or inadvertently) release little things here and there, that the pieces will be put together eventually? If the pieces do not add up, then fans will become polarized and, faster than one would expect, rumors are created and factions spring to life, just as quickly and focused as in LIFE OF BRIAN with the sects of the sandal and the gourd. In this case it is the "The rumors aren't true" and the "The rumors are only the tip of the iceberg" sects!

From my contact with fans, I have found that many feel that RP was purposely playing a cat-and-mouse game with them and resent it. This sense of being used is reflected in this comment from a fan,

"One of my opinions is that RP thought they had the Internettes eating out of their hands. The *can do no wrong* factor. This isn't the case. At ALL. RP is and should be held accountable for their actions. They expect our *unconditonal* support and need to realize that they can have it -- if they support us. Treat us with respect and we'll treat them with respect. This whole situation showed a tremendous lack of respect for the net fans. It IS harsh...but if RP truly wants to have a give and take relationship with the Internetties, they need to hear it. They can only *tease* us so much, before they start to p*** us off -- bigtime."

Another fan stated,

"RP needs to realize that the Internet fans (Hardcore Nutball Xenites) can be the most loyal *friends* they've ever had -- if treated properly (i.e.: with RESPECT). This whole situation smacks of a tremendous lack of respect. The *teasing* as you so properly put it, has gone from good-natured ribbing to downright cruelty. Rape is an EXTREMELY serious subject -- not to be taken lightly. RP should have realized that this *rumor* was going to press a lot of hot buttons amongst fans. If it was true they should have said as much and explained what their intentions were (not exact plots, so much as WHAT they intended to accomplish by doing this and to trust their judgement). If it was untrue, then they should have been falling over themselves to say as much. RP may *make* Xena -- but WE watch it, WE keep them on the air, WE care deeply about these characters, WE have invested ourselves in them. Yes, XWP is *just* a TV Show. But it IS so much more to a lot of us. I know rape and incest survivors who find Xena to be an amazingly healing experience. Who take courage and strength from the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. To hear that one of these people was going to be raped, was a true shock. RP's lack of sensitivity to this is very upsetting. Not that RP should censor themselves....but they should be *aware* that everything they do will have a consequence."

And finally, one said,

"Wasn't Marilyn Beck the one who also ran the gossip item about Miss Amphipolis way back when? Didn't that sound that the most improbable rumor at the time? (Xena in a beauty pageant? A transsexual actor playing a transsexual character? On Xena?) Didn't all those things turn out to be true? RP needs to remember that we hear everything, we remember everything -- and we can put puzzle pieces together if need be."

[Note to RP: Marilyn Beck got both leaks including Ulysses, too ... have you found out who is telling her this stuff????]

On the other hand, RP and associates can reasonably argue that the fans are being very unfair in that their criticisms are about things which are not even on the air or perhaps not even filmed yet. However, with everything that has been put out on the Internet about the 3rd season, it is nearly impossible to make any sense out of the mish-mash. Is it any wonder that some fans think that RP and associates are just yanking their chains purposely? And in the end, does it even matter? RP and associates have painted themselves into a corner. No matter what the motive was they come out seeming either naive, manipulative, or cruel. Whether one believes RP was simply less than competent in handling this affair, benignly negligent, or that they orchestrated it from the start and used the Internet fans as a test market -- in the end, RP and associates end up looking rather bad.

I find this a great pity. I do not think RP and associates are the Beast nor do I see them as a bunch of yokels. They are professionals who care about their craft and are genuinely touched by the fact that their product has affected and influenced so many people's lives. Of what I have heard about the third season I would be surprised if it won't be even more entertaining, challenging, and satisfying than anything we have encountered in the past two seasons (okay, maybe they will never top DREAMWORKER, but that is *my* problem). RP and associates should be riding the wave into a brilliant new season on the shoulders of its intensely loyal and dedicated fan base, not irking the heck out of them!

Some fans have taken all these events as proof that RP and associates think lightly of the fans and have no respect for them. This is an extreme position and is not supported by the facts. RP and associates from day one have always supported their fan base and have given their blessings to many fan endeavors. What has happened is basically a big boo-boo, which looks worse the more afterthought one gives to it.

My opinion? This entire affair is really stupid. And over what? A TV show? This was a problem which if because of negligence, should have been corrected, and if purposely orchestrated, should have been stopped long ago. To allow all those rumors to perpetuate, especially the rape rumor, was extremely cruel. Perhaps some fans overreacted and many jumped into the frenzy, but RP and associates fanned the flames by their omissions. Whether this is the case or not, at this time the circumstantial evidence lends itself to the interpretation that RP and associates felt they could not deny the rape rumor without compromising the valid (according now to Robert Tapert) child plot twist. The rape rumor really should have been squelched by all the means necessary and they should have sacrificed a leak of the 'Gabrielle with child' storyline. In my opinion, whatever they gained by protecting the 'Gabrielle has a child' storyline is not even close to what they lost with not dealing with the rape rumor promptly and HONESTLY.

It may still feel a little like a marketing test to some fans, and unfortunately, for RP and associates, whether that was not what they intended to do is irrelevant. Has it gone on long enough to become an issue of credibility? Personally, I think not, but it is nonetheless a fascinating problem, one that deserves more review than what I have offered here. All involved parties still have the ability to redeem themselves, but do they have the will? I guess we will have to stay tuned for that.

But advice in hindsight is cheap. In fact, it really ain't worth a thing. I hope that we can now wipe the dust from our shoes, remember what we have learned, and move on to look forward to what I hope will be one of the most entertaining and cutting edge seasons of XWP. In conclusion, whatever happened to start all this -- and I doubt we will ever really know the whole "story" -- I do not think RP and their associates should get an "A" this semester for damage control!

Kym Masera Taborn
Editor-in-Chief, WHOOSH!
Chairman of the Board,
International Association of Xena Studies

June 27, 1997

NOTE: Many of the opinions expressed in this editorial are based on the fact that WHOOSH has been led to believe that the rape rumor is untrue -- but who knows, it could be that RP has changed its mind (which is obviously within their prerogative) with regard to plots involving sexual violence.

YET ANOTHER NOTE: On July 2, 1997, UniversalChat released a transcript of the June 25, 1997 Chat with Robert Tapert. This transcript differed from the transcript that was given earlier to WHOOSH!. The June 25, 1997 reads as follows:

Moderator says "Can you tell us something exclusive for your internet fans???"

Rob_Tapert says "What can I tell you.... well, in this coming season the character Gabrielle has a child."

The WHOOSH! version reads as:

Moderator says "Can you tell us something exclusive for your internet fans???"

Rob_Tapert says, "What can I tell you...."
Rob_Tapert says, "I think it's common knowledge, in this coming season the character Gabrielle has a child"

Obviously there is a critical difference between the two. At this time it has not been determined yet whether the UniversalChat was edited or the WHOOSH! version was in error.

NOTE TO IAXS MEMBERS: The e-mail edition of Whoosh #10 will be released whenever I get around to it!!! Bwahahahhaha.

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