XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS and Fandom in Britain
Special to E-Mail WHOOSH

By C. Johnson (c.johnson@ucsm.ac.uk)
Content © 1996 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1996 held by Whoosh!
(1419) words


"By Christ! An actress who looks like she can actually
wield the d*mn thing!"

[1] The above remark came from a mate of mine who saw Xena for the first time in a run-up preview to the launch of Sky 2. It was an appropriate coincidence because several of us were watching HIGHLANDER at the time (enjoyable sword-fest that it is) and we had had some debate on the skinniness of Amanda's character and her relative skill with the blade. Suddenly during an advertisement break we were treated to this six-foot dark-haired leather-clad creature swirling a sword around to ward off a host of Hera's deadly minions, and up went the cries of "That's more like it!" and "Biceps! Gimme biceps!"

[2] I cannot remember what happened to Duncan MacLeod after that. You might have hoped that a well-balanced cross-section of educated folk would find more to talk about in half an hour than Lucy's/Xena's physical attributes. Not so. Without exception, male and female alike, agreed that she was, "stunning", "gorgeous", "real", "erotic", "convincing", and no one in their right mind would get up to argue with her or kick her out of bed. The end of the show and another promo break later, and there she was again, doing her bit for Astra sales: "See me on Sky..." said Gillian Anderson.... "See me on Sky," repeated Lucy Lawless. "Count on it," I added.

[3] As promised, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, arrived in Britain in September 1996, when Sky TV launched some new channels on the Astra satellite. DREAMWATCH MAGAZINE (now also available in the USA) was one of the few publications to mention the show:

[4] "Telefantasy fans were spoilt for choice in September as Sky 2 launched amid a blaze of publicity... XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, with its predominantly male audience, not only fought off its parent show HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS on Sky 1, but emerged as the champion of Sky 2 s first-run American genre series."

[5] I am trying to find out where the information about the show having a predominantly male audience comes from (because I am not convinced that it is accurate) but overall the report is a good one. In fact, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS scored 3rd place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy satellite top 10 programmes - rating 0.233 million viewers. This means it beat STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE 9; HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS; LOIS & CLARK; HIGHLANDER; QUANTUM LEAP; POLTERGEIST; and our old friend, V. THE OUTER LIMITS squeezed it into third place with 0.314 million and THE X-FILES panned everyone with over half a million as expected.

[6] Satellite is really the best bet for science fiction, fantasy and cult TV programmes on this island. The four terrestrial channels usually buy the big names - the BBC shows, THE X-FILES (a season late), and various incarnations of STAR TREK (even more late). The very classy Channel 4 has brought us BABYLON 5 with world-premiere speed (broadcasting some episodes before American audiences get to see them). However cult and classic provision is generally short-changed unless you tune into Astra.

[7] I bought my satellite dish and decoder about a year ago, and immediately started scouring the channels for cult U.S. and Great Britain telly. I have not been disappointed; in over twelve months I think I have spent more time glued to old British favourites and new American genres than I have collectively spent eating, sleeping, bathing, and playing networked Command and Conquer (drinking real ale and having sex are not included in this equation). 'Tis true to say, if you are after a rich vein of SF and fantasy telly here, you had better search the skies.

[8] And that is the difficulty - not everyone has access to the skies. Virtually the whole country has terrestrial TV and most have invested in VCRs. However, only about 5.4 million houses have access to the Astra satellite, either directly through their own dishes, or via the cable companies which exist sparsely in a few urban areas. This notches up at about 15.3 million people - not quite 25% of the combined populations of Scotland, England and Wales. This means that while XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is proving very popular amongst Sky viewers of genre shows, most of the nation has not heard of it and could not access it even if they had. (They could if they all went out to buy receiving dishes right away, but these things are not cheap, especially if you live in the north of England like I do, and need a big slab of a disc to get good quality pick-up from Astra's geo-centric orbit. Go further north into Scotland and it gets even more expensive).

[9] So any Xena fandom in Britain is at an extremely embryonic stage to say the least, and not likely to grow fast unless one of the terrestrial channels buys the series, which they are unlikely to do while Sky has the rights to the early seasons. What does this mean in fandom terms? Well for a start there is no related merchandise on sale and nothing in the way of mainstream publicity. I went into my local cult shop last week and the counter chap (a genuine STAR TREK, BLAKE'S 7 fan) had not heard of either XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS or HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. "Are they Aussie cartoons?" he asked. I put him straight and bought a Borg t-shirt for a friend who's teaching out in North Vietnam. The upside of this dearth of Xena-related material - no temptation to spend money on it.

[10] A more serious hole is the lack of any Xena- related conventions at the moment. This is a pity because traditional British fan-run conventions are a dream. They go on for days, they permit a decent level of social interaction between star guests and attendees, they have no commercial agenda, they donate surplus cash to charities, and they provide beer. Warrior-enamoured fans in particular (a few Klingons spring to mind) make the most of the great social opportunity that these events provide, with the bars and all-night parties that usually follow each day's hard session of guests and gaming. The warrior Xena would be an ideal feature in such an environment, but at the moment not many people know of her.

[11] What is on the cards is a Xena feature at one of the combined series cons. Often fans of different programmes will team up, and the shows which have less of a profile generate awareness together. Now that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is being shown here, albeit to a limited audience, with luck this will start to happen for Xena.

[12] If this sounds a bit depressing, the good news is that anyone here who wants to develop fan interest in XENA; WARRIOR PRINCESS can jump into a virtually clear arena. For those people who like running fanclubs, zines and meetings, the launch pad's empty and beckoning; and there could be great potential for Xena in this country because Britain is something of a goddess culture, thanks to both Celtic and Saxon influences. Female leaders fare with relative distinction (hence the many militaristic or strongly- associated female words and names in the language - Britannia, Boudicca, Elizabeth's Gloriana, Victoria, Thatcherism(!), etc.). Because the warrior queen, the warrior princess, is a powerful figure in native memory. That aspect of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS alone may be enough to spark a wider interest - it is certainly the characteristic that drew my attention in the first place. It also has to be said that where Hercules might be perceived as overly pc and moralistic (the "Oh no, yet more verbal fascism from America" complaint), Xena's darker and sardonic side is more appealing to natural British cynicism.

[13] Of course the Internet has a powerful role to play as an international link for fans. It is through this medium that I have found all my Xena connections so far, and I anticipate that this is where most of the action will be found for some time to come. Meanwhile I will get on with my IAXS research project "Xena and Servelan - The Once and Future Bitchin Queen", and look forward to all the cracking episodes I know I have got ahead of me.


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