Whoosh! Issue 32 - May 1999

IAXS project #702
By Brent Allison
Content copyright © 1999 held by author
Edition copyright © 1999 held by Whoosh!
3049 words

Introduction (01-03)
Gabrielle: Humanitarian Queen (04-06)
Bardish Economics (07-10)
You Say You Want A Revolution? (11-14)
Soul Search (15-17)
Conclusion (18)

Is Gabrielle a Marxist?

The resemblance to Gabrielle is uncanny.  After 16 pints of Guiness.

Karl Marx, 1818-1883.


[1] Many would question whether an ancient Greek bard like Gabrielle could even fathom such an abstract ideal like Marxism, a movement that was primarily a reaction against the industrialization of Europe in the 19th century. >From her writings and her immediate surroundings, one is left to conclude that Gabrielle is of a mindset in the Homeric sense. That is, her intellectual capacities are best left to writing epic stories about the timeless deeds of Xena and other heroic figures for the purposes of inspiration and entertainment.

[2] When speaking of Marxism, I inevitably have to redefine the term that has been construed in the past to mean so many different things. I am not talking about the tyrannical Marxist-Leninism or Stalinism practiced by the Russian Federated Soviet Republic (1917-1924), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1924-1991) or their succeeding secret police agencies (Cheka, GPU, MVD, NKVD, KGB), or other nations of the socialist bloc, but rather the classical pre-Leninist Westernized Marxism. That being said, someone in Gabrielle's time frame cannot be reasonably expected to fathom such classical Marxist concepts as class conflict, the injustice of social hierarchy, and especially socialist utopianism.

[3] Or can she? Fortunately for the sake of the modern viewer's ease of understanding, the TV show is written in a late 20th century context. It is not surprising that modern concepts such as feminism, pacifism, and the questioning of religious authority are woven into the storyline of a show set in ancient Greece where such ideas were alien and would be so for centuries. Still, this modern format does not presuppose that Marxism has been a part of the show in any way, shape, or form. Nevertheless, some key aspects of Gabrielle's socially advanced nature, such as her concern for social justice and human dignity, stand out. They make this author curious as to whether this contemporary show has explored this unavoidable philosophy that has made such an impact on the world stage and the individual consciousness in the 20th century.

Gabrielle: Humanitarian Queen

This thing is called a 'pre-nup', Joxer.  Just sign it.

Gabrielle has a little difficulty with temporarily acquired powers in THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER.

[4] The strawberry blonde bard is, apart from her obsession with Xena, wholly committed to the improvement of humanity's lot. When given the power to trump the gods' will in THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER...(56/310) and DEVI (82/414) she wants to do more than simply the "good" thing. She wants to end hunger, disease, war, or any other human malady that exists on the planet. Normally she is not so idealistic that she thinks that she and Xena could tackle those problems alone successfully. In those circumstances, she is content to follow the old adage, "think globally (or in her case, 'known-worldly'), act locally". With the power of Aphrodite's enchanted scroll or an unknowingly demonic being, she can now think and act in a much broader and grander sense. Deific power to better the world is literally within her grasp.

[5] Since Marxism wholeheartedly rejects magic, enchantment, or gods for that matter, a fully direct comparison between it and Gabrielle's attempts at humanity's improvement cannot be made. Though Karl Marx was not a Marxist, he, like Gabrielle, shared a vision of a world where an earthly paradise could be achieved, but only at the hands of a revolutionary proletarian [Note 01] working class and not a scroll enchanted by an immortal valley girl. Still, even Marx saw in the masses a deific quality, the true catalyst for fundamental change that Gabrielle feels rests in the similarly awesome power of godly magic in enlightened human hands. In this respect, both figures rely on humanity as the driving force behind world salvation, not deity or a ruler that claims to represent deity.

[6] Pure Westernized Marxism has been proclaimed to be one of the most, if not the most, humanitarian of ideologies ever constructed in the sphere of intellectual history in both scope of its application (i.e. the world) and its depth (i.e. to the very core of human existence). Gabrielle would prefer that the entire world stop wars, evil despots, famines, plagues, and general suffering. However, this is where her wishful thinking ends. She is by no means systematically ideological nor has she displayed the capacity to view her Utopia as the final product of a complex historical socio-economic evolution [Note 02]. In this sense, she is simply a humanitarian who hates to see people in pain, not an abstract thinker with a sharp philosophical agenda that just happens to possess a humanitarian impulse, at least on its surface.

Bardish Economics

The elves make such tiny little mirrors!

Gabrielle assumes the identity of a wealthy noblewoman in HERE SHE COMES...MISS AMPHIPOLIS.

[7] Ancient Greece could claim its mantle as an advanced civilization in part because of its capacity for trade. Thanks to its phenomenally fortunate placement in the Aegean Sea, her city-states would not face the isolation from other peoples that have traditionally been a barrier to wealth through commerce. This was especially true during the Hellenistic period in which, thanks to Alexander the Great's conquests, the Greeks would have a wider area from which to trade with a broader spectrum of peoples from nearby lands and exotic locales.

[8] However, the economies of many Greek city-states were based on the needs of warfare, particularly with Sparta before and during the Peloponnesian War. Therefore, any sorts of consumer goods were often in short supply except for what the farmers and peasants could produce for themselves. Like the city-states of Greece, Rome's economy also met the needs for warfare, but other characteristics were shared. Both civilizations relied heavily upon slavery for production directed by either the oligarchic city-state governmental elite in the Greek city-states or the patrician land-owning class in Rome. A middle class barely existed in both civilizations, though the rich Roman plebeian and freedmen were involved in trade, medicine, construction and service occupations. Unfortunately, the poor had to work in less reputable jobs. In both civilizations, government graft and corruption also played a large role in how the spoils of the economy were to be divided, particularly among the wealthy in the form of government contracts for mining, urban housing, and public works construction. In short, a truly free capitalist system responsive to market forces that the Marxists critique as oppressive would not be seen for over a millennium from Gabrielle's time.

[9] Though endowed with a social conscious further advanced than her contemporaries', Gabrielle has never pointed to the economic system as the basis for human oppression. Quite the contrary, she fancies herself as an expert haggler who makes sharp consumerism into an art form. Much of the action on the show begins with her roaming around some marketplace with adventure or danger gaining hers and Xena's attention where she would have instead attempted to get a good deal on some boots or scrolls.

[10] A true Marxist, on the other hand, would walk into that same marketplace and comment on a merchant's pocketing of surplus value [Note 03]. However in most cases, the merchant himself would be the laborer producing the commodity, not an oppressed underclass. This alone would help to diminish Marxism's strength from reaction against economic repression. Whereas Gabrielle accepts herself as a functioning member of the market helping to determine market prices, Marxists will envision the market as the mastery of the masses' fate through control of the means of production by a small privileged elite. So long as slavery were not employed in the manufacture of an item for sale, it would probably not occur to Gabrielle to detest trading as an outgrowth of wage slavery [Note 04], but rather to protest obvious abuses such as the use of conscripted prison labor, as she does in TSUNAMI (65/319). Though she may be ignorant of the laws of capitalism as expounded upon by Adam Smith [Note 05] in the 18th century, she willingly acts in a fashion consistent with free enterprise.

You Say You Want A Revolution?

Who do you have to kill to get out of this stinkin' series?

It's a strange place in STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD.

[11] Revolt, rebellion, and other forms of societal discord are often taken as celebrated events, and HTLJ did not exempt itself from the fun, for example, when the alternative universe Joxer led a rebellion against the evil tyranny of Xena and Hercules in STRANGER IN A STRANGE WORLD (H64/405). The question that we must ask is does Gabrielle have in her periphery of will the capacity to advocate the revolt of the masses, as any self-respecting Marxist would do? She is certainly all for the village masses' self-defense, as when she tried to help Minya and Hower defend their hovel from a Cyclops in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215). However, what of an internal rebellion by the lower orders of society? Would she justify such an action, and if so, on what basis?

[12] A SOLSTICE CAROL (33/209), where TPTB followed the time-honored TV tradition of borrowing from Charles Dickens's classic, depicted "capitalist" exploitation at its worst. The running plot devices were there: a starving orphanage, a miserly overlord, and three ghosts to persuade him to change his ways. Since Dickens himself was a non-Marxist who abhorred revolt and all of its excesses (see A Tale Of Two Cities), it would only make sense to do the story within those parameters sans revolution. Nevertheless, the story does allow Gabrielle to act in character by persuading this bourgeois [Note 06] treasure-hoarder that his "wife" doesn't approve of his avarice, rather than as the crusading messiah leading the charge of the proletariat against the despot for his misdeeds towards children and others.

[13] To explore a more general sense of Gabrielle's character and whether it holds the earmark of a revolutionary, one only needs to contrast her in the early episodes of the first season with episodes in the later three seasons. Here we have someone consistently resisting the use of offensive violence [Note 07] on her part, her ethical malaise in THE DELIVERER (50/304) and a near breach in A GOOD DAY (73/405) notwithstanding. Whether it is using her words to change oppressive rulers' minds or using her staff to defend herself and others against the charging minions of a tyrant, nowhere does she spontaneously sponsor a mass revolt after sensing class inequities within whatever village or kingdom she's visiting at the time.

[14] Even contemporary Marxists do not do such things, but the contemporary Marxist often has little to no opportunity to instigate a working class seizure of the means of production. Gabrielle, on the other hand, often has a wide-open opportunity to demand such radical reconfigurations of the societal framework [Note 08] thanks to her frequent travels and encounters with tyrannical leaders. Plus, having one of antiquity's greatest warriors, her "kick *ss pre-Mycenean" companion at her side to aid her in such an undertaking would help in accomplishing that task. Indeed, hers is a revolution that never was and probably never will be either since she has seemed content to merely solve the immediate problem at hand only to move on with hers and Xena's travels across the landscape.

Soul Search

Gabrielle does a mighty fine Najara impression

Gabrielle gets more than just a peek at spirituality in Season Four.

[15] One can describe our favorite bard as a walking euphemism for the 20th Century, full of angst and discord in a continuous search for renewal, not unlike the Warrior Princess. Gabrielle craves spiritual growth and fulfillment, to either exorcize her inner demons from the third season, or to harness them for the greater good. In this respect, she faces true uncertainty and thus an identity crisis, one who continuously questions her actions, her place in the world, and what meaning, if any, her work possesses.

[16] Karl Marx's infamous remark about religion being the opiate of the people [Note 09] certainly raised eyebrows, but it missed the point of his ideology. Marxism has indeed a religious aspect, with Marx as prophet, the proletariat as God, the party member as disciple, the factory-owning bourgeoisie as Satan, and all others claiming allegiance to the working class (especially anarchists) as heretics.

[17] Here lies the nub of a common misunderstanding. As tempting as it is to call Gabrielle "the spiritualist" and the Marxist "the materialist" [Note 10], the truth stands this assertion on its head. Gabrielle's soul is adrift, floating from one reality to the next so that some sort of concrete material grounding may ultimately allow her to make sense of the world once again. For the Marxist, his journey is set in stone, his messianic mission founded upon logic and immutable laws of historical progression that transcend the crude surface understanding of the common man, both which he seeks to elevate himself to a higher plane of existence. Upon discovering the real truths of life and the earth, the Marxist's search for spiritual fulfillment is complete. He can safely act knowing that his place in the world is secure and his God's work will be satisfied.


[18] In both Marxism and Gabrielle's psyche run very similar yet over-generalized themes: good over evil, right over might, weak over the powerful, etc. The aim of the betterment of humanity's lot exists as a closely held conviction in both patterns of thinking. Obviously the means towards that end (i.e. spontaneous violence) is a major factor that allows for the split between a young woman's nature to correct an immediate grievance and an all-encompassing systematic view [Note 11] of the world that allows for the sudden abolition of an entire framework of existence from which grieving arises in the first place. Tactical matters aside, the rigid nature of Marxism cannot possibly hope to accommodate one as introspective as Gabrielle. Only through refusing to make any easy assumptions of how best to find the good within and outside of herself can Gabrielle follow her own ever-changing journey to approach a meaning to her existence that Marxism, for her, could only serve to stunt.


Note 01:
Revolutionary Proletariat - According to Marxist doctrine, capitalism will ripen to an extent in which the means of industrial production (factories, banks, railroads, that sort of stuff) will be concentrated in a few hands. In such an urbanized environment, the proletariat, or factory-worker class, will gain class-consciousness and realize that it is in their best interest to spontaneously and violently revolt against what Marx called the bourgeois so that this class can take over the means of production and establish an economic system known as socialism.
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Note 02:
Socio-economic Evolution - Marx viewed history as one long progression of economic systems: i.e. from no one individual owning a means of production to slavery, from slavery to feudalism, from feudalism to capitalism, from capitalism to socialism, and finally from socialism to communism in which humanity would no longer exploit one another through private ownership of a means of production. The Soviets claimed to be building that socialist state, the same one that collapsed into a bankrupt government.
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Note 03:
Surplus Value - Marx asserted that the value of a product was only as high as the labor that was put into making it. If the price of the good is higher than the labor value, then the difference between the two values is called surplus value. And who pockets surplus value in Marx's book? Bingo, the eeevil capitalist exploiters.
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Note 04:
Wage Slavery - Marx probably did not coin this term. Instead, it's used by Marxists and other extreme leftists to describe the toil and sweat that exploited people in a wage system have to endure since they have no where else to go for subsistence. This term was used before the "salary slavery" of today's workplace best presented by Dilbert.
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Note 05:
Adam Smith - Scottish guy who wrote a big boring book called The Wealth Of Nations in 1776. Basically, he is the anti-Marx who actually observed and wrote about the laws of modern capitalism. You get him and Marx together in a bar and let them get into a talk on economics, they'll be beating each other senseless before the night is over.
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Note 06:
Bourgeois - I know I already said something about them. I just think it is a really funky word that I like to say.
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Note 07:
Offensive Violence - Not offensive as in "Fiddle-dee-didleysticks, that Howard Stern is so darn offensive!", but as in, "Uh-oh, Xena's going on the offensive to kick some Horde booty!"
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Note 08:
Radical Reconfigurations of the Societal Framework - It's a fancy way of saying, "This place blows, let's trash it, and build something else!" It is often heard in Marxist meetings or in some brew pub where a college professor is drunk off his *ss.
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Note 09:
Opiate of the People - Before Mary Jane's brownies, acid, or crack, druggies would get their fix from opiate. Marx basically said, "You religious people may as well be smoking some funky stuff because you're not realizing how The Man is screwing you".
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Note 10:
Materialist - Not like in Madonna's video in the mid-80's where she's talking about buying a lot of stuff, but someone without a spiritual side. In other words, materialists are people who only take into account what they can see, feel, touch, hear, etc., and not something as illogical or unscientific as spirituality.
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Note 11:
All-encompassing Systematic View - More fancy talk from that even fancier book learnin'. This is a way of looking at the world as being one big system of something, a huge machine with a definite process of operation.
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Brent Allison Brent Allison
Brent Allison is graduate student at Clemson University from where he hopes to teach high school history, become horrified by the failure of the public school system, and go back for his doctorate. He sincerely hopes that ROC's hair will make a speedy recovery into its former pristine state of flowing locks. Brent and Renee's hair are not Marxists, but rather patriotic Americans who love their elected officials, especially those in the public school system who want to give new graduates a job. I was just kidding about that crack about the failing schools. Really.
Favorite episode: THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER...(56/310)
Favorite line: "You used my scroll?!!" - Gabrielle from A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
First episode seen: A NECESSARY EVIL (38/214)
Least favorite episode: ULYSSES (43/219)

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