Whoosh! Issue 61 - October 2001


By Scylla@netway.co.uk
Content © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2001 held by Whoosh!
3261 words

Violence and Xena (01-06)
What is Wrong With the Message That Violence is Redemptive? (07-12)
This is Not Feminism (13-15)
Girl Hero vs. Boy Hero (16)
Sexualized Girl Hero (17-18)
What on Earth is Going On in Our Heads When We Watch This Stuff (19-24)
So is it True, Do We Have to Use Violence Sometimes? (25)
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Creeps in its Petty Pace (26-29)


Why 99, you know we have to murder and kill and destroy in order to preserve everything that's good in the world.
—Maxwell Smart to Agent 99, Get Smart (TV, 1965-1970)

Violence and Xena

They always send me to get the takeout food because I can carry more bags
THE WAY was extremely violent, including scenes were limbs were seen being chopped off.

[01] Xena: Warrior Princess is a deeply conservative show and it imparts a religious message just the same as any TV evangelist does. The religious message of this show is that violence saves. For the characters in the show Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Krishna, or the people representing them, all give false or incomplete answers to the big questions of life. The only truth that Xena and Gabrielle can hold onto throughout their adventures is that the righteous use of violence will save them.

[02] There is also much made of the fact that they are "soulmates," but what this means is ambivalent. I shall ignore this soul mate idea in this paper because it is a slippery concept that cannot be pinned down. The message about violence, however, can be pinned down, and this message says that violence is sometimes necessary and can, in the right circumstances, be redemptive. It is "the way" of Xena and she must not forsake this.

[03] This is a very simplistic outlook. It does not demand much from anyone except that this sacred law be obeyed and not questioned. It does not take much effort to believe in this. You merely categorize people into good and bad, and you kill the bad when you feel it is necessary. End of story, roll the witty credits. Buffy the Vampire Slayer falls into this category as well. The reason Buffy has a tight circle of friends is that that they all believe in violence and she, being the most violent member of the group, is therefore the most important.

[04] To be fair, there are other considerations in Xena: Warrior Princess (and Buffy) and within the religious message "the way of violence" there is room for maneuver. We sometimes get a comedy, sometimes a gay romance, sometimes a straight romance, and sometimes even the odd musical, and it is all very nice. Nevertheless, TPTB (The Powers That Be) go back to their religious message, violence saves, repeatedly. It is the one constant in an otherwise extremely diverse show.

[05] The people who make or watch Xena are probably not particularly conscious of this underlying motif. The writers, producers, and actors of Xena: Warrior Princess are not members in good standing of the Church of the Psychotic B*st*rd. They don't belong to a church at all, they are at pains sometimes to point out that they are only trying to entertain us and are not attempting to impart any particular message, religious or otherwise.

[06] But if people working on this are not conscious of trying to send a message to anyone, what is this group of actors, writers, and producers doing putting on such a slaughter fest of a show? Why have they split themselves in two where they preach a message that violence is necessary and redemptive and in some cases "good" in their creative life, and in private seem like normal not particularly barbaric people? The motivation for much of the message is one must go along to get along. If Xena: Warrior Princess rocked the boat too much, it would never get made. Violence sells and TPTB do not really have a choice in the matter.

What is Wrong With the Message That Violence is Redemptive?

It is Simplistic

[07] Xena is not Greek history. It is more like the Roman gladiator spectacles where the entertainment gets bloodier and bloodier with the baying mob needing more cruelty and death to sate their appetite. It is brainless. As the show progresses, Xena and Gabrielle have to kill more and more people in ways that are more elaborate. This need to simplify everything and ensure there are good fight scenes in every episode inhibits character development. Xena and Gabrielle are partly developed, poor old Joxer goes nowhere fast and then is murdered, and the rest of the characters just stay the same throughout.

It is Lazy

[08] The actors have to be in good shape, but the rest of us can be a bunch of couch potatoes, and many of us are. We do not even get a mental workout. Watching other people fight for you does not develop your mind or your body, but it is a terrific way to zone out. You are a passive viewer watching the enactment of aggressive fantasies.

It is Irrational

[09] If this were an attempt to use Greek and Roman myth with a bit of artistic license that would be great. The mad inconsistencies in this show would be avoided. For instance, how many times have the characters been killed and come back to life? It is an empty and over-used gesture and it has nothing to do with anything. Yet, because we must always fall in to the march of violence, we forgo any meaning to the murder and mayhem.

[10] Greek myth and legend is not all peace and love. For example, take the story of the House of Atreus. Tantalus kills his son and feeds him to the Gods, the son's children murder, rape and betray each other with gay abandon. The next generation repeats the pattern until we have the Trojan War. This story preaches about family values, perhaps more Manson family values than Osmond family values. This isn't wholesome family entertainment a la Little House on the Prairie by any means but we are talking about stories that make sense within a certain context. Looking at the story of this family there is blood and violence, but the events have meaning and consequence in a way that Xena: Warrior Princess completely lacks. Xena tries to have its cake and eat it too, it tries to be moral in a way Greek myth doesn't, and it forgets that the consequence of violence is inevitable and tragic.

[11] Ancient myths and legends (from whatever culture they come from) do not sacrifice logic to some harebrained idea about how helpful it is to use violence to solve life's problems. Greek myths and legends even dare to suggest that some problems do not have successful conclusions and that sometimes a hero does not have a happy ending.

The Problem With The Spirituality Of Violence Is It Is Immature

[12] So much for being in the twenty-first century, because in this world, the more you are able to hurt other human beings the better off you are. This is the world of an angry child who is not getting his or her own way. We scream, yell, and fantasize about being powerful when we are little. It is natural. Then, hopefully, we grow out of it and are able to see the world in a more complex way.

This is Not Feminism

[13] Xena and Gabrielle may look like they are independent and strong women, but this comes at a price. They must be violent and use lethal force from time to time. So, we have women superheroes that are even more violent and macho then the men on TV. These super babes kill and maim more than their male counterparts. We have all sorts of these women now from Lara Croft to Nikita and these women are free to kill their enemies in all sorts of wonderful ways. Yet in real life, where things count, life is pretty much the same as it ever was. Men make the important decisions and the women just wear skimpier and skimpier outfits. The entertainment has gone from women using their femininity to be sexy to women having to mix femininity and violence to achieve sexiness.

[14] This is not impressive. It is not something genuinely new. It is a novelty. For some reason, we are supposed to be amazed that a woman can be brutal and violent and this represents some kind of advancement. It is an advancement of violence, not a progression of any sort of idea of freedom. It passes on the message 'might makes right', which is reactionary, not revolutionary. Sexy is nice, but it is not the same as freedom and respect. It is important not to get confused about this.

[15] In this Wild West kind of a world that Xena and Gabrielle inhabit, the choice of whether or not to use violence is taken away from them. Gabrielle cannot follow her natural inclinations to be a peaceful storyteller. She has to forsake her innate tendency towards trust and compassion and embrace violence. If you are forced to be violent, to kill or be killed, it is not liberating. You are trapped in an endless cycle of violence. If you let the reality hit you honestly, it is depressing as h*ll.

Girl Hero vs. Boy Hero

Thank goodness I get another series of my own soon!
Hercules kills his own father in GOD FEARING CHILD.

[16] How can we have a man like Hercules who is an untainted hero, but all the women have to be associated with evil? Hercules gets to be uncorrupted and wise; his actions are noble and just. He does 'good' because it is his basic nature. The audience accepts this as the natural order of the universe. We seem not able to have a woman hero in the same way. Either a woman has power but is corrupted, like Xena, or a woman is good and noble but she has no power, like Gabrielle. Therefore, Gabrielle is doomed to remain powerless until Xena teaches her how to fight properly. Xena is doomed to be forever bad, and she can never be a noble hero in same way Hercules is. Tainted girls, pure boys. This is very much a conservative message.

Sexualized Girl Hero

[17] Furthermore, Xena is a sexual object in a way Hercules is not. Like a sort of mad dominatrix she struts and teases her way into the loins of friends and enemies alike. Hercules is just a man to be admired for his nobility. The intention of the TPTB is to have Xena represent a sort of desired object of sexual violence whereas Hercules does not have to get involved with this. How individual members of the audience will react will vary and one cannot control who or what people will objectify. Therefore some people will objectify Hercules and some people will not objectify Xena, but the intention is clear. Xena is expected to be an object in a way Hercules is not. What we are looking at is essentially a conservative message about the innate virtue of men and the innate sinfulness of women.

[18] Sinful women could be more entertaining, and to some of us, Hercules' goodness is a bit bland. Nevertheless, this is purely a question of personal taste. There is not a correct or incorrect opinion about which character is more interesting. However, for both heroes why not just explore who they are? Why the need to add excessive violence?

What on Earth is Going On in Our Heads When We Watch This Stuff

[19] We identify with good avenging Xena, and all our internal bad is projected onto whoever this week's bad guy or gal happens to be. The bad person conveniently forces Xena into a fight, usually to save some innocent victim, and this fight usually looks to be doing Xena some damage. The more her opponent beats her up the more interesting the fight. We get off on watching Xena, putting ourselves in the place of her opponent giving her a pummeling, and vicariously enjoying our own aggressive tendencies without ever acknowledging them as ours.

[20] Sometimes this love of evil is acknowledged as in the case of Callisto who, as portrayed by Hudson Leick, does a brilliant job uncovering this psychological tendency in Xena fans. There is a real honesty in the way Callisto mirrors back to the audience its vicarious enjoyment of pain and power games. She is bad, she mixes sex and violence without apology, and she makes Xena and Gabrielle suffer for us in all sorts of cruel and sadistic ways. Because she is so free of guilt when she makes people suffer, we find Callisto immensely likeable. Callisto is even humanized in the way she uses her tragic past to justify her wickedness and lets us get close to her.

[21] The problem is, this is too honest, and Callisto threatens to take us where we are afraid to go. If we concentrate on her too much, we have to start confronting the fact that liking evil means enjoying the unacceptable. We have to hide from ourselves the fact that we find pain and suffering entertaining. Or we have to keep quiet about the fact that the pain and suffering bothers us and we dismiss it as merely entertainment. Callisto hurts people who do not deserve to be hurt and, more by accident than design, we get glimpses of our own sadism. She kills Perdicus and we say "you go girl", but did anybody notice that at one point she also kills her loyal and sympathetic fellow outlaw? Did anybody else find that uncomfortable to watch?

[22] We have to secretly enjoy the evil but still maintain the image of ourselves as good people. Callisto upsets this psychological dynamic. She mostly makes Xena and Gabrielle suffer. We can enjoy this because we know Xena and Gabrielle will never really be destroyed. Callisto is still a problem that has to be dealt with because we are in danger of getting too deep with this character. If they let her keep going, either we would get turned off by the violence she inflicts (and we would start asking questions) or we would get too turned on.

Doll now sold with hackem-slashum power arms!
Callisto was violence wrapped in a very pretty package.

[23] Callisto is actually a problem for the Xena story and funnily enough, despite all times TPTB try to get rid of her, she keeps popping back up. I guess we all love and hate our own sadism at the same time. Ultimately she must be dealt with and they turn her into a simpering white angel. This is worse than death in the Xenaverse, because it means she is useless to the story line and we never see her again. Before Callisto can expose us for the potentially nasty people we are, or the wicked show we are watching, order must be restored.

[24] Thus all of us are naughty brazen fans and we need a good spanking. However, Xena wins the day, evil never quite gets the upper hand and we regain control over our less appealing fantasies by burying them, usually under a bunch of rocks in the case of Callisto. We repress any insight into our minds and we avoid asking why we are sitting there watching people knock seven kinds of sh*t out of each other for entertainment. We avoid guilt because all the violence is put on for us as the inevitable consequence of being good. Xena and Gabrielle do not want these fights, it just happens to them because that is the way the world was back then.

So is it True, Do We Have to Use Violence Sometimes?

[25] Probably many people think so. The Republican Party bases its foreign policy on the premise that it is a kill or be killed world, and that violence is sometimes justified and necessary. Even the nice Democrats kept a standing army and used it when they were in power. 'Violence saves' is an unexamined belief about the world that, at the very least, is worth a skeptical look.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow Creeps in its Petty Pace

[26] We end up watching a show where nothing changes because all change is considered bad. We must accept as a given that in this world, all conflict must be resolved by using violence. The unwritten rule is that we're not going to be properly entertained if we leave things ambiguous or if there isn't lots of fighting in every show. Ironically the fights just get more and more boring and predictable and we end up arguing about whether Xena and Gabrielle are lovers or friends, or whether Joxer is a worthwhile character in order to sustain interest in the show. We don't even question whether all the violence is necessary or not, it's just there, a fact of life, an unquestioned element of what we watch. Hollywood feeds us violence like this because it is how they make the most money with the least risk. There is no conspiracy behind it and there is no government cover-up of the truth, despite what Mulder and Scully say. It is merely a shallow type of entertainment and the very people who make Xena warn us not to read too much into it.

[27] In the Xenaverse too much thinking is suspect. The emotional need for summary justice is passionate while consideration for things like law or due process is weakness. Xena has to use violence and she has to forgo things like law courts or tribunals because the law back then got things wrong all the time. What this means is we fantasize about a wild world that needs a violent messiah to put things right. We want an absolute and powerful leader and in rides UberXena with a big sword and chakram, whooo hooo!

[28] I do not buy it. I like stories. I like Greek and Roman myth. I like history. One could do many things with Xena and Gabrielle besides making them into the mouthpiece for the myth of redemptive violence. For the most part, they are stuck in a rut, although sometimes a little bit of interesting character development seems to accidentally slip out. It is not much to feed on, but it is better than nothing.

[29] I do not want to see myself as one of the herd of fans having my lowest instincts pandered to and then milked for a lot of money. I liked the show to begin with, but that was before I started realizing I was getting an icky and unwanted spiritual message. It is all going to end soon and it is probably past its sell by date. In the end, I suspect the story of Xena and Gabrielle was a bit of a wasted opportunity. But then again, maybe the opportunity to do anything different was never there in the first place.


a woman of mystery Scylla@netway.co.uk
I grew up in Detroit Michigan and am now an ex-pat living in London England working with a charity for disable people. I'm a critical fan of Xena and Buffy and I find the Xenafandom on the Internet fascinating and delightful. A lot of my ideas for this piece were taken from the writings of Walter Wink.

Favorite episode: BEEN THERE DONE THAT
Favorite line: Autolycus to Valasca after she's finished giving him a beating, "But hey, I paid for an hour!" —THE QUEST
First episode seen: REMEMBER NOTHING
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS



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