Many thanks to Kym Masera Taborn from XMR for the transcript

The Times

April 1, 2000, Saturday

Just what is it about Xena?

Paul Hoggart

BODY: These are heady days for fans of Xena: Warrior Princess, with Channel 5 completing a two-part special, series five underway on Sky One and episodes from series one newly released on video.

If you haven't seen it, Xena is from "a time of ancient Gods, War Lords and Kings ... a mighty Princess forged in the heat of battle.''

She is played by the splendidly named Lucy Lawless, who comes from New Zealand, where the series is filmed. Lawless is a strapping 5 ft 10 in tomboy. She has a flat, handsome face and piercing blue eyes, but she looks more like Xena Warrior Armoured Personnel Carrier to me.

I must confess, I didn't pay much attention to this mythic epic of legendary sagas from ancient days of yore. Generally sword-and-sorcery yarns seem to me about as staltifyingly pointless as yarns can get. Recently, however, I discovered that several of my nine-year-old daughter's friends are avid fans. Evidently the series has something.

Xena probably appeals to small girls for much the same reason Buffy the Vampire Slayer does. Xena is a big girl who kicks the stuffing out of big men. Girls, tradition tells us, are intuitive, sensitive souls who like to play with dollies and re-enact episodes of Casualty in the playground while the boys play football. What Xena shows us is that, while girls may weep over the death of Max's son, they would also like the option of removing men's Adam's apples with a metal hoop.

Xena, of course, is famous in the adult world as a "lesbian icon". "Icon", is probably the most overused term of the last 20 years. Anyone in whom more than two people take a slight interest seems to qualify. If an icon is manifest rubbish, incidentally, then they become an "ironic'' icon. I expect Xena smooths her leather kilt with an iconic iron.

And I wonder for which lesbians Xena is an icon: do they all like her? lipstick lesbians? diesel dykes? self- effacing librarians who have only come out to two people? I doubt it.

I suspect lesbian fans like Xena for the same reason many men do - her thighs. Watching makes me feel like the late Sir John Betjeman, whose poems are full of admiring lust for hearty lasses with great big thighs.

Xena dresses in a black leather breast plate covered in swirls, like bondage gear decorated by Jane Asher, and the episodes are almost as fleshy as Baywatch. What is more, every time Xena kicks someone, which she does with alarming frequency, us lesbians-and-straight-guys get to see her pants.

Much has been made of her Chakram, a dinner plate size steel hoop which she throws like a discus. It has been called a flan tin, a frisby, a hub cap and a Freudian vagina symbol. I think it is a sharpened quoit, for she is also Xena Warrior Cruise Passenger.

The authorities in Canada took a very close look at the violence in Xena following complaints from concerned citizens. Apparently, they decided it wasn't too bad so long as it was screened after 9pm.

They needn't have worried. It is true that each episode is stuffed with fights, but they are so implausible and stylised that to be affected you would have to be unusually impressionable, as impressionable as two short planks, in fact.

Xena's male enemies for instance, often fight like enraged Teletubbies. They waddle up to her at high speed, with blood curdling yells of "Eh-oh!'' Then they slash viciously at a point a foot above Xena's head. Xena ducks and the evil sword of doom passes two feet over her.

Sometimes Xena defeats them by throwing her Chakram, but usually she just kicks them on the jaw. In this respect she is like Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in the early series of Star Trek. Confronted by a hostile alien life form of unimaginable intelligence, Kirk would solve the problem by punching it on the chin. Xena kicks everybody, including demons, demi-gods and full-on gods with super human powers, and it works!

When she's not kicking deities, she practices twirling her sword around like a drum majorette. We know this twirling is deadly because each twirl makes a loud "whoop'', or "whoosh''. In fact everything in Xena - swords, axes, arrows, ropes over castle walls goes "whoop''. It must make for incredibly noisy meal times.

By far the worst violence in Xena is done to culture. The series ravages the magic of genuine myths and legends, chopping them into meaningless dismembered fragments. And they massacre the English language, mixing fake biblical-Shakespearean with the clunkiest modern American. The effect is one of constant, unremitting bathos.

If my daughter turned out to be lesbian, I hope I would love her just the same. But if she is still a Xena fan at 18, I may never get over it.

Return to The AXIP News Archive