Many thanks to Bridget Patrella for contributing this article
to The AXIP News Archive

by Rick Bayan

The Cynical Guy Watches 'Xena: Warrior Princess'

I've done it at last: after years of turning up my nose at the sophomoric twaddle that passes for popular entertainment these days, I've decided to experience some of that twaddle first-hand so I can tell you about it. I hope you appreciate what I'm putting myself through for your amusement. Believe me, it's not easy for a Cynical Guy to watch the relentless dumbing of American culture; it grates on my curmudgeonly soul like the sound of a fingernail on a blackboard. (Remember blackboards, kids?) But I figured that I should develop at least a passing acquaintance with the TV shows, movies, music, pop idols and other cultural flotsam of our time if I want to be able to lambaste them with a clear conscience. You understand, don't you? Furthermore, most of these popular entertainments are transient sand-castles on the beach of time. Walk away for twenty minutes and when you return, they're gone. I've already missed entire pop phenomena that have shaped the minds of a generation: I never watched an entire episode of 'Beverly Hills 90210' or 'Melrose Place,' for example. I never listened to a song by Kurt Cobain. I missed the original Broadway production of 'Cats' and passed on 'Erin Brockovich.' This is no way for an American to live.

When I heard that 'Xena: Warrior Princess' was due to expire after its long run as a syndicated TV fixture, I resolved to catch it while I had a chance. I set aside an hour on a Sunday afternoon and settled into my favorite position on the living room rug. THIS Cynical Guy wasn't going to miss out on Xena. So there I was and there SHE was, 'a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle,' a statuesque babe in armor, a comic-book vamp with compassion in her soft blue eyes and plenty of horsepower in her kick. The ponderous background music and pedestrian dialogue reminded me of those badly dubbed Italian epics from the 1960s— except that the members of the 'Xena' cast generally appeared to move their lips in synch with the dialogue. The show took me back to 'a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings'— whenever that was. As a former student of history, I marveled at the imaginative fusion of mythical Greek Centaurs and Amazons with Arab bazaars, early medieval barbarians and Xena's faithful companion Gabrielle, a defiantly 21st-century single gal with a downtown hairdo and bikini top. (Trying on some new clothes at a bazaar, Gabrielle grumbles, 'It's just not ME.') 

But don't think for a minute that I sneered my way through the entire show. No, I confess I appreciated its value as sheer escapism, the way I used to appreciate 'Gilligan's Island' when I was 16. What I saw here was a wishful vision of an indeterminate and mostly mythical past— the barbaric but noble past conjured up by popular fantasy novels and Frank Frazetta posters, where beautiful people roam through primeval landscapes on muscular quests and righteous missions, where life is simple and fierce, where the triumphs of evil are short-lived and punished by ultimate defeat, where you can look in vain for a fast-food restaurant. The primitive purity and justice of such a world appeals to those of us mired in the omnipresent red tape of modern existence. All our lives we've had to answer to parents, teachers and bosses; Xena roams free. We have to deal with demanding long-term personal relationships and hope for the best; Xena mates at will and moves on. We have to stifle our anger and resentments if we want to get along in the world; Xena leaps into the air, twirls around and pummels her enemies with fists, feet and cudgels. Xena represents a liberation from the mundane, and such liberations are good for the innards of people who feel trapped.

I wondered if I could go for a woman like Xena. She's a looker, of course— and she doesn't age, either. Sure, she beats up on men— but at least she doesn't bash them in the manner of postmodern feminists. She seems sufficiently secure in her self-esteem to be relatively free of neuroses and burdensome hang-ups. She can live without daily complements about her hair or wardrobe; she's a low-maintenance woman par excellence. Her tastes are simple, her needs few. She might make me spring for a new set of armor now and then, but other than that she's not a material girl. For weekend getaways she'd doubtless prefer a grotto in the woods to an overpriced Victorian B&B. Her idea of a gourmet meal is probably charred meat, and that's fine with me. She's an unapologetic seductress, and that, too, is fine with me. She has plenty of practical skills to recommend her: she could probably defend me against muggers while delivering her own baby. I'm sure that with her impeccable genes, she'd give birth to strong and noble sons who could probably whip me by their fourth birthday. On second thought, maybe I'm not cut out to mate with a warrior princess. Besides, Xena and Gabrielle look so happy together that it would be a shame to separate them.

The Cynical Pick of the Week. 
According to the latest Harper's Index, approximately 70 'crush films' involving live rodents and high-heeled women were seized not long ago from a New York man. I have to wonder if the man had issues with Mickey Mouse when he was a kid. I also have to wonder how the high-heeled women auditioned for their roles.  UB

Rick Bayan spent many years in publishing and advertising, both fertile spawning grounds for cynics. He is the author of "The Cynic's Dictionary," which sold nearly 23,000 copies before it was booted out of print by his publisher. Happily the book is still alive at Rick's website, The Cynic's Sanctuary, where this self-described "kinder, gentler cynic" has been writing dark-humored monthly tirades since 1996.

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