The Power of Myths Looking like They Just Stepped out of Ancient Mythology, Two TV Superheroes Have Muscled Their Way into Pop Culture

By Patton, Charlie | The Florida Times Union, March 5, 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Power of Myths Looking like They Just Stepped out of Ancient Mythology, Two TV Superheroes Have Muscled Their Way into Pop Culture


Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union


Siegfried Nelson is typical of the people who have turned

Xena: Warrior Princess into one of television's hottest cult

favorites.

When the lawyer-turned-freelance-writer first became aware of

the top-rated syndicated action series -- and of Hercules: The

Legendary Journeys, the show that spawned Xena -- "I think I was

repelled."

But that was before he actually watched Xena, having seen

nothing more than quick glimpses of striking, leather-clad bodies

while channel surfing. Once he tuned in, Nelson found a show

"much more intelligently written than I had expected."

Thus, the Jacksonville resident joined legions of devotees of

these slightly-kitschy chronicles of ancient gods, goddesses and

merely clever mortals.

(The programs are shown twice a week in the Jacksonville area

on WTEV TV-47: Hercules at 8 p.m. Fridays and again at 6 p.m.

Sundays, and Xena at 9 p.m. Fridays and again at 7 p.m. on

Sundays.)

Hercules and Xena, both filmed on location in New Zealand on

modest budgets, have been the subject of academic papers, online

fan worship and popular guidebooks. More to the point, Xena, in

its second season, has surpassed the once-lofty Baywatch as the

No. 1 syndicated action series on television.

Nelson kept finding references to the shows on the Internet,

which isn't hard since, by his count, there are 850 Web sites

devoted to Xena alone (a new book on Xena suggests the figure

may be much higher, with a key word search registering 7,200

Xena references). Prompted by what he read online, Nelson

decided to take a closer look.

"Lately they've been doing Kierkegaard," he said, referring to

Soren Kierkegaard, a melancholy 19th century Danish philosopher

considered the founder of existentialism. To support that claim,

Nelson noted a Xena episode titled Maternal Instincts, which

posed the question under what conditions would it be appropriate

to sacrifice one's child, a subject Kierkegaard explored in one

of his books.

His growing interest in the show led him to write a story

titled Cry Murder: The Politics and Ethics of Homicide in Xena:

Warrior Princess for the February edition of Whoosh!, an online

fan magazine.

Nelson is far from the only unlikely Xena enthusiast. Claudia

Stubbs, a Jacksonville loan processor, has become such a Xena

devotee that she attended a fan convention in Valley Forge, Pa.,

last summer. "My family thinks I'm nuts," she said.

Academic admirers Robert Weisbrot, who teaches American

history at Maine's Colby College, has written two paperbacks

just published by Doubleday: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys --

The Official Companion and Xena: Warrior Princess -- The

Official Guide to the Xenaverse.

In a telephone interview, he said he has purposely taken a

low-key approach to publicizing his involvement with the books

because of apprehension that his academic colleagues would

ridicule him. But his unbounded enthusiasm for the shows

convinced him both to write the books and to talk about them, he

said.

"In academe, this will be seen as a disgrace," he said. "But

writing these books is more important to me than my career.

Frankly, I welcome any opportunity to proselytize on behalf of

these shows . . . I want to convey how exciting and rewarding I

find them."

Even Leslie Perkins, who teaches Latin and Greek and Roman

mythology at St. Johns Country Day School, admits to a sneaking

affection for Hercules, though most of her colleagues in the

classics disagree.

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