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So what is subtext? Well, during the first series, some fans noticed a certain closeness between Xena and Gabrielle, making them think that maybe they were sharing more than just a campfire! The writers, actors and producers joined in, inserting more overt and suggestive scenes indicating the characters` closeness. Many fans loved this, and for some, it became THE biggest attraction of the show. Almost every interview and article seemed to focus on Xena and Gabrielle`s relationship. If people knew little about the show, they still had heard the rumours that Xena and Gabrielle were lovers.
Most of the classic subtext moments that fans enjoy are pretty subtle, comments, little touches, hugs. The most overt was probably the kiss in the S2 episode The Quest, when Xena appears to Gabrielle in a dreamscape to tell her she isn`t dead. The encounter ends with a lengthy lip lock, although just before `first contact`, we cut away to Gabrielle snogging Autolycus, whose body Xena is inhabiting. Was it Xena or Autolycus kissing Gabrielle? A favourite discussion point. Others were more subtle; Gabrielle pats Xena`s thigh in Intimate Stranger, Joxer asking Xena if she has a hickey in Been There, Done That and Gabrielle`s guilty look, Xena rolling over in The Debt and reaching for Gabrielle, the bathtub scene in A Day in the Life, the attempted mouth to mouth in Fins, Femmes and Gems. The list goes on and on.
The fact is, the producers were very clever - in my opinion - in keeping it subtle. Those who wanted to see subtext had a great time looking out for all those little touches. Those who were casual viewers probably missed it, and those who didn`t *want* to see it didn`t!
Unfortunately, the issue of subtext and Xena and Gabrielle`s sexuality brought forth some less than pleasant arguments on the Xena newsgroups and mailing lists, which was a first glimpse of the intolerance and arrogance that exists in the previously friendly Xena fans. The subtexters and anti-subtexters often engaged in flame wars and hate mail. I remember receiving one full of obscenities after joining in what I thought was a friendly debate where I made some mild criticism of the arguments of an anti-subtexter. Both sides showed extreme intolerance for the other`s point of view. Caught in the middle of this rather was Joxer(Ted Raimi). Poor old Joxer caught an awful lot of stick from the subtexters, who thought any male was a threat to the Xena/Gabrielle romance. While the Anti- brigade pointed out any and all of Xena and Gabrielle`s male relationships as firm evidence they were not gay, the subtexters pointed to the many lesbians in the world who had had relationships with men because of society`s expectations or their own confusions about their sexuality. Both sides displayed a real overdose of seriousness.
The other problem with the extreme interest of the fans in the subtext was that the show was in danger of changing from a family action/adventure fantasy into something else. There has always been a problem with classifying XENA. Here in the UK, our broadcasters are convinced it is a kids show, but as the show progressed into it`s third year, there were some very dark themes explored - betrayal, child murder, lies and even alleged rape. (Probably the first loud complaints of the online fans after several years of praise and support were from people who considered Gabrielle`s impregnation by Dahok in The Deliverer as a rape, and had a real go at top writer Steve Sears for it.)
The online fandom is dominated by fans of the subtext, but some of them seem to want the show to become mainly about the sexuality of the characters, and people are pushing for a kiss or more! A search for Xena fanfiction shows the extent of the interest. There is a huge wealth of Xena fanfiction, much of it very good indeed, but virtually all of it is ALT (or alternative) meaning, it portrays Xena and Gabrielle as lovers. Some of it is very VERY explicit, bordering on the pornographic(...hey, come back, don`t go looking yet!) There are very few GEN (or general) stories around where Xena and Gabrielle are NOT a couple! I suppose we are all suckers for a good romance, I know I have read loads and loads.
However, does this mean we all want to see Xena and Gabrielle portrayed as lovers? Well speaking for myself, I would say a firm NO! I think the moment they made that leap, there would be no going back. The show would automatically lose a certain section of its fans, and probably some of its backers. I love that it is left to the imagination, and fan`s own interpretation.
For myself, I like the teasing fun of it. I don`t want a heavy issues show about two lesbians battling prejudice in Ancient Greece! That isn`t what XENA is about. Leave it to soap operas to deal with those issues.
That isn`t to say I am an anti-subtexter, I am not at all, I love it. But if you were asking me do I think they ARE lovers...well, I would probably hedge! I think I like producer Rob Tapert`s comment that they would be open to it, but what goes on off screen is their own business. I am a fan of the subtle subtext - in fact I am considering starting a petition "KEEP SUBTEXT SUB!" in reponse to some of the campaigns for a real snog for Xena and Gab. Email me to sign up!!
I have bored a few people with my view on the clues to the closeness of Xena and Gabrielle`s relationship, but here goes again. When I say I like the subtle stuff, it reminds me of a scene in the British film, The Tall Guy, with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson. It`s from a good few years back now, but the bit that I am talking about is when Emma figures out that Jeff is having an affair with an actress. How she spots it, is that they are at a party and this other girl hands Jeff a drink and he just takes it and doesn`t say thank you or acknowledge it. Jeff thinks she is nuts seeing this as evidence, but Em makes the point that a gesture like that implies intimacy. Casual touches and doing things for one another without thinking indicates an established closeness. This is the way I see the Xena and Gabrielle relationship, and what I like to look out for. Xena and Gabrielle are not polite with each other generally. They work as a team...or as a couple you might say. To me, the casual intimacy says more than the repeated `I love you`s` of Series 3. It shows a committment that is decided and established, not a burgeoning flirtatious newness. Maybe this is why I didn`t understand the moans of the whinging fans during S5. While they have been validated a little by producer Rob Tapert`s ackowledgement that there wasn`t enough focus on Xena and Gabrielle together, the main complaint was that in S5, Xena and Gabrielle were more like business partners than lovers, or even friends in some people`s minds. For myself, I just saw a committed couple who are past the honeymoon stage, with problems to solve and a baby to raise. Well that is the beauty of this whole debate about the subtext. We all see what we want to see.
An interesting parallel can be drawn with some of the other sci-fi/fantasy shows around now. Fans have pointed at Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a gay relationship HAS been introduced in this very successful show - Willow`s relationship with Tara in series 4. I am a big Buffy fan, and I think this storyline was well explored, but it does not really compare. Buffy is an ensemble show with Willow being a co-star rather than the main character, XENA is a two star show basically. There`s Xena and Gabrielle and that`s it.
Of course, the other big two-stars show also has people who want to see a relationship between the characters. The X Files has long had MSR fans (Mulder/Scully Relationship or Shippers), something which Chris Carter has resisted for seven years. In many ways, the relationship is similar to Xena and Gabrielle. A closeness between the characters that is closer than a marriage at times, hints at more, but nothing expicit. (OK so there was that kiss in the X Files ep Millennium this year..) But even this is very different from XENA. Any Mulder/Scully love affair would be less shocking for the simple fact that it would be a heterosexual affair. Indeed, I know there were some very bigoted and homophobic comments about Willow and Tara from some Buffy fans.
On the other hand, producer Rob Tapert has constantly surprised us, doing things you never thought would happen. Who knows, maybe that final episode will see a kiss...nothing would suprise me, and it might be a nice finale.
However, lets just hope everyone lets people see what they want to see and respects people`s opinions - and keeps their sense of humour about it.
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