CENSORSHIP OF XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS. 11th April 1999

Further to my highly rated article on the Humanistic and mythical roots behind Xena Warrior Princess, - ( see XENA AND HERCULES) I have found myself becoming increasingly involved in the campaign to defend an episode of the programme which has been banned due to homophobic complaints by Hare Krishna cult members.

The 4th season episode, entitled The Way, was filmed in India and involves Xena and Gabrielle meeting Krishna.

Producers took a lot of time and trouble to research the episode to ensure that Krishna would be treated with respect and all due accord. Expert advise was given throughout production. However, the producers failed to consider the reaction that would arise from extreme Hindus in the sect known as The World Vaishanava Association, a breakaway sect within the Hare Krishna cult known as The International Society For Krishna Consciousness. (ISKCON).

The Vaishanava Ass. Who also got an album cover designed for the rock group Aerosmith banned, for daring to depict Krishna, protested about The Way even before it was first aired in The States. Their protests reached fever pitch after its first US transmission. The producers, under pressure from studio bosses and sponsors, decided to pull the episode altogether from any official repeat screenings, and from all international transmissions. Most Xena fans will now probably never see this episode.

Vaishanava's protested the depiction of Krishna on two grounds. 1/. It is inappropriate to depict Krishna in a fictional television drama. 2/. Xena: Warrior Princess has a reputation for its lead characters having a lesbian relationship, and Krishna would never co-operate in their work on the grounds of such immorality.

These arguments are easily refuted. 1/. Xena never pretends to be anything but a fiction. She has met historical persons before; Homer, Julius Caesar (the chronological time frame of the programme is very wide-ranging) and Jesus. (the heroes have witnessed the nativity).

Krishna is a mythical figure. There is no hard evidence that he ever existed. Worship of him as a deity is actually a more modern phenomena in India. Krishna was seen as a wise mortal until as late as 2 AD (CE). Only in the 15th-16th century was a full scale movement established promoting him as the supreme Hindu deity. The ISKCON movement revived and exported this belief in the late 1960's in a revival lead by Paramahansa Prabuphada. His death left the ISKCON movement divided on how to progress thereon. Much infighting arose, and the Vaishanava Association broke away from the parent group. It is largely at the behest of the Vaishanava sect that The Way has been subjected to such a hostile act of censorship.

Krishna has been the subject of fictions before, without controversy arising. The Mahabarata (The Hindu Bible, 16 times longer than its western equivalent) has been televised in somewhat necessarily abridged format in India and in Britain. Krishna appears in a cameo role in a chapter of this epic entitled The Bhagavad Gita, to explain to Arjuna the laws of Karma, and why killing members of his own family in the ongoing Civil War will release them from the cycle of life, death and rebirth that is the karmic destiny. Krishna has appeared in ballets, films, and shows of many kinds. Other Hindu deities appear frequently on film too. Kali has appeared in Indian Jones and The Temple Of Doom, (she despatches the chief villain to death by fire and crocodile at the film's close). Her six armed sword baring form has been used in Sinbad movies fighting the hero, Sinbad. In a TV episode of the UK comedy show, The Young Ones, hippie character Neil is also turned into Kali, though he calls himself Krishna,  briefly when he accidentally summons up a genie. 

In The Way, Xena briefly becomes a six armed Kali figure. In an episode of the Simpsons cartoon, about Apu being subjected to an arranged marriage, Homer Simpson mocks Ganesh, the Hindu elephant headed God of wisdom several times. None of these (bar Xena) have faced any criticism.

The lesbian subtext motif of the show is ambiguous and contentious. Many fans are uncertain of whether it is true or not. Even if it was blatant, there would be no excuse for denouncing the show as immoral, depraved or demeaning to either its fans or to Hindus of any beliefs. It is merely homophobic to denounce the show or force an act of censorship of this kind on any such grounds. Xena fans are now objecting to the show's unfair treatment on a big scale. This is part of my own contribution to the call for The Way to be reinstated to the TV airwaves where it belongs.

By denouncing the show as immoral in its depiction of Krishna, the Vaishanava's are effectively calling the cast and production team responsible for the show immoral too, along with all the fans who watch and love the programme. Many fans have written very knowledgeable papers on the show, and take strong interest in the myths and legends behind it. Some fans have even gone on to write academic dissertations on mythological subjects taking the show as direct inspiration. I often get e-mails asking whether I think a particular myth, or perspective might be a good study subject. Some of the e-mails have included studies of Hinduism, and all its deities. Xena's adventures in India have coincided with sibling hero/programme Hercules: The Legendary Journeys making use of Norse and Sumeran mythical heroes. (Hercules is destined to meet Thor/Odin and Gilgamesh). Renaissance Studios are effectively creating a sense of global mythology, and reviving an interest in such wonderful stories for a whole new generation. It is totally unacceptable for a handful of loud, homophobic religious fundamentalist extremists to block such a promising use of television with such an act of censorship as this.

The ban was short lived, due to counter-campaigns by fans of the show, cult-watchers and gay rights activists. The Kryshnas spear-heading the campaign were found to be operating from temples in Moscow and Warsaw. Worse, they were producing and selling bootlegged video copies of the banned episode to members of the sect. 

Though released, the episode produced further controversy for its violent content, including scenes of characters having arms and heads severed. The episode often gets cut by the censors on rescreenings.

Arthur Chappell

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