How Political Commitment Led Lucy Lawless (AKA Xena, the Warrior Princess) to Study Philosophy

It’s cer­tain­ly not uncom­mon for celebri­ties to take up polit­i­cal caus­es, though this does not usu­al­ly lead to them get­ting arrest­ed for hol­ing up in a high tow­er oil-drilling ship for four days. What’s less com­mon is for this inter­est to bur­geon into a full-on obses­sion with all things philo­soph­i­cal, but that’s exact­ly what hap­pened to Lucy Law­less (best known as Xena, the War­rior Princess).

“I went to the UN sum­mit on sus­tain­able devel­op­ment after get­ting involved in the whole… big oil protest… and I saw all of these peo­ple work­ing very hard but seem­ing­ly at cross-pur­pos­es about how do we cre­ate a just soci­ety.” On a full two-hour episode of The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast (which she claims was large­ly respon­si­ble for turn­ing her on to phi­los­o­phy), she describes how this polit­i­cal inter­est drove her to look at the foun­da­tions and his­to­ries of the­o­ries of jus­tice, and even­tu­al­ly decide to go back to school to study phi­los­o­phy, which she’s now doing in New Zealand between flights to the states to film TV spots such as her recent appear­ance on NBC’s Parks and Recre­ation.

The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life inter­view with Law­less is a five-per­son, round­table dis­cus­sion of Tom Payne’s 2010 book, Fame: What the Clas­sics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebri­ty. You can lis­ten here:

The the­sis of the book is that celebri­ties serve as an out­let for soci­ety’s aggres­sive instincts. Draw­ing on canon­i­cal texts about reli­gious anthro­pol­o­gy like James Fraz­er’s The Gold­en Bough, the author com­pares the treat­ment of mod­ern celebri­ties to ancient rites where young maid­ens were lav­ish­ly bestowed with finer­ies and then sac­ri­fied. Lucy thinks this well match­es her own expe­ri­ences, and talks about the exis­ten­tial weird­ness involved with being and deal­ing with the famous.

The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life has also cov­ered relat­ed top­ics of Freud’s Civ­i­liza­tion and its Dis­con­tents and Niet­zsche’s Geneal­o­gy of Morals. You can sub­scribe to the pod­cast on iTunes.

Mark Lin­sen­may­er runs the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life phi­los­o­phy pod­cast and blog

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Comments (3)
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  • Total­ly agree with pan­el that book was not coher­ent but pre­sent­ed two good ideas, nei­ther of which is new- on the need for some “high­er” enti­ty for all “com­mu­ni­ties” and the notion of ide­al­iza­tion inevitably lead­ing to dis­il­lu­sion and anger as a kind of cycle of sub­li­ma­tion of anger.Freud relied heav­i­ly on these notions in many of his writ­ings. Lucy brought up the pos­i­tive side of fame/idealization which is that of hope and I applaud that.Charles Sanders Pierce implied this in writ­ing about sci­en­tif­ic endeav­ors hav­ing a seed of hope. I was impressed with the way Lucy L more than held her own with a group of Aca­d­e­mics, although fun­ny and decent guys-Her think­ing was as sharp and
    focused as Lucy.I wish the book was bet­ter because the issues they touched on re: celebrity/fame echo in so many dis­ci­plines and on so many levels.I would have appre­ci­at­ed a deep­er dis­cus­sion of awe and ide­al­iza­tion of the famous/celebrities and the dark side of the “fan” feel­ing dimin­ished by their own need for the hero, god or star‑i.e. the role of nar­cis­sis­tic devel­op­ment in var­i­ous cul­tures and faiths..Thanks for a fas­ci­nat­ing 2 hours.

  • Thanks, Patri­cia. Great to hear from a psy­chol­o­gist on this (which we cer­tain­ly aren’t)! Would love to hear your thoughts on future, per­haps more meaty top­ics in this area. ‑ML

  • thank you!I real­ly loved the pod­cast and the way you guys and Lucy seam­less­ly spoke about deep stuff and goofy things as well!She is one razor sharp lady!She went from A to M with­out the in between as you guys always do.…
    I do lis­ten to you and it will be my plea­sure to add my pithy lit­tle thoughts.…


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