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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  • 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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