English, Department of


Date of this Version



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: English (Specialization: Women‟s and Gender Studies), Under the Supervision of Professor Kwakiutl L. Dreher. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2010
Copyright (c) 2010 Tamy Burnett


Found in the most recent group of cult heroines on television, community-centered cult heroines share two key characteristics. The first is their youth and the related coming-of-age narratives that result. The second is their emphasis on communal heroic action that challenges traditional understandings of the hero and previous constructions of the cult heroine on television. Through close readings of Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dark Angel, and Veronica Mars, this project engages feminist theories of community and heroism alongside critical approaches to genre and narrative technique, identity performance theory, and visual media critique to explore the community-centered cult heroine and her rewriting of previous heroic archetypes. While much scholarship has examined the ways in which cult heroines of the late twentieth century revise Western heroic archetypes, this dissertation provides necessary expansion of this conversation with a consideration of how the heroine’s youth and ties to her community influence and shape her heroic identity. The first chapter explores Xena: Warrior Princess’ use of an intergenerational mentorship model of activism and the series’ redefinition of community through a rejection of a heteronormative paradigm. The second chapter examines Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s use of interdependent metaphor and coming-of-age narratives, leading to the creation of a global activist community. The third chapter compares the cult heroines of Firefly and Dark Angel, positing a symbiotic model of heroism in which the community functions like a family. The fourth chapter investigates the detective noir series Veronica Mars and how it presents a collaborative/ally model of heroism. Together, these visions of communal action offer several models for feminist approaches to activism.