Remember Xena? I don’t, or at least, not really. I have vague memories of watching it, probably on days when I was home sick from school or otherwise just bumming around. It’s the perfect sort of mindless schlock for an undiscerning kid to zone out in front of. I must have watched at least a dozen episodes, but I can’t remember the plot of a single one.
I can, however, remember one scene. Xena was interrogating a henchman who refused to talk. Because Xena’s not the sort of gal who takes no for an answer, she hit him in the neck. This was no ordinary rough stuff—she knew a special spot that, if hit hard enough, would cut off the blood flow to the brain. It was now only a matter of moments until this goon died.
He panicked, of course, and started blabbing. Xena wasn’t satisfied and was going to let his brain explode, or whatever, but Gabrielle convinced her to show mercy. So she hit him in the same spot again, which restarted the blood flow.
I’m sure I’m misremembering the details, and because this is the Internet I’m equally sure that a Xena superfan will correct me in the comments section. But my point is that my young, suggestible self was convinced that this was a real technique. This silly fantasy show, which to my adult eyes looks like it was filmed on a budget of quarters stolen from vending machine change trays, had fully convinced me that human bodies had a secret weak point just waiting for someone to show up and exploit it like we we’re all a bunch of video game bosses.
So, what did I do with my newfound knowledge of human anatomy? Did I challenge kids I didn’t like to fights, knowing that I could destroy them with a single well-placed chop? Did I run around warning my friends and family so they wouldn’t fall victim to the terrible scourge of the Exploding Brain Technique? No, my reaction was even dumber than that. I fully believed that even the slightest blow to my neck meant a risk of a sudden and terrible death. My body became a walking bomb just waiting to be set off.
I didn’t panic though, because I knew how to undo the death sentence. And so from then on, whenever my neck was touched, I would immediately hit it in the same place to save my life.
I don’t know why I didn’t ask my parents for advice on my mortal peril. Maybe I was miffed that none of the supposedly responsible adults in my life had bothered to warn me about this obvious risk, like if the parents of a young gazelle hadn’t bothered to mention that those big cats with the manes aren’t trying to chase you down for a fuzzy hug. Or maybe it was simply that part of me knew even then that I was being an idiot. All I know is that I kept hitting myself in the neck a lot.
This mostly occurred when I was alone, because at no point do I recall anyone asking what the hell was wrong with me. I suppose I should be thankful, although had an adult witnessed my routine they could have saved me a lot of grief. I suspect that when I was playing or socialising the part of my brain that kept track of stupid bullshit had to instead focus on more important things.
So that’s why I mostly remember this as being something I did in bed. I would roll over, inadvertently brush my neck and think, “Crap, I’m going to die!” Then I’d hit the same spot. “Phew, okay, I’m good.” “Oh shit, the cat just stepped on my neck! Oh God oh God, okay, I got it, I’m good.” And so on and so on, throughout what has to be the stupidest sleepless nights in history.
The worst was when I was unsure whether the latest hit was a lifesaver or a death giver, because apparently when I was a kid counting to two was hard. So I would have to wait in a tense panic, ready to hit myself again the moment it felt like my brain was going to burst. Somehow this approach always seemed to work out.
What’s especially unusual in retrospect is that I was sure that even the slightest blow to my neck could doom me. Xena gave that guy a vicious chop, whereas a feather touch to my neck was enough to make me rub it again just in case. I suppose it was probably a good thing that I wasn’t winding up and going to town on my jugular whenever I felt it necessary.
The fact that odd and even numbers meant the difference between life and death gave me a general obsession with multiples of two. If I was idly tapping my desk I made damn sure that I did it an even number of times. Bouncing a ball? I had to get that 16th bounce, because only suckers settle for 15. And I’m sure I annoyed the cat by chasing after it to get one last pet in.
I don’t remember when I stopped, just that it took longer than it reasonably should have. I probably forgot to unblock my blood flow a few times, then later realised that I had not suffered a horrible, tragic death. Or maybe I just grew up and got slightly less stupid. My point is that pop culture can influence suggestive minds in very unusual ways.
So for any parents reading this, make sure you sit down and have a talk with your Xena watching little ones about how the show’s portrayal of human anatomy is not entirely accurate. And to whoever wrote that episode I’d just like to say, sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, fuck you.