As you all remember, Eamon gave us an awesome guest post last week (find it here) about the fandom’s lack of ability to move past MSR1 to discuss and enjoy all the other wonderful elements of The X-Files. After all, Mulder and Scully alone didn’t make it famous. It’s a complaint sometimes heard in the fandom, although usually not too loudly for fear of persecution.
I pretty much agreed with everything he said and it got me to thinking, hence this response. I won’t get into whether or not it’s a good thing that MSR is the dominant topic among fans. And I certainly won’t try to say what aspect of the show should be most important to anyone. Some don’t understand why others are so in love with Mulder and Scully, others can’t process why some would watch the show just for the mythology, etc. etc. That’s not a discussion worth having since everyone brings their own tastes and background into any viewing of The X-Files. Why quibble over trifles?
Instead, what I want to do is try to answer the question, “Why?” Why is it that after all these years and after all that The X-Files was good at, MSR still dominates boards and Tumblr blogs alike?
The Ship Sets Sail
Surely Shippers, if we define Shippers as fans who favor a relationship between particular characters, existed before The X-Files. But were they ever such a powerful force? A distinct faction? As far as I can find, the term “Shipper”, derived from the word Relationship, was created by X-Philes! The X-Files fandom Shipped so hard we built the boat.
From that point on, Ships became a subculture all their own. Now television networks plan for Ships and market toward Shippers. What is Bones if not a blatant attempt to give fans a couple to root for, holding out the all to familiar carrot of UST2? There are other shows like Supernatural, House, Fringe, etc. that purposefully engender passion from their fans by creating Ships for them to sail in. We could keep going with examples because nearly every, if not all, shows on primetime these days has at least one Ship consciously created to give fans a reason to keep watching, to keep waiting for their favorite characters to consummate their relationship.
This crop of 21st Century shows is far more obvious than The X-Files ever was. Modern Television, knowing the success that Shippers brought to The X-Files and other shows, is purposefully aiming for its audiences heartstrings whereas The X-Files never set out to create a Ship. In fact, Mulder and Scully and MSR are one of those perfect human accidents created by God. Frankly, The X-Files still does it better. Is it a wonder then that a new generation raised on entertaining, but less powerful Television romances are beside themselves when they stumble upon the real thing, the start of it all?
It’s fairly well known that The X-Files fanbase has always been mostly female. And with the new generation of fans raised on Netflix and iTunes, the estrogen levels have only grown. I won’t delve too far into gender politics, but as every Hollywood studio is aware, female audiences are more interested in romance than are male audiences… particularly young female audiences.
Yes, the torch is being passed to a new generation of X-Philes, a phenomenon easy enough to observe if you run a quick search on Tumblr for the likes of Mulder or Scully. Can the old fogey’s blame them? Longtime fans like to say that The X-Files still outshines most TV shows out there today, and indeed it does. So when large groups of young girls who have grown up in a world where Television fandom is no longer reserved for Trekkies and the like but is a beloved part of pop culture, get their hands on The X-Files for the first time, the result is an understandable devotion. And since we’ve already established that young, female fans tend to gravitate toward romance in fiction, it isn’t anywhere near a surprise that they start cataloging every touch, every lingering glance between Mulder and Scully. Lesser shows experience the same phenomenon… thanks to The X-Files that is.
Legend of the Seas
I don’t think there’s any fan that would argue that The X-Files wasn’t alternately scary, funny, beautiful, fun, profound, inventive, romantic, and always well done. So why, with all those wonderful aspects of the show to enjoy, is MSR all we seem to hear about?
Here’s a clue: while The X-Files was scary, when it was over, there were other scary shows that came along. If it’s the comedy you miss, there’s plenty of TV to choose from. If you enjoyed the mystery of the mythology, no doubt you migrated over to Lost. But the romance that was Mulder and Scully has never been successfully repeated and I doubt it ever will be.
What The X-Files had that most shows do not is that it touched its audience emotionally and now it’s touching a whole new generation in the same way. Those emotions create more of an attachment and a passion than any other element of The X-Files ever could. Other shows may scare you, other shows may have fabulous writing, but how many other shows illicit such powerful nostalgia in its fans? Does that nostalgia come just because it was well done, or like Proust eating the madeleine, is it purely the idealized glow of memory? I believe it’s because X-Philes have a genuine love and affection for this show largely created from the nature of the relationship between its two leads. And whether that’s a relationship you would have preferred stay platonic or whether you watch every episode for the barest hint of romance between the two, it’s a powerful one; one that many would like to see repeated in their own lives whether in friendship or in love.
Beyond the Sea?
I’ve been an X-Phile since I was 13 going on 21, but I purposefully stayed away from boards and chatrooms when I was younger so as to avoid spoilers and, er, adult conversation. By the time I decided joined the internet fandom, long after the show went off the air, I was surprised to find that Noromos3 weren’t an extinct species.
This leads me to the main, most practical reason why MSR is all around us: It won. Even creator Chris Carter, self-avowed Noromo, is a full-fledged convert as anyone who’s seen I Want to Believe can attest. The creators are Shippers, the writers are Shippers, the actors are Shippers, and the studio has been fighting for a Ship since the conception of the show. If you’re still trying to stick to your Noromo guns, you’re swimming up a very strong stream.
Is it really so bad? I too, as a Shipper, often wish it were easier to draw others into a conversation about more than just how long Mulder and Scully held their gaze. But the show was at its best even with blatant Shippiness going on of which Fight the Future is evidence. Like it or not, MSR has been integral to the success of the series and if it’s overplayed now, we can’t begrudge our fellow fans their fun. After all, it happened. There’s no undoing it. And as Mulder said, “The world didn’t end.”
The war is over. The North won. The South shall not rise again.
1. Mulder and Scully Romance
2. Unresolved Sexual Tension
3. No Romance – Those who prefer a platonic relationship.