The Shipper ‘Issue’ Part 2 – Notes from the Dark Side


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?

Youngins Aboard

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.

.

.

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Key:

1. Mulder and Scully Romance

2. Unresolved Sexual Tension

3. No Romance – Those who prefer a platonic relationship.

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15 responses to “The Shipper ‘Issue’ Part 2 – Notes from the Dark Side

  1. Hum… you’re right… for some reasons but in fact, you’re wrong
    “female audiences are more interested in romance than are male audiences… particularly young female audiences.” Yes, of course and the xphiles of 21st century are mostly girls ! And the discussions are about MSR and that’s all . The result is : XFIles 2 : a tribute to MSR
    So the writers, the creator are not shippers! they are UST or noromo, the only way XFiles is about shipper is in the eyes of shippers ! All the scenes of the first seasons are not shipeprs except for shippers. Because shippers want a END of the relation : love. Noromos want one thing : U S T. Because the quality never decline when UST is written in a good mood.

    • Technically I’m supposed to be working right now, so I won’t get too in depth… but…

      “Yes, of course and the xphiles of 21st century are mostly girls !”

      The 20th Century X-Philes were mostly made up of women too. The Never-Ending Story.

      “The result is : XFIles 2 : a tribute to MSR”

      Yeeeah, pretty much.

      “So the writers, the creator are not shippers! they are UST or noromo, the only way XFiles is about shipper is in the eyes of shippers !”

      There’s where I have to beg to differ. I don’t have time to post quotes, but if you run a quick Youtube search I think you’ll find that CC has become a full-fledged convert. Frank Spotnitz even more so. And those two are the driving force behind the show at this point. Also, not all Shippers wanted a resolution to MSR before the end of the series. There are Shipper sub-categories that will take too long to get into. By the same token, not all Noromos wanted UST either.

  2. Of course, its a good idea to debate about that 15 years later 🙂 It’s the X-Universe 🙂

  3. thrid part : MSR means MS relation for me :/

  4. Your words SO match my thoughts and feelings. I was 15 – 23 during XF’s original run and I spent 90% of an episode looking out for shippy moments. The Mulder/Scully relationship really touched me and I’d never seen anything like it. Only later from my 3rd or 4th rewatch-sessions on I started to watch for other aspects, the case, plot holes, cinematography etc. But that made me like The X-Files even more because I found I enjoyed that too. Now I’ve started rewatching again and still find new aspects to look for, thanks to your reviews. I consider myself a moderate shipper because I think the love wasn’t there from the start. I like the way it was handled on the show, with a relationship only at the end and the subtlety about it, bc I like UST too. So MSR is what makes X-Files unique for me too and no other TV series ever has me obsessed like X-Files because of it.

  5. Wow, this is a great piece and I love a lot of what you said here. I just want to clarify something though, I am not a Noromos, I am a shipper, I enjoy the romance, the UST and the eventual development into something more, as I’ve said, I just wish the dominant discussions that we all have about the show could be more than just about the romance. 202 episodes of thought provoking, intelligent television and most often than the not the discussions are on the same thing.

    But this is great writing Salome, and I love how you point out that whilst every other element of the show, from the scares and the mythologised mysteries have been applied to other shows, it’s the relationship element that hasn’t and you’re completely right there, the Mulder/Scully dynamic is one of a kind in this genre and that’s a good thing for the series to have. The only series that has ridden in The X Files shadow and has a great relationship at its heart is probably Supernatural, and that’s a completely different dynamic as the two leads are brothers. The X Files presented a great love story to go with the scares, the mysteries and the quirky laughs and that’s what makes it unique I think.

    • Heaven forbid. I have too much respect for your taste to think of you as a Noromo. ;o)

      But I really do think Mulder and Scully were the best team since Kirk and Spock. Their dynamic elevated even the worst episodes. Whether it’s friendship, romance or family, audiences respond to unity in all its forms; it touches some part of us to see a team where each loves the other more than themselves. Producers and writers can’t plan the great ones either. They have to work out that way.

  6. Reading your review, I must admit I’m a fan of records x from 14 years ago, when I began to see and although 18 years have passed, the excitement of seeing them again and discover that I am not the only one who suffers from the same ( x fever as it is called mania) does not make me feel like a freak.
    The series caught my attention for the kind of people who ran, I’m hardly in favor of thriller movies but from the first episode I saw fascinated me and from there became as something essential for me, the day that passed could not lose, but when I saw that there was much chemistry between Mulder and Scully and that’s what I finish hooked until the end …
    Suffered in each chapter when they were in danger, when she was abducted suffered the pain felt mulder and when he disappeared and was injured, scully how to manage your emotions of anguish and pain .. fully lived all the emotions that Mulder and Scully went into the season ..
    The way they handled in a platonic friendship and unconditional love has turned into a total and passionate between Mulder and Scully in a way so subtle, I have not found again in any series
    x files was a watershed as far as TV series and there will be concerns program that is match.
    although 9 years end, still weighing their presence in chat rooms and I am glad to see that there are blogs dedicated to this wonderful series.

  7. I am a shipper but The X-Files got me with Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man. More than being a shipper, I think most of us watched the show because it is a great show. The X-Files have always been know for the conspiracies, the paranormal, the scary stories etc etc. but there will always be the MSR factor. It’s a good thing. Noromos are the ones who keep on focusing on the shipping as far as I am concerned. lol. It really would not even be an issue if they won’t criticies the ship. If they don’t care much about the ships, then they should just hush it.

  8. I am a shipper too, and the first episode I remember watching was Irresistible. I’ve been watching XF since I was 11 (seriously who let me watch at that age?! So scary!) and I’m 26 now. I really got into the mythology stuff and I think the MSR was almost inevitable, even before it became for real, you know? I thought the MSR part was a nice addition to the entire series, though I think CC never made it a focal point. I didn’t even think IWTB made it a focal point – it was just much more obvious then.

    I appreciated, even though I ship them so much it hurts, that Chris Carter chose to make it subtle. I hate shows now – like Bones, etc, that make romance a bigger point, and almost gives it all away up front. Television post-XF has lost the art of subtlety, and I miss it. It made you more excited to come back next week to see what was next. The connection, because it was built over the span of so many years and because of so many harrowing events, it seems so much more genuine than the other ships you see on TV series today.

    Fanfiction has become an MSR focal point, though I am choosy about what I read and I am even choosier about what I write in my own fics. I have come across some awesome casefics that involved MSR, and those are my favorite. I think the focal point in fanfic is mostly MSR because of how subtle it was in the show. There are unanswered questions about their relationship and many people write about how they think or feel it all unfolded (I mean, how many of us have read a post-“all things” fic?).

    Besides, I feel like at least on Gossamer, for every 2 MSR stories, there is 1 Mulder/Krycek story… o.O

    • “I appreciated, even though I ship them so much it hurts, that Chris Carter chose to make it subtle. I hate shows now – like Bones, etc, that make romance a bigger point, and almost gives it all away up front. Television post-XF has lost the art of subtlety, and I miss it. It made you more excited to come back next week to see what was next.”

      YES. Too many shows now give away their hand up front trying to purposefully engender attachment in fans. M&S were unplanned and I think that was ultimately their greatest asset. And as hard as I shipped them, I never, ever wanted their relationship to dominate the show. If The X-Files had turned into a romantic drama it would have killed me.

      “The connection, because it was built over the span of so many years and because of so many harrowing events, it seems so much more genuine than the other ships you see on TV series today.”

      Exactly. I didn’t want Mulder and Scully to be together because they were cute. They had earned it, dang it.

      “I think the focal point in fanfic is mostly MSR because of how subtle it was in the show. There are unanswered questions about their relationship and many people write about how they think or feel it all unfolded”

      I hadn’t thought of that but I think you’re absolutely right. Fans had to create their own fix because The X-Files tantalized and teased more than it fulfilled.

  9. I can’t resist leaving comments on these threads even when it’s been so long since the original post or the last comment…

    This is all interesting to me because I seem to fit into the emerging pattern of young (well, I’m 28) women whose fandom has only really flourished post-series.

    I was 9 in 1993, but of course aware of the X-Files though I wasn’t allowed to watch it. Aged 16, me and my friend suddenly got obsessed with the show. Series 6 and 7 were running as repeats late on Friday nights which we’d watch together when we had sleepovers. Without DVDs or online video really being a thing yet, our access to the show was limited, and then when series 8 landed it pretty quickly ended any ongoing fandom for us. I’m a geeky person, I’ve ALWAYS got a book or TV show that I’m obsessed with, so with the disappointment of season 8 prompting me, X-Files love got put on the back burner for – well, I guess about 12 years (Agh tiiime). When I Want To Believe came out it barely registered on me; I certainly didn’t considered seeing it at the cinema.

    (On a side note, the indifference of someone like me – a one-time enthusiastic fan of the show – towards the film might say a lot about its marketing, timing and execution. But I digress.)

    Eamon ponders why the shippiness of the X-Files is so enduringly celebrated, above all the other fine qualities it had as a show. I think this is kind of the fate of all pop culture. Pop culture is by nature transient, however good. The horror, plotting, mystery, comedy and directing of the X-Files was pretty consistently excellent, but by dint of the show’s very success, all of these have been equalled and bettered since. I’m not saying there’s a single show out there that does all of these things to the same quality that TXF did them, but like Eamon says – if you’re looking for any one or two of these things, there’s plenty of great modern shows that provide them.

    Mystery, horror, comedy, atmosphere – all of these are general, open resources which writers good and bad can go. There’ll always be another good writer covering the same territory in any of these genres, and building on what’s been done with new good writing. The stories of the X-Files were excellent but they are all dated not by content but by the fact that they exist in an ongoing evolution of genre storytelling.

    Eventually, the only thing that a show can do that cannot be bettered is the particularity of a character, or a set of characters, and their relationships.

    After all, The X-Files isn’t alone in being a text better remembered in its dominant character dynamic than in its story: Star Trek: TOS
    is best remembered for Kirk/Spock. The Sherlock Holmes mysteries have been adapted several times recently and in each there are only passing nods to the canon mysteries – but the Holmes/Watson interplay is always lovingly rendered.

    What remains, when the very fame and success of a franchise have made the stories kinda redundant, are the characters, and their relationships to each other.

    I also think its a mistake to assume that because there’s a visible focus on the shippiness within the ongoing fandom, that people aren’t appreciating the rest of the show. I myself am on my first really thorough pilot-to-movie-2 watch of the show, and if I was living for the shippy moments, seasons 1 and 2 would have been a slog. Actually, I’ve been enjoying the X-Files just as Chris Carter originally intended – for the mystery, SF and horror, with Mulder and Scully’s relationship an interesting side-note. I’m an avowed shipper, but that doesn’t mean it’s the thing I care only – or even most – about when presented with the full context of the show

    I’m not even sure what being an X-Files shipper means any more. ‘Shipping’ feels like a term to describe ones hopes for the characters and since the X-Files (at least in the form we once knew it) is kind of a closed book, how can one hope for any development? The final answer is that Mulder and Scully got together. Even if there was a third film where they’d broken up again, it wouldn’t change the fact that they eventually got together. The shippers were exonerated – like you say, that probably contributes to the enduring shippiness of the fandom (although if they had left things open-ended, don’t you think the relationship obsession would be all the greater?)

    (As for my shippiness… I always thrilled at every little romantic note between the pair and believed them to be, basically, in love and all the rest of it. But actually seeing them together was pretty much as depressing as I always suspected it might be. I liked how the writers treated things in series 7 – where they had gone from will they/won’t they to are/they/aren’t they/(they are). So I’m a shipper who never wanted them to overtly be together. I Want To Believe makes a sad bookend to my X-Files shipping by giving me what I, in theory, wanted.)

    • 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

      • I’m going to second that ovation because I just read this and it’s everything I should have written, with the partial exception of IWTB. I think its MSR faults have less to do with them being together and more to do with CC not leaving well enough alone.

        Love it!

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