X-Files fans were split into Mulder & Scully shippers vs. non-shippers

September 10 marked the 30th anniversary of the very first TV show that I ever loved, The X-Files. And since that fateful Friday night in 1993, “The X-Files” became a both cultural phenomenon and cult classic. There was the Simpsons crossover and the shoutout in Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.” It helped perfect the alternating mythology/Monster-of-the-Week genre and shape Internet fandoms and culture. There were even college courses taught about it. “LOST” may have had the whole Man of Science vs. Man of Faith arc, but Scully and Mulder did it first and did it sexier.

One of the biggest cultural impacts that the X-Files had actually comes from X-Philes (X-Files fans). They coined the terms “ship” or “shipping,” which refers to wanting characters to get together romantically. In this case, X-Philes were divided into fans who wanted to see Mulder and Scully get together and fans who didn’t. Remember the episode “Triangle” and how that gave each side what they wanted? The shipping debate was a whole thing.

What began as a cult favorite became so ubiquitous that the series — along with the iconic duo of Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) — became household names to fans and non-viewers alike. The lead pair’s will-they-won’t-they chemistry and the debate surrounding their relationship changed the language used by fandoms. With Mulder positioned as the believer and Scully as the skeptic, audiences were treated to compelling character dynamics — including questions about the nature of their relationship — in addition to conspiracy-laden and often-spooky storylines.

Talk to an X-Phile today and you’ll still get an array of opinions over Mulder and Scully’s relationship, which began as a friendship with elements of “UST” — unresolved sexual tension, as fan sites called it — and culminated in romance, in a way only “The X-Files” could portray one, after many seasons.
Fans were largely divided into two camps: Relationshippers — eventually shortened to “shippers” — who clung to every long look or feisty exchange between Mulder and Scully as evidence of the pair’s undying love for one another. The anti-romance crowd, or “noromos,” preferred focusing on alien conspiracies and monsters — or simply making fun of shippers.

“I couldn’t stand that shipper stuff,” said Don Presnell, a senior lecturer at University College at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. “That’s not what the show was about.”

But there’s no denying how much the online discourse revolved around the Mulder/Scully pairing, whether it involved shippers and noromos good-naturedly (or in all seriousness) “flaming” each other in online forums, or Mulder/Scully fanfiction, or fan videos set to schmaltzy love songs. “The X-Files” was not the first or last show to get viewers invested in the relationship of fictional leads, but the term “shipper” moved beyond online Philes’ inner circle and began to be used by fans of everything from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to the “Harry Potter” series. It’s now a commonly used word in fan culture and recognized by multiple dictionaries.

“Whenever I see people online using the word ‘shippers’ or ‘shipping this couple or that couple,’ I feel a sense of pride,” said Eileen Pereira of Nevada. “I know I’m not the creator of these chat phrases and words, but I was part of the group that helped to initiate it into the online lexicon. I’ll see it in print and think, ‘Yup, we did that. We started that.’”

[From CNN]

So, “The X-Files” was my first fandom. My dad and I watched my very first episode on my birthday in 1998, and I was hooked. It was Season 5, so I spent hours watching FX marathons, renting from the library, and scouring early Internet fan websites and message boards learning all that I could about the show to catch up as much as possible before the movie came out and Season 6 started. I bought so many books, too, all of which I still have! I thought Duchovny, Anderson, and Nicholas Lea were all SO hot. I remember the shipper debates online and earnestly discussing them with a friend in school. She was a fierce non-shipper. I was a wishy-washy shipper that wanted them to hook up but wouldn’t have been devastated if they didn’t. Ah, memories of the heyday of early Internet fandoms. What a time. You know, I still want to believe.


Photos credit: Diyah Pera/Twentieth Century Fox / Avalon, Kred, PacificCoastNews / Avalon

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