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They Wanted to Believe: How Mulder and Scully Were Almost the New Robsten

Posted: 20/08/2012 00:00

Four days ago Gillian Anderson issued a statement on her website decrying her annoyance over how she was being talked about in certain articles.

However, what she did not mention was the recent, and very excited reporting of a supposed relationship between Anderson and former X-Files co-star David Duchovny (a rumour since debunked by representatives from both camps). The moment the rumour surfaced that an on-screen couple from a show that ended a decade ago might have become an off-screen couple it was being covered by news outlets worldwide, from The Guardian to Gawker.

Considering the amount of press attention the story got it seems half of the western world's journalists were big fans of the 90s phenomenon-but more than that they were shippers (shippers, in case you're not sure, are those who invest in relationships rather than narrative when consuming texts both real and fictional). The idea that Mulder and Scully, a couple who barely got to be a couple on the show, might have finally fallen in love was a dream come true. It was a fairy tale, and if shippers deal in anything it's the fairy tale of a love that shouldn't be finally being realised. It's no real surprise that The X-Files managed to cultivate shippers who would still care this much a decade later, after all one of its slogans was "I want to believe".

During the time the show was on air shipping was something rarely talked about, especially outside of fan circles. Articles mentioned 'fans' who liked the idea of Mulder and Scully becoming a couple and jokes were made about the actors, but it was never talked about seriously. Back then that sort of fandom was something nerds did in some place called the World Wide Web, now it's what millions of people do every day. The fact that talk of Mulder and Scully was seamlessly interwoven into pieces about Anderson and Duchovny shows how familiar we are now with the blurred lines being drawn between character and actor. As Jessica Reed's Guardian blog post reads: " Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) of The X-Files are an item. In real life".

In the wake of Robsten and the complexity of Twilight fans' consumption of fictional text and 'real life' relationships as extensions of each other, is it any surprise that people are now more willing to admit to their active role as shippers? What was once the domain of nerds and losers is now the common practice of millions of teen fans. It's still seen as 'uncool' and every article in which the writer admits to being a shipper is couched in language of shame and embarrassment, but the tides are turning. Media outlets are finally clueing into the fact that shippers mean big business. Every year now the major US TV websites (Eonline, TVLine, Zimbio) all hold polls for fans to decide their favourite couples, and the speed with which news outlets grabbed onto the Anderson/Duchovny story just proves that they thought it would bring traffic. Shippers are dedicated and zealous and as the marketing department of Twilight can probably attest, it's good to have them on your side.

The kids of Tumblr are now learning that they were by no means the first people to spend countless hours imagining the lives of couples both 'fictional' and 'real'.

I've written before about the power of, and creativity abundant in, shipping but what's fascinating about this particular moment is the historical context it provides. The extent to which the proliferation of Internet access has effected these kinds of fan practices is immeasurable.

These X-Files fans were shippers before most of the lexicon of shipping had even been invented, practitioners of nascent cultural rituals that would soon be part of the fabric of our understanding of media consumption. The portmanteau name was still a few years off and the idea of sites like fanfiction.net and Tumblr a dream yet to be realised. No wonder the idea of a real life Anderson/Duchovny relationship overjoyed so many; had it not been dismissed so soon it would have given them a chance to actively participate in their fandom in the current golden age of internet fan practices. we have to remember that the people upset by the breakup of Robsten are not doing anything that other fans haven't been doing for decades.

The 'outing' of these fans shows that this ardour doesn't die. It would seem once a shipper, always a shipper.

 

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