Early in the spring of 1999, a friend of mine e-mailed me about her increasingly fan-like interest in "Sports Night," ABC's now defunct half-hour comedy/drama created by Aaron Sorkin. Noting her subsequent combing of the web for information on the series, she wrote: "I'm stopping. I'm still going to love the show and I'm going to read anything I see in magazines, etc., but I am not searching the web anymore. It makes me feel like there is actually a relationship between me and the show." Thinking of my own experience with The X-Files, I posed the following question, both as a joke at my expense and a serious response to her brush with media fandom: "Do you mean there 'isn't' a relationship between me and the show?"1 To me, the implication of her choice was clear: the experience of being a fan is predicated upon precisely this construction of some sort of connection-an emotional and intellectual investment-between the viewer and the text that prompts the individual to explore his or her engagement with the given object of interest. Whether or not the individual ever participates in any fan communities, access to the Internet and an impulse to run a search on Yahoo! gives the would-be fan a concentration of information that can facilitate the creation of a fan identity. But a viewer without this relationship "between me and the show," no matter how much she or he loved a given series, would not be a fan at all.2
Theories about fandom, from Janice Radway's Reading the Romance to Constance Penley's influential work on slash fanfiction, offer us descriptions of the activities of fandom through which we can assign significance to this experience of a relationship "between me and the show," however ephemeral and conflicted such a relationship may be.3 In many ways, this article proceeds no differently: My project is to read the activity on alt.tv.x-files and alt.tv.x-files.analysis as representative of what John Fiske calls the "productivity [that] occurs at the interface between the industrially produced cultural commodity (narrative, music, star, etc.) and the everyday life of the fan" ("The Cultural Economy of Fandom," 37). Specifically, I argue that in the long-running debates over the current status and future direction of Mulder and Scully's relationship, we see the ideology of The X-Files-what I will define as its investment in intersubjectivity as contextualized by both the show's conspiratorial tone and unclosed narratives-intersect with the experiences of fandom. The productivity of online X-Files fandom, including the very terminology through which X-Philes describe themselves, further suggests how we can refine our understanding of the styles of engagement with popular culture that the relationship "between me and the show" represents.
As one might expect, X-philedom creates close, and at times, contentious connections to the culture industries through the fans' own positionings of series creator Chris Carter and his production company, Ten Thirteen.4 The terms of the attachment that fans create between themselves and the series, however, are not solely the domain of fandom; they are also present in the series. The easily accessed fandom that exists on the Internet offers Ten Thirteen the impression that their audience is not, as Fiske writes, "ultimately unknowable" ("Popular Narrative and Commercial Television," 144), but instead can be incorporated within the narrative of the series itself: Since season three, The X-Files has attempted to articulate the position occupied by the online contingent related to its own popularity. Fiske writes, "the economic imperative of the culture industries requires them to strive constantly to produce commodities that people will make popular" ("Popular Narrative and Commercial Television," 144), and in this article, I read the very specific production of the popular that is made visible by the activity on Internet newsgroups dedicated to Fox's long-running series. But I also ask what effect the kind of popularity that fandom represents has had on this particular televisual narrative, and in turn, how that effect-as a representation of the relationship between The X-Files and X-Philes-is welcomed or criticized by the online fan.5
Both journalists and academics frequently turn to the popularity of The X-Files as a reference point for their assessment of the series' cultural and theoretical significance. Such attention, however, to the series' ability to "succeed both within the television mainstream and its marginal currents" (Bertsch, 108), tends to conflate two distinct indications of the show's prominence. When viewers, journalists, and academics ask what The X-Files means to us at our particular cultural moment, the differences between the series' recent status as a Nielsen top 20 television show and a cult phenomenon are elided in order to emphasize the significance of its content. Typically, the focus on content then leads back to the show's dominant narrative of conspiratorial government agencies obscuring the possible existence of alien life, the overarching plot that Carter calls the "mythology" (and which is often referred to as the myth arc). An abridged account of the specifics of that content (through the beginning of season eight) looks something like this: Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a "medical doctor with a background in hard science," is assigned to "debunk" ("Redux") the work of Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) on the FBI's "X-Files" (unsolved cases with a paranormal bent). Mulder, we learn, is drawn to the X-Files by his belief that his sister Samantha was abducted by aliens when he was twelve; Scully, despite her skepticism toward the supposedly unexplained, is too ethical an investigator to ignore the validity of Mulder's work, though she often disagrees with his conclusions and frequently suffers personal and professional consequences as a result of her involvement with him.6 This believer/skeptic dichotomy frames the relationship between Mulder and Scully as they are forced to negotiate each new twist to the conspiracy (recently focused on the impending colonization of Earth by an alien race that may also be the original inhabitant of the planet) propagated by the Syndicate, a multinational group of elderly white men in league with the aliens and attempting both to stall and advance colonization through sinister means. Since season six, however, we have witnessed the denouement of portions of the myth arc ("Two Fathers" and "One Son" saw the Syndicate destroyed by the faceless alien rebels; "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" presented Mulder's spiritual resolution of his sister Samantha's disappearance) and the emergence of new story lines and characters as a result of Mulder's abduction, Scully's pregnancy, and the Cigarette-Smoking Man's apparent death. Along the way, we have seen various mutations of the black oil (currently presumed to be a virus, the alien life force called "Purity"), the interference of the faceless alien rebels with the Syndicate's "Project," World War II Axis scientists pursuing their human experimentation in the United States, abductees dying of cancer, the alien bounty hunter tracking down an alien baseball player, and a whole host of clones and hybrids.7 Meanwhile, in the so-called Monster of the Week episodes that make up the majority of the series' first seven seasons, the myth arc is effectively put on hold while Mulder and Scully pursue isolated X-Files such as a blind woman who can see through her father's eyes and a human-sized flukeworm inhabiting the sewers of New Jersey.
The focus on the content of the myth arc of The X-Files that various cultural commentators and critics adopt suggests specific ideological functions of the series. Prior to the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, Ten Thirteen's feature film that bridged the gap between seasons five and six, both Newsweek and the New York Times Magazine hypothesized that the opaque, conspiracy-laden content of The X-Files is in fact nostalgia for the simplicity of Cold War purposefulness: "a tidy, curiously comforting way to view the universe...someone's in control, even if he's evil" (Alter, 76). Similarly, the editors of Deny All Knowledge, a collection of academic essays on the series, write that the show "privileges human power and control... and avoids sending anyone into ontological shock" (12).8 According to these readings, The X-Files presents a narrative in which menacing cultural tropes such as aliens, cancer, and conspiracies are contained by an implied (if partially unknown) web of meaning created by the narrative of the show.9 No less a theorist than Slavoj Zizek, using The X-Files to explicate the ambiguity of symbolic authority, writes of the myth arc, "the situation has to remain open, undecidable: if the gaps were to be filled in here, if we were to learn the true state of things, the entire symbolic universe of X-Files [sic] would disintegrate" (157). For the myth arc of The X-Files to remain effective, it must be amorphous, powerful "as a promise or threat of its full display" (Zizek, 158). The series thus uses the conspiracy to gesture toward a hidden, imagined order that underlies the disorder present in both the fictional world of The X-Files and the real world of our own cultural context, all the while letting the viewer believe in the veiled "full display" implied by the fact that he or she, as with Mulder, has "seen more than he should" (The X-Files: Fight the Future). The convoluted, threateningly unresolvable conspiracy plot is a necessary condition for the illusion of explanation we are offered by the series' overarching narrative.
With its oft-repeated slogans such as "The Truth is out there," "I want to believe," and "Trust no one," The X-Files certainly seems to pose both questions and answers to its audience about our now postmillennial, postmodern cultural moment; I am, however, inclined to resist these somewhat reductive analyses of the show as comforting because they decontextualize the mythology of The X-Files on two fronts, pushing to the side both its nonmythological content and the heterogeneity of its viewership. Some viewers don't really follow the minutiae of the conspiracy; some conspiracy episodes function more to develop what we know of Mulder and Scully's relationship than of the Syndicate's role (see "Wetwired"). Robert Markley complicates the dominant ideological reading of the series explicitly: He writes, The X-Files "draw[s] its viewers into the discourses of theory" by asking questions that can only be answered through "exploring the interpenetrating semiotics of popular culture and theory, cheap thrills and complex analyses, commercial success and critical reflection" (78).10 That is, in contrast to its representation of an ordered-though-evil world, The X-Files can be read as a popular narrative that, for some viewers, asks not just that they indulge in conspiratorial fantasies, but that they acknowledge the interpretive demands those fantasies entail: Viewers are asked to remember (or forget) details from past episodes; they are confronted with Ten Thirteen's legendary inconsistencies; and they must watch Mulder and Scully put the conspiracy on hold while they go about their "everyday" work of investigating Monsters of the Week.11 Watching The X-Files can offer the pleasure not just of an illusion of meaning, but of participating in the sometimes difficult process of creating meaning from the show's representation of the unknown.
The series' emphasis on this constructive process extends not just to Monsters of the Week and the motivations of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, but to the unknown future of Mulder and Scully's famously platonic relationship. As with any full clarification of the conspiracy, the resolution of the will-they-or-won't-they, have-they-or-haven't-they relationship between Mulder and Scully seems destined to be forever deferred. Given Carter's conflicting comments on whether or not Mulder and Scully have slept together (a possibility suggested by Scully's pregnancy and the season seven episode "all things"), continued deferral remains feasible even as the series moves toward resolution.12 This ongoing lack of definition of the relationship, however, keeps our focus on what we do know: Mulder and Scully care for each other a great deal. The relationship offers the appealing premise that an emotional connection between two individuals can actually matter in the big, conspiratorial scheme of things that the show presents; their partnership can be read, therefore, as an illusion of significance, just as for some critics, the conspiracy represents an illusion of order. However, it is precisely this insistence on the global-historical importance of Mulder and Scully's personal connection that signals the importance the series places on the relationship as a compelling space through which the meanings and configurations of such connections between individuals is negotiated. In other words, whether or not relationships such as Mulder and Scully's can really matter in an historical sense, we nevertheless know they are supposed to matter to us because the relationship is so inextricably linked to the conspiracy: In the film, both Mulder's and Scully's affirmations of their commitment to the X-Files ("If I quit now, they win") come with attempts at physical intimacy, and, from Mulder anyway, love-like declarations ("You make me a whole person"). Similarly, in 1998's "Triangle," Mulder clearly aligns his love for Scully with both her historical importance and her belief in him. Just before he tells her he loves her, he insists, "You saved the world, Scully...I would've never seen you again. But you believed me."
The attention to the relationship that we see in later seasons and the film is indicative of the conceptual importance that the series places on Mulder and Scully's connection to each other. Such focus is also, however, an attempt to capitalize on the unresolved sexual tension that exists between the two leads. Carter and Ten Thirteen, for economic as well as thematic reasons, have been somewhat adverse to giving a definitive answer on the status or future of Mulder and Scully's relationship. It's a nontraditional romance that has conveniently fostered traditional viewer interest in whether or not Mulder and Scully end up together.13 To the extent that Carter and Ten Thirteen have gradually presented a more defined relationship, we see the series' writers and producers struggling not just with a possible resolution of the relationship and the narratives in The X-Files, but with their concerns for the aging series' continuing economic viability, particularly as they are forced to contend with Duchovny's limited involvement with season eight.14 If, however, the purposefully undefined relationship keeps viewers tuning in to monitor its progress, it has also allowed the series to concentrate on the dynamics of this relationship. As with the conspiracy, the exploration of the relationship becomes a site through which viewers can become aware of their own participation in the construction of meanings and the assignment of significance to the narratives that the series leaves open. Certain episodes specifically point viewers in this direction. Ten Thirteen, though seemingly loathe to resolve the sexual tension between Mulder and Scully, has from time to time attempted to manipulate and refine the parameters of Mulder and Scully's personal and professional partnership. In addition to the obvious redefinitions resulting from Mulder's possible involvement with Scully's pregnancy, the show has, since the first season, presented mirror couples (romantic and platonic) with which to compare the Mulder/Scully relationship.15 Although early in the series' run these comparisons-as with those in "Firewalker" and "Aubrey"-often depict the physical and emotional costs exacted from a female coworker's involvement with her male superior (professionally and personally), later episodes offer extended examinations of the complicated processes through which one individual can love, or at least relate to, another. Rhonda Wilcox and J. P. Williams write, '"What do you think?' are the words they [Mulder and Scully] perhaps most often address to each other, and it seems they really want to know" (115-116). To put it another way, borrowing from the language of psychoanalysis, what we see on The X-Files is the representation of "an intersubjective space" in which one is allowed "to hold multiple positions, to tolerate non-identity rather than wipe out the position of self or other" (Benjamin, 107).16 The X-Files asks us to take love, as a manifestation of intersubjectivity, seriously.
Love on The X-Files walks the line between the dangers created by an inability to believe or communicate with the affectively charged other-which the series often codes as a crisis of trust between Mulder and Scully (most notably in "Ice," "Anasazi," "Wetwired," and "The Beginning") and the obliteration of subjectivity itself threatened by a too-close connection between individuals. Thus, to contextualize Mulder and Scully's relationship, season five's "Kill Switch" negotiates the problematic link between love and individual identity by using a pair of computer hackers who want to be uploaded into an Internet-based artificial intelligence (AI) in order to transcend the bodily limits of human relationships. Esther Nairn, "Kill Switch's" protagonist, explains it to Scully this way: "Imagine being mingled so completely with another, you no longer need your physical self. You're one." The episode, however, insists that Mulder and Scully's connection to each other is not based on the desire to be one that their hacker foils have; rather, it is their ability to recognize each other individually that makes their communication and, ultimately, their survival possible. Mulder, trapped by the A1 in a computer-generated virtual reality, hallucinates his own rescue by a furious, demanding, kickboxing Scully. The AI has manipulated Mulder's thoughts and images of her in order to produce what we assume is an idealized, fantasy Scully into Mulder's virtual reality. Mulder, however, realizes this Scully isn't real and kicks her away from him, effectively disrupting the illusion the AI-and Mulder's fantasy-have created. Once he recognizes the difference between his virtual hallucination and where he really is, Mulder begins calling for Scully, who hears his shouts and comes to his rescue. In the meantime, we see Esther upload her consciousness in order to join with her lover by merging with the AI. If "Kill Switch," by allowing Esther to accomplish her goal, idealizes this moment of transcendence, it is nevertheless Mulder and Scully's ability to recognize the reality of each other's specificity-based on a shared history of interaction, not a hallucinated projection of internal fantasies-that the episode offers as a viable model of intersubjective experience.
It is not surprising that The X-Flies frequently turns to hallucinations and misrecognitions such as we see in "Kill Switch" as a means to explore the dynamics of trust and belief in Mulder and Scully's relationship. Given the series' emphasis in the conspiracy arc on the process of negotiating the unknowable, the reliance on this motif is a particularly apt way to explore their relationship as a negotiation of the unknowable other.17 The X-Files destabilizes individual identity both to problematize and stress the importance of the intersubjective space. Hallucinated and mistaken identities enunciate the impossibility of our knowing the other, and simultaneously insisting that our attempts to know and engage with each other are nevertheless absolutely necessary. Maggie Helwig, an alt.tv.x-files.analysis participant, writes that Mulder and Scully both have "to deal with... the difficult truth that another person may love you, but that person cannot be you" (8 November 1998); The X-Files depicts the difficulties of our attempts at intersubjectivity by dramatizing the difference between our engagement with the other and the other we imagine.18 The recourse to hallucination and misrecognitions imperils, and then affirms, the possibility that one can trust and believe in, or perhaps even for, the other without making that other into what you want them to be. The conspiracy tells us to "trust no one"; Mulder and Scully's relationship tells us to trust the one we love. In fact, it is only through such trust that Mulder and Scully are able to survive in the gothicized, conspiratorial reality of The X-Files.
The season six episode "Field Trip" presents this trust between Mulder and Scully as that which grounds them in the nonunderstandable and dangerous reality they share. In the episode, Mulder and Scully must recognize the imagined versus the real other in order to navigate a series of hallucinations brought on by their entrapment in a large, underground fungus. Playing off the established roles of skeptic and believer, the episode presents Mulder's and Scully's individual hallucinations as unsatisfying wish fulfillments. Mulder imagines leading Scully into his bedroom (an interesting choice of rooms that is not lost on newsgroup audiences) to show her a gray alien that he has abducted, and now speaks to telepathically. But when Scully concedes, "I don't know what to say, Mulder. Where to begin. I mean, you... you were right. All these years, you were right." Mulder replies: "That... doesn't sound like you, Scully... I can't believe you're buying this." Similarly, in Scully's hallucination, Mulder dies and a grieving Scully finds her-self surrounded with people who believe her scientific explanation for Mulder's death without hesitation or discussion. Far from being comforted by widespread agreement with her findings, Scully is frustrated by the lack of dialogue that her investigation produces. Mulder's reality becomes questionable when Scully doesn't sound like Scully; Scully's scientific view of the world is destabilized and meaningless in Mulder's absence.
In "Kill Switch," misrecognition of the other (and of reality itself) is resolved by the individual's realization of discrepancy between fantasy and reality. "Field Trip"'s conclusion, however, depends on Mulder and Scully's ability to recognize their hallucinatory state and negotiate it together. Midway through the episode, their hallucinations merge, and we see the real Scully arrive at Mulder's apartment and challenge his explanation of the episode's events as well as their very presence in Mulder's apartment. Mulder's and Scully's individual hallucinations are invaded by the real other, thus creating a shared fantasy that their real selves must negotiate in order to return to reality. Their well-established complementary investigative methods, as well as their ability to know each other and to navigate an uncertain reality together, eventually result in their rescue. In the final shot we see Mulder and Scully alone in the back of an ambulance, each reaching out to find the other's hand, affirming both their reality and their connection. As viewers, however, we have no reason to believe that this ending is not another hallucination, and the uncertainty we are left with emphasizes the extent to which Mulder and Scully's reliance on each other is as limited as it is unavoidable.
The stylized rescue, in which Mulder and Scully are loaded into the back of an ambulance strangely devoid of equipment and without any attending paramedics, suggests that we question their return to "reality." Mark Wildermuth writes of season five's "Folie a Deux" (an episode similar to "Field Trip" in its depiction of possible hallucinations): "Mulder and Scully's usually successful dialogism seems to break down... the two characters... seem 'enmeshed'... as if they were members of a family unit whose personality boundaries are extremely thin and permeable" (155). This breakdown, he argues, isolates Mulder and Scully, trapping them in a reality only the two of them share, cut off from the rest of the world. I would argue, however, that despite this dark assessment of intersubjectivity as a "madness shared by two," "Folie a Deux," like "Field Trip," reinscribes this "madness" of Mulder and Scully's reliance on each other by emphasizing that their emotional connection is a necessary condition for their survival. In "Folie a Deux" Mulder pleads with Scully to believe in the monsters he sees by claiming she's his "one in five billion;" her belief saves him. In "Field Trip," they reach out to hold each other's hands; the uncertainty of their journey away from the site of their hallucinations is shared. The series suggests that without such a reliance on, and recognition of, the other, there can be no meaningful engagement with any reality, stable or unstable, such as it is presented in the narratives of The X-Files. The affectively charged relationship between Mulder and Scully grounds the series' presentation of the paranoid, threateningly dystopian world of government conspiracies and alien invasions, showing us that it is through their relationship to each other that Mulder and Scully are able to make any sense at all of their reality. The relationship between Mulder and Scully thus creates a pivotal space for the viewer's engagement with the depiction and possibilities of intersubjectivity, extending The X-Files's focus on the process of creating meaning toward an acknowledgement of the limits and necessity of such work as they relate both to the construction of narratives and to our connections to each other.
Did they get out of the fungus or didn't they? Did Scully see the ship at the end of the movie or not? Is the Cigarette-Smoking Man Mulder's father? Samantha's? Such are the recurring questions, both pleasurable and frustrating, of "X-Files" viewership, and they become particularly apparent in the context of the series' online fandom. Concentrating specifically on The X-Files's Internet fans, however, also means explanations of the show's ideological appeal must be contextualized by how the show is experienced as a popular narrative through which, in the very process of analyzing its content, fans are made aware of their complicated position vis-a-vis the culture industries as represented by Ten Thirteen. Whether or not the series offers the reassuring promise that its many plots can be resolved into a semicoherent story of alien-human contact and interpersonal drama, the interpretative stance of the fan cannot necessarily be divorced from their awareness of the series as a cultural commodity. As Henry Jenkins, whose Textual Poachers is the preeminent work on media fandom, writes:
.... while fans display a particularly strong attachment to popular narratives, act upon them in ways which make them their own property in some senses, they are also acutely aware that those fictions do not belong to them.... Sometimes fans respond with a worshipful deference to the media producers, yet, often they respond with hostility and anger against those who have the power to "retool" their narratives into something radically different from that which the audience desires (24).19
Fans of The X-Files, who do indeed attempt to make the show their own through the production of websites, fanfiction, and ongoing critical conversations all devoted to the series, frequently encounter the limits of their interpretive and creative position versus that of Ten Thirteen's.20 On alt.tv.x-files and alt.tv.x-files.analysis, none of the interpretive events suggested by journalists or academics take place without an acute awareness of the series as produced by Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen. In this way, X-Philes are no different from their counterparts in other fandoms. However, their relationship to the culture industries is perhaps more fraught with uncertainty because of the unclosed narratives of The X-Files itself. Tania Modleski argues that daytime soaps are appealing to homemakers because the narratives of soap operas "make anticipation an end in itself (88). By continually deferring narrative resolution, soaps present waiting-the primary activity of the housebound female-as pleasurable; the attachment created between serial narrative and the housewife is in part a validation of the viewer's subject position. For online fans of The X-Files engaged in ongoing attempts to decipher meaning and create community, experiences on the newsgroup create an attachment to the series heightened by the similarities between the interpretive and interpersonal activities that Mulder and Scully engage in and those of the online X-phile. In "The Unnatural," Arthur Dales chides Mulder for his impulsive need to "connect the dots." An alt.tv.x-files.analysis participant noted the similarity between the newsgroup's impulse and Mulder's:
I mean, does this sound like us or what: [Mulder asks] "So was Ex a man who was metaphorically an alien or an alien who was metaphorically a man or something in between that was literally an alien/human hybrid?"... "You're just dying to connect the dots, aren't you?" Dales asks Mulder. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing (Magpie, 26 April 1999).
Mulder and Scully's investigative work, in which they attempt to intuit causal relationships based on both concrete details and leaps of logic, is mirrored by that which we see in newsgroup discussions of both the content of The X-Files and their own engagement with the series.
The X-Files, as the Fox network's flagship drama, made $86.6 million in advertising revenue during the 1999-2000 television season, and it is estimated that it will earn Rupert Murdock's News Corporation $1.4-1.5 billion in profits by the time it goes off the air. A subset of the 12-15 million weekly viewers (down from an estimated 20 million in season five) who have given the series its cultural and economic clout, The X-Files's Internet fandom has been described by everyone from William B. Davis (the Cigarette-Smoking Man) to the editors of Deny All Knowledge as an integral part of the show's success.21 A fall 2000 search on Yahoo! turned up nearly 500 "X-Files"-related web pages; alt.tv.x-files continues to receive hundreds of posts a day, and well over a thousand in forty-eight hours after major events such as season premieres and finales. The more recently formed (June 1998) alt.tv.x-files.analysis, a moderated forum with fewer off-topic threads and my primary focus here, has averaged as many as 30 posts a day, on topics ranging from Scully's religious beliefs to the academic significance of slash fanfiction. As one alt.tv.x-files participant writes of "X-Files" fan status, "you're only REAL if you're on line [sic]" (Coleen Sullivan-Baier, 20 June 1998), and indeed, to define X-philedom as a computer-mediated experience seems to be an understatement. The Internet provides an informational resource on the show, creating a virtual landscape of articles, images, fan-written fiction, and analysis. Access to online material is the potential for actualization of that "relationship between me and the show" of my friend's e-mail.
The discourse on alt.tv.x-files, and perhaps more pointedly, alt.tv.x-files.analysis, is representative of the subject positions of the media fan that constitute the relationship "between me and the show." My readings of these discourses, however, are not indicative of all online dialogues on The X-Files, or even a way to create a demographic portrait of computer-mediated communication or online fandom.22 Rather, the interpretive activity of the online fan and the relationship of that discourse to the series as a cultural commodity makes visible the fan's attempt to configure his or her relationship to The X-Files. On both newsgroups, fans do not hesitate to address Carter or Ten Thirteen directly in their posts-a practice that is informed by the knowledge that Carter's assistants, and some of the writers, have stated in interviews that they read the newsgroups and AOL boards.23 Carter and the others also like to tease their dedicated following with false leads and vague statements, and they are not above baiting their online audience either, particularly about the Mulder/Scully relationship. Coverage of the seventh season had Carter coyly stating that Mulder and Scully will "have a very nice New Year's Eve" (Yahoo! Chat, 15 October 1999); after the premiere of season eight, Carter, in a Fox-sponsored online chat, was asked if Scully was pregnant with Mulder's baby and replied, "the person asking that question has a great year in store" (Fox Chat, 6 November 2000). Online anticipation and speculation are fueled by such revelations, and if there is annoyance, or even outrage, expressed over Carter's cat-and-mouse marketing and narrative choices, there is also resignation: one woman writes on alt.tv.x-files.analysis, "Part of the point of my RANT earlier today was that CC [Chris Carter] is the God of the X-files [sic] universe, like it or not, agree with him or not... Either you accept that or you don't..." to which another participant replied, "It is the price we pay as very focussed [sic] fans" (Deborah Tinsley and Sue, 11 April 1999). Because fans cannot be certain how seriously Ten Thirteen takes the advice and demands voiced by the newsgroup, the relationship that fans construct between themselves and The Powers That Be is tenuous at best. As one participant put it, when she was frustrated by alt.tv.x-files strife prior to the release of the movie, "I have to keep reminding myself on a daily basis that 'no' one posting to this ng [newsgroup] 'matters' in regard to the show. It's all just conjecture and opinion" (GeoRed, 13 June 1998).
These misgivings that define the relationship between the fan and Ten Thirteen emerge in discussions ranging from the movie's effect on the strength of the series to the introduction of Agents Spender and Fowley as foils of Mulder and Scully. Nothing, however, prompts as much virtual hand-wringing as the Relationship. Susan Clerc, writing in 1996 on Internet "X-Files" discussions, cites the relationship between Mulder and Scully as one of the most contested elements of the show. Subsequent plot developments such as Scully's cancer, the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, and seasons six and seven's at times explicit concentration on the state of Mulder and Scully's partnership, have kept such dialogues evolving. Thus the debate continues between "shippers" (short for "relationshippers"), online fans who want to see Mulder and Scully together romantically, now or at the end of the show, and "noromos" (short for "no romance") fans who may or may not believe that unresolved sexual tension exists between the two leads, but do not want to see the partnership move to a physical relationship. Prior to the release of the movie, during which time it was widely (and correctly) rumored by online fans that an attempted kiss between Mulder and Scully would be interrupted, shippers and noromos dominated alt.tv.x-files with threads such as "CC's Kiss Conspiracy," "The war on the noromos," and "Carter: Romance A Natural Step For Mulder and Scully." During spring 1999, the thread "Who says Mulder and Scully are meant to be together?" accumulated well over eighty posts in four weeks on alt.tv.x-files.analysis.
Shippers and noromos are equally informed by their awareness of the series as Carter's and Ten Thirteen's creative-and economic-product, and by the broader cultural context in which their debate takes place. The debate itself suggests various readings of the importance-both logistically to the show's narrative structure, and politically to the show's representation of gendered identity-of Mulder and Scully's intersubjective relationship. There are noromos who don't want to give up the pleasure they take in the unresolved sexual tension between Mulder and Scully (a loss they frequently cite as the downfall of shows such as "Northern Exposure" and "Moonlighting"); and there are others who believe Mulder and Scully's platonic partnership suggests men and women can be equals within an effective and caring work relationship without sex getting in the way. Similarly, shippers often cite the deep abiding love that they say already exists between the couple, and question why an equal partnership shouldn't evolve into a nonstereotypical depiction of a romantic relationship, as a progression of their current status.24
In the months between the release of the movie and the season six premiere, participants on alt.tv.x-files.analysis debated how Ten Thirteen would address the effect of the near-kiss on the relationship. Fueled by spoilers (advance information about upcoming plots) for potentially shippy episodes such as "Triangle" (in which Mulder would kiss a 1939 Scully look-alike, Scully would kiss Skinner, and Mulder would tell Scully he loves her), and "Rain King" (in which Mulder would be kissed by guest star Victoria Jackson and an entire gymnasium of high school reunion attendees would kiss their dance partners), newsgroup posts addressed these new developments while drawing on familiar positions through which the connections between Ten Thirteen's creative power over the show and the fan's viewing experience were articulated:
I'm trying to trust that CC [Chris Carter] and the rest of the 1013 writers know what they are doing. If anyone is more protective of the M/S [Mulder/Scully] relationship than us, it's got to be Carter. . . . Carter knows about the debate raging amongst the various shipper/non-shipper camps. There is scarcely a single interview with anyone related to the show that doesn't touch on this question. They have given this LOTS of thought-make no mistake. Given Carter's passion for inside jokes and post-modern self-referential themes, I think they are giving the whole relationship debate a nod-as well as playing with the idea of what a kiss means, as if to challenge the viewers' notions of what defines a relationship, a kiss, love, etc. (Amblin, 2 November 1998).
I'm glad that Gillian [Anderson] realizes that the writers can't continue to "ratchet" up the sexual tension between Moose and Squirrel [online nicknames for Mulder and Scully] for another forty episodes without running into some serious problems with creative honesty. That said, is it risky to make a move too soon? Absolutely, and that's the catch: finding the right time to advance the story. Once that decision is made it's a matter of writing the relationship carefully (Konrad Frye, 26 October 1998).
Actually the single most convincing argument against a relationship, from my perspective, is the great likelihood that the writers would fuck it all up . . .
This is the fear, absolutely. I've been a shipper in the sense that I have believed that Mulder and Scully are undeniably in love with each other and would be much happier human beings if they were/be [sic] romantically involved with each other.... At the same time I was pretty much a moron because, while it was obvious that it would be good for the characters, I was pretty sure it would be bad for the show for the reason above. I just couldn't see it happening in any way that didn't ruin the show (Matt Hale, responding to Maggie Helwig, 30 October 1998).25
In these posts, what alt.tv.x-files.analysis participants say might be defined as an attempt to forge a tenuous balance between trusting the writers as the artistic force behind the series and doubting their ability to conclude successfully the events they have set in motion. Often, fears of the latter explicitly reference Ten Thirteen's creative decisions as contextualized by their economic goals: "[M]y cynical guess is that they do plan to pursue the romance, and they darn well know it. But they're waiting to do it in the movies where they think they can make a bigger splash and more money with it" (Mari B., 9 April 1999). Similar statements are used to express dissatisfaction with the myth arc. Some fans resent the movie's emphasis on special effects as an attempt to make The X-Files more palatable for summer audiences; with the advent of season eight, and the threat of season nine looming, many have been bemoaning the Forced continuation of The X-Files as a result of the Fox network's greed.26 Why then privilege the relationship debate as the dialogue through which "X-Files" participatory culture is most fraught?
I have suggested that the similarity between the analytical activity of X-Philes and the content of The X-Files feeds the investment that newsgroup participants experience as fans. In the discourse produced by alt.tv.x-files.analysis participants on the subject of Mulder and Scully's relationship, fans articulate both a tenuous connection between themselves and Ten Thirteen, and their investment in the meanings of the series: shippers and noromos are subject positions that exemplify what Lawrence Grossberg has defined as the affective element of fandom. Grossberg writes of affect as the "'absorption' or investment [that] constructs the places and events which are, or can become, significant to us" (57). The affective experience of "X-Files" fandom as we see it on the newsgroups emphasizes the relationship as something that matters. It matters because X-Philes see themselves in Mulder and Scully's never-ending attempts to construct meaning and purpose. And in Mulder and Scully's close but unfixed relationship to each other, online fans are offered the space through which they define the intersubjective relationship as it relates to the specific content of the show and their experience of the online community. In turn, these engagements with the relationship suggest that the fan's conceptualization of their connection to popular culture is forged through such activities.
These elements of the affective experience of fandom come together when the series explicitly addresses the stability of narrative and its relationship to the construction of meaning and of intcrsubjectivity. Season five's "The Post-Modern Prometheus" and "Bad Blood," as well as season six's "Triangle" and "Milagro," are primary examples of the series' attempts at self-reflexivity. But none, perhaps, have invoked the complications of an unstable narrative more effectively than Darin Morgan's third season episode, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." The editors of Deny All Knowledge describe "Jose Chung" as a "metadefense which lifts the continuing 'X-Files' serial story of abduction and conspiracy... to a higher, more epistemological plane" (19), one which shows the series' awareness of its own necessarily unstable position as a narrative. Certainly the plot alone of "Jose Chung" is complicated enough to justify this statement: Beginning with an abduction within an abduction before the opening credits, the episode proper commences with Scully sitting down to talk with "gifted writer" Jose Chung, who is writing a "non-fiction science fiction" book on alien encounters. As the narrative of "Jose Chung" becomes increasingly convoluted, offering multiple and conflicting stories within stories about what really happened during the double abduction and Mulder and Scully's investigation of it, an account emerges, rife with inside jokes, in which no one story is ever completely substantiated. When Scully concludes her version of events, unable to offer any explanation or verification, Jose Chung stares at her expectantly. Scully replies: "I know it doesn't have the sense of closure that you want, but it has more than some of our other cases." For a show whose appeal (and, at times, frustration) is based on its lack of closure, such a statement only further emphasizes the extent to which "Jose Chung" can be read as a self-conscious, and self-reflexive, explication of the series' mechanics (its "innards," as one participant on alt.tv.x-files.analysis put it) and ideology. "Jose Chung" is a story not just about the content of The X-Files, but the status and context of the narrative of The X-Files itself.
"Jose Chung" begins with a shot of Mulder's poster-a fuzzy UFO hovering in the sky, with the words "I want to believe" printed in large white letters at the bottom-filling the frame. And as Scully begins telling her story to the writer, the poster is clearly visible in the background. There is nothing unusual, per se, about this emphasis on Mulder's poster; it's certainly not the first time we've seen it. But the focus takes on added significance when we meet an avid UFO-seeker, Blaine Faulkner, who wants to be abducted by aliens so he doesn't have to get a job. His room is a collection of rubber aliens and Star Wars action figures, and on his wall we see again Mulder's poster. In this case, however, the words "want to" have been taped over. Blaine says "I believe;" "want" has nothing to with how he understands his Roswell-determined worldview. Similarly, Roky, a witness to the double abduction, becomes a New-Age guru preaching that aliens are real, but from inner earth, not outer space; he tells his followers his beliefs offer enlightenment: the truth is out there. However, because of Scully's complicated narrative, no one truth, such as Roky pronounces, can emerge from the stories surrounding the double abduction (though we do know that part of Roky's story was confirmed by another witness, a witness who in turn cannot confirm his own existence). Elizabeth Kubek writes, "the very production of meaning and knowledge is called into question by the show's discourse, which constantly represents 'the truth' as something far from objective-a site of desire, conflict, and contestation" (Deny All Knowledge, 169). The discourse of The X-Files, as we have seen, relies on this problematized production of meaning; the uncertain closure the series presents engages the viewer in the processes through which meaning is constructed, and creates an attachment between the show and the fan. "Jose Chung," however, is the moment in which the series begins to acknowledge the implications-for The X-Files, and thus, X-Philes-of its own narrative instability.
Through the structure of its narrative, "Jose Chung" complicates what on the surface appears to be the show's "Enlightenment kind of project," as Maggie Helwig has written on alt.tv.x-files. By marking the difference between "I want to believe" and "I believe," The X-Files offers a place for belief as desire, such as we see in Mulder, in contrast to the alien-obsessed characters that "Jose Chung" ridicules. And the truth? Helwig argues that The X-Files tells us "the truth is unknowable and non-existent, there is no Grand Narrative with a happy ending or even a proper tragic ending-but along the way, values like love and loyalty are _real_, and offer at least a contingent and temporary redemption." If, then, The X-Files offers the pleasures of participating in the production of meaning, "Jose Chung" reminds us that this process-as with that of recognizing the other-is nevertheless fraught with ambiguity. It is never stable and never complete, particularly for the fan. What, then, does one do with Mulder's quest to discover the Truth about what happened to his sister, or heavy-handed narration such as, "The truth will save you Scully. I think it will save both of us" ("Memento Mori")? By taking the statement, "The truth is out there" and reading it backwards, asking what is "out there" before attempting to define what the show sees as the Truth, we realize that what's out there is Mulder and Scully, their connection to each other, and their (often failed) attempts to understand the incomprehensible, to uncover what's hidden. On The X-Files, the importance of "the Truth" lies not in its promise of fixed and final answers, but in its ability to produce such relationships as Mulder and Scully's. The relationship-quite insistently-contextualizes the series' persistent engagement with the question of truth as raised not just by the conspiracy, but by the narrative instability of "Jose Chung" and episodes like it.
The X-Files presents narratives that need to be analyzed, creating an implicit connection between the activities of newsgroup participants and the protagonists of the series. But in "Jose Chung," we see Mulder and Scully explicitly enmeshed not just in the murky details of another case file, but, as with the fan, in the complications of narrative itself. Once again, it is the intersubjective, as a model for and a result of our attention to narrative, that the series moves into the foreground. Helwig writes, "it seems to me that the X-Files is unusual... in centrally problematizing love. In making _love_ one of the central conflicts and most serious dilemmas." Through this focus on love, evident within The X-Files complex network of plots and self-referential details, the series presents an answer to the closing statement of "Jose Chung": Chung says, in a voiceover as the camera pans to the night sky, "then there are those who care not for extraterrestrials, searching [instead] for meaning in other human beings. Rare and lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all alone." The relationship between Mulder and Scully, whether based on romantic love or not, presents the possibility that perhaps such isolation can be overcome; the series itself emphasizes this predicament visually by relying on the physical separation of Mulder and Scully (often bridged by cell phone conversations) to create dramatic tension as they attempt to solve the case at hand. When The X-Files problematizes narrative, it not only emphasizes the processes through which we make meaning, but shifts our concentration from the end product of such machinations (the Truth) to the possibility that what matters more are the relationships-those connections fans see between Mulder and Scully, and experience between themselves and Ten Thirteen-that exist not just within, but as a result of, the instability of meaning and narrative that the series depicts. That the materials through which fans are shown the significance of such relationships to their engagement with the series' narrative and their own attempts to create meaningful dialogues and communities online are also products of the culture industries, accounts for the increased tension regarding the show as a creative and economic process that so many of the posts focusing on the relationship include.
The instability of the series' narrative creates a relationship between the fan and Ten Thirteen that is overdetermined by the fan's perception of both the primacy of the intersubjective and the intrusion of economic interests. However, recent news-group discussions might indicate the emergence of a more simplistic, and more antagonistic, attitude on the part of the fan. With the changes in the show resulting from both the series' age and Duchovny's absence, season eight in particular has produced vitriolic commentary from alt.tv.x-files.analysis on the future of the Mulder/Scully relationship and the continuing quality of the series. Particularly frustrating for fans is the implication that unbeknownst to viewers, during season seven, Mulder may have been dying and Scully may have been attempting fertility treatment. One alt.tv.x-files.analysis participant writes of the possible revelation in the season eight premiere that a "dying" Mulder hadn't told Scully of his condition: "at this point in time, one of them [Mulder or Scully] can't inhale without the other exhaling... It didn't further the story... and it makes me ill to think CC [Chris Carter] believes he can tamper with that aspect of the show" (Unbound I, 6 November 2000). This dissatisfaction with the treatment of the relationship and the series' narrative is further articulated in economic terms: "I understand one thing. Season 8 is 'NOT' about what's good for the show. It's about what's good for the FOX network.... More to the point, if you [Ten Thirteen] 'were' on the same side as the fans, the Mulder-less episodes would not have been handled in so clumsy a fashion" (Konrad Frye, 4 November 2000). The problem, however, that we see voiced in the vehemence of posts such as these is not purely one of simple betrayal as a result of economic priorities and creative ineptitude. Even the polarized fan reaction to Ten Thirteen's most recent narrative choices remains indicative of the more complicated relationship between the fan and Ten Thirteen that the instability and self-reflexivity of The X-Files has created.
This more complicated relationship is refer-enced in episodes that, as with "Jose Chung," focus on either the function of narrative or the narrative of the series itself. "Jose Chung," along with season five's "The Post-Modern Prometheus" and a significant number of episodes from season six (what newsgroup participants call, depending on their perspective, "XF Lite" or the "Dream Arc"), create a body of work that, in taking up the narrative of The X-Files as its subject, also addresses the relationship "between me and the show" that fandom is predicated upon. In the self-reflexive episode, the position of the fan is incorporated into the series' narrative. This incorporation of the fan is perhaps most evident in the inside joke:
One of the X-Review writers, Monica B, noted (and timed) that the 10:12 time-stamp made it exactly 10:13 when Scully picked up the fused coins. "I'll have to run it on the VCR tonight, but I suspect that the 11:17 stamp made it 11:21 when the switch [between Mulder's body and a Man in Black's body] occurred... I'm not sure which is more scary: that we notice these things, or that the production crew bothers to put them in..." (Laura Burchard, 4 December 1998).
Inside jokes or references, such as the recurrent numerical or time stamps 10:13 (the name of the production company, but also Carter's-and Mulder's-birthday) and 11:21 (the birthday of Carter's wife) are meaningful because they represent a specific knowledge limited to Ten Thirteen and the fan. The references reward the fan's attention-which we might note as the originating moment and continuing manifestation of all this analytical activity-with the possibility of inclusion. We might imagine, then, that the complications of creating meaning exemplified in an unstable narrative such as "Jose Chung" simply take this process to another, more intricate level, in which the relationship between the fan and the series is deepened by the emphasis on examples of self-referentiality that the fan can decode. In The X-Files, however, self-referentiality does more than just include the fan. By using the figure of the writer, such as we see in "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" the series articulates the fan's subject position and intimates that the fan and the writer share a common relationship to the narrative of The X-Files.
"Jose Chung" presents the writer as arbiter of the multiplicity of narrative, a manipulator of the mere words through which we construct meaning. Later episodes further address this position of the writer, hinting toward a more utopian-if still conflicted-conceptualization of the creative process. "The Post-Modern Prometheus," an episode framed by human hands, fairy-tale fonts, and comic book images, concludes with Mulder's request "to speak to the writer"; this desire is then answered by the episode's subsequent depiction of a fantasy of control over the narratives in which the writer, not just his characters and his fans, is caught. In her newsgroup review of "The Post-Modern Prometheus," Helwig argues that the episode's uncharacteristically happy (and possibly "fictional") conclusion, demanded by Mulder, ostensibly written by Izzy (the comic book writer), and featuring a monster's acceptance by his community as well as a dance between Mulder and Scully, conflates the positions of character, writer, and fan (particularly those who are gratified by the idea of Mulder and Scully dancing together), through the common desire for an optimistic ending. And with the inclusion of this overtly romantic image of Mulder and Scully, the fantasy ending of the episode also articulates one of the series' recurring ideological tropes as a utopian space shared by both Ten Thirteen and their fans.27
The manipulation of this space, however, is also the source of the betrayal felt by many fans as a result of the possible relationship and character developments of season eight. Whereas episodes such as "The Post-Modern Prometheus" promise that fans and writers share common desires and the narrative space to express those desires, Ten Thirteen's attempts to change the events of season seven are not only creatively suspect, but a preemption of the fan's participation in the construction of the narrative. Imagined motivations, attempts to create continuity, and the development of backstories constitute the primary activities of online "X-Files" fans engaged in analysis of the show; new, after-the-fact suggestions about season seven allow Ten Thirteen to monopolize a space traditionally utilized by fans to extend the narrative of The X-Files. Given Ten Thirteen's frequent reformulations of the myth arc, this process is both familiar and frustrating for X-Philes. But Ten Thirteen's interventions become intolerable when they so dramatically affect the relationship between Mulder and Scully. One fan, addressing Chris Carter via alt.tv.x-files.analysis, writes: "retro-rewriting season 7 (complete with Scully fertility treatments we never heard about and Mulder illnesses we never saw evidence of) in order to extend your series is such an incredibly cheesy manipulation that there are no words to describe the cheesiness of it all" (Kipler, 7 November 2000). Others are simply refusing to watch the episodes in which Mulder does not appear, but simultaneously continuing to discuss the series and its plot developments online; thus they avoid the narrative spaces that Ten Thirteen is producing, but they do not give up their interpretive involvement with the show. Such reactions to the series are not just that of "like" or "dislike" determined by economic and creative decisions the fan ultimately does not control, but an intensely felt reaction to the constitution of the narrative space that defines the relationship between the analytical activities of the fan and the cultural production of Ten Thirteen.
Because of this complex relationship, fans of The X-Files are in a position of defining not just their reading of the relationship between Mulder and Scully as that of a shipper or a noromo, but of configuring their experience of the relationship "between me and the show" through one of these two terms. Shipper or noromo-it's a question of what kind of relationship a fan uses to engage with popular culture. Reaction to season six's "Dream Arc," with its concentration of self-reflexive episodes, exemplifies this choice between acceptance and rejection of the fan position articulated in episodes such as "The Post-Modern Prometheus." Contrast the following two responses:
I applaud 1013's bravery in taking a popular show in a new and rather odd direc-tion... I think there's more than enough evidence to support the contention that this was a very deliberate experiment (Matt Hale, 11 June 1999).
Get over yourself and get real . . . Darin Morgan paints a few shows a new shade of clever and ever since 1013 figures themselves the pulse and mirror of modern literary-intellectual-sociocultural currents... Maybe it's like every episode has to reek of some meta-commentary on the nature of the Files as a show... [o]r better yet... to reintroduce us viewers to the glory of humanity's ability to reflect upon itself through the works of its own creative potentiality (Savage Brutality, 14 December 1998).
Notwithstanding Ten Thirteen's supposed narrative goals of glorifying "humanity's ability to reflect upon itself," the difference in approach to the series is clear. Ten Thirteen plays off their established relationship with the fan, particularly through unstable, self-referential narratives. Shippers accept the terms of their inclusion, but they struggle to balance what we might call an intersubjective relationship to the series itself. Their approach to The X-Files, in which the process of creating meaning from the materials offered by the series is both necessary and filled with uncertainty, carries with it the danger of believing in a relationship "between me and the show" that isn't really there, or at the very least is severely limited by Ten Thirteen's determinations. Noromos, though equally invested in their analysis, reject their inclusion, while nevertheless attempting to maintain their connection to the show. They preserve their distance, but at the expense of their possible alienation from what has originally intrigued them. Given the affective dynamics at work for both shippers and noromos, it is not surprising that on the analysis newsgroup, where interpretation is the dominant discourse, the current anxiety over Mulder's prolonged absence during season eight is described in the following terms: "I didn't want it to be this way... I hate that feeling when the party dies... You feel empty. Just empty... Maybe what I'm really speaking of here, is being [in] love" (Bast Black, 6 November 2000).
For X-Philes, the question of their own inclusion, and of how they experience their love for the show, is a constant, if at times only implicit, part of their analysis of the series, particularly when their readings rely upon unexpected connections between details and plots that evoke uncertainty (or disregard) for Ten Thirteen's intent concerning the possibility of such meanings. They must bring an acknowledgement of their own style of engagement-their position as a shipper or a noromo vis-a-vis the relationship between Mulder and Scully, but also, inherently, between themselves and the series-to their understanding of the content and mechanics of The X-Files. The question then becomes whether we can better understand our more casual relationships to, and interpretations of, popular culture by first understanding what style of engagement we bring to a given text.
Thanks to Monique Allewaert, Srinivas Aravamudan, Emily Shelton, and perhaps most importantly, the visibility of the participants on alt.tv.x-files.analysis, particularly Konrad Frye, Paula Graves, Matt Hale, and Maggie Helwig, whose influences can be seen throughout this paper.
[C]ulture is a paradoxical commodity. So completely is it subject to the law of exchange that it is no longer exchanged; it is so blindly consumed in use that it can no longer be used. Therefore it amalgamates with advertising.
-Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment
We self-hype. In fact . . . we were actually perturbed for awhile there that the movie wasn't promoted more visibly about a month earlier than its release. They can't pay people to be as crazy about The X-Files as we are.
-Laura Capozzola, 21 June 1998, alt.tv.x-files
Nothing. He closed his eyes. Heard the phones power up. Opened his eyes to those same faces of data he'd seen earlier, in Akihabara. Characterless. Institutional in their regularity.
'Here comes the fan club,' he heard Arleigh say, and the barren faces were suddenly translucent, networked depths of postings and commentary revealed there in baffling organic complexity.
-William Gibson, Idoru
1 In my quoting of newsgroup posts (as in this excerpt from my own email) I have retained the original markers of emphasis, such as words bracketed by asterisks and underscoring, that participants use in lieu of italics, boldface, or underlining that may not appear consistently in various text formats.
2 Analyses of fandom, such as Henry Jenkins' work in Textual Poachers, often concentrate on the experience of community as an integral component of a fan's identity. The possibility of lurking on the Internet (reading newsgroup or website material without replying to the conversation or webmaster), however, seems to complicate this premise. To a certain extent, fan communities that are displayed online can be experienced, so to speak, by anyone with access to the Internet. This display broadens the potential for fandom to have an impact on, or at least be seen by, a larger segment of the population. In addition, Internet visibility might contrast or confirm more familiar characterizations of fans as obsessed, socially inept outcasts. Such characterizations have been described by Jenkins as "a projection of the anxieties about the violation of dominant cultural hierarchies" (17). Fandom disrupts the expectations we maintain about our relationships to popular culture. See also Joli Jenson, "Fandom as Pathology: The Consequences of Characterization," in The Adoring Audience, Lisa Lewis, Ed.
3 Radway concentrates on the extent to which readings of mass culture must acknowledge that "reading is an active process that is at least partially controlled by the readers themselves" (17). Her insistence on the need to incorporate the reader's experience of a given text as "emotionally necessary" resonates with the attention I will give to the emotional investment of "X-Files" fans in Mulder and Scully's relationship. Penley's analysis of "Star Trek" slash fanfiction in both "Brownian Motion: Women, Tactics, and Technology" and NASA/Trek emphasizes the work of fandom as that which can rewrite the dominant narratives of a given text (or institution) in order to retool what we mean by categories such as masculinity. Though my focus is not on fanfiction (slash or otherwise), it is worth noting here that "X-Files" fandom has produced a large amount of fanfiction, ranging from Mulder/Scully romances to stories that slash Mulder with Krycek or Skinner. As with the analysis on the newsgroups, Mulder/Scully romances can be a process of retooling narratives or gender roles. "X-Files" slash fanfiction, however, is a more complicated example. Given that some fans would argue the series already displays a (somewhat) equal partnership between a man and a woman (a lack that Penley argues requires women fanfic authors to appropriate Kirk and Spock in order to portray an equal and caring sexual relationship), "X-Files" slash is perhaps more akin to what Shoshanna Green, Cynthia Jenkins, and Henry Jenkins have described as "normal female interest in men bonking." See Green et al., in Theorizing Fandom, Harris and Alexander, Eds.
4 Sometimes participants on "X-Files" newsgroups conflate Carter, Ten Thirteen, or the Fox network with the culture industries (or, in the fans' terms, marketing and corporate concerns that put economics above content); sometimes Carter or Ten Thirteen are positioned as creative individuals loyal to the integrity of the show and often in opposition to Fox and other economic motivations.
5 Fiske argues that popular culture "is found only in its practices, in its ways of making do with cultural commodities and dominant social structures" (143). The popular is the appropriation of the commercial; it is a "relational social force" (145) akin to what we see in media fandoms. My use of popularity here is meant to reflect this definition. See "Popular Narrative and Commercial Television" in Camera Obscura.
6 See Maggie Helwig's commentary on X-Review, http://traveller.simplenet.com/xfiles/ helwigessay.htm# "The truth is in you-various readings" http://traveler.simplenet. com/xfiles/ helwigessay.htm#, and Lisa Parks, "Special Agent or Monstrosity: Finding the Feminine in The X-Files" in Deny All Knowledge.
7 Arguably, the myth arc, with its myriad of conflicting details and explanations, is not coherent, and this lack of consistency has been a source of frustration, and at times, resigned disinterest, on the part of newsgroup participants. This dissatisfaction has only worsened with the Mulder-abduction plot necessitated by Duchovny's decreased presence in season eight, and the introduction of a new partner for Scully, Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick).
8 Mark Wildermuth, however, writing on The X-Files and chaos theory, asks, "is the program primarily a successful experiment in Gothic ambiguity... or does its complex representation of epistemological issues suggest that 'The X-Files' is a self-reflexive attempt to deal with epistemology in more sophisticated ways than we often associate with popular film and television?" (147). Though the terms of his argument are very different from those I've set up here, his emphasis is similarly on the questions that The X-Files raises about "the search for meaning" (148). See Wildermuth, "The Edge of Chaos: Structural Conspiracy and Epistemology in The X-Files" Journal of Popular Film and Television, Winter 1999.
9 Jodi Dean has argued that cultural figures such as alien abductions are threatening because of "the widespread conviction that previously clear and just languages and logics, discourses and procedures, are now alien, now inseparable from their alien others" (22).
10 More specifically, Markley argues that the show "undermines our faith in either paranoia or cynicism as completely adequate responses to the dilemma of having to rely on narratives which we no longer trust" (77). The X-Files traps us between our want to believe (the curiously comforting existence of conspiracy theories), and this inability to trust (the knowledge that we cannot effect our own history). Thus, he writes, "Carter's series stages contradictions within our culture which, for millions of viewers, might otherwise resist analysis or even articulation" (78). Reading the series as more than just a reassuring narrative does not limit the series' attention to the aspects of our cultural context that create an appeal for such narratives.
11 Season eight is continuing this pattern. Since the two-part season premiere, Scully's investigations have not focused on Mulder's disappearance. Though many fans see this shift back to Monster of the Week episodes as illogical, or worse, destructive of the narrative and characters and of The X-Files, the turn away from Mulder's abduction is consistent with the narrative structure of the series, which pointedly presents Mulder and Scully working together on local, albeit still fantastical, cases in the face of global and personal catastrophe. As I will show, the fact that this shift no longer works for many fans is evidence of the extent to which the Mulder/Scully relationship takes precedence over other aspects of the show. See the newsgroup threads "Re: The Absent Center Gets a Desk Drawer," alt.tv.x-files.analysis.
12 In a recent interview, Carter stated, "like all relationships between men and women, sometimes feelings are expressed in a physical way. I don't think it would be dishonest for them to have done that." However, in a post-premiere chat session sponsored by the official "X-Files" site, Carter refers to Scully's pregnancy as a way "to keep the show interesting between two characters who are romantically involved but have never had any physical contact." For examples of Carter's contradictory position on the relationship, see Mike Flaherty's article in Entertainment Weekly, 22 September 2000, and http://www.thexfiles.com/infobase/interviews/carter_chat.htm. For one example of fan reaction to Carter's slippery stance on the relationship, see alt.tv.x-files.analysis thread "Re: CC's chat on FOX tonight . . . (spoilers)."
13 Much of the coverage of The X-Files and Carter's creative vision for the series have touched upon the relationship. For two examples (of many), see David Wild, "X-Files Undercover," Rolling Stone 16 May 1996, and more recently, Greg Braxton, "Chris Carter: Facing 'X' Factor" Los Angeles Times 3 November 1999.
14 See David Kronke, "'X' marks the start of its eighth season," Los Angeles Daily News 6 November 2000.
15 Season one's "Ice,"; season two's "Firewalker" and "Red Museum,"; in season three's "Avatar,"; season four's "Kaddish," season five's "Detour" and "Kill Switch,"; and season six's "Dreamland I/II," "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," and "Field Trip." In addition, at the end of season five, Ten Thirteen also introduced Agent Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers), Mulder's ex-girlfriend and, as we eventually learn in "Two Fathers," a member of the Syndicate with strong ties to the Cigarette-Smoking Man. In "The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati," the primacy of the Mulder/Scully relationship vis-a-vis Diana was confirmed. Mulder's fantasy of temptation by Diana to live a simple married life is just that-a fantasy-and Scully's demand that he get up and fight the fight saves him from death. But up until this point, the character of Diana and her relationship to Mulder was left threateningly (and pointlessly, according to most newsgroup fans) undefined. See the newsgroup threads "Re: whatever" and "Re: Two nonsensical scenes," alt.tv.x-files.analysis, May 1999.
16 For the use of Jessica Benjamin here, I am indebted to Lauren Goodlad's 1997 talk "Closer to God: Recognition of Self and Other and the Popularization of S/M" at the University of Washington.
17 Mulder or Scully have either misrecognized or hallucinated each other in the following episodes: "Colony", "End Game," "Wetwired," "Small Potatoes," "Kitsunegari," "Triangle," "Dreamland I", "Dreamland II," "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas," "Three of a Kind," and "Field Trip." In addition, we have seen Mulder altered by drugs or other experiences, both voluntarily and involuntarily, in "Deep Throat," "Anasazi," "Pusher," "The Field Where I Died," "Demons," and "Biogenesis", "The Sixth Extinction", "The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati."
18 Helwig, a published poet, posts detailed episode reviews, as well as responses to current online discussions, on alt.tv.x-files.analysis. See her essay "Love and the Post-Modern Alien: Reflections on The X-Files," soon to be published in a collection of her essays, at X-Review http://traveller.simplenet.com/x-files/episode.htm.
19 Susan Willis notes in "Disney World: Public Use/Private Space" that the "subversive" effort of consumers to reclaim cultural texts or spaces is also constrained by the "banality" resulting from "the limitations imposed by private property and commodity culture on the range of activities (both real and imaginary) available to people" (121). By focusing here on "textual poaching" I do not mean to imply that such actions are not also caught within the systems of meanings and corporate economics fans often react against. See also Meaghan Morris, "Banality in Cultural Studies," Logics of Television, Patricia Mellencamp, Ed.
20 Fox has attempted both to regulate the material that appears on such sites through legal action, and to appeal more directly to "X-Files" fandom in the recently redesigned official site. See http://www.thexfiles.com.
21 Fox gets revenue not just from first-run episodes, but from all reruns (shown on Fox and on Fox's cable affiliate, FX), the movie, episodes for sale on video, and marketing tie-ins ranging from comics to conventions. See Johnnie L. Roberts, "TV Turns Vertical," Newsweek 19 October 1998. For 1999-2000 revenue, see Hollywood Reporter 5 June 2000, and "The 10 most valuable TV shows (1999-2000 season)," information compiled by Alfornos on alt.tv.x-files.analysis 5 June 2000. On the clout of fandom, see Lavery, Hague, and Cartwright, "Generation X-The X-Files and the Cultural Moment," the introduction to Deny All Knowledge, and William B. Davis' interview in Xpose, "W. B. Davis' Script about CSM & Scully . . . " transcribed by Alfornos on alt.tv.x-files.analysis 3 September 1999.
22 For a description of the economic realities that determine the make-up of online communities, see Joseph Lockward, "Progressive Politics, Electronic Individualism and the Myth of Virtual Community," Internet Culture, David Porter, Ed. On X-Files Internet discussions, see Susan Clerc, "DDEB, GATB, MPPB, and Ratboy," Deny All Knowledge. On fandom and computer mediated communication, see Nancy K. Baym, "Talking About Soaps: Communicative Practices in a Computer-Mediated Fan Culture," Theorizing Fandom.
23 In fall 1999, Carter had this to say on the subject of fan criticism: "I think we pay very careful attention and are wounded terribly by criticism, particularly good criticism. We're overly sensitive writer-producers here. Just teasing." He also admitted to having read fanfiction. See Carter, Yahoo! Chat, 15 October 1999, archived at http://www.thexfiles.com/infobase/ interviews/#.
24 Shippers also cite the tendency of the series to link sex with death. Mulder's primary sexual encounter was while Scully was abducted, and involved a blood sports enthusiast who dies destroying a trio of vampires. Scully's only possible sexual encounter (until "all things") was with a man with a tattoo (voiced by Jodie Foster) that incited him to kill women. In addition, "Gender Bender" and "2Shy" similarly connect sex and death. Online fans worry that the series is portraying sex in a predominantly negative light, while idealizing a platonic connection between Mulder and Scully. Their call for consummation between the two agents is in part an attempt to soften this reading. Scully's pregnancy (and the possibility that she was artificially inseminated) has similarly prompted newsgroup participants to critique Ten Thirteen's avoidance of sex altogether as an affirmation of Scully's "Madonna" status in the familiar Madonna/ whore dichotomy. See the newsgroup thread "Re: CC's chat on FOX tonight... (spoilers)," alt.tv.x-files.analysis.
25 In reproducing these quotes, I have duplicated the use of ">" as a marker of the text that is being responded to in a post. In doing so, I hope to give a sense of the conversational quality that many of these newsgroup threads have.
26 d Newsgroup participants have frequently blamed the demise of The X-Files- its quality as a narrative and its economic viability for an eighth (and ninth) season or movie series, which at the time of this writing is undetermined-on the Fox network's profit-motivated decision making about the future of the series. See the alt.tv.x-files.analysis thread from August 1999 "From the Horse's mouth" and almost any discussion on alt.tv.x-files.analysis from fall 2000.
27 Season six's "Milagro" complicates-and darkens-the process through which we get to this Utopian space. As with "The Post-Modern Prometheus," the conclusion of the episode turns on the writer's ability to control the outcome of his narrative. In this case, however, despite the "love in his heart," the writer's creativity, the ability to create love for others (in this case, Mulder and Scully) rather than destroy them, can only be accomplished by his own destruction. To write what is in his heart, he must (literally) pull out his own heart. The relationship between the writer and the fan is established (albeit implicitly) by similarities between the writer's badly written prose and a certain genre of overwritten fanfiction, as well as the common analytical subject positions occupied by both "Milagro"'s novelist and the online fan (similarities noted by the newsgroups). The novelist's death is idealized in that it accomplishes what he claims to be unable to do: offer his heart. However, we might ask, who gets to offer their hearts? Whose hearts matter more?
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Christine A. Wooley is a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Washington. She is currently completing her dissertation on the ethics of sentimental narratives in 19th century African-American literature.…