The X-Files’ Chris Carter, Misogyny, and Agenda Fandom

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Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, is apparently a misogynist. It’s an opinion which has been circulating for some years in certain corners of X-Files fandom, of which I consider myself a part given my contributions to the podcasting sphere with The X-Cast.

I’ve been writing a lot about fandom recently because it currently seems to be operating at its most pervasive and toxic on social media – whether in the case of Star Wars fans calling for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi to be struck from very canon because it dares to try new approaches, or in this case a Reddit AMA in advance of the premiere of ‘My Struggle III’, the opening episode of The X-Files Season 11, in which Chris Carter opened himself up to questions from fans about the new season and became, once again, the victim of a different strand of online toxicity: agenda fandom. In this case a core, collected, organised group of fans who targeted Carter with questions deliberately designed to establish his misogynist credentials. As some commentators on social media subsequently opined, Carter didn’t disappoint, in their eyes.

This piece isn’t going to see me defend Carter in terms of this apparent misogyny. My opinion on this, simply, is that he isn’t sexist. That a man who helped devise a character like Dana Scully, an empowered, rational, scientist and doctor who has subsequently inspired at least one generation of young women to follow career and life paths which are hugely beneficial to diversity, being described as a misogynist seems antithetical to common sense. That’s where I stand. What interests me more is the rise, increasingly, of militant agenda fandom. Of a collectivisation of fans who come together not to help build up the property they love, but instead tear it down.

I’ve touched on this when discussing Star Wars fandom issues, and how it has also bled into other major franchises such as Star Trek, James Bond etc… in different facets, but the effect is the same. ‘Bond Not Blond’, adherents against the Kelvin Timeline and JJ Abramsverse, all the way through to The Last Jedi canon issues. In every instance, this corner of fandom are actively engaged in finding ways to pile on the TV show or movie many other fans want to enjoy, whether a critic and commentator or not. Agenda fandom is corrupting the very soul of these beloved franchises.

Focusing in on The X-Files, the agenda is often very specifically targeted at two things. Firstly, Carter’s approach to issues of abuse as put across in ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’ in Season 5, and indeed his approach to transgender issues & paedophilia as we saw in the Frankenstein’s monster of a story (and film, let’s be honest) that was I Want to Believe. Both of these storytelling choices are absolutely not without problems; Carter *does* troublingly skip over certain truths in ‘The Post-Modern Prometheus’, which saw monstrous young man the ‘Great Mutato’ stealing into single housewives houses in the dead of night, filling their rooms with gas, and getting them pregnant. Carter presents the entire narrative as a twisted, fairytale homage to James Whale & Mary Shelley, ignoring the dubious realities of what the Mutato was actually doing.

Similarly, earlier in Season 4’s ‘Small Potatoes’, shapeshifting ‘romeo’ Eddie van Blundht’s penchant for impregnating attractive local town women by posing as their husbands is played almost entirely as a comedy, even to the point Blundht was about to sleep with Scully in the guise of Mulder. Carter didn’t write ‘Small Potatoes’ but certainly oversaw and re-wrote many scripts over the run of the show. The buck stops with him, and yes, some of these choices lack a sensitivity which make them–otherwise terrific episodes of television–increasingly problematic in our culture twenty years on.

The second part of the agenda almost exclusively revolves around the character of Scully. The X-Files fandom, in places, has a strange and somewhat bewildering relationship with the character, in which often the lines between Scully and actress Gillian Anderson blur to the point of awkwardness. There is a deep sexual component to how many fans conflate both Anderson and Scully, and though not all of these overlap with the agenda fandom contingent, in all cases there is a fierce level of protection over the Scully character and her portrayal. Again, these concerns and criticisms have levels of merit.

On more than one occasion, the writing of Scully has displayed a worrying lack of agency; in the first season she was largely being captured or stalked by the monster of the week, in need of rescue from the white male symbol of protection that was her partner, Mulder; in the ninth season, reduced to little more than a third wheel in the storytelling playing field, Scully becomes almost entirely motivated by her wistful, longing desire to be reunited with Mulder–by now her absent lover–and a fierce, maternal protectionism over her baby son William. By the end of that season, Scully’s original strength and individuality is largely rendered inert thanks to writing which boxed her character into a narrative corner. These are absolutely concerns to level, again, at both Carter and his team of largely male writers.

Here’s where it becomes a problem, at least for me. Agenda fandom is often about wider, broader issues which begin to infect and consume a fanbase. In this case, with the recent attack on Carter and the sheer revelling in the opportunity by plenty of fans on social media, The X-Files is returning in the midst of the exposure of a deeply toxic abuse of power within the Hollywood machine, one which deserves rooting out and destroying. The unfortunate side-effect of this culture has been for creatives such as Chris Carter to be unduly targeted by people angry at a wider, systemic problem. In terms of The X-Files, this has undoubtedly been conflated with the intense, protective fandom around Scully and Anderson, plus the aforementioned (and justified) question marks around Carter’s somewhat misjudged approach to some rather sensitive issues, under the guise of entertainment.

Let’s make no mistake, however, that the treatment of him during that Reddit conversation is without doubt the result of agenda fandom. Some have called out his responses to certain of the more abrasive (and often frankly rude) questions pitched as indicative of the very misogyny he is accused of in his work. In reality, his responses can equally be construed as responding in the only way possible to the targeted motives of a core section of fandom – with a pithy level of dry humour. When the day before the premiere of a show which is beloved by millions, which for over a decade was off the air, and which may very well be about to experience its swan song, Carter is being aggressively asked why Scully still doesn’t have a desk, you wouldn’t blame the man for never interacting with the fandom again.

Indeed you wonder if Anderson is publicly keen to assert this season will be her last as Scully, come what may, in part because she recognises what a pervasive, negative affect agenda fandom is having on the show, and the character she enjoyed playing all these years. As a long-term X-Files fan, it was embarrassing to read some of that Reddit discourse (most of which, it has to be said, was filled with fans asking interesting questions) and how it was hijacked by fans who had come there with the express purpose of levelling a charge at Carter they have had for years, and now feel empowered to bring him to task on.

There is a world of difference between cogent, rational concerns about storytelling choices and confronting misguided, misjudged approaches to very sensitive topics (which Carter could well be guilty of in The X-Files) and attempting to take down a creative due to a broader, sociological agenda. Fandom, in various ways, continues to be polluted by these elements and we can only hope, going forward, people have the confidence to rationally present a different point of view. No creative should be off limits from criticism. Nor should any creative be torn down based on speculative, indeed subjective readings of their work. They, and indeed the rest of their fandom, deserve better.

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  • Very interesting read. Society’s tolerance to certain issues have changed (thankfully) in recent years, so it’s not surprising to find storylines from 20 or 25 years ago quite unfit for today’s social landscape. But no tv show or movie can escape from that.
    What is very perplexing, is that a group of the fandom (very focused on GA and a character she plays) is very upset, and are rabid violent about Scully’s suffering and abuse, while at the same time praising other tv shows or plays where sexual abuse and physical or psychological violence toward women are core to the narrative (I’m thinking the recent A Streetcar Named Desire or The Fall). For one that wants to listen and think about what they have to say it’s confusing at the very least.

    • I think one is an example of a writer who doesn’t map out the character’s progression thoughtfully (by Chris Carter’s own admission, the mytharc is not part of a coherent whole), nor look at the impact on the character of the writer’s choices. A Streetcar Named Desire is a work of classic literature examining a particular themes around female lack of power in a male-dominant world, and both that and The Fall show the limited choices for women in certain situations when a man decides to prey on them, and the consequences. I genuinely think that ‘rabid violent’ fans would also calm down if they weren’t dismissed, and if their feedback was responded to meaningfully when given an opportunity. Chris Carter doesn’t help himself.

      I don’t mean to sound direct; I am enjoying this debate.

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