In advance of The X-Files’ eleventh season, which premieres Wednesday, January 3 at 8pm on Fox, series creator and showrunner Chris Carter did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit. This AMA was announced last week, and my first thought was that it was going to be a bit of a blood bath, which is only appropriate for the man who created the infuriatingly convoluted mythology that the show is known for, as well as oversaw over 200 episodes of horror and gore. I was not wrong.
Let me start by saying: I freakin’ love The X-Files. I love it with an undying devotion that leads to actual stress about whether or not this new season is going to harm our beloved agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) any further—and the suffering has been great. I’m stressed about the Cigarette Smoking Man and wondering why he’s still around. I’m worried about William, Mulder and Scully’s now-teenage son. Finally, I’m worried because it’s 2017 and Chris Carter still doesn’t realize why it is a big problem that (1) Scully doesn’t have her own desk and (2) only three episodes out of 208 (not including this new season) have been written by women.
That’s right, everyone! Special Agent Dana Scully, feminist icon, has been written almost entirely by men. And man, have they beat her up. Let’s be real—The X-Files is not a happy show. There’s little sunshine in these characters’ lives, but they’ve always had each other in their search for The Truth, along with a few stalwart allies—such as AD Walter Skinner and The Lone Gunmen. That compelling search, where it’s them against the world, is what makes the show so engaging. Carter’s AMA did not really promote the idea of a hopeful ending, especially if these are the last ten episodes of the show ever.
Gillian Anderson has stated that she will not be returning after this season, and after 25 years and the beating that Scully has taken, I don’t blame her. However, I can’t help imagining what Dana Scully would be dealing with if just a few more women had been allowed the chance to write her character over the years. Certainly the word “barren” would not have been used nearly as much, for one thing. When Anderson herself finally got the chance to write a script in the show’s seventh season, it was a beautiful love letter to Scully’s life, to how she’s grown and changed as a person, and how much she values what she has with Mulder.
What Carter couldn’t do in seven seasons, Gillian did in one hour. That says a lot (a lot a lot). Duchovny also penned two episodes that were similarly affectionate toward Mulder and Scully’s partnership. Carter’s responses to the AMA questions—many of which were focused on Scully, her partnership with Mulder, and the problematic ideas of professional equality and “medical rape” that Scully has dealt with since her first year assigned to the X-Files—were disappointing in that he showed a disregard for the majority of fans’ concerns.
I would wager that the vast majority of the fan base that has kept Carter’s show alive since it went off the air in 2002—the biggest promoters of X-Files fan-driven content—is female or non-male-gendered. I rarely see excellent content (which includes art, rewatch tweet-ups, fan fiction, unlicensed merchandise, memes, tumblr accounts, and a whole host of digital content) created by male fans of the show, a notable exception being the X-Files comics from IDW. Carter answered about 20 questions in his AMA, and only two of them (out of the hundreds that asked about both Scully and the Mulder/Scully relationship) were about these issues regarding professional equality:
Question from Reddit user K_Frye: I’d like to know why Agent Fowley got her own desk beside Agent Spender and her name on the door back in season 6 but you have repeatedly denied Scully the same thing for almost 25 years. Do you not believe she deserves more than an area in the back beside Mulder’s slide projector? I ask because your show came under fire this summer for keeping women out of the director’s chair and that same unintentional misogyny seems to be at play here. There have been numerous opportunities to correct this wrong over the years and we know your friend Anne Simon has brought the inequity to your attention.
Answer from Chris Carter: I resent the calling of it misogyny, unintentional or not. Scully never asked for her own desk. What she would ask for is her own office.
K_Frye’s response: Thank you for responding but isn’t this just passing the buck and blaming Scully for your own failure to correct a wrong that has been allowed to fester for 25 years? Scully famously brought it up in ‘Never Again’. It makes little sense for her to have her own office when she spends all her time discussing cases with Mulder.
Steadydietofcaffeine’s response: A woman shouldn’t have to ASK to be treated as an equal. It should just happen. I guess that’s a foreign concept.
KaraStarbuck’s response: You know, I have been a die-hard fan since the pilot. I’ve seen every episode and the movies multiple times. Your complete dismissal of the misogyny displayed in the series is horribly depressing and gross. As pointed out, she should not have to ask. The show has had a problem with women. From not having them writing or directing to playing sexual harassment and rape as funny things. I was really hoping this season would be better but I guess I am wrong. It’s 2018, sir. You are very behind the times. #metoo
Larainthetardis respose: she literally did! gosh its as if you hadn’t written the show. I guess that explains why there are so many plot holes.
As we can see, his answer to this question very much falls short of the respect that fans are asking for Scully to be shown, and the fans aren’t happy about it. Another excellent question, posed by Reddit user steadydietofcaffeine, included the following: “Scully deserves better. But better yet: The women who’ve looked up for her for 25 years do even more. And we’re real people. But I guess she can keep walking a few steps behind her male partner and failing to have a desk instead. Feminism.”
Carter responded that “if Gillian comes back, Scully will get a desk”—knowing full well that Gillian has bowed out. I personally found that to be a rude response to a very legitimate concern. Women have been looking up to Scully for 25 years, myself included. I started watching The X-Files when I was 12, in 1995. Scully has always been the rock on which The X-Files is built—her science, her dedication to her job and her partner, her sharp wit and even sharper shoulder pads. While I adore Mulder and within him rests the beating heart of the show, Scully is its true soul.
There are many deep and soulful male characters around which television shows revolve, but Scully was unique for her time and paved the way for so many of the badass ladies of TV today. Should her name be on the door to the office she shares with Mulder? Yes. Should she have a desk and a name plate on that desk? Yes. In fact, I just ran a successful indiegogo campaign called “Scully’s Desk” (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/scully-s-desk–2/x/13550286#/), and we raised over $1100 in both purchases of name plates for fans to share their desks with Scully and for one of Gillian’s favorite charities, Childreach International. The joyous response I received from this campaign indicates just how important it is for fans to see Scully receiving professional respect from the creative team behind the show. I don’t know if Chris Carter has heard, but representation matters.
As for the other aspect of the X-Files fandom’s genuine anger at Carter—Mulder and Scully’s relationship—we can only assume that Carter doesn’t understand his own creation, and what Anderson and Duchovny have done as actors to make these two characters two halves of a perfect whole.
As TV critic Alan Sepinwall states in his review of the first five episodes of season 11: “One drag … there’s no good reason presented for why they wouldn’t get back together again personally, as well as professionally. It’s like Carter thinks it’s still 1995 and the show will somehow fall apart if he pairs them off. The two seem so comfortable together, it’s distracting each time there’s a reference to them not being a couple, because that’s the opposite of what Duchovny and Anderson seem to be playing.” You go, Alan! Besides, the jig is up. Just give them each other to hold onto in their grim world of deadly global pathogens and alien DNA.
Tweets following Carter’s AMA were largely irritated, as well:
This isn’t about the ship. It’s the canon he’s constantly ignoring. It’s the lack of development and the sexist treatment of Scully. It’s the dumpster fire he made of the mytharc following FTF. A few good decisions followed by some terrible ones. CC isn’t immune to criticism. https://t.co/Xymj12tWAW
— Melissa (@MadMakNY) January 2, 2018
That’s why we’re mad. Because #TheXFiles has one of the most subtle, meaningful love stories in all modern media and it’s being destroyed by a man who isn’t thinking about what he’s writing.
— Knife Ink Reyviews (@knifeink) January 3, 2018
Chris Carter is doing an AMA to promote the new season of X-FILES and is digging himself an astoundingly deep hole re: accusations of misogyny. I’m in awe. He’s a master. This man learned from Stanley fuckin Yelnats.
— Cis-Siberian Orchestra (@logandefreitas) January 2, 2018
Chris Carter is doing a Reddit AMA today and he’s getting (deserved) criticism re: Scully’s desk and lack of women directing episodes: https://t.co/ONVXgDlib1
— Katie Brown (@katiebhockey) January 2, 2018
— Rim-Sarah Alouane (@RimSarah) January 2, 2018
Carter seems to fear that Mulder and Scully will be somehow diminished if they are together romantically, but we’ve seen them rely on each other for 25 years. Fans want to see Mulder and Scully pursuing the truth together, not apart. The whole show doesn’t have to turn into a romance—it’s still suspense/horror, but with a reliable core. I just want to see Mulder and Scully sharing a cup of coffee in the morning before going out to fight the demons of the world once more. Somehow that, along with an extremely easy addition of a desk for the Goddess of Skepticism, is just too much for Carter’s perpetual boys’ club.
We, the X-Files fandom, love what Carter created, but the show is so much more than just his initial vision. I enjoy so many of the male writers and directors that created the show, like Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, Kim Manners (RIP), Glen and Darin Morgan, James Wong, David Nutter—these guys did a great job, as did Anderson, Duchovny, and Mitch Pileggi. They made me love XF so much that I’m deeply afraid that Carter is just tearing it down because he’s stuck in a 1990s mindset. It’s 2018 now, a world where women march and whistle blow and say #MeToo, a world where a woman who is a federal agent and a medical doctor, dammit, deserves better and more than what she’s been given.
Carter has the power to do this, except he refuses. That’s why it is misogyny, intentional or unintentional. Just like he needs to look up the word “platonic” in a dictionary and have someone fill him in on where babies come from, Carter should familiarize himself with modern, intersectional feminism. The man who created Dana Scully could be an amazing ally—if only he wanted to be.
(featured image: Frank Ockenfels/FOX)
Amy Imhoff is a writer and editor who blogs at Shoes & Starships, a geek lifestyle blog that specializes in genre fandom, pop culture, travel, fashion, and feminism. She is a featured convention panelist, podcast contributor, and interviewer. Currently, Amy is an active contributor to ScreenPrismand Legion of Leia. She has her masters in literature, enjoys an obsession with all things British, and likes the smell of old books. Amy is based outside NYC, where she lives with her husband and two silly cats. Find her freaking out about The X-Files and Star Trek @lightstar1013.
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