Leslie Cannold: Writer, Commentator, Ethicist, Researcher
ARTICLES

It didn’t start with a kiss…

HOW DOES this generation define a transcendent relationship, a perfect twosome, the ultimate love? In his construction of the relationship between Gen-X FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, the Australian-born creator of The X-Files, Chris Carter, has taken a leaf from the Victorian era, and added a distinctive 21st-century twist.

HOW DOES this generation define a transcendent relationship, a perfect twosome, the ultimate love? In his construction of the relationship between Gen-X FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, the Australian-born creator of The X-Files, Chris Carter, has taken a leaf from the Victorian era, and added a distinctive 21st-century twist.

Since the start of The X-Files, Carter has insisted there would be no shagging between the two agents, despite studio pressure for what he derisively refers to as a ``David and Maddy‘’ thing. Carter’s reason? He wanted their relationship to be ``more interesting’’ than that.

But what could be more interesting than shagging? Throughout the early days of the series, before all my energy went into staying on top of the conspiracy sub-plot, I yearned for the agents to consummate their relationship. Judging from X-Files Internet bulletin boards and chatroom buzz, I was far from alone. Neither character was with anyone else, at least not for long, and each death-defying adventure tested and confirmed the soundness of their trust in one another in a world increasingly exposed as irrational and conspiracy-ridden. They were clearly falling in love; why didn’t they just go to bed?

Of course, Carter is not the first to explore the possibilities of platonic love. Indeed, it is only in the past hundred or so years that Western societies have seriously entertained the possibility of combining true love, sexual desire and the business of marriage all in one relationship. Before this, the person with whom one was passionately ``in love‘’ was rarely either the person one desperately wanted to shag or to shack up with domestically. While spousal pairs saw to the business of running a household and creating and raising children, messy and unpredictable sexual passions were the province of the lover. True love was typically reserved for a special or ``sentimental’’ friend of the same gender.

This was not only because it was believed that sexual passions were ephemeral and, thus, inappropriate in any relationship in which stability was required, but also because the meeting of mind and spirit characteristic of true love was unlikely to take place between members of the opposite sex. Upper-class men and women were raised and educated separately and lived their lives in separate ``spheres’’. Not only did they have little in common, they also were raised to profoundly distrust one another. Men were encouraged to think of women as their intellectual inferiors.

Scully and Mulder are also very different. In an inversion of the usual stereotype, Scully is the rational medical scientist, and Mulder the instinct-driven paranormal expert. However, because their relationship is grounded in trust, intellectual respect and their shared search for ``the truth’’, these differences are seen to draw the pair closer and enrich the meaning of their journey together, rather than estrange them. Indeed, it is the rock-solid nature of their trust – a trust that contrasts strongly with their attitude to the rest of the world – that is the basis of their transcendent love. In my dreams, Mulder tells Scully, you were the only one who told me the truth. Even when my world was falling apart, you were my constant, my touchstone.

With these words, I felt my fervent desire to see them fall into bed together evaporate. They could; they didn’t have to; who cared? Where else could sex take them that they hadn’t already been?

Two episodes later, having realised they no longer needed to avoid sex because of the Victorian fear – couched in modern-day lingo – of ``screwing up the relationship‘’, Scully and Mulder kiss. It happens right after they have successfully vanquished a millennium cult and are watching the ball descend in Times Square on television. Then they smile at one another. ``The world didn’t end,’’ Mulder mumbles. ``No, it didn’t,’’ Scully replies. And, with their arms around one another, they head down the hall to begin the New Year.

Scully and Mulder are Gen-Xers engaged in the quintessential 21st-century relationship – it takes place at work, is based in trust, respectful of intellectual difference and shag-neutral. Such a prototype should be unsurprising for a generation whose youthful reality, unlike those who came immediately before, included venereal diseases that kill and increasing amounts of time spent in cyberspace, where the nature of sex – among other things – is constantly evolving.

So maybe this couple will shag and maybe they won’t. The important thing is that their relationship neither needs sex, nor needs sex kept out of it. This love is other than that.

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Email: leslie@cannold.com Mobile: 0417 114 859 Fax: +61 3 9348 2015 - PO Box 1337, St Kilda South VIC 3182 Australia