In which I perhaps unwisely react to a Twitter controversy.
This post started its life as an open letter to Kumail Nanjiani, the creator and host of one of my favorite podcasts, “The X-Files Files.” There has been some increasingly uncomfortable stuff happening on his Twitter lately. The main problem seems to be this: Kumail is a noromo. Everyone knows this and no one cares, least of all me. But he has over time made a bunch of statements that paint shippers and shipping in an unflattering light. Very recently he tweeted about his consternation that “a subset of the X-Files fandom is legitimately angry with [him]” because he doesn’t ship Mulder and Scully. When shippers responded that it wasn’t about the shipping, they just wanted a bit more respect for their reading (or when, in Kumail’s view, they attacked him) things got out of hand.
There are a bunch of screenshots below; probably too many but I’m including them for context. The first set shows a conversation between Kumail and Kristyn, a woman I follow on both her Twitter and Tumblr. I respect her a lot but I do not know her personally, so it’s not a matter of friendly bias. Since ending this conversation with her Kumail has both deleted his tweets at her and blocked her. To be fair, in the deleted conversation I actually think Kumail comes off better than the tweets he has left standing (though in it he is both adversarial and childish). Second is a conversation with another fan in which he suggests shippers are ridiculed “maybe because they’re reactionary and aggressively mean.” He states that he’s ‘been clear’ about being okay with shipping, but I’m afraid I haven’t seen that.
Listen, I love—loved—both the podcast and Kumail. I seriously want to think that maybe there’s something else going on. Maybe something in his personal life or maybe he’s received threats or attacks that we don’t know about or…I don’t know. Something.
I’m not trying to start shit with Kumail. I’m not “legitimately angry” with him, I just think this has gone way out of control, as things do on the internet. I want to see this blow over, not add fuel to the fire. I’m not parked in his mentions on Twitter or even tweeting about this at all, and I’m not linking this anywhere. Still I am very uncomfortable with his behavior toward other fans, because he has an elevated voice within the fandom. Even before he began “The X-Files Files,” he was already living in LA with a successful career in entertainment. That’s not a bad thing! But it does set him apart from the rest of the fans. He had the connections to interview people associated with the show for his podcast. When the revival happened he got to be on panels, he got to guest star on the show, he got to meet Duchovny and Anderson and Carter. I don’t know who is suggesting ridiculous things like Carter breaking up Mulder and Scully because he said so, but again these factors do set him apart.
The second problem is that the vast majority of shippers are women. I probably don’t need to explain this to you, but stay with me: since the invention of the fucking novel and even before that, women have been made fun of for loving art. Sometimes the art women love is derided as unskilled, unimportant, or applying only to women (Austen, Bronte). When that’s not possible because men also love the art in question (Star Wars, Star Trek, The X-Files) they have been accused 1) of pretending to like the art only to get attention, 2) of not fully appreciating the art, 3) of ruining the fandom with our girlish ridiculousness, and most importantly for our purposes 4) of being invested only in the romantic relationships to the exclusion of other “more important” ideas.
For now I think the screenshots below articulate why I’m uncomfortable better than any letter I could write. I’m protective of female fans, and do not like seeing them painted as insane. His published, extreme examples do not represent the majority of the criticism against him, and what’s worse I think he knows that. Again for now, because I hope I can eat my words in the future, I will not be endorsing The X-Files Files.