Muldertorture

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: SMT (Sadistic Mulder Torture)
Related: Hurt/Comfort, Whump
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Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Contents

Muldertorture was coined in the late '90s as a fan fiction sub-genre, as a result of many stories in The X-Files fandom involving the physical or psychological distress of Fox Mulder. Ratings from 1 to 10 were used, according to the level of "torture," and webrings and archives were created around this theme.

The name gave rise to a parody of X-Files slash called Muldertorture by Wombat, in which the torture in question was explicitly fan fic writers.

External links

A 1998 Discussion at alt.tv.x-files.creative

I was extremely disturbed to discover that MulderTorture had filed themselves in Yahoo under David Duchovny fan sites, not X-Files fanfic. Sent mail about it, never got a reply; but when they moved sites they had the sense to not put themselves back (or didn't notice they were gone, I guess.) Very important to respect the ritual boundaries, especially when you are pushing the limits in other directions. Actually, I'm kinda disturbed in general by MulderTorture these days, but that's a different subject. [1]
I'd have to agree. Sure, our hero needs something to overcome, but frankly, I'm very troubled by the stuff that puts him through it and turns him into a helpless victim, doesn't let him show strength, infantilizes him, and basically is written to give a hurt/nurture charge. Or to let Scully mother him. Or someone else mother/father him. No growth, no triumph, no lessons learned.

And I say that after having written stuff that has been classed as Muldertorture, which also bothers me.

Drama does require dramatic situations, and hurt/nurture has long been a part of fanfic for a lot of fandoms. I guess some of it just goes farther than I'm comfortable with. [2]
I don't care personally if you want to fantasize torturing Mulder, although I doubt I'd feel comfortable hanging out with you. But when I write Mulder getting hammered, I do so to explore the strengths that make him a survivor, that make him strong enough to fight back and emerge, battered, but himself. When I read Mulder, that's what I want to see, that resilience that doesn't accept being infantilized. And frankly, I think I used Mulder to overtly express that notion himself in Complicated Shadows. There's a very real biological instinct being expressed in hurt/nurture stories and I don't quibble with that. It's natural enough to want to bring the hero through and let him develop and want to give him comfort. I won't go into my particular quibble with the stories that let other people bring him through instead of letting him find his way himself, that's purely a stylistic and philosophical difference.

However, I have stumbled across a number of stories that, as Circe points out, exist purely for the end of getting Mulder hurt or raped or tortured as much as possible in under 50k. Those genuinely bother me. Especially when someone once wrote to me to ask permission to use Wilkinson from Shadows. Since Wilkinson was a sexual psychopath only referenced in the past, (and this was allegedly for a Holiday version of Muldertorture), I was....queasy. And wrote courteously to say no. At least I hope it was courteous, I intended it as courteous.

And no, I'm not proposing thought police or censorship, Kirby and whoever else posted in that vein, I'm expressing my particular opinion. I don't think either Laura or Livengoo were proposing censorship or thought police. I think Livengoo was simply suggesting an exploration of the reasons these appeal. Self-examination may be dangerous, but it's also helpful and productive of growth. [3]
My thoughts on Muldertorture. Just to set it up my stories have mostly been of the slight MT type. Emotional pain rather than physical. I'm in the editing stages of a story in which some very bad, horrible things happen. Writing the torture parts was very hard for me; not at all pleasant. However, it's set historically, and that time was, for many people, not at all pleasant. I'm trying to be accurate, though I don't enjoy it.... I'll grant you that there is some really messed-up disturbing stuff out there. However, since I began writing (poetry as a teenager), I have operated under the assumption that it is good for people to be disturbed or shocked now and then. It shakes up your perception of reality, sometimes helps you see more clearly

On the other hand, I don't see anything particularly wrong with writing a story just to enjoyt the hurt/comfort aspects of it. Clearly, the better written MT stories are those that involve character growth and are in character. The same can be said of any genre.... I would definitely call the stories I've read [by Bliss] Muldertorture. The definition, to me, of MT is any story that involves physical or emotional pain for our fair agent. It doesn't have to be pain caused on purpose by some psycho, though come to think of it that was part of your stories. <g> And I really liked them, though at times the subject matter was horrifying.

I totally understand that many people don't want to read Muldertorture or Scully torture or what have you. I just don't like the assumption that it's all quite sick. Anymore than all slash or smut (both of which I like) is sick. And it certainly has basis in the show. I mean, the poor man's been shot, frozen, exposed to alien retroviruses, emotionally and mentally manipulated, beaten and on the brink of suicide right on our screens. It's not exactly like we're pulling it out of nowhere. [4]
It used to be that most angst/torture stuff I saw had that goal, even if clumsily expressed. If it went to extremes, it was in a genuine attempt to make the impact of it stronger. More recently, it seems to have been written just for the sake of Muldertorture, in both the sense of the act and the archive. And there's been a few things lately that had a spirit a lot closer to snuff than to what I'd consider fanfic. Some of them to the point where if I was the copyright holder and saw such things based on my work, I'd start thinking real hard about pulling permissions to use it. And given my tolerance and even taste for extremes, that's an unusual thing for me to say. [5]
I'm a big MT fan, but I'm disappointed by the recent trend towards torture for torture's sake. Many stories these days seem to exist for the sole purpose of having as many horrible things happen to Mulder as possible in less than 50K. My interest in MT extends to the recovery period. How does Mulder recover from the torture? How does he cope with it? How do the people around him cope with it? How do they cope with him? Sadly, many MTs end before they get to this point. And sadly, many MT writers seem to have forgotten that Mulder is above all else, a fighter and a survivor. [6]
Now, me, I love hurt-comfort stories. Written well, they provide an excellent dramatic vehicle -- probably why Chris Carter uses them so much. It also provides a good look at the characters' relationship and their strength in overcoming such obstacles and triumphing in spite of them. Such things can really make a story exciting. [7]
Oddly enough, I think fanfic is *much* better than the show at doing "productive" torture (with character development) than the show is. CC seems wildly fond of torture for torture's sake.[8]
Hmm. I've written stuff that gets classed as Muldertorture and stuff that even I think these days is over the top. That said, every speck of stuff I've written has been focused towards eventually showing the hero overcoming his or her own stressors and emerging the stronger for it, however flawed her or she remains. My problem is with material that torments a character purely to remove that character's emotional defenses so that the author's proxy romance/maternal identifier can then nurture and baby the hero. Essentially, as if the author dislikes the hero's strength and has to destroy his autonomy so he'll accept being mothered and made emotionally dependent. It bothers me on a very deep, psychologically troubling level because I read it as an expression of an author who only feels emotionally secure in connection with someone who is totally defenseless and dependent. It's turning a sexual/love interest into a child figure and then fusing the two. I find the implications of that deeply troubling. The Muldertorture term started out, if I recall, as a joke. A way to express how the physical dangers were being ratcheted in both the show and the fanfic. But it's like the term became a self-fulfilling prophecy and now I'm running across stories that seem to torture Mulder for the pure end of torturing him, expressing hostility towards him, or the pleasure of reducing him to helplessness as if an independent character was too strong for the author to safely enjoy. Nothing is "just entertainment." Anything we write or do or say or share expresses something about ourselves. Like the FBI shrinks say - behavior reflects personality. The idea of a lot of people, a lot of women, who feel helpless and need to reduce sympathetic male characters to infantile states to make them sexually safe is a scary one for me. I wonder about all those people out there with that mindset and what their lives are like that they fantasize about this, and what they're teaching their children if they're parents. Think that's idle or silly? Read some histories of people arrested in domestic disputes. It's pretty scary. I'm trained to split hairs so I'll do it here. What I read from Bliss, from Youkneek, what I write, and what a LOT of XF fanficcers are putting out does hurt the hero and provide drama in danger, but the hero does not become helplessly dependent in any of those stories as far as I know, Even in Oklahoma where he winds up pretty badly hurt, it's Mulder's own internal strength that lets him fight through it and come back. In Bliss's Complicated Shadows that's even MORE the case. The stuff that's striking me as Muldertorture either doesn't ever have him learning and rising above the incidents, or else reduces him to helplessness purely so Scully or someone else can rescue him. He becomes an object. There are, thankfully, relatively few Scullytorture stories though I've seen requests. I think it's because women are already socially taught to be dependent - Scully as portrayed in a lot of fanfic and in eps like Emily is already halfway to Scullytorture's helplessness and dependency. There's no sexual charge out of reducing her furture - she's already there. And a lot of fans get queasy over those stories. We're women, we're trying to fantasize ourselves in positions of strength. While that's a laudable goal soem of the WAYS it's done are really troubling. [9]
There's a difference between angst and torture, and I think they often get lumped together. Torture implies a sort of helplessness that I neither admire nor would like to see in our heroes. [10]
When someone like Tarantino beats, bashes and humiliates human characters in his movies, it's art. When we watch "Silence of the Lambs", it's a masterpiece. Then when a slasher writes a teeny bit of hurt/comfort fanfic, they're "sick". "Pulp Fiction" doesn't pose any more valid psychological questions or paradoxes than most of the better slash.(and remember the rubber ball scene. I wonder what redeeming social value THAT had?) To tell you the truth, slash writers blow me away sometimes. There's a lot of real talent in this pool (which could probably be put to better use creating characters of their own) but I, for one, am glad that fanfic is their first love. I would have missed out on SO much! (so...ok... I would probably still be sane... *cackle*) [11]
As someone starting an archive of ScullyAngst/ScullyTorture, I've been following this thread with particular interest. There's also one running theme that's been worrying me: the idea that Scullytorture is especially bad because it makes a strong female look weak. In most good Scullyfic, I don't think that's the case. One of the show's most interesting dynamics (which, IMHO, fanficers have done a better job exploring than CC & Co) is the way M&S play against stereotypes: she really is the stronger of the two. This is especially pronounced when they're suffering (which, this being the X-Files, is happening 9 eps out of 10. I think it's an interesting socialogical phenomenon that one of TV's most wildly popular shows features two of the most unhappy people on the air...but that's another thread). Mulder turns martyr and usually hurts those around him, while Scully worries about everyone else and balances self-sacrifice agaist the cost to her loved ones of that sacfice. I think the usual rules of fiction extend to angst/torture fanfic: that those oft-referred to 50k o' rape & whips type stories generally aren't good not because of their subject matter but because they're lazily written. Strong torture fic (and I think Oklahoma can safely be assumed to be a great example, here) can be twice as brutal as run-of-the-mill stuff and still be compelling and entertaining (that *is* the point of fiction, after all) because of a well-devloped plot and believable characterizations. Goo mentioned earlier that she wouldn't like to see more Scullytorture because of the way it subverts a strong character. The good stuff doesn't, and the dregs aren't any worse than the bad Muldertorture--like the Mulder stories, it can just be ignored. What worries me is that the absence of Sculltorture is indicative of a *general* derth of Scullycentric fic (yes, yes, I know, there's several dozen good Scully stories out there, and we do get Jill Selby ;-) But there's *hundreds* of good Muldercentric stories). Until more people start writing Scully, Scullytorture will contine to be a genere almost entirely devoted to those "Scully gets raped and sleeps with Mulder to recover" stories (several of which are quite good, but most of which aren't). I fear us Scully-lovers will have to wait a long time for *our* "Oklahoma." [12]

References

  1. Laura, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  2. unknown fan, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  3. Bliss, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  4. Elizabeth, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  5. Laura Burchard, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  6. Circe, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  7. Shanna, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  8. JenRose, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  9. Livengoo, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  10. Suli, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  11. KirbyCrow, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
  12. Stacy, March 1998 at alt.tv.x-files.creative
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