Macho, macho man or, Why the fanfic wimpification of Skinner?

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Title: Macho, macho man or, Why the fanfic wimpification of Skinner?
Creator: Gwyneth Rhys
Date(s): 2002?
Fandom: The X-Files
External Links: Macho, macho man or, Why the fanfic wimpification of Skinner?
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Macho, macho man or, Why the fanfic wimpification of Skinner? is an essay by Gwyneth Rhys.


Ever since I got hooked on Skinner as a fannish BSO (which would actually be right after he first appeared on XF), I've been at war with my own fandom. It doesn't matter whether it's slash or gen, most of the stuff being written with Skinner as a central character makes me as cranky as a bouncing Betty booby trap.

Why? Anyone who has fallen for the true Surly One, the exact character we see on screen as played by Mitch Pileggi, would know the answer to this: he is quite possibly the most masculine character ever written on TV. But if you only read fanfic, you'd never know that, would you?

In slash fanfic (I'll concentrate on slash, because it's the stuff I read the most, and the stuff that makes me the most hostile), this most traditionally manly of characters is usually portrayed as a feminized wimp, given to repulsively sweet pet names for Mulder, snugglebunny behavior, teary-eyed confessions of love, panicky, flighty behavior, and that most egregious bit of character rape, public displays of affection.

What's wrong with that, you ask? "I don't like angst, I like fluffybunny stories with happy endings and cutesy terms of endearment." Well, okay. Then possibly you should go in search of a character more suited to your tastes, because the true Skinner is not that man. Skinner is repressed, terse, taciturn, withdrawn, cautious, alone, gruff, isolated, and incredibly macho. He is, in short, a man.

Is he really a guy who invites his secretary, Scully, and her mom to birthday celebrations for he and his little Foxums? Is this the kind of man who cries over presents? Is this the sort of macho leather daddy who goes to swinging gay bars in queer-friendly resort towns? Or says vows in front of hundreds of wedding guests when he and widdle Foxy get married?

Not in my universe -- nor in the universe Chris Carter, who created the character, set up, nor in the universe my more discerning friends want to read about.

And what most of us don't get, and continues to frustrate us, is why this is so popular among fanfic writers, and why anyone *wants* to see it. Where is the enjoyment in turning one of television's most masculine characters into a girlyman? What do people get out of this?

Clearly there is something in the softening of Skinner's hard edges, the feminization of this butch character, that attracts some fans. It would be easy to just dismiss these fans who write it and read it as dimwits, but I'm sure not all of them are.

It's been said that women write slash fanfic because we're trying to create feminized worlds with male characters, that we can better relate to them that way. I've never bought that theory, because I am not attracted to such a world. I see Fox Mulder as an incredibly strong character, very male in his actions and the way he expresses feelings. I see Skinner as the embodiment of the word *man* -- he is the essence of American manliness, stripped down to its core. That's who I want to watch on screen, and that's who I want to see in fanfic.

This gets back to what makes the difference between a writer and a typist -- the ability to show, not tell. Having Skinner be all schwoozy and emotive means you don't have to actually sit down and puzzle out how to write a repressed guy, how to *show* the way he interacts with others. You can just tell it by having him blab about like some Chatty Cathy doll, act like your best girlfriend does, and generally be such an open, sensitive new age guy that no one would have any doubt about his feelings. Without complexity and imagination, why, anyone can do it!

But fans who really love the man they see on screen, the man he represents, won't recognize a Skinner like that. They don't mind making a little effort for their fannish BSOs, because the effort to read or write this usually pays off for them in depth of emotion, characterization, and truth.

So, you say, "I like him written as a nancy-boy sweetie-pie. I don't like angst and loneliness and misery, and if he's written true to character it'll be an angst-fest. I want happy happy joy joy, even if he comes across as a dithering idiot. If you don't like it, don't read it."

Okay. That's fair. I don't read it. Most people I know don't, either, or if they do, they turkey-read it later to their friends. This lazy, blinded personification of Skinner is as perplexing as the need to have Mulder (certainly one of television's most intelligent, perceptive, creative, and unusual characters ever) be turned into a brainless drooling cretin in need of diapers and psychotropic drugs. If you want a character who resembles *in no way* the character on the screen, then why, oh why, don't you write an original one? Why slap these names on characters who do not act like them? Or, better yet, why not find a fandom where you canonically have a couple of girlymen in love, calling each other pet names, and buying curtains and kittens together.