Shipping existed long before the term was coined. See: Moonlighting, Cheers, decades of soap operas. Oh, and Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry's groundbreaking sci-fi series from the late '60s was the big bang of modern-day fan culture. Among those first Trekkers was a subset of fans, mostly female, energized by the fanciful notion of a romance between Captain Kirk and Spock. They began writing Kirk/Spock fan fiction, and in this way, ''slash'' shipping (which focuses on same-sex couples) was born and remains popular today. According to scholars like Kristina Busse, who teaches at the University of South Alabama, shipping and slashing became ways for marginalized, neglected female sci-fi fans to express their passion for their favorite shows, lay claim to the narrative, and even impishly subvert a geek fan culture that until recently has been largely male-targeted and male-driven.
But shipping as we understand it today began with another sci-fi saga about FBI agents investigating the fringes of weird science. ''The fans of The X-Files were among the first to take their fandom online,'' says Christine Scodari, a professor at Florida Atlantic University. ''It was really two groups: those who called themselves 'shippers,' who wanted Mulder and Scully to develop a relationship, and the 'noromos,' who didn't want that in any way, shape, or form.'' X-Files shippers were largely women who identified strongly with Gillian Anderson's Scully (or crushed hard on David Duchovny's Mulder) and found something inspiring about an intimate rapport between a man and woman who respected each other's intellect and were struggling together through life's rich drama...which, for them, involved exposing an alien takeover via killer bees and black oil. Says Scodari, ''It really was a commentary on contemporary relationships.'' By the end of The X-Files' nine-season run, Mulder and Scully had knocked trench coats and produced a child. But creator Chris Carter always kept the hot-and-heavy off screen, not wanting to upset the show's winning chemistry and irk the ''noromos.'' Prior to the release of the 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Carter told EW: ''I want you to take that relationship and imagine it could be real.... Maybe I'm the original shipper.''