The X-Files at 20: Just skip some of it

I’m an X-Files fan. I guess.

This year is 20 years since Chris Carter introduced us to Scully and Mulder. Through that very strange decade of the 90s, economic bust and boom meets millennial terrors meets a fascination with alien autopsies, angels and prophecy, Scully and Mulder matched the national mood. Lots of us wanted to believe and even the skeptics seemed open to what Mulder always called “extreme possibilities.”

I started this post by undercutting my fan status because my affection for individual episodes bumps up against the rather baroque mythos that came to undergird the show. A conspiracy at the highest levels, we knew about this from the beginning. But Carter gave us what we sometimes say we want what millions of viewers have demanded from shows like say, Lost and Alias: an explanation. Actually a series of explanations. Entire story arcs of explanation.

Fredric Jameson maintained that conspiracy theories function as what he called “poor people’s cognitive mapping.” It’s a poor choice of words since conspiracy theory offers cognitive mapping for pretty much everyone. The world’s a complicated place and the allure of the ONE SINGLE ANSWER contributes to everything from our desire for television shows to explain their mythology to the rise of more or less every single expression of religious faith.

“I WANT TO BELIEVE.”  Yes, enough that I’ve long had the same poster that Mulder kept hanging in his basement office. But the poster doesn’t read, ”I WANT TO HAVE A COMPLEX MYTHOLOGY EXPLAINED TO ME.”

Revisiting the X-Files is probably well worth your time. Picking and choosing your episodes, and spending your time with the “monster-of-the-week” moments, might be the best way to do it.  I recommend “Jose Chung’s from Outer Space,” “Postmodern Prometheus,” and, to really mess you up, “Home.”

I started teaching my “Monsters in America” course today. More on this soon. And the Satan class? Two evenings a week, starting tonight.

Yes, that’s a lot of school for summer.


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