Tuesday, September 01, 2009


The show the The X-Files, (1993-2002)1 gives more than the usual feelings of ambivalence about something that is excellent in execution but at its core is fundamentally rotten.

I was never a great fan of the show although I watched many episodes of the show I never got hooked and was frankly non-plussed by the show.

For reasons that I will go into later I wanted to dismiss the show as garbage and leave it at that but I am unable to do so simply because of the overall excellence of the program. Before I go into my critique I would like to go through the excellent features of the program.

The acting on the show was almost uniformly very good. Both of the leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson play their roles with accomplished skill and the acting of the supporting players and guest stars is quite good also. Although the acting did slip when David Duchovny left a regular character, (only to return intermittently until the final episode), it remained at a ,( certainly for a T.V. show) high level through out its run.

The writing varied through out the show. Not surprisingly it is very hard to maintain a high level of skill and craftsmanship for scripts through out at 9 season run of a T.V. show but the writers did over all a very superior job in maintaining a very creative and standard high level. If only all T.V. shows were written this well. Of course there were the occasional clunkers but they remained occasional right to the end.

Finally the aspect of the show that certainly for its time and even today elevates the show to a high standard is its almost uniformly excellent filming and cinematography. The show looked and still looks quite good. The editing, occasional multiple camera shots and some multi screen images are high quality T.V. filming. The various directors and producers did a sterling job in making the show look very good indeed.

It was also a very nice even brilliant decision to make the sceptical, rational investigator Scully a women and go against the stereotype of women being emotional, intuitive and irrational. Mulder the intuitive, irrational investigator was a man and that too was a nice change of pace.

The show had the occasional episode which poked fun at its own premises and sometimes did not take itself seriously, (or at least appeared to not take itself seriously). That does however lead itself into the problems with the show.

The main reason I never became a fan was because the show although it sometimes made fun of the “New Age” paranoia it portrayed in the end pandered to it quite outrageously. Like the character Mulder it validated over and over again his mindless whine “I want to believe!” It validated again and again Mulder’s paranoia and “New Age” stupidities. It stated over and over again that rationality, reason and logic where bad that feelings and imagination and fantasy were valid ways of knowing that reality was a construction to large extent in our heads. The show the great majority of the time said ‘Mulder was right!’. So that doubting Mulder’s fantasies was akin to doubting the revealed truth. Mulder was cast as a later day Galileo persecuted for his courageous advancement of truth.

Scully meanwhile being a woman is of course wrong. Virtually all the time she was wrong. She was the doubting Thomas to Mulder’s Christ, who dared doubt the revealed truth. She dared to use such things as reason, logic and gasp! demand evidence. What is all that against the real truth as revealed by feelings! Scully dared to doubt and doubt is well bad; it hides the truth. A truth revealed as said above by feelings and of course intuition and fantasy. So again and again it is rubbed in that Scully was wrong, way wrong, totally wrong!

So in this way the show pandered to irrational fantasies of all kinds. Alien abductions, cattle mutilations, perfect governmental conspiracies, crop circles and so on and so forth ad infinitum.2 Why was this so? Quite simply the viewers were pandered to because one would not want upset the fans by calling their delusions and fantasies just that delusions and fantasies. After all if you do that the fans might get upset and watch other shows instead of this one. Those people cannot accept that the world is not populated by fairies and goblins and want, no demand, that the fantasy world of T.V. validate their 5 year old perceptions of the world.

Thus grown-up Scully is the party pooper who demands the unacceptable, that children grow up and face reality. Mulder is the wide-eyed 5 year old his mind full of engaging fantasies who knows that Santa Claus exists and who clings to his fantasy by hook or by crook. The world is a much more exciting place if it is full of childish fantasies of UFO’s, alien abductions, crop circles, alien / human hybrids, vast perfect conspiracies etc., etc. Much of the audience like Mulder has the same plaintive cry ‘I want to believe!’

The result was quite absurd. The web became full of websites taking The X-Files seriously. Many people took it with complete seriousness. It was referred to in student essays as a source!3

The numbers of people who took The X-Files seriously was disheartening in the extreme what was further disheartening was that the creator, Chris Carter, of The X-Files, didn’t care. As to why the show was so relentlessly pandering to paranormal, paranoid, conspiracy clap trap he quite candidly said:

My intention, when I first set out to do the show, was to do a more balanced kind of storytelling. I wanted to expose hoaxes. I wanted Agent Scully to be right as much as Agent Mulder. Lo and behold, those stories were really boring. The suggestion that there was a rather plausible and rational and ultimately mundane answer for those things turned out to be a disappointing kind of story telling, to be honest. And I think that’s maybe where people have the most problems with my show…But it’s just the kind of storytelling we do, and because we have to entertain… That’s really the job they pay me for, and that’s the thing I’m supposed to do.4
Those stories are of course boring to those who live in the fantasy world of a 5 year old and don’t want their fantasy disturbed by, oh so “mundane” reality. It is especially boring to those who do not want to see anything even on a fictional T.V. show that says ‘you believe fantasies and delusions!’ What they want is validation of their fantasies and delusions even on a fictional T.V. show. What Mr. Carter does not say is that stories that provided “mundane” explanations upset many of the fans of the show who wanted validation of their delusional nonsense. So rather than alienate this fan base Mr. Carter and his associates decided to quite deliberately pander to it in the interests of prolonging the T.V. life of the show and their pocket books.

As Richard Dawkin’s said:

Each week The X-Files poses a mystery and offers two rival kinds of explanation, the rational theory and the paranormal theory. And, week after week, the rational explanation loses. But it is only fiction, a bit of fun, why get so hot under the collar?

Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it by saying: “But it’s only fiction, only entertainment.”5
In the end as the title of this post indicates The X-Files lies.

1. See Wikipedia, The X-Files Here

2. For a review of those and other bits of pseudoscience see The Skeptic Encyclopaedia of Pseudoscience, (two volumes), ABC-CLIO Inc., Santa Barbara Ca., 2002.

3. Wheen, Francis, How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World, Public Affairs, New York, 2004, p. 133-134.

4. IBID. p. 135.

5. IBID. p. 135.

Pierre Cloutier

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