Words: Andrea Zanin
Illustration: Fleur Beech

Little green men; flying around in saucers hatching plots to take over the world. They also come in bulbous head and freaky locust eye variant, sometimes with gnashing teeth and semi-transparent appendages sprouting from goo-spewing bodily cavities. Luck dependent. Either way, we laugh, shake our heads with cock-sure disdain and contemplate the fool of a press guy who set the mass hysteria ball rolling by releasing a statement calling the military Air Force surveillance balloon that careened into a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 a ‘flying disc’.  Good one. And then we chastise the US government for covering up the true purpose of said flying disc, which was in actual fact a device to monitor nuclear testing. Such dumbass-ery turned out to be a great big gift to conspiracy theorists the earth over. Roswell charged the brains of UFOlogists and gave the world license to embrace the irrational thinking that dogmatism and its pal logic spent years bullying into submission.

So really, when FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully meandered onto screen in 1993 via The X-Files, the world was ready. Relativism had successfully shoved empiricism into the corner and society, newly liberal in its ability to acknowledge concepts that might seem slightly demented as somebody else’s truth but truth nonetheless, champions Mulder and Scully’s attempts to investigate the X-Files: marginalised, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. Created by producer, director and writer Chris Carter,The X-Files was initially perceived as some weird, cultish show most likely watched by people who owned telescopes to spot alien aircraft rather than marvel at the Milky Way. But by tapping into grandiose thematic elements including mistrust of government and the apparent discord between ‘head and heart’, ‘evidence and intuition’ and ‘science and spirit’, The X-Files turned itself into a pop culture phenomenon.

Pitting the sceptical scientist against the musing mystic, the show entices a philosophical reckoning but more than that, it taps into a core emotion experienced by every person-once-child who ever vaulted into bed with Olympic medal ambition in an effort to avoid the thing that lurks beneath: fear – what else?  It’s what keeps people coming back for more; it’s raw, visceral and life affirming in a torturous kind of way. Before we learn to rationalise it, fear has the power to infiltrate and debilitate; it’s the thing that makes childhood both terrifying and terrific in equal measure. Fear is spontaneous but it is also cultivated. As time progresses, what was once literal morphs into something metaphoric; the monster drooling under the bed becomes the skeleton occupying space in the closet. The stuff that drives our fear as children evolves as we become more adept at elucidating our world. More than the truth about life’s inexplicable paranormal strangeness we begin to fear the truth about ourselves – about who we are, about the choices we’ve made. The Truth Is Out There; we just don’t want anyone to figure it out. When we were five we wanted the monster to stay put and at 35 we beg the skeleton to do the same.

Mulder and Scully’s quest for truth forces us to confront our innate hypocrisy and the reality that for the preservation of our sanity, the truth is better off buried

The X-Files translates these adult-like fears through the language of allegory; science fiction and its extraterrestrial denizens. The martians that pervade nine seasons and 202 episodes of FBI scrutiny represent a truth that is deeply insidious. There’s none of this ‘E.T. phone home’ business; Carter’s extraterrestrials are all about world domination, death, destruction, an alien baby or two and – true to genre – a government cover up. Our initial reaction is to hurl justice-infused stones in the face of the establishment’s deceit but if we stop, for a second, and consider how hard we work to cover up the treacherous truth about our own very human inadequacies, we’ll realise that the glass walls enveloping idiomatic house that guards our secrets will shatter in the face of our own duplicity. Mulder and Scully’s quest for truth forces us to confront our innate hypocrisy and the reality seems to be; that for the preservation of our sanity, the truth is better off buried. Mulder learns the ultimate truth (an alien invasion cited for 2012) but in an unavoidable anticlimax realises that he is helpless in the face of it. So, truly, whatis the point in knowing?

Dana Scully once said “…it’s easier to believe the lie. Isn’t it?” Perhaps this is the necessary thing? The good news is that Chris Carter might just tell us! We’re now three years post invasion, the world is still mostly intact (as far as we know) and praise be to Heaven The X Files is to rebound for a six-episode event series, with Carter returning as executive producer and Duchovny and Anderson in their respective roles as Mulder and Scully. But the world is a different place – a badder beast. Government corruption – old news. Science – debatable. Spirituality – suspicious. What challenge will Mulder and Scully present to a society desensitised by the people-propagated trauma that accosts its senses on a moment-to-moment basis? A society that no longer needs to be convinced of extraterrestrial invasion and life on other planets – today’s world is open to probabilities and possibilities of all shapes and sizes. Luckily, The X-Files was never really about government facilities or hanging out in crop circles anyway. Aliens aside, it’s a show about people. And people are always interested in themselves.

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