15 July, 2011

The X-Files

Yes, yes, yes... I'm slipping. More of a conscious decision than anything. I realized that my extensive reading during the 90s left me pretty much completely ignorant of popular culture at the time. I vaguely realized that Brittney Spears and the Spice Girls existed, though I perceived them through a fog of horror and disgust that persists to this day whenever I'm reminded of their nasally excuses for vocal cords.

But really, one assumes not everything from the 90s is horrid, even if most of the music was. Maybe one should turn to television. It was in its heyday back then, from what I hear. Seinfeld, X-Files. Both on my list to try, but I'm going through the latter first. I have mixed feelings about the series, probably because the series itself is such a mixed bag. You have the abysmally chintzy monster episodes in which Fox Mulder consistently voices the most illogical solution possible while his partner, Dana Scully, insists otherwise even as evidence mounts that Mulder's improbable guess is actually correct. Predictable, and usually preoccupied with scaring the viewer than telling a really good story. There are exceptions even among the monster episodes, of course. One that I saw recently stands out for some particularly interesting (and rare) downtime, when  "Moby Dick" (consistently referenced throughout the series; one of X-Files' good points) is discussed, and an impressively relevant and accurate reading of the book given.

Then there are the "myth" episodes. These tend to be a lot tenser, more plot-driven, and more interesting than the others, if only for the reason that they build on each other as the show progresses: the increased scope of plot is definitely an improvement when it comes to an X-Files-type world (I mean, monsters and aliens in 40 minutes? Please, give us some time to adjust to the fact! And can we really expect so many examples to exist and so few repercussions?). But they also are a mixed bag. Towards the beginning of the series I actually found them more irritating: the political (for lack of a better word) message running through them was naive and annoying. Essentially the United States Government, particularly the military, was portrayed as evil,  hostile to all efforts to let the "truth" (about aliens) out. As the series goes on, that depiction is significantly nuanced, however. One begins to see that it's not so much the government and the military (the vast majority of whom are as ignorant of "the truth" as everyone else, and are now portrayed more sympathetically) as it is the "Syndicate"--a mysterious cabal of men manipulating the forms of our government to make the American people believe what they consider it proper for them to believe. While the former vision of America seemed more typical of 1970s-era hatred of any authority, this development amends the villains to be much more like what I would expect: the men of "superior intellect" who know what is "best" for those beneath them.

These myth episodes are also where the deeper discussions about "truth" and the supernatural come into play. While the series does an unambiguously good job of delving into Mulder's and Scully's motivations and growing determination to know the truth (and I must say, one of the reasons I haven't been turned off by the series yet is the pretty darn decent acting), its tenuous reachings toward truth of some sort are also variable in the extreme. On the one hand you have those lovely episodes in which alien life is the truth. They are coming, they are here, and they want to colonize earth. Horror of horrors. But the admitted silliness of this plot seems antithetical to the seriousness and sincerity with which Mulder, Scully, and their few allies search out the truth.

Perhaps I should edit that, however....Because the strange thing about the show is that while aliens are in some way "the truth", they are much more important to Mulder than they are to Scully. What Scully is concerned with is not so much whether aliens are real, but whether God has a real, palpable presence on earth. The exact type of question you'd expect a fallen-away Catholic to be haunted by. When "miracles" occur, interestingly enough, Scully becomes the believer, and Mulder the skeptic. Somehow, though aliens are not beyond belief for Mulder, God is just a bit too far to go. As the series proceeds, however, not only is Mulder's belief in aliens confirmed; Scully begins to return to her faith. We see the crucifix she wears from day one turning from simply a family keepsake into a symbol of something greater. As her family members die and she herself nearly does in one crucial episode, the reality of life after death returns to crush her former (science-induced, we gather) doubts. Towards the end of the third season, she's returning to confession, where she admits that one of her chief reasons for doubting God has not so much been skepticism as it was the fear that "God is speaking and no one is listening". A rather interesting statement for the 90s, and one that I think may haunt people even now, much more so than the information floods of television, news, and internet would have us think. Though I haven't watched up to that point yet, I understand that she makes a full return to the Church when she discovers she has cancer in the fourth season. I'm interested to see how that will play out.

What I do know is that the sincerity of Scully's personal conversion is hardly matched by a series-wide understanding of what God is. Since the religious episodes are so mixed with the alien episodes, He sort of comes off as just another supernatural thing out there. And the "miracles" which inspire Scully's return are hardly backed up by very excellent theology: I mean, usually, one has the stigmata for a reason. Here it just appears. No one knows why, it's just there. Sure, it's a mystery, but in the real world, God is a little more logical than that.

1 comment:

Olivia said...

X-Files is the best!