The X-Files: The Truth Is Still Out There
But while The X-Files contains all of the necessary ingredients to make it a science fiction classic, the drama also benefited from being at “the right place at the right time,” allowing the show to tap into the national zeitgeist of the moment and evolve into a phenomenon beyond mere entertainment. During the 1990s, the assumption that unknown elements of the United States government operated in secret gained widespread acceptance amongst the populace. In 1991, for instance, director Oliver Stone released his three-hour epic JFK, which argued that a vast and extensive conspiracy existed in regards to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Shortly thereafter, technological advances—including the rise of the World Wide Web—united the population of not only the country but the entire globe in ways that had never previously existed, allowing for the sharing of information not only in regards to the mainstream but subjects on the fringe as well. The end of the Cold War also upset the norm and introduced a “Brave New World” in its wake. Instead of optimism in the future, however, these events merely led to the uncertainty and spiritual emptiness that often arises when the end of history gives way to a new era.
Thus was the state of the nation when The X-Files premiered in 1993. A popular poster that appears within the office of Fox Mulder contains the caption “I Want to Believe,” and millions of American soon began to feel the same way about The X-Files. The suggestion that the US government was keeping the existence of aliens a secret was considered more fact than fiction by those who already believed in a conspiracy surrounding the JFK assassination, while investigations into the supernatural coincided with an evolving fascination with New Age spiritualism that was growing throughout the land.
The X-Files was also one of the first television shows to take full advantage of the World Wide Web by interacting with fans and building a large network of message boards, chat rooms and fansites. The X-Files may not have dictated the times, but the sci-fi drama certainly had its finger on the pulse of the 1990s as it skirted the fine line between the conventional and cutting edge.
At the center of The X-Files is Fox Mulder, an Oxford educated FBI agent with above average intelligence and promising future as a psychological profiler. Early in his career, however, Mulder discovered an obscure section of the FBI called the X-Files that dealt with unexplained mysteries that bordered on the supernatural. Mulder himself had a brush with the paranormal in his youth when he witnessed the alien abduction of his younger sister. The girl was never found, and the event continued to haunt Mulder into his adult years.
The X-Files thus offered a way for Fox Mulder to deal with the trauma of his childhood, especially with a key element of his new obsession involving a government conspiracy surrounding the existence of extraterrestrials.
Fox Mulder’s entry into the X-Files destroyed his FBI career by bestowing upon him such negative connotations as “spooky” but did not end it outright. Maybe it was because of unknown friends in high places who wanted to see him succeed, or maybe it was his ability to achieve results even if they were not in a traditional method, but Mulder was instead assigned a new partner instead of simply being relieved of his duties.
A medical doctor with a solid grasp of various scientific fields, it was the expected task of Dana Scully to not only assist Fox Mulder in his investigations but debunk his supernatural theories with factual evidence based on the physical world. With both believer and skeptic working together, The X-Files was able to incorporate the various disparaging elements of the nation into its singular mystery-of-the-week narratives.
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully themselves evolved into more than just mere partners with differing perspectives but devoted companions at odds with the government establishment. In essence, The X-Files was a new counterculture that emerged from the creative mind of Chris Carter just as the Baby Boomers themselves were reaching middle age and a member of that generation, Bill Clinton, was taking the reins of president. Mulder and Scully were the keepers of the flame not in terms of universal peace, love and harmony, however, but in regards to governmental distrust.
The Syndicate of The X-Files, the secret organization that pulled the strings of the nation for their own agenda, consisted of older white males who were apparently involved in more than simply concealing the existence of aliens from the masses. Through the course of the series, it was discovered that these men were also responsible for rescuing Nazi scientists from the trials of Nuremburg and bringing them to the United States to continue their research, an actual event from the real world.
The chief villain of The X-Files, meanwhile—the cold-blooded Cigarette Smoking Man—was later revealed as not only the second gunman in Dallas and the man who fired the rifle that killed Martin Luther King Jr., but that he even conspired to keep the Buffalo Bills from winning the Super Bowl during the early 1990s.
While the main antagonists of The X-Files fueled the belief in government conspiracies, the supernatural elements of the series helped rectify the spiritual void that had slowly engulfed the nation. As traditional religious observance began to falter, the need for spirituality grew as many Americans turned to New Age and the esoteric for life’s answers.
In many ways this spiritual transformation was personified by Fox Mulder. The story of The X-Files, after all, is ultimately the search by one man for answers—in Mulder’s case, answers relating to the disappearance of his sister from decades earlier. Traditional thinking did not offer the necessary closure, so Mulder turned to the supernatural. With keen observation and an innate ability to think outside the box, he saw things that other people failed to acknowledge, either because of ignorance or an inability to believe in something greater than the physical world of their senses.
Although Dana Scully had originally been tasked with debunking the theories of Fox Mulder, her own analysis of their investigations often added insight and cohesiveness to Mulder’s conclusions. No matter the situation, Scully was ready with a scientific explanation that countered Mulder’s supernatural beliefs.
In the end, both FBI agents appeared to be correct even if their fundamental philosophies were at odds. Fox Mulder, for instance, did not believe that the supernatural operated outside the norm of the physical world but was instead an extension of common scientific doctrines. The pronouncements of Dana Scully, meanwhile, were solidly grounded but open-ended enough to fit with the perceptions of Mulder.
In the world of The X-Files, science and the supernatural co-existed, just as the spiritual Fox Mulder and the deeply religious Dana Scully complimented each other on both personal and professional levels.
Over the course of nine seasons, The X-Files entertained millions of viewers with the modern day myths of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully while likewise supplying the narrative background for both the nation and the times. Mulder and Scully’s investigations into the unknown also mirrored the journey of fellow “believers” who were searching for meaning in a world that was continually changing at an unprecedented pace, a universe where answers appeared equally unknown.
Although Fox Mulder inevitably found the answers to the questions that had haunted him since childhood, however, it was his partnership with the skeptic Dana Scully that ultimately brought fulfillment to his life. It makes no difference whether one believes in traditional religion or esoteric spiritualism, it’s the connection made in the physical world that truly matter in the end.
Some stories transcend their origins, and this holds true for The X-Files as well. The world may have continued to change after the series left the airwaves, but the truth is still out there for a new generation seeking their own answers in an equally troubling time—all one has to do is believe.