Fearful Symmetry

It’s not like I think the X-Files is perfect.

There are lots of very easily identifiable problems from the original run. It is impossible to read any criticism of the X-Files without encountering complaints that the mythology is not only inconsistent, but often contradictory. Another one: “It went on too long.”* Slightly less popular is acknowledgement of the show’s racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, ableism, etc. etc. etc., an incomplete rundown of which is available here.

Since these new episodes were announced, I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s hard not to when, in the 2010s, one rewatches plots revolving around a Burkinabe spirit stealing pigmentation from black victims, or the Chinese mafia using a black-market organ lottery, or not one but TWO (otherwise super-charming?) episodes that focus on women giving birth to mutant babies after being unknowingly raped^, or (oof) a transgendered bisexual serial-killer alien. (The X-Files, ladies and gentlemen!) These episodes bothered me a little bit during the 90s, but not too much, partially because most of the truly offensive episodes are awful and so I made no attempt towards putting in the considerable 90s-VCR-styled effort it would have taken to track them down and rewatch them.

But the other part: by that decade’s standards, these episodes were completely unremarkable in their othering of, well, basically everyone who’s not straight, white, wealthy, and beautiful. And while the show wasn’t innocent, it also made unusual efforts (for the time) towards inviting thought on these subjects–most notably via this particular scene from Darin Morgan’s amazing “Humbug”:

So it gave itself cover, and it had cover from the entrenched cultural problems of the era. That’s not an excuse, but it is the reason people talk about the mythology being inconsistent so much more than they do the show being . . . offensive.

And it’s also the reason this is the topic that gives me the most anxiety about these new episodes. I expect these episodes to be uneven–three of them are written by Chris Carter, the series creator who is hard for fans to fully hate (see: series creator) but is equally hard for fans to even like.^^ If you will, he is no Vince Gilligan. All the episodes could all be awful (though I expect at least two to be somewhere on the sliding scale of good to great), and I’d still gleefully sit down each week to watch them.

But what if the show hasn’t adjusted its relationship to the non-Mulder demographic? What if Mulder is still, implausibly, always right and the holder of the show’s narrative authority? What if the show hasn’t cast gay/Black/trans/Muslim/normally-sexualized women folks? Or, what if it has, but only in stereotypical roles? This will be impossible to forgive. In 2016, there is no hall pass for celebrating the historical dominance of white manhood.^^^

* It did, but without seasons 8 and 9, where would we find archival footage of beatific, luminous early-30s Gillian Anderson?

^ The more charming of these episodes, Post-Modern Prometheus, is actually far more offensive. In the other, Small Potatoes, the rapist at least ends up in jail. In the former, the rapist (or, technically, the accomplice and beneficiary of the rapist, who is himself murdered halfway through the episode and presented as a victim) just goes to a Cher concert with Mulder and Scully. See?

So charming and so, so wrong.

^^ For so many reasons. He wrote and directed some almost-great episodes, to be sure, but he’s also the guy who framed his lead female character as being “above” sex. How I feel about that: “Ughhhhhhhhhhhh.” See also: Mulder’s porn collection and sex life AND/OR Carter’s the guy who wrote the charming and horribly offensive episode above.

^^^ Unless you’re the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Also: “Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *