The Popularity of the X-Files is No Secret
The X-Files has found enormous popularity because it appeals to us on many levels. Chris Carter, the X-Files writer and producer, has tuned into Americans. What possible interest could Americans have in a show about aliens, government conspiracy and strange happenings? It has nothing to do with real life or does it? It appeals to our need for control in our lives, a need to know who to trust, or need for answers to all our questions, and a need to get in touch with the hidden sides of ourselves.
Perhaps the biggest issue of the show is one of government conspiracy and cover up. Scully and Mulder often deal with this issue. Secrets are not only being hidden from them, but the population of the USA and the world. The show simply taps into the paranoia that has existed a very long time about the government. The paranoia grows as the years pass and with events like Roswell, and the mysterious deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. Many people strongly believe that aliens are among us and the government is trying to keep it a secret. These people are not always eccentric neighbors or cult members; they are friends and family. The belief that the government isn’t telling us everything is the consensus among the American public it seems. The X-Files explores this phenomenon. It taps into that fear of being deceived and controlled that we all have. The show reconfirms this, but at the same time it gives us hope for fighting it as Mulder and Scully do. And it is through Mulder and Scully that these various ideas and cases can be presented and tied together.
Mulder is the child-like believer in all of us. He is the one who seeks hope and possibility in little things. Each episode brings him closer the truth he seeks. He seeks answers to his sister’s disappearance, which is appealing to us on the familial level. Not only is searching for his sister, but for a higher and more spiritual truth. Mulder is willing to take things on faith. He isn’t afraid of guessing outrageous and illogical answers to the questions posed during each episode. He follows his intuition and feelings like Americans (especially males) would like to do.
Scully is the scientific oriented, academically minded doctor and FBI agent. On the show, she was assigned to keep Mulder in line, but Scully also serves to help the “real” American public feel safe. Americans, as the Western Culture, demand scientific explanations for things. Scully represents the public on the show as she searches for logical explanations to the crazy questions. She grounds Mulder and keeps him, and in turn the show, from becoming a little too far fetched. Scully is the person we are comfortable being and watching.
It is very interesting that Scully and Mulder have reversed roles. Usually men are the more logical ones and women are the intuitive ones. I think through the reversal we can identify with the hidden parts of ourselves. Men can see Mulder in themselves and women can see Scully in themselves. What a better show to address this issue than a show that blurs the line between fact and fiction? The blurring allows us not to be offended or really even notice it. How wonderfully sly and subtle! However, it does get Chris Carter’s (the writer) point across. Rhetoric at work.
Skinner is the nondescript and ordinary man. He is the average person stuck in a bureaucracy. He does his job and goes by the book. Like the public, he is merely in the line of many and merely a pawn in the game. He is important in the story lines, but not usually the focus of them. We don’t know a whole lot about him or his past. Skinner is the person we deal with, but give little thought to.
It is the “smoking man” that we love to hate. He is the all knower and in control. His control is in his ability to know what the secrets he has and makes decisions on what the public will or won’t know. Even the viewers aren’t quite sure of what exactly he does. He just seems to be responsible for many bad things. He is very dark and mysterious. The smoke from his trademark cigarette symbolizes what is hidden in the shadows. The thing is in our daily lives we rarely have one certain person to blame. The “smoking man” gives us that person to focus on.
The X-Files credits begin with “The Truth is Out There,” as if promising us some sort of truth, but few questions rarely are answered in the show due to plot twists, and dead ends. The show is purposely written like that because it allows the viewers to draw their own conclusions. The American public enjoys the opportunity to speculate and wonder. Life is full of unanswered questions and everyone can relate to that. The issues, the characters and the very nature of the show make it accessible and enjoyable. Its popularity is no secret.