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Fear and 25 Years of The X-Files: JennyPop's SDCC2018 Souvenir Book Article

Wednesday, 25 July 2018 10:21 Jennifer Devore
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A Grim Walk in the Woods:

25 Years of The X-Files Monster

 

by

Jennifer Susannah Devore

 

 

"I was out Squatchin' … Bigfoot hunting."


- Fox Mulder

 

The Greeks first tamed it in written form. Later, the Polynesians, Norsemen and Celts appropriated it orally. Centuries following, Europeans and Americans re-appropriated it in grander, literary and visual form.

Fear.

Seafarers like the Hawaiians, Vikings and Boston whalers spun wild tales to rationalize everything from squalls to squids. Fear of the unknown is a powerful pinch on the neck. Reducing it to mere myth not only explains it, but tames it, kind of. With rationalization comes control. If the giant squid tapping on your poopdeck has a name, you might take the upper hand. Call him Kraken, see what happens.

Even with Medieval Europe's myriad population centers, the Continent was largely blanketed in forests. Bustling Bruges might be home, yet outside the gates the forest awaits.

 

"Queequeg, we're not going into the woods."

- Scully

 

Woods are eerie. Historically, woods are where failures flee with heads hung low and cloaks pulled tight. The woods mean exile for the repugnant, stripped of their communities, left to fend in fright, alone.

 

"Living in the city you forget a lot of things. It's not until you get back to nature you realize everything is out to get you."

- Scully

 

In 1812, brothers Wilhelm und Jacob recognized this fright and began collecting oral folklore across Germany. Published originally as Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children and Household Tales), the first editions of Grimm's Fairy Tales, including Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin, served as folklore preservation and cautionary tales in a weary world, as much of Europe was in the early-1800s.

Today, forests are still unnerving. Regardless, depending where Wanderlust summons, there's a friendly ranger or an app to guide you. Ancestral fear has been demoted to mere amusement. Still, mankind needs to maintain the primal fright, to keep us on our evolutionary toes. (What happens when the Google dogs rise?)

Sprouted from the cagey mind of a SoCal surfer and former writer for Surfer magazine, The X-Files (1993 - 2018) speaks to the masses, and their collective subconscious. Creator Chris Carter (Millenium, The Lone Gunmen, Harsh Realm) is a self-described believer in "true evil" with "an acute sense of what makes us afraid". Similar to Voltaire and Shakespeare, Carter traffics not in media, but in psychology. Madison Avenue asserts the most effective marketing ploys are hope and fear. Carter gets that. His impetus for The X-Files was "simply to scare the heck out of people", he confirmed in The X-Files: Conspiracy Theory. (Titan Comics, 2016)

On a late-Summer night in 1993, The X-Files landed in some 12m homes. Since "Pilot" aired, X-Philes have bathed in the blue light of nighttime television, fighting the night with two FBI agents far too sensual for relegation to a D.C. basement.

 

"Are you familiar with the so-called X-Files?"

- Mulder, "Pilot", S1e1

 

The X-Files are "unsolvable" cases, originally manned solely by paranormal-believer and FBI black sheep, Agent Fox Mulder: portrayed magnetically by David Duchovny (Californication, Aquarius, Goats). Mulder proves specious en seul and is eventually paired with paranormal-skeptic and scientist, Agent Dana Scully: portrayed regally by Gillian Anderson (Hannibal, Bleak House, Crooked House).

For basement-dwellers, they are not only smoking hot, but well-educated. Both are Quantico-standouts, the FBI training facility where Mulder earned his moniker, "Spooky", due to his unorthodox theories. Mulder also earned an Oxford Ph.D. in Psychology; Scully earned an M.D. at Stanford.

Scully may have been assigned to the basement to veer Mulder from the scent of alien-whitewash and Bureau-conspiracy, yet it was Mulder who veered Scully, somewhat, via the meat of the X-Files: the plausible supernatural.

An insidious government is always a party-pleaser; but it's the Monster-of-the-Week (MOW) awarding The X-Files icon status. Monsters lurk everywhere; the fear they instill gives them teeth. The X-Files sharpens those teeth to scare the Underoos right off us in ways Die Brüder Grimm never fathomed, had 19thC. Germans sported Underoos.

Name a childhood fear. Something's under the bed. Plenty of adults still do a nightly assessment, especially checking into a hotel: more so if it's a creepy, farmhouse B&B.

"Home" (S4, e2) exposes what's under the bed. Now, burn the bed, raze the house, pour cement over the lot and build a Piggly-Wiggly. The screaming torso of Aunt-Momma on a mechanic's dolly under the bed, an infanticidal show-open from the baby's POV, and multiple, grisly, cop-murders deem "Home" so disturbing, it was the first X-Files to air a viewer-warning and the first network-episode in America to receive a TV-MA. FOX aired "Home" once, banning reruns. It only clawed its way back up via a 1997 FX marathon.

The under-bed may be clear now, but there lurks more horror. Chris Carter and his fellow writer-directors know what lurks there and have covered it thoroughly, including the Hollywood monsters.

 

"When convention and science offer us no answer, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?"

- Mulder

 

Sport a scarf and rosary to bed? "Bad Blood" (S5, e12) and "3" (S2, e7) will leave their marks, despite the scarf. Do witches spell toil and trouble? "Theef" (S7, e14), "Die Hand Die Verletzt" (S2, e14), "Familiar" (S11, e8) and "Chimera" (S7, e16) moil their magick and validate voodoo doll discomfort. Silver bullets in your Glock19, in case of neighbourhood werewolves? "Shapes" (S1, e19) suggests, no whisky nightcaps on the front porch.

Are there black masses forming over your bed and inhuman scratching behind the armoire? "Shadows" (S1, e6), "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" (S5, e6) and "Elegy" (S4, e22) will leave you feeling you're not alone.

 

"When darkness falls, all we have left to guide us are questions. What am I looking for? Where am I going? What did I just step in?"

- Mulder, Darkness Falls, S1,e20

 

Does camping, or a walk in the woods, especially with your little dog, bullyrag your comfort zone? Is a sleeping bag just filo dough for whatever will eat you? "Jersey Devil" (S1, e5), "Detour" (S5, e4), "Darkness Falls" (S1, e20) and "Quagmire" (S3, e22) will ensure you outrun your friend … although, that won't always matter. Poor Queequeg.

If we categorize fear, the supernatural falls into the Fun Zone. We can enjoy poltergeists, assured by science they won't come to our house, probably. There are, however, varmints that will. The X-Files ferments logical fears of things in the walls, closets and sewers.

Block the shower drain at night? Sewer dwellers might disquiet you. "The Host" (S2, e2) covers that, with copious slime. Vexed by thoughts of midnight cockroach parades in the kitchen? "War of the Corprophages" (S3, e12) will get under your skin, and your wallpaper … not to mention awakening latent fears about your partner working late with a hot scientist named Dr. Bambi.

Fretting about rats in your broom closet and Jaguar engine? "Tesos Dos Bichos" (S3, e18) assures you rats do live there, and in your lavvy. Like Indy, do you hate snakes? Add fundamental religion, and "Signs and Wonders" (S7, e9) will help you see the light. Worried about organ thieves? (It's more real than you think.) "Hell Money" (S3, e19) and "Nothing Lasts Forever" (S11, e9) will keep you indoors, abusing your liver. Mine, mine, mine!

It's not just the paranormal and the critters. Mankind has deeper nightmares, disembodied of claws, feelers and fangs.

Keeping up with the Petries may seem vapid, but conformity keeps us from exile. (Remember the woods?) Of course, conformity can go too far. "Arcadia" (S6, e15) questions HOAs as necessary evils. Freaks and outsiders may unnerve us, but largely as projection. Who wants to be the freak banished to Portland, Oregon or North Florida? "Humbug" (S2, e20) declares, Ich bin Ausländer!

Though Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are quite something to gaze upon in S10 & S11, that doesn't mean Muggles aren't aging everywhere else.

A gratuitously gory episode, "Nothing Lasts Forever" (S11, e9) examines purloined transplants and perplexing beauty regimes. A poignant confrontation in "Plus One" (S11, e3), between Demon Judy and Scully, might leave you gazing in the mirror, thinking, Dammit. Face it, looks matter. "The Post Modern Prometheus" (S5, e5) squirms against society's guilty discomfort with the severely disfigured … and Cher.

Lest we forget … the children. Little is as evil as an evil little one. Like a Tiffany box with a spider in it, no one expects such vileness in such prettiness. "Born Again" (S1, e22) and "Eve" (S1, e11) argue against Eugenics, ponder reincarnation and advise against accepting soda from creepy twins.

If there is an evil doll, bet Stephen King is behind the bisque. Co-written by the King of Horror and Chris Carter, "Chinga" (S5, e10) confronts the common, irrational fear of dolls: pediophobia.

Lessons learned from "Chinga":

1) If you find a doll in a lobster trap off the New England coast, throw it back.

2) If your kid (or wife) has a favourite doll, do not microwave said-doll.

3) When Polly wants to do something, do it.

4) When you hear "Hokey Pokey", run.

What's the future of fear? If you listen to Elon Musk, Mulder and your Meemaw, it's technology. "Ghost in the Machine" (S1, e7) first input the idea of bad robots, at the crucible of our Internet existence. Whilst the earliest protocols were developed decades earlier, it was the Nineties when ubiquity took hold. The Internet sank its teeth in and hasn't let go.

The Information Age bit hard and has been shaking us by the neck ever since. "Rm9sbG93ZXJz" (S11, e7) - "Followers" in base64 code - could be an epilogue to "Ghost … ". It's a semaphore warning. Your inner Sheldon Cooper dreams of life sans other humans, but "Followers" explores the self-aware silicon being. (Cue ominous, Google dogs.)

Chris Carter has tapped our amygdalas: the area of the brain where neuroscientists pinpoint fear-conditioning is encoded. Whether your poison is airline disasters, bikini season, sharks, cancer, poverty or Bigfoot, fear reigns in our brains. Yet, how dare we let it rule us?

"X-COPS" (S7, e12) may be the pinnacle of The X-Files monster, for it is all monsters, via the power of suggestion. Werewolves, Freddy Kruger, pimps, wasps, the Hanta virus and even abandonment rear their interchangeably ugly heads during a full-moon, police ride-along in a SoCal 'hood.

If the future of fear lies in our amygdalas and Google dogs, where lies the future of The X-Files?

“I think there will be more X-Files,” Carter prophesied in a March 2018 Den of Geek interview. "They haven’t locked up the file cabinet in Mulder’s office. There’s still more stories to be told."

If there comes S12, it will be sadly sans Scully. Gillian Anderson made it clear she's left the Bureau.

"I’ve said from the beginning this [S11] is it for me,” Anderson affirmed in a January 2018 TV Guide interview. Although, "It's never a fitting end unless you die," David Duchovny asserted in a 2016 EOnline interview. Scully isn't dead.

 

"I have his manifesto … I don't know which was more disturbing: his description of the Inner Core reincarnated souls' orgy, or the fact that the whole thing was written in screenplay format."

- Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' (S3, e20)

 

Citing Chris Carter in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, there exists a third X-Files screenplay: The X Files (1998) and The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008) being the first two films. As of this writing, there are no third film certainties, other than Mrs. Carter's advice: "I let my wife read the third movie," Carter told THR, "and she said, 'I think not for television.'."

At the end of the night, The X-Files represents an underlying fear of anyone living in a democracy, and paying attention: government overreach. Scully and Mulder fight the beasties for us, real and perceived; but when the IRS appears in your driveway … you're on your own.

 

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