I Still Want to Believe: The Power of The X-Files

Plenty have talked about the impact The X-Files has had on the pop culture and TV landscapes. There's no denying that it has, in one way or another, shaped the genre television that has followed in its wake. The “monster of the week” format has been emulated by numerous shows (Supernatural, Sleepy Hollow, Teen Wolf, just to name a few); the dichotomy of a true believer and a skeptic has been echoed dozens of times in other series with partner dynamics.

It proved that just because a show featured aliens or monsters, that didn't mean it couldn't also be philosophical, topical, and compelling. You can, surprisingly, learn a lot about human nature in stories abounding with shape-shifters, prehistoric parasites, and mutants.

But The X-Files is also a deeply personal show for a lot of us. In a world where belief in the impossible is derided as childish, when being open to the weird and implausible can get you branded crazy, The X-Files encourages us to look to the stars, embrace the fairy tales, and accept that some things in life are just inexplicable.

For all of the suffering Mulder deals with throughout the course of the show, all of the moments of doubt and pain, his fervent faith in the paranormal and extraterrestrial is ultimately validated. In so many ways, our hero is a wide-eyed child who gets to see that there are monsters under the bed.

While his peers and superiors often belittle him for his far-flung theories, and Scully is always the skeptic trying to keep his feet on the ground, he never completely loses his hope and passion.

In our cynical world, that sort of optimism is too often stamped out quickly and without mercy—it's Mulder's faith that truly defines him as a hero, not his physical strength, masculinity, good looks, or prowess with a gun.

(A good thing, too, given that Mulder's constantly in need of rescue and Scully's the one who really knows how to handle a firearm.)

This is a show that rewards the dreamers in the audience—those of us who are too often shoved off to the side and exiled to the fringes of society. The ones labeled loonies; the ones who treat Roswell as a kind of New Mecca, go hiking in search of Bigfoot, and eagerly book rooms in haunted hotels.

For everyone who wants to believe that there's something more to life than the mundane and logical, The X-Files is both a celebration and a validation of our weirdness. It tells us we're not alone, and fuels our dreams just as much as it influences our nightmares.

Yet, on the flip side of the coin, it's also a great defender of the need for science. With Scully, The X-Files created such a powerful role model for women. So many female scientists and doctors credit her for their own passion and pursuit of medical degrees. Dana Katherine Scully may not truly exist, but there are real women in scientific fields because of her.

When she says, “Nothing happens in contradiction to nature—only in contradiction to what we know of it,” it's a call to arms for scientists everywhere. We don't know all of the facts yet; it's only through exploration, experimentation, and study that we learn more about ourselves and the world around us. The X-Files didn't always give us pat answers—because when we make the mistake of thinking we know everything, that the story is done, we stop asking questions or looking for more.

It's not just her scientific knowledge and nature that makes Scully such an important character, though. She's a woman of religious faith and science, proving that a person does not have to be solely one or the other. She refuses to back down or shut up; she will not be talked down to or silenced.

She demands space in a man's world; she commands attention and respect. More than twenty years after her first appearance, she remains a feminist icon—and in a world dominated by Han Solos, James Bonds, and Sherlock Holmes, that's still important. Girls need heroes to emulate, too.

And even though Mulder and Scully are FBI agents who face incredible challenges, they're still infinitely relatable. They're complicated and messy, allowed to be humans rather than slick caricatures. When most shows and movies portray FBI agents, they're in tailored suits, drive fancy cars, and have the coolest, fanciest weapons and gadgetry.

Not so with The X-Files. Mulder and Sculls are very much underdogs in this series—forced to stay in crummy motels and rent crappy cars, eating fast food on boring stakeouts, living in normal apartments, and wearing some very ill-fitting, off-the-rack clothes. They look like people you might pass on the street, over-worked and underpaid government employees who have to fight against a corrupt system for the smallest victory.

By the end of the run, you feel as though you know them. They're old friends. Sure, Fox may have a crazy family history and poor Dana has dealt with more medical emergencies than any one person should have to endure. But they're still real and tangible.

Was the recent reboot a good idea? Yes, absolutely—and I'm not just saying that as a devoted X-Phile.

The last six episodes were a necessary palate cleanser after the disastrous capping seasons of the original run. Season Ten brought the focus back around to Mulder and Scully, precisely where it needed to be, and reminded us that this show could be very, very good.

It also reminded us that for folks like Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, the fight will never truly be over. There will always be one more mystery, one more monster, one more conspiracy to undercover. So long as there are things bumping in the night, there have to be people willing to believe and take a stand against them. The stakes needn't always be the world or humanity itself: sometimes there's just a single life in the balance—just a need to bring light into dark places and hope to those who might feel lost and alone.

And that can be just as important.

 


Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.

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