HOW TO BE AN X-PHILE WITHOUT BEING A GEEK
BY DANIEL RADOSH
The truth is out there. And over there. And look, there it
is. Heck, the truth is everywhere these days. It's splattered across the
Internet like so much alien goo. It's stacked up in bookstores like top-secret
files in a government warehouse. It shines forth from newsstands like
beams from high-powered flashlights pointed at the camera. When it comes
to The X-Files, the truth is all over the gosh-darned place.
When the Fox network launched the science fiction/horror/detective
hybrid in September 1993, few people including David Duchovny and
Gillian Anderson, who play FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
believed it would still be around five years later. Today it is more popular
than ever. New episodes draw up to 16 million viewers each week, not counting
growing audiences in countries from Japan to Switzerland to Croatia. It
has racked up more than 25 industry awards, including a best actress Emmy
for Anderson and Golden Globes for both leads and for the series. An ambitious
big-screen version is on the way. But The X-Files phenomenon is larger
than the show itself. X-philes wanting to look beyond the tube can turn
to books with titles like The X-Files Declassified, to Internet sites
and newsgroups like alt.tv.x-files, to magazines and even CD-ROMs, and
to the touring ''X-Files Expo,'' coming next weekend to the Coconut Grove
Convention Center. There has never been a better time to be an X-Files
But there is a better way to be an X-Files fan. Do you own
more than one of those books? Do you regularly check the Web sites? Have
you ever actually identified yourself as an X-phile? If so how
can one put this gently? do you have any friends? Meaning real-world
friends, not ScullyGuy@aol.com.
You see the point. Fandom can be creepy. You may be agog
that the Flukeman in episode 2X02 was played by Darin Morgan, who later
wrote the classic episode ''War of the Coprophages,'' but most of us,
frankly, would rather kiss a coprophage than get into such a conversation.
True, some people suspect that any interest in science fiction is a sign
of geekdom, but that's not what this is about at all. It is entirely possible
to appreciate The X-Files and still be attractive to the opposite sex.
The model to avoid, obviously, is the Trekkie especially
the one who insists on being called a Trekker. Fortunately, the stylishness
of The X-Files means that no matter how into the show you are, you'll
never be tempted to paste on pointy ears or a ridged nose. If you did
want to dress like Fox Mulder for Halloween, you probably couldn't afford
to (nor could most FBI agents). And even if you could, you still wouldn't
look like Mulder so much as yourself in a nice suit.
In a way, the pervasive mysteriousness of The X-Files works
as a foil for the obsessive tendencies of certain types of fans. Trekkies
know that if they put their minds to it, they can figure out exactly how
to adjust for power fluctuations in the transporter's annular confinement
beam. X-Files fans understand that the absence of firm answers is so fundamental
to the show's appeal that true appreciation requires not investigating
That's the ideal, anyway. Clearly, however, more than a few X-Files fans
really do resemble The Lone Gunmen, Mulder's socially awkward sidekicks
whose idea of fun is going on the Internet to nitpick scientific inaccuracies
in TV shows. If you can name all three Lone Gunmen, you may be a candidate
for membership. Weaving a tangled Web
As with any hobby, excessive contact with the Internet is to be avoided.
Not only do The Lone Gunmen hang out in cyberspace, but Dean Haglund,
the actor who plays Gunman Langly (with the long blond hair, as if you
didn't know), is the only X-Files regular with his own Web site. Really
his own, as in he does his own coding. And while he admittedly comes across
as a basically affable young man, let us emphasize again: He does his
This is not to say that the Web can't occasionally be a fun
way to enhance your viewing pleasure, but with 852 sites listed on Yahoo,
the potential for wasted time is enormous. Sure, it could be worse
there are twice that many Star Trek sites but if you catch yourself
the number of times Mulder and Dana Scully have said the words "I'm
fine," don't say you weren't warned.
If you absolutely must own an 8-inch statue of a despondent
alien smoking a cigarette or a real dollar bill with Scully's face where
George Washington's usually is, buying it through the Web may be your
only option. Either that or attending an X-Files convention. On the other
hand, if you feel compelled to pay $40 for a question-and-answer session
with the serial killer who could squeeze through air ducts, it may time
to go cold turkey (Lone Gunman alert: If you can name either the character
or the actor, keep it to yourself).
Sorting trivia from trash
Fortunately, The X-Files is mainstream enough that the healthily curious
viewers out there can avoid the fringes entirely and simply hit the local
bookstore. Unfortunately, most X-Files books are pretty coprophagic.
One popular genre is the episode guide show-by-show
listings with plot summaries, behind-the-scene info, inside jokes and
so on. These come in both official and unauthorized varieties, but either
way, they are bound to be incomplete as long as new episodes are being
If you really want one, your best bet may be The
Nitpickers Guide for X-Philes by Phil Farrand. It's insanely obsessive,
but with a certain panache. Farrand tells you, for example, the number
of times Mulder eats sunflower seeds or gets guck on his fingers, or the
number of times Scully drives, but curiously never does he count how many
times Scully has smiled. Also, it has an ingenious index for determining
which episode is which, since the titles are never given onscreen. (Lone
Gunman alert: Try not to refer to episodes by their titles. It's annoying
to hear ''Jose Chung's From Outer Space'' when most normal people know
it as ''the one where the alien smokes a cigarette.'')
Beyond starstruck biographies, most other X-Files books fall
into the category designated by the Dewey Decimal System as 629.71: Useless
X-Files Lexicon is a dictionary of pretty much every word ever spoken
in the series, with such entries as ''Japanese Language Mulder
wishes he had studied, instead of French.'' Really.
These books, along with oddities like the map pinpointing
where each episode takes place, play to fans for whom the most interesting
questions raised by the show are things like ''What was the first X-File?''
What smarter fans find engaging is the scientific and paranormal premises
that underlie each episode. Remember, this is the series that spun a plot
out of a rare, gruesome illness called Creutzfeldt-Jakob months before
the rest of the world read about it in the papers as mad cow disease.
X-Files creator Chris Carter has said that most story lines
are suggested not by devotees of the paranormal (or the paranoid), but
by mainstream media: science journals and newspaper articles. The
X-Files Book of the Unexplained, a two-volume set by Jane Goldman,
explores the real-life phenomena from which the show builds its stories,
though Goldman is almost Mulder-like in her willingness to give credence
to all kinds of supernatural hokum.
It's also possible that all these books will be rendered obsolete
by the new X-Files:
Unrestricted Access CD-ROM, which aims to be the ultimate multimedia
omnipedia. The slick package allows users to rifle through Mulder and
Scully's case files, examine evidence and crime scenes using QuickTime
VR and to redesign their own computer desktops with the signature X-Files
fonts and images a feature that is as enticing as it is useless.
Taking a novel approach
At this point, you might be saying, ''Who cares about all that? I just
like the stories.'' And if you can't bear that long wait between Sundays,
go ahead and curl up with one of the original novelizations of X-Files
episodes. These novelizations are divided into young adult and junior
editions, and the adorable junior rendition of ''War of the Coprophages''
has been retitled ''Die, Bug, Die!'' Go figure.
If the whole novel thing is too challenging for you, there
are always the comic books. (Lone Gunman alert: Don't store your comic
books in plastic sleeves. Use Mylar, or they'll never be worth anything.)
There's also a narrative CD-ROM, a live-action adventure game featuring
appearances by Mulder and Scully themselves.
Finally, there is a danger of being too high-minded about
all of this. While manic attention to trivia is the most common ailment
of over-eager fans, there are others who get a little too heavy meta.
All Knowledge: Reading 'The X-Files' is a collection of 11 academic
treatises that illustrates this tendency perfectly and that in
fact says far more about the sad state of academia than it does about
the TV show. Here's a taste: ''Grounded, like Sartre and Todorov in Western
psychology and neurobiology, The X-Files sustains a Todorovian hesitation
between the physical and the metaphysical that takes on an openly dialogic
As Fox Mulder might say, the verity is dispossessed.