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October 1994


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Kevin Glynn <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 22 Oct 1994 17:00:01 -0500
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Don writes:
>. . . what does a mutated parasite in the sewers of New York say
>that isn't said by the urban legend of giant albino alligators and nuclear
>fears expressed in GODZILLA and so on?  It's simply there.  Pynchon mocked
>and made use of such folkore in his novels, but I don't see X-FILES *going*
>anywhere with this, beyond getting us to distrust the government.
I'm not so sure that it's _X-Files_ that is "getting us to distrust the
government."  I think _X-Files_ has a loyal fandom because it speaks without
condescension to a skeptical audience, many (if not all) of whose members
already distrust the goverment (and have good reasons to do so, which are
supplied by their broader social experience, and not just because some TV
show tells them to.  Much to its credit, however, _X-Files_ does encourage
and "validate" their distrust.)  But _X-Files_ doesn't speak only to
distrust of the government.  It also speaks to distrust of other powerful
social forces, like those which I mentioned in my first posting (i.e.,
bourgeois education, expert knowledge).  Finally, I would never say that
_The X-Files_ is "better" than urban legends.  I think urban legends can
occupy a very significant place in popular oral cultures, so I'm not
dismissive of them.
>. . . X-FILES is often compared to THE TWILIGHT ZONE, yet the
>two shows deal with the fantastic and paranormal in rather different ways,
>the most obvious being Serling's sometimes heavy-handed moralizing.  I >think,
>though, that for younger viewers of my generation, that moralizing made all
>the differences.  One fabled episode that we discussed on the grade school
>playground was the one where astronauts are abducted and put into what is
>finally revealed to be an alien zoo.  As facile as the story is, I think it
>raised issues about difference and Otherness that could only be read in
>the context of the conformity of the 1950s and perhaps the civil rights
>movement.  I know that it made me think about what it meant to be an Other--
>to be viewed, separated and categorized as something and not somebody.
I'm not sure that _X-Files_ audiences don't do something very similar to the
sort of taking-up-as-discursive-resources that you describe yourself having
done with _Twilight Zone_.  For example, the theme of alienness
("otherness") is certainly a common one on The X-Files--and difference as a
cultural problematic is certainly no less active today than it was in the
1950s!  Surely, for example, _X-Files_ themes of alienness under attack, of
alienness as an object of extermination that is targetted by powerful social
forces and alliances, resonates with, among others, audience members whose
everyday lives are filled with experiences that are constituted as "other"
to the power-bearing norms of dominant social formations.  Insofar as this
provides support for the always-*potentially*-progressive antagonism of the
people toward the power-bloc, then it deserves to be taken seriously.
>Paranoia can be a spur to action, but taken on its own, it simply leads to
>paralysis (that's another lesson from Pynchon).
I'm uncomfortable with the way you pathologize (as "paranoia") and dismiss
the distrust (or better yet, *skepticism*) that is expressed in the
_X-Files_ (as it is in a great deal of popular culture) against dominating
alliances that exert power through institutions and knowledges like the
government, the official education system, etc.  I think that you're
referring to the *program* when you use the term "paranoia," but you equally
pathologize, by implication, those audiences which take its "conspiracy
theories" very seriously (as some do).  It seems to me that this dismissal
of popular skepticism begins to ensure that the forms of "action" to which I
think you're referring will never occur (because once something has been
pathologized, it may be readily subject to an entire panoply of controls,
both discursive and institutional).
Moreover, this idea that popular skepticism (to use the term I prefer over
"paranoia") "taken on its own . . . leads to paralysis" seems to me more
than a little problematic.  If hegemony operates by mobilizing meanings that
secure the interests of dominant alliances and forces, then the production
and circulation of counter-meanings that question those put out by dominant
alliances is already a significant form of "action."  Furthermore, it is a
form of "action" that is an absolute prerequisite to other forms of
"action."  These other forms of "action," however, typically require the
formation of alliances across social formations--which becomes very unlikely
when those which have privileged access to higher, more legitimate forms of
cultural capital are busy castigating those without for being paranoiac.
Kevin, who sometimes wonders why there isn't more theoretical/political
controversy on this listserv