But I'm not saying I do believe


But I'm not saying I know the truth


Chris Carter, creator of the Fox Network's highly provocative series The X-Files, met with CSICOP during the World Skeptics Congress in Amherst, New York, to talk a little bit about the show and to answer questions from what was initially presumed to be a hostile audience.

Sadly I was unable to attend the meeting yet the event was taped and some pieces of the speech and the question and answer period were transcribed and published in Skeptical Inquirer. I've also received some photocopies of notes made by a few individuals who managed to make it to the affair, and couldn't help but be impressed by Carter's strong defense of the show (and of what he does) as well as be impressed by the professional, almost total lack of hostile questions directed toward the show's creator.

For people who may not know what The X-Files is and what the controversy is all about, let me talk a bit about the show and offer some specific elements of various episodes.

The X-Files is a television show employing a hybrid of the science fiction and quasi-science fright shows that television viewers have been enjoying for decades. It's something of a mix of such shows as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Toss in a healthy mix of science, action, adventure, and Perry Mason and we get somewhat close to what The X-Files is.

Through the entire series there is an undercurrent of government conspiracy, hidden cabals of dark and mysterious people who meet to discuss dark, deep secrets and who pretty much control the entire United States in secret -- if not the entire world, in fact.

The hidden forces working in opposition to the two heroes of the story -- the skeptical scientist FBI Agent Scully and the want-to-believe FBI Agent Fox -- are sometimes known and at other times unknown. The motivations of the hidden cabal and dark government agencies are unclear and the only hints that we have as to their motivations consists of the surroundings of their meeting place -- richly appointed furniture, art, and decorations. They seem to be motivated by pure greed yet there are projects they seem to be involved with which are beyond the scope of mere greed.

There are many alien abductions and government cover-ups -- or are they really? The series doesn't state whether the alien abductions that the victims (including Agent Scully) experienced were in fact conducted by aliens; the veiled antagonists might also be either the government conducting medical experiments upon the populace for mysterious reasons, or the abductors might be space aliens working in secret with the government for mutual reasons... The tension and excitement of the series is all heightened by not really knowing but by having a narrow list of possibilities, each of which receives new, validating evidence with each show yet which never discount other possibilities on the list.

What skeptics and education professionals question is what message is The X-Files giving the public? This question might not seem to be a valid one since the show is presented as entertainment, not as fact or "pseudo-documentaries" which have become somewhat popular in the United States. (The first pilot episode, by the way, started with a comment offered on the screen that what we were about to see was predicated upon fact. That comment was dropped for all other episodes -- which is a good thing because, while the series is predicated upon contemporary beliefs in the supernatural, half of the phenomena investigated during the show is most certainly not factual in any sense.)

This question is somewhat related to whether violent television shows and "pornographic" shows motivate a viewer toward taking criminal actions or are used to validate or vindicate a belief or suspicion which the viewer is ill-equipped to understand is fiction.

People who believe that aliens piloting flying saucers are visiting the Earth may view the show and find vindication of their beliefs; then again they may not because we never really see any space aliens, nor do we see flying saucers as such. We do, however, see government conspiracy to hide the truth from the show's heroes. We also see bugs, beasts, and monsters occasionally visiting the Earth for a variety of reasons. Yet we also see natural answers presented for mysterious phenomena, many of which are later proven to be the actual cause, dismissing the paranormal theories.

So the question really can't be answered in black or white terms. There is a mix of invalidating as well as validating story line for the whole broad spectrum of the supernatural and paranormal. The viewer -- like all viewers for all shows -- is left to make determinations on his or her own, employing preconceptions and misconceptions (as well as -- hopefully -- critical thinking) to derive their own opinions. The show does not make any statements as to the validity or invalidity of the phenomena they depict.

In fact The X-Files goes a long way toward presenting an unbiased, even-handed, mixture of science and the paranormal. The writers are not above poking fun at groups such as MUFON and CSICOP by mentioning them by name. They often work-in humorous asides about the real issues -- some so subtle you have to watch closely to pick them up. Then, if you do, you find yourself laughing uncontrollably. (Such as the episode where Agent Fox is having lunch with an Air Force pilot who, while dressed as an alien on a mission abducting people driving along a highway, was himself abducted by an alien. A real alien... Maybe. The Air Force pilot is -- look closely -- shaping his mashed potatoes with a fork into the Devil's Tower just like Richard Dryfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind did.)

What fun!

You might recall the horrid bit of nonsense touted in both the media and on the television networks: The supposed, "Alien Autopsy" show which purported to depict the actual autopsy of an alien recovered in the so-called "Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash." In fact among believers in flying saucers Roswell -- even though debunked utterly as a project MOGUL train of sounding balloons -- remains an instance of absolute proof that the government is hiding the truth about aliens visiting Earth. The fact is there was a cover-up when the balloon crashed and the fact of that cover-up has allowed believers to keep on believing. The fact of the cover-up automatically allows many people to believe that everything they believe about Roswell is true -- including the recovery of aliens from a crashed spaced ship.

I mention this particular case because it is believed to be the best instance of proof believers have and when "e;Alien Autopsy" came out on television, many people were taken in by the hoax -- even though special effect professionals described how the "alien" was most likely constructed, many believers continued to believe that the "alien;" couldn't have been faked with today's technology.

The X-Files didn't bother covering the issue -- not directly head-on, that is. In one episode an alien is found lying in a field and Agent Scully, being the biologist (she is also qualified in a number of other scientific fields) performs the autopsy. The autopsy is filmed, of course, and it's filmed using the same poor quality that "Alien Autopsy" was filmed with. When Scully cuts along the alien's neck, she's describing the attributes of the flesh into a recorder -- which is the standard procedure for real autopsies. She describes the texture of the flesh, the depth she's cutting to, how much skin she's pulling away from the incision, what the flesh looks and feels like...

When she gets to the brass zipper in the neck, however, she stops describing what she's doing, steps back a half-step, looks surprised, then steps forward again and simply unzips the alien's neck, pulling off the head -- and our missing Air Force pilot is unconscious inside an alien suit. Later Agents Scully and Fox watch "Alien Autopsy" on the television and make humorous remarks about how the film which was a copy of the one they made continued to show that the alien was a fake and they wonder rhetorically why whoever stole the tape and sold it to the television networks didn't bother to include that part in "Alien Autopsy."

So The X-Files isn't a purveyor of nonsensical claptrap masquerading as fact -- unlike so many other "pseudo-documentaries " that appear on television. When a hoax is obviously a hoax, they present humor -- and in this case didn't even attempt to answer the questions as to why an Air Force pilot is out abducting citizens from their cars dressed as an alien. The X-files offers a wide field of give-and-take, "let's explain this but leave this unexplained." "Let's let Scully and Fox learn a natural, reasonable explanation for a mystery today and have them discover something paranormal they can't explain scientifically tomorow." "We'll give them an alien which they discover is a hoax but let's counter that by having our fake alien abducted by a real one."

On the whole The X-Files isn't an enemy of skeptics, scientists, or even education professionals. If anything I have to agree with Carter's suggestion that The X-Files presents a scientific as well as a paranoralist viewpoint and that if anything, the show helps younger viewers question the validity of claims of the paranormal and helps motivate younger viewers to investigate the validity of claims rather than adopting unfounded belief. Yes, I must also opine that the show doubtless provides verification of beliefs held by a great many people -- simply because a great many people are not able to discern fact from fiction, scientific from unscientific, real from unreal.

But it's not the venue of the entertainment industry to educate the masses about how to think critically and rationally in an increasingly irrational world. Their job is to entertain us, frighten us, make us laugh, and even challenge our conceptions. Their job isn't to teach the world how to think critically and, even more important, WHY critical thinking is preferable to unfounded speculation.

That's where science, skeptics, and education professionals have to start doing their jobs.

Above all what The X-Files presents is a superior science fiction show with a paranormal theme. There's no need to fear it. The writers know what they're talking about -- as all good writers do. They know the issues, the myths, the legends; they research the ground they walk on and it shows in the products they produce. They don't pretend to have scientific evidence for outrageous claims and they don't employ the audacity of presenting their stories as factual.

Unlike other entertainment shows (such as Poltergeist: The Legacy , The X-Files doesn't make things up it goes. It pieces together what society fears, hopes, and dreams of, supplying the glue which holds the pieces together in new, exciting, and thoughtful ways.


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