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-by Rodney Clapp


The Truth Is Out There

Some people think The X-Files is about UFO-chasing and urban vampires and government conspiracy. I think it is television's sharpest and most consistently rewarding exploration of epistemology.

Okay, okay, I hear the protests--but whaddya expect on commercial TV? Richard Rorty squared off against Alvin Plantinga? Of course, Fox-TV's highest-rated program features strong storytelling. It's got a chic, dark ambience. It's got some mystery and suspense and pg doses of violence. And protagonists Dana Scully (played by attractive redhead Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (played by attractive brunet David Duchovny) have potent sexual chemistry cooking at a slow simmer, the restraint of which only increases the excitement, to the point that the (very) occasional use of one's first name by the other has as much charge as a blitzkrieg bedroom scene. (Mulder and Scully may be popular culture's best argument that Marabel Morgan is right and chaste people really are sexiest--but that's another article.)

So, yes, the standard elements of sex and violence and curiosity appeal are there. But I still say the show is fundamentally about epistemology--about knowing, and how hard it is to know, and probing how we can know what we think we know.

The X-Files is now ending its fourth season as one of the most discussed programs on television--not just in the United States, but in Australia, Norway, and Ireland as well--yet it is conceivable that some B&C readers haven't seen the show. So here, in a theremin-scored interlude, is what you have been missing:

FBI agent Fox Mulder, an Oxford graduate in psychology, is one of the agency's best and brightest. But he is also--different, let's say. Mulder is convinced that his sister was abducted by aliens when he and she were little kids. Consequently, he is hooked on the bizarre, inexplicable cases most agents tuck away and forget in the bureau's "X-files": unsolved crimes with evidence that points to the credibility of UFOs, reincarnation, werewolves, ...

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