Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Truth and How to Hide It

Editor's note: Introducing Diego's fantastic article, enjoy! - Matt

(The following post will be full of inherent contradictions, half-truths, right out lies, and rushed conclusions. I hope the generous reader will kindly point them out so that we can together clear up the weak or obscure assertions.)

If someone makes a mystery of something, we assume that the ‘something’ is important. The more convoluted the mystery, the deeper the recesses in which the key is hidden, the more essential and revealing we expect the truth to be.
This seems to apply to individuals and groups alike. We realize someone is hiding something from us, and our curiosity is instantly piqued. What is hidden becomes of absolute importance. All the other information we may have about that person suddenly hinges on that one fact that can put everything we know in a new perspective.
(For some of us this becomes a way of life – we set out on a constant search for glimpses of truth that will make who we were obsolete. Shedding layers of skin. Melting frozen postures of mind and body. “Beyond a certain point there is no return. That point has to be reached.”)
The problem with us is that our reasons for hiding something about ourselves are usually vanity, shame, or fear. Our secret is a trifle, a speck of dust, and we make of it a mountain. If we were at peace with ourselves we would have no secrets. In our complete openness to the world we would not need to keep things behind closed doors, for the world would not be a threat to us.
But sects, cults, secret societies and schools like to introduce a mystery where there was nothing. They literally build up a mystery surrounded by impenetrable walls. If we want to reveal the secret, we need to play their game. That means time and effort (everything does). But we spend or waste our time and effort because we feel that the secret we will gain access to is worth it. The irony of the whole quest is that we don’t know if it was worth it until the moment of discovery –if we ever reach that moment.
When the search is for esoteric knowledge, the road is dangerous, especially if it becomes long and winding. You never know who to trust. And since you are trying to find your real self, by definition you cannot even fully trust yourself (the one you are at present and whom you hope to leave behind).
Literature can also become a fatal adventure. We risk becoming entangled in the story and forsaking real life. Stories are sometimes so much more beautiful than life. And the danger is higher when storytellers deal with mysteries, puzzles, enigmas. When they can say, even after nine years of weaving a tale of tales, “What have they seen? Of the whole, they’ve seen but pieces.” And we are left to wonder.

Sadly, “The Philosophy of The X-Files” does little to reveal the mystery. The essays in books such as this one many times read like scholarly papers, and I don’t mean this in a good sense. One gets the feeling that all the references to the show could be replaced by references to some other work, and the main argument would not be significantly altered; that the argument is not based on the show but, on the contrary, the show is being used to illustrate a presupposed argument. “Even though Radford’s comments are here focused on the fictional character of Anna Karenina, they apply just as well to Agent Scully,” says one of the writers. And that’s just the problem here. Isn’t Scully worthy of a unique analysis? Doesn’t her character force us to think of things in new terms, to reconsider old concepts under a new light or to create new ones? Doesn’t philosophy at its best work that way, creatively, much like poetry? The “philosophy” of this book is not the creative act that guides us to uncharted regions of the mind, but merely a tracing of The X-Files onto weary systems of thought. The task is quite sterile and we are left with a dry taste in our mouths, after being fed too many summaries of old philosophies and too little X-Files.
Having said that… at least every chapter offers one or two valuable insights, and there are several fascinating pieces among the bunch. And, after all, spurred by my reading of the book, I am writing, though randomly, about The X-Files.
Anyway, out of all the chapters, the one that really stands out is “Musings on a Cigarette Smoking Man” by Timothy Dunn and Joseph Froy. The book is worth buying just for this brilliant piece, which tackles what I unoriginally believe to be the show’s core issue: the truth and how, why, and when to hide it or reveal it. Surprisingly, this question is not given as much thought as it deserves. Metaphysical and ontological discussions surrounding “the truth” are rare among the critics and the fandom. Our basic tenet is that “The truth is out there,” but there is someone who hides it from the seekers. So what could be more important than examining, first of all, the phrase itself –e.g. In what sense is “truth” to be understood? What does it mean for the truth to be located somewhere?–, and secondly, the person who hides the truth? CSM is, like it or not, the keeper of the key. We may be on Mulder and Scully’s side, but within the story’s general structure, it is CSM who holds the most power and has access to more information. As it is presumably better to examine an issue with more facts at hand and the widest perspective possible, we should stand in CSM’s shoes if we want to come closer to the truth (understood here as “the facts”), and see the story with his eyes.
I urge you to read Dunn and Froy’s essay, so I’d rather not discuss it at length here. Instead, I will try to outline some questions I had before coming across the piece, precisely because after reading it most of these questions (and others) had found, for me, a satisfactory answer.

For the sake of argument, what if Mulder’s quest is “wrong” and CSM is right? William B. Davis has repeatedly stated he believes CSM to be the actual hero of the show, and he has always played the character with that idea in mind. Well then, to what extent can Davis’s presentation of the conflict be correct?
This hypothesis would force us to leave aside the “hero’s journey” aspect of the myth. Or to see it from the point of view of the “enemy.” According to Duchovny, who has cited Joseph Campbell among his inspirations, the show would be another (excellent) example of the archetypal hero's journey.
To simplify things terribly: in the beginning, it is (seemingly!) only Mulder's journey. But with time Scully’s path gains importance and we finally realize it was Mulder and Scully’s journey all along. But ironically, CSM was in control, pulling the strings, all the time. It was he who “created” Mulder, he who assigned Scully to Mulder, and he who time and time again directed, redirected, blocked, and diverted their path(s). In this sense, can CSM be seen as an Olympian God? Are Mulder and Scully free, or only pawns in his game?
CSM’s rationale for keeping the facts from the public is that “If people knew the things I know, it would all go to hell.” That is, aliens would take over immediately. Regardless of how people react to the news, the aliens would know we knew. And the invasion would be imminent. In this light, Cancer Man is a humanitarian, a protector of the human race. He simply has no choice but to act as a guardian of a fatal secret, the ultimate threat.
(But what about the non-UFO X-Files, which in fact make up the majority of the cases investigated? Is a coverup ever justified? This question needs to be examined in detail.)
According to some esoteric lines of thought, knowledge is material, and as such, some knowledge is precious, and not for everyone (!). Certain knowledge, certain ideas, would be better left hidden, known only to a few, because the mass of people would not understand them and would therefore corrupt them, distort them. In fact, “hidden” is the wrong word, because that knowledge is already out there. It is simply hidden in plain sight, and those who have eyes see it, those who have ears hear it. (For all this and more, see Millennium, season 2.)
So if CSM has come by certain knowledge, we must assume it is because he did what was necessary for gaining it, that he has made the required sacrifices. No one enters a closed circle by chance, but only through long, sustained effort.
Mulder and Scully must, in turn, be “initiated.” They must make their own way into the circle. Notice how in the show arriving at a minor or major truth often involves going inside a place, entering a closed territory. Again, the truth about the world is located somewhere, so for finding it the seeker needs to acquire access. In this world, power is access.
Just as importantly, the truth about ourselves requires we look inside. “Know thyself.” For we are aliens to our own selves. We are not who we are. The truth must set us free before we can pierce through the smoke of deception and finally read the writing on the wall.
CSM, as someone who has already climbed the ladder of initiation, is in charge of leading Mulder and Scully. But neither our heroes nor us can judge CSM’s actions until the end, simply because we don’t have the knowledge he has. We cannot judge, especially, his sense of timing, of when to show and hide, give and take, confess and deceive. Only he knows when they are prepared for a certain truth, a certain experience.
The main ojection to this point of view is, Does he have the right, does anyone have the right to guide and direct someone else’s life, let alone the destiny of the entire world? The list of CSM’s “methods” includes subjecting people to cancer and barrenness, abducting and murdering family members, political assassinations, and a long etcetera. Can all or any of this ever be justified?
The utilitarian answer depends on what is at risk. What is to be gained after these sacrifices? Continuing the esoteric line of thought, What knowledge will be gained and at what level of being or consciousness will one be left after these experiences? Must knowledge always come at a price? And who is to set the price?
On a side note, there are unexpected parallels between the “villain” of the 1990s and one of the “heroes” of the 2000s – Jack Bauer. Both resort to ruthless actions in the name of the greater good. They sacrifice themselves and become corrupted by the evil they fight because the abyss has also looked into them. And both, the first much more than the latter, allow themselves moments of sadistic violence. The main difference perhaps is that Bauer is not concerned with power, while power in itself is everything for CSM (in one view). It would be interesting to explore the lines of continuity between these two emblematic figures, for at first sight, one decade’s villain is another decade’s hero. Is it only a question of how the characters are presented? Or do they reflect changes in our attitude towards world issues?
Going back to the conflict at the heart of The X-Files: Mulder starts out as an idealist, believing he can spread the word and everyone will take heed. That the truth can be spoken aloud, to thousands, to billions. But if we are to believe CSM, as "The Truth" clearly demonstrates we should, the truth is inherently esoteric, mysterious, dangerous, and difficult to understand. If you are not strong enough to face its otherworldly light, it will crush you. So finding the inner truth, from which to derive an unflinching strength of spirit, is a task that must be undertaken before or as one sets out to find any truth(s) “out there”. It is a lesson Mulder and Scully have learned, “the truth we both know” – that there is no greater fortitude than the fortitude of trust, love, and true faith.
Had this romantic duo not fought the battle with trust as their shield, their decade-long search together would have been the crusade of two blind fools! Even so, from the first scene in the Pilot to the last scene of “The Truth,” who could say that it didn’t feel like a vain pursuit? The sense of pointlessness was there right from the start. CSM, in the shadows, knew it all, and he was not telling. Thankfully he didn’t, for if he had, there would probably have been no quest. “Allow [Mulder] his ignorance. It’s what gives him hope.” CSM, in feeding that innocence, was the real hero. (Mulder will end up adopting the same attitude towards Scully, “protecting” her from the inevitable truth of the end of the world. What makes that an act of love, and CSM’s approach egoistic?) It is obvious CSM’s story matters as much as Mulder and Scully’s.
Another side note, in relation to this: Was “Musings…” successful in terms of portraying the “true hero’s” journey? It’s certainly a magnificent episode, but it would have been nice to have one more episode like “Musings…” that contradicted this backstory. (But perhaps the greatest shame is that there was no Krycek episode. Alex Krycek is the other complex key figure who begs to be examined in depth.) Yet, if there is one thing The X-Files does extremely well is presenting contradictory versions of events. Fans often complain about this “lack of continuity”; I think it is a wonderful example of The X-Files’ ‘Rashomonic’ nature. We see events as Mulder and Scully see them. Facts, dates, events are conflicting, and reality appears inscrutable. Fortunately a wise man once told them a heartwarming truth, on which they learn to base their convictions: “Memory, like fire, is radiant and immutable.”
So as regards the Syndicate, what can they do? Are they fascist or not? Did they ever have an option? In what measure are they heroes and/or villains?
What were our chances of being saved? Wasn't humanity doomed already? So what we should judge are the Syndicate's means. But anyway, doomed to what? Aren’t we aliens already? What is this fear of becoming-other but a fear of becoming who we really are? The great fear of dying in order to really live.
If the myth of The X-Files is, in the end, about the end of the world, then what is its philosophy in the face of this final destruction? For anyone interested in Deleuze, I would argue the ending of the series is in a way completely Deleuzian: M&S in flight, M&S the creative line of flight of love. Much more on this question on a later post!

A final turn of the screw. Chris Carter is, above all, CSM…. He has said in interviews that Mulder and Scully are the two sides of himself. But what Carter is not telling us, because it is plain to see, is that he is as much CSM as he is Mulder and Scully. In practical terms, regardless of how much he depends on the rest of the crew, he will always have the last word. There is always something the rest don’t know. And the way he deals with this knowledge is exactly like CSM’s. Take for example the way he handled the secrecy around “I Want to Believe.” “There's as much good information as there's misinformation.” Half-truths, lies, truths. “As I've always said, Deny everything.” (I’ve always said? Shouldn't that be CSM always says?) “Trust no one.” And so on. In interviews, Carter uses the same phrases he put in CSM’s mouth, he hides behind the same philosophy CSM hides. Of course, we love him because, when all is said and done, he is just an entertainer… right?

We have only been skiing over the deep waters of philosophical enquiry into the X-Files. By now, I’m thinking that the only thing that could satisfy my appetite for X-Phileosophy is a university course on “The Philosophy of The X-Files”!


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Remembering past genre late night television...

Technically, this ties in with my previous blog about remembering past genres, while this isn’t relevant to The X-Files, I have little doubt the host(s) of the following local television show would have interviewed people connected to The X-Files or Millennium, back in the 90s, had this show still existed.

Recently there was an event at a local theatre that was special. A evening and a special projected broadcast re-run of a 1973 episode of a local horror TV show that aired double features of old horror and science fiction movies, and was hosted by an unassuming, and unlikely chap named Bob Wilkins. "Creature Feature's" was locally produced at Oakland, CA TV station KTVU channel 2 from 1971 until 1984. The following Trailer should give you an idea:

Back in the 1970s, as a child, I distinctly remember staying up late to watch this show from 11 to 1, on Fridays or Saturday nights, as I was permitted to (encouraged by my Dad, another lover of these genres), and usually fell asleep before the movies ended. But Bob Wilkins and his eventual replacement John Stanley, were the personalities who exposed me to a great many horror and science fiction genre shows, before the advent of the VCR, DVD, Digital Cable, Tivo, Blu Ray, or iMovie.

Bob Wilkins with Christopher Lee

While this show might not have been nationally syndicated, for residents of the greater bay area, Northern California, and who came of age in the 70’s and early 80’s, Bob Wilkin’s was truly beloved. As well as his benefactor, John Stanley, who continued the show from 1979 to 1984. Stanley went on to write a great collection of genre movie guides titled "Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide”, published by Boulevard Books, and highly recommended if you can find it. This show became so popular locally that it was beating the ratings of network shows like Saturday Night Live, much to the incredulous feelings of network executives.

Wilkin’s in the seventies interviewed an amazing pool of talent that was connected to these genres. Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Forest J. Ackerman, William Marshall, Larry "Buster" Crabbe of Universal serials, "Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers" fame, John Landis, Ray Harryhausen, and countless others. George Lucas was a fan of the show and has acknowledged watching Wilkins when he had a show in Sacramento in the 1960s. The Creature Features set was cheep and cheesy, but that never mattered.

You can get a further taste of Wilkin’s here:

Bob Wilkins had a certain dry humor in the way he hosted, he didn’t take himself too seriously, nor the film's he showed too seriously, he wasn’t a fan of horror or science fiction, but most importantly he respected the fans that enjoyed these genres. He had an unassuming quality that made him a very unlikely person to host such a show, and he never depended on gimmicks, he never talked down to his audience, either adults or children. He didn’t need to. While he featured many truly awful B genre movies, he once commented: "I knew that if I told people to watch this film, they wouldn’t. I told them to not watch it. I had a TV guide and told them what was on the other stations at the time." Of course, it worked like a charm, people would stay and watch the movie. Bob was smart enough to surround himself with people who understood these genres, and he respected the fans when they would write back and correct him when his information was incorrect.

Even the cheesy 70s funk theme that opened the show’s credits, had a certain charm to it, and still can make me smile:

Once Star Wars broke in 1977, Bob Wilkins created an afternoon program for kids titled Captain Cosmic, while he was hidden in a superhero costume with a helmet, everyone knew it was Bob. The show ran Japanese kids shows, like Ultraman, Spectraman, Star Blazers, and Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot. Thus, predating the rise of Japanese Anima that is common today. Again, the sets were cheesy, as well as the prop boxed robot, 2T2. But it was popular and remembered to a certain generation.

John Stanley on from 1979-1984

Back in the 70’s, there was a latitude with local programming to allow production of such quirky shows. Before the advent of media consolidation, or specialized network programming like CNN or HBO, or a sophisticated audience that has become somewhat jaded to such niche programming. This kind of a show wasn’t uncommon; there were other similar programs throughout the United States in the 1960s and 1970s at local stations. Of course some of the profile names that come to mind, as far as nationally syndicated programs are concerned, would be Elvira and Joe Bob Briggs, as well as Mystery Science Theatre 3000. But I do tend to feel with everything that has changed, something has been lost. In this day and age, on-line sites, and genre bloggers are the people who are substituting for this gap, but it hasn’t compared really.

You can find out more about Bob Wilkin’s at the following site:

Bob Died in January 2009 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.

Most important, John Stanley’s site covers a lot of current information, as well as some fairly significant news.

A 75 minute documentary about the history of Wilkins and Stanley’s "Creature Features" is available on DVD to purchase, and that can be found of Stanley’s site.

I am certain there might be others who visit this Blog who had similar experiences as children, either in the States, UK or Europe with similar shows, and I’d like to hear about them. Everyone is welcome to comment about their own shared experience.

I’d like to close with a favorite, humorous, Americana Slogan of Bob’s:

"Watch Horror Movies – Keep America Strong!"