Thanks to Netflix streaming services, I’ve recently been re-watching The X-Files in order from the beginning. I have an abiding interest in conspiracy theories so the show is a natural fit for me. However, while I enjoyed the numerous episodes I saw back during the show’s original run from 1993 to 2002, my life at that time wasn’t such that I could watch anything too religiously. So I missed a lot.
For the most part, the episodes worked as stand-alones since this era when shows like The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were first pioneering their ideas of multi-season story arcs, a bold move back in the 90’s, before the advent of Netflix or Hulu or other “on demand” television providers. It’s true that shows were released on VHS tapes but these still had nowhere near the social currency currently enjoyed by DVD boxed sets in the 2000’s, and they lacked the commentary tracks, alternate takes, and other special features now routinely available on DVD.
The release of shows in DVD boxed sets marked the potential for endless re-watching, but binge-watching a series doesn’t seem to have gained quite the popularity it currently enjoys until shows started appearing via online streaming. As few as five or ten years ago, you still would have had to swap out the DVD in your machine every hour or two. Now you don’t even have to buy anything, just subscribe to an inexpensive monthly service, and if you do nothing but keep watching, Netflix streaming will run episode after episode of a show one full season at a time, and it even conveniently edits out the opening credits so you don’t have to sit through those repeatedly.
Instead, you can stare in full spectatorial wonder without so much as touching your TV’s remote or the screen of your iPad from sunrise to sunset. Or perhaps, as is more commonly the case, from sunset to sunrise, when you groggily turn on your side and hope to catch a short nap before the world expects you as a civilized person to make your first dignified appearance for the day.
I’m not much of a binge-watcher, but clearly the current technology has opened new frontiers in sleep deprivation and social catch-up-ism. Miss the first season or three of that show everyone seems to be gabbing about at the water cooler? No problem. Just bluff your way through a cursory chat and then power through the requisite material over the weekend. Just like with Wikipedia and Shazam, we’ve never had such rapid ability to fake and amass cultural literacy. There’s really no excuse anymore for not watching everything.
Personally, I tend to watch shows and films like I read books, slowly to savor them and to give some attention to detail. For me, the joys of analysis always overmatch our contemporary drive for sheer consumption. I recall a few terms back when I had an undergrad boast to me that his Netflix queue showed that he’d watched over 10,000 films, but I wasn’t overly impressed by this factoid since he had a hard time performing a decent critical analysis of any of the stories or novels we read in class. Shoveling massive amounts of media into your head doesn’t mean you’re actually digesting it,, which is why I have a bit of a hard time watching things that don’t satisfying my interpretive impulse.
Fortunately, only half way through the first season I’m already finding The X-Files holds up. Yes, the clothing and hairstyles are a bit dated. And the technology is occasionally quaint, like when Scully gets paged at dinner and needs to find a pay phone or when Mulder develops old-fashioned rolls of film in a chemical bath or gets lost in the woods and can’t call anyone for help or look up his location on GPS. But these are minor details. The central premise of the series and various phenomena and conspiracies taken up by the individual episodes are still as rewarding and intriguing as they ever were.
I’m taking notes as I go and plan to use episodes along the way to launch into broader discussions here. For example, the pilot starts with the reliable and rational Scully first receiving her assignment to work with conspiracy-minded Mulder. Her exchange with the FBI bosses and her subsequent initial encounter with Mulder warrant some closer scrutiny. Similarly, the second episode, about a missing Air Force pilot, contains the series’ first truly uncanny moment and it’s something I think could serve as the basis for a larger exploration of Freud’s notion of the unheimlich.
Not that all my planned posts will be so densely theoretical, diving into psychological or philosophical esoterica. Not at all. It’s television after all. It’s meant to be entertaining. So you can count on me to also explain why I think The X-Files could be looked at as the anti-Scooby Doo. See, fun!
Finally, this particular post launches a couple new categories for my blog, “television” and “conspiracy theories.” I’m hoping the introduction of both these topics will prompt me to blog more regularly. Next time I write about The X-Files, I plan to start by examining its trio of catch phrases: “The truth is out there,” “Trust no one,” and “I want to believe.” Evocative statements, but what does each of these really mean?