If there’s one TV show that I can honestly say made a significant impact upon my life, it would be The X-Files. Some fans out there may have watched the show purely for the thrills and chills it consistently delivered through its mind boggling mysteries and conspiracy theories. Some of you may have been obsessed with the enigmatic yet charming relationship between its two main protagonists, Mulder and Scully. And still others may have watched it just to take notes on how to be one half of a suave duo battling the paranormal phenomena of the universe for an actual living.
I was still a kid in Sri Lanka when it started being broadcast there and “X Files mania” spread like wild fire throughout our little island. The ingenuity of The X-Files was how masterfully it interwove science into its mythology. Yes, it had a wider arc to its story line which had us debating whether our planet was threatened by a massive government conspiracy, or an imminent alien invasion. It even took turns exploring the very roots of life, searching for answers that will perhaps forever elude the human race. And that was fascinating in and of itself. But more often than not, it featured episodes that dealt with the paranormal, whether it be a rip in the time-space continuum or a “monster” born out of genetic mutation. And by offering up credible scientific reasons for most of its paranormal phenomena, The X-Files made the paranormal seem like it could be within the realm of scientific possibility. I guess that was the allure. The X-Files was the rare pop cultural phenomenon that also dared to stimulate the mind.
Yet it still managed to add a depth and emotion to its human relationships that’s seldom seen on TV shows today. Its two detectives were the heart and soul of the show. Scully may have been Mulder’s biggest skeptic, but she was also his biggest savior. As Mulder himself once put it, her “goddamned strict rationalism and science was what saved” him. She kept him from sinking into the abyss of his own insanity. When his complete and utter devotion to “finding the truth” threatened to drown him, she was the one who pulled him back, time and time again.
And at the time, at least to us, this was one of a kind. Here was a TV show that was both entertaining and educational. Teachers at my school enjoyed it; the kids couldn’t get enough of it. I remember how, simply because of this one marvelous TV show, the once obscure “Astronomical Society” at school all of a sudden plummeted to previously unknown popularity levels. Students turned up in masses to join the group just to get a hold of the “I want to Believe” and “The Truth is Out There” posters. The school halls were abuzz with the chatter of students putting their heads together to dissect apart the previous night’s episode. Some would be scratching their heads at the Lone Gunmen’s latest outlandish theory, some shaking their heads at agents Scully’s dead set refusal to accept agent Mulder’s blind faith. And those with a more analytical nature, their passion fueled all the more by the sudden cool factor The X-Files had brought to science geeks everywhere, would be queuing to the library to borrow all the books they could about unknown life forms and damaged DNA.
And in my own home, every Thursday night, my cousins and I would gather around the TV to watch the latest episode. The X-Files would be broadcast at 10.00PM, and all through the day, my cousins and I would be praying to anyone who was “out there” to not let there be a random power cut precisely at the same time the show would start (being in Sri Lanka, power cuts were a way of life; if we didn’t have any, we probably would have started calling up the power companies just to ask whether they forgot to flip a switch somewhere).
At around 9.50PM, my brother and I would sneak over to our cousin’s room to watch the show, hoping that we wouldn’t be caught by our parents, who had banned us from watching it after us getting freaked out in the middle of the night one too many times. I remember my dad, after finding out that we had sneaked off again at night, would be livid at my brother and I, and would lock us in the room from the other side to punish us. Not that it mattered to my brother or me; we were much too engrossed in Mulder’s incredibly cryptic conversation with “the cigarette smoking man”.
From the start of that creepy theme song at the beginning of the episode until the end credits rolled, we were transfixed, latched onto that small TV screen like leeches. Heck, we even had a ritual before finally settling down to watch the damn show. All the windows had to be closed, all the curtains had to be drawn and the all the lights had to be dimmed. Everyone had to be at their designated spots before the episode began: my aunt on one of the two beds, one of my cousins on the other bed, my other cousin and I on some comfy chairs and my brother on a cushion on the floor, right in front of the TV. As soon as the episode started, we were all transported to a world full of creepy monsters, enthusiastically immersing ourselves in the funny banter between two detectives who were way too cool for school to be taken seriously by the FBI.
It would take a while after the episode ended for us to get back to reality. My cousin would solemnly give us a few minutes, respecting each of our feelings as we struggled to come out of the X-Files stupor into the real world, before finally switching the lights back on. We would blink several times, feeling a sinking feeling at the pits of our stomachs as we remembered that that wonderful hour of mind numbing mystery was now over.
And then my brother and I would start eyeing the door to my cousin’s room uneasily, knowing that we had been locked in. The fact that we had already been spooked out by “the monster of the week” didn’t help. This would be our cue to beg our cousins to please let us out by the other door – there was another door out of the room, something that my dad knew full well before locking us in – albeit that door was hard to get to, since it was blocked by one of the beds. My cousins, being around 10 years older than us, would freak us out a bit more by saying that the bed is a little too heavy to move, leading our little minds to believe that we would be trapped in that god forsaken room forever. After much coaxing and some sharp words from our aunt, they would finally let us out. Their grinning faces would be the last image we see before my brother and I darted fearfully across a darkened living room and jumped straight into our beds.
It wasn’t until years later that I would come to realize what The X-Files really means to me. Because to me, watching The X-Files all over again is a way to remember a time in my life that sped by so fast that I didn’t really think to stop and marvel at it until it was over. Watching it with my cousins and letting its pure genius transform our young minds to be open to all possibilities would remain one of my most cherished memories from “back home”. Even though eventually we all, one by one, moved away from Sri Lanka to different places all around the world, this memory would always be one that would unite us, reminding us all of a time in our lives that seemed so simple and joyous, devoid of the responsibilities that adulthood brings with it. Realizing the magic of those times can never be recaptured saddens me, but the memory of The X-Files still leads us to have many an entertaining conversation at big family reunions about how every week, Mulder and Scully would take us all on one hell of a ride around the paranormal universe.
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