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 The X-Files

A Comparison between Star Trek and The X-Files

Section Index

  1. How Do I Dare...
  2. The SF Approach
  3. The Philosophic Character
  4. Extraterrestrials
  5. Social Issues
  6. Mass Phenomena
  1. The Dark Side
  2. The Bright Side
  3. Confrontations
  4. Development
  5. Representation and Reflection
  6. The Truth Is Out There

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2: Approaching the Unexplained
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caveat: As can be inferred from the date of publication, this article may no longer represent my current views and style. It remains here for archival purposes to provide a sense of documentation and should be treated as such.

1: How Do I Dare...

A comparison between Star Trek and The X-Files? How do I dare to compare two shows that couldn't be any more different? That's why I want to do it - and then, they aren't so different anyway. Both are science fiction shows, and then they aren't. It is part of the character of science fiction that it doesn't reveal itself as such all the time.

Science fiction is kind of an empty category, it is in itself some kind of technology, a technology of telling fiction in a certain way - a technology that enables the story to take place under circumstances that wouldn't be found under 'normal' conditions; a technology that serves as a catalyst for the story, enabling the tale to enfold in unprecedented ways.

Science fiction is usually just an element of the story, the background, while the play would deal with issues of society. It is the realm of fantasy that creates infinite diversities in fiction - even in reality? When shows like Star Trek and The X-Files have become that popular within the general public, is there still a borderline between fiction and reality?

Television and movies influence the audience - like all fiction does. But in our multimedial world with a lot more fiction available than in the past centuries, the influence as well as the origin of single ideas are not so easy to trace, not so easy to define. To define a philosophy of the postmodern world would be much more difficult than to talk about a period in history; it is a melting pot for ideas, entertainment and fiction have become an industry that very often learns not only by creation but by assimilation.

Star Trek and The X-Files are phenomena of the late 20th century, with Star Trek being a bit older. But beside the fact that each of them is a show on its own (counting the Trek shows as one), both represent certain basic philosophies of our time - philosophies that have developed during history. But first I will focus on certain show-specific properties to later widen the perspective a bit.

June 24th, 1998

2: The SF Approach

Science fiction is something I came not just to like but to love over the years, a reaction based upon the massive consumption of sf itself, and a reaction to the comparison between sf and non-sf fiction. But then, what the heck is science fiction? I know that there are dictionaries to look this up, and I will quote the article in my American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition:

science fiction n. Abbr. sf, SF A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.

I do not really like those definitions as they seem to know how to de-fine something, but then there is no real formula as what really counts to sf. I do not say that I think this definition would be wrong; it is a very short one, that's clear. I could have cited a longer quote, but then this wouldn't have changed anything. Every definition, every attempt to approach this kind of fiction would be of a restricted success.

How to successfully define science fiction? I can't. I can only give examples - that's the same thing the article does. But what's the matter then? The problem is that we have a term for something but no one has exactly the same interpretation of it. It is a basic problem, the problem of language made clear by philosophers like Michel Foucault or Jacques Derrida (I've tried to explain those theories on my General Discussion Pages. The discourse of science fiction cannot be confined between words or symbols or even examples. Every attempt to do so will offer a temporary but incomplete answer.

But then, how to write when even the words I use cannot perform the function of objectivity and authority? What to say when by the very process of speaking the uttered utterance becomes obsolete? Silence is no alternative - but why do I say things like that? To make you and me aware that in the end it is the individual mind that has to solve the problems, not a dictionary, not a professor, not a friend. All memorizing without understanding will sometime prove futile. But then - how to arrive to a solution, and to what solution?

Analyzing the words science fiction, the thing is about a kind of fiction as the second word determines the basic meaning of the compound, linguistically spoken. So sf is a kind of fiction that deals with science in some way or another. That's what can be determined from the mere word. But normally, sf is associated with the fantastic, with imagination, with something that is not really real, mostly with the future. Sf has created cliché for itself, a convention it came to by itself, conventions like extraterrestrials, time travel, space travel. Somehow the scientific part seems to be important. But then there is something like Star Wars or Alien - those films would rather belong to fantasy or horror, but not really to science fiction as the scientific "technobabble" is very restricted or not present. The sf background is merely present, not being reflected upon - it is like as if it were some kind of modern fairy tale, but now called sf. The sf definition is something really irrelevant as it usually does not form the major story element. Star Trek, although a good example for sf concerning technobabble, is mainly concerned with problems of society or with character interactions. Fiction doesn't work just because of the background - it is the character stories that determine the plot much more than any kind of fictional background.

The background sf creates just enables something to happen, it is like a catalyst and not the object of storytelling itself. That's why a movie or tv show or a novel can be both horror or sf or fantasy or comedy. To try to determine one's options by limiting them doesn't work. The sf approach proves that: One might be able to assign certain sf properties to a piece of fiction, but it can never really be sf exclusively. Sf is an artificial construction that might help sorting statistics or tables, but it is not really a definite way to structure fiction. The borders by far too flexible.

July 27th, 1998

3: The Philosophic Character

There is something philosophical about science fiction. It is the very acceptance of the possibilities that could await us, the very habit of sf to present some kind of moral judgement, of ethics and a vision of humanity. Sf is not focused on technology but on us dealing with problems that could be associated with technology or could arise when applying technology. Sf is always kind of a case study, a case study of humanity, of human behavior in certain situations.

Both Star Trek and The X-Files are shows that belong somehow to science fiction. But then this cannot be the only definition of character and purpose of the shows. As this essay is meant as a comparison, both shows have a certain philosophic character. They tell stories that would represent certain aspects of humanity; the different characters or races could stand for different types of human beings or for different conflicts. But apart from the basic agreement, the philosophies the shows represent are quite different

The difference will be discussed later on; for now I want to focus on some aspects of this philosphic character. Why do I talk about philosophy when one would not even say literature, perhaps fiction? This is a traditional separation, a structuralist separation: Philosophical thinking should come with books and famous philosophers and should be so difficult to read and to understand that it can be seen as a form of art. But why can't television be philosophic, be a kind of literature?

Sf and other television shows as well as movies as well as any kind of fiction can be seen as sort of an applied philosophy. The underlying philosophy can represent current trends or beliefs, and they can also set trends and create new beliefs and an awareness of certain problems. To deny such an influence for the discussed shows would not be possible or at least difficult to prove. The gigantic fandom alone can prove this kind of neglection wrong. Star Trek and The X-Files definitely have and have had an influence on the audience.

What can be said about the above shows can of course also be said about Babylon 5 or Twin Peaks or Picket Fences. The method and sometimes the philosophy might differ, but they at least have one - and most sf shows tend to deal a lot with issues of society and philosophy. In the following parts I will focus on certain aspects of influence as well as on the method of presenting a philosophy, the method of approaching the unexplained.

July 30th, 1998

4: Extraterrestrials

Extraterrestrials are not just an object science would have to deal with (instead of laughing about the topic and officially ignoring it), they constitute also a very strong story element for any kind of fiction. The appeal of the strange and unexplained has always been very present throughout history; anything new is always interesting, surprising, serving our innate curiosity.

The portrait of extraterrestrials is often very different within science fiction; but then, why does everything that deals with extraterrestrials get the name 'sf' attached to it? 'ET' is not really sf; a lot of Star Trek or Babylon 5 episodes are not sf but are called sf anyway because of the extraterrestrial element. Somehow this naming game has become a tradition and will perhaps not be changed - unfortunately. But back to the portrayal of aliens. The most common way of presenting aliens is as aggressors, even as some sort of animal-like monster creature ('Independence Day', 'The Simpsons'). Why are aliens so often presented as slimy and inelegant and unshapely? Such an appearance would just support fear and paranoia, would support horror effects of fiction.

The Star Trek approach looks much more realistic. Resulting from the difficulties and shortages of a TV budget, aliens are mostly looking like humans, perhaps with strange ears or bumps on their heads or some other little gimmick; but their general appearance would be a bipedal, primate-type species similar to humans. Of course there are other aliens on Star Trek like the Horta (Silicon-based moving pizza-colored rocks) or the Organians and the Q (both are energy beings). And then the different species used on the show might have some other background (see Star Trek Races).

The X-Files approach looks like leading into the same direction as the one typical for Star Trek. Although no one except Chris Carter can tell something about the true nature of the aliens appearing on the show (see X-Plots, Part 4), the evidence given so far would indicate that the aliens were bipedal too (except of course the Black Oil). But there always remains the question of whether there are really extraterrestrials featured on The X-Files.

One 'conspiratory' element could be the permanent obsession of filmmakers and writers with the idea of extraterrestrial life; an effort that might very well change latent xenophobia into something more productive and more progressive. There will be no way around first contact some day, it is our task to prepare for that and not mess it up (see Extraterrestrial Life, Part 5).

August 7th, 1998

5: Social Issues

Fiction has always been kind of a reflection of the view of reality the producer of the fiction had. These reflections include not just positive aspects, are not just hollow depictions and descriptions, not just plain narration - that's the character of every art: Often it is not really important how it looks like or if one could have done it by oneself, but the interesting thing is that someone did it; that there was the idea to make something. After that decision to produce, the product will necessarily be a reflection of the innate nature of the depictor's reality.

The primary way fiction reflects reality is the indirect way, by just using the technology and cultural surroundings of the period, of the time a work of fiction or art is being produced at. Fiction in that way is creating historical sources, cultural remnants, which will then be a chance for future generations to study a period of the past like we do when we study Roman inscriptions, statues, the Pyramids or other historical remnants.

The second way reality is being reflected by fiction is the much more direct way: By making reality or circumstances of reality a direct object of fiction itself, by fiction dealing with a certain topic. This is the area science fiction is similar to any kind of fiction (and needn't necessarily be called science fiction), and it is also the very area science fiction is much different from any other kind of fiction (and should be marked as science fiction); same would hold true for the genres similar to sf in that respect (like horror and fantasy). What now seems to be contradictory is just a difference in looking at the method of fiction: Sf/horror/fantasy do not differ in basic storytelling needs but can rely on much more diverse ways of disguising an allegory.

This property of sf makes it possible to talk about issues of society in a way that would be less offending but no less true - as it has always been the character of any allegoric tale of literature (Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Orwell's Animal Farm), television (The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Star Trek) or even historic writings which would include critical remarks on contemporary society (Mommsen's Roman History, Tacitus' Annals).

While Star Trek chooses almost always the direct way, The X-Files on the other hand prefers a direct indirect method, mostly working on the level of atmosphere and emotions. Both shows are effective in their own way, creating a very different appeal and complementing each other with social issues being the primary field of Star Trek and The X-Files concentrating on basic belief and morality.

August 12th, 1998

6: Mass Phenomena

With the late 19th century an era has begun that is much different than its predecessors. For the very first time, through electricity and other inventions like telecommunications and television and radio, as well as through the introduction of the automobile and of aircrafts, there has been the creation of a mass audience and a mass society - people being able to receive and transmit messages over distances one would never have believed before. Worldwide, quite instantaneous information and access to media of information and entertainment has changed the world forever. Worldwide travel opportunities for those living in free societies and a growing global economy have supported this idea of globalization and of the creation of a global community.

With interests focussing on the new media like television, the importance of fiction had suddenly risen. Formerly just some sort of privilege for those who were able to read and write and could afford buying books, television and cinema opened a new dimension of presenting fiction. Throughout history there have been some books which had had an exraordinary influence, but this was nothing compared to the influence the new media would have. Television series, being the result not of one or few people's work (like books), would focus on a larger variety of stories and on different aspects. Narration wasn't any more limited to one book and one story and perhaps a continuation, but now a once established cast of characters would carry the series' message and fiction could reach into households every week, binding together audiences of a size unknown before.

The reach of television series like Star Trek or The X-Files wasn't any more restricted to the home country; once the success and appeal of the product was discovered, translation into foreign languages became a matter of course. Fiction and entertainment have become an industry, propelled by success, success propelled by quality. A very evolutionary process with global influence and including all known media: television, cinema, music, books, internet, merchandizing products.

The responsibility of writers and producers has increased enormously; television has become a window to the world and a means also of education and information. Television and all mass media have become powerful weapons, powerful means of propaganda and influence. Somehow we should be glad that the best known 'products' of fiction of our time are such highly philosophic and intellectual series like Star Trek and The X-Files.

With the speed of development also the quality of the products has changed. There are a lot of high-quality shows around now, compared to other decades. The only significant shows of the 1980s I recollect would be Star Trek: The Next Generation, MacGyver (yes, indeed) and Magnum, p.i. Going back in time, the next shows that were interesting and a bit more demanding than the rest were Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and the early Outer Limits. (By the way, this development towards a somewhat higher standard is to be found within US television; for example the quality of German shows is either maintaining a low standard or even degrading further. There is no need watching German television except it would be a US or perhaps a UK show). That's of course my very personal opinion, I don't want to offend anyone. Well, perhaps mock them a bit...

August 28th, 1998


To talk about something so familiar like Star Trek and The X-Files is somehow a relief from other topics; but then it is also somehow more difficult for one has to try to part a bit from a too 'fannish' style; well, I'm a fan, that's true, but nevertheless I try to discuss the topics I write about on a slightly more neutral level.

One problem I have encountered not recently but for quite some time now is that topics like television or movies are treated with some disrespect, compared to books or theater plays. This obviously being the result of history or much more of tradition, it cannot really be uphold in present time: The exclusion of a large part of fiction, probably by now the largest part, is inappropriate.

The most interesting question concerning this issue is the question of the definition of literature. Without any doubts, theater plays are included; William Shakespeare is of course literature. But why then not include television fiction and motion pictures - aren't they too based upon written plays? Why should theater plays be more valued than teleplays or sreenplays? Excluding them but including theater plays is somewhat an inconsequential approach. But it shows the attitude and the principles of canonization very well.

How to integrate new elements into an already fixed frame? This has always been problematic; but it has never really hit the dimensions of 20th century discussion. Television, cinema, postmodern music (esp. pop, rap, techno, but also jazz, blues etc.) and the internet are not considered worthy members within the family of culture. One can say that there is a lot of low-quality and mass productions, but who then would be competent to decide what is of high and what of low quality? I know a lot of (non-postmodern) literature and music that is, too, by the same standards not of very high quality, but they are without discussion included within the canon.

Another criterium is profit - it's a usual prejudice against modern culture that there is always the interest of making money. But hasn't this been always this way? Mozart and all the other classical composers wrote to finance their living. The difference might be the somehow exaggerated dimensions we encounter today, but that is nothing special for culture but for whole society. - To conclude: Old structures and hierarchies are still to be found on a lot of occasions. They are not to be blindly condemnded either, but sometimes it could prove more efficient to question them a bit and to give new tendencies an opportunity to prove themselves.

August 29th, 1998

7: The Dark Side

Somehow I might have departed a bit from the original topic; so now I'll return to the initial conception. The object was a comparison between two shows which have become very popular over the years; shows of very different character and style. The first part of this essay focussed on the common elements, but now I'll talk about differences. The very basic difference is the mood, the topic, the background of each show.

The mood of The X-Files is mainly dark, gloomy, intransparent. A depressing and claustrophobic atmosphere carried by words, pictures and music. A series and film noir, principally a dark show. But darkness is not just a matter of photography, a matter of music, a matter of atmosphere. As with Star Trek, there are also some dark episodes (TNG's 6.21 'Frame of Mind', DS9's 4.19 'Hard Time' or CL's 3.15 'Let That Be Your Last Battlefield'); but then this would be some exception from the rule. For Star Trek, such a darker atmosphere would be something like a single occasion, not a tendency of the whole series.

Darkness extends in The X-Files into every story; sometimes hidden, sometimes more openly. Darkness manifests itself as a matter of fate; as a matter of being able to make a difference or not. Although the show doesn't lack humor at all, the events are usually dominating and making influence on them difficult, even impossible. The agents often can only watch, they might even gain some temporary success - but that wouldn't be an everlasting effect. On The X-Files as well as on its successors Space: Above and Beyond and Millennium, the outlook on the future is dominated by fear and paralysis. The fight against the prewitten future would perhaps be possible; but the result wouldn't necessarily be what one would expect.

Another level of darkness in story and outline is that of Babylon 5. This show is somehow the darkest of all, the pessimistic of all - not on single occasions but when monitoring the grander scheme. There is a two-parter episode in the third season, 3.16f 'War Without End', an outlook into the past and future, a prophecy if you want. The sad thing is, that everything develops the way it is showed - there is no possibility to get around it, the future is pre-written, the characters act merely as puppets, what is prophesied comes true. There is no general free will, or free will might be an occasional privilege on a lower level of story or just at all an illusion. There might be temporary success and temporary light, but in total it is a shadowy world, fatalistic and citing the worst, not the best, of history.

Somehow this tendency within Babylon 5 is an observation which came to me quite late but proved true especially by the first B5 movie, 'In The Beginning'. With The X-Files and its successors, this dark atmosphere has always been present, with Star Trek almost never. But then isn't this truly pessimistic when the pessimist side manifests only quite late, when one suddenly is struck by the realization that everything heard and seen before was merely an illusion? The same holds true for some story elements of The X-Files, especially for the Gethsemane/Redux/Redux II episodes? The constants I spoke of in Telos and Essence, Part 9 remain in the background, are not paralleled by the events. They form the basis of the Mulder/Scully relationship as well as of the Babylon 5 station, but they have a much more difficult stand.

August 30th, 1998

8: The Bright Side

What elements now would put Star Trek into a position different from the other shows mentioned? And would this position be exclusive? Surely not. First of all, the elements characterizing Star Trek as something really different would be again a mixture of words, pictures and music. Star Trek is, first of all, drama. Apart from some visual effects and locations (which do not really dominate the show) the setting could also be realized on a stage.

Star Trek is dominated by dialog (as is Babylon 5); the different species introduced do not at first mean to be different species but to be different persons (see Star Trek Races) - that's one reasons for the extraterrestrials on the show looking quite human - they are storytelling devices and act like certain types of human beings. The stage character of Star Trek also determines its language; the special Trek Speech - a stylized and very formal and artificial language (best example: Patrick Stewart). This observation is especially evident for a foreigner like me; with English not being my mother tongue: Star Trek is easily understood in terms of articulation. The specific Mulder Speech on the other hand makes The X-Files sometimes a guessing game. Apart from the effects to a foreign language learner, this is a very characteristic element of Star Trek, showing that the show is somewhat bound to ideals like clarity and transparency.

The stage character also determines the type of stories to be included into the show: A classic stage play usually demands for a closed story, for a conflict to be introduced and exposed, then for the story and the conflict to speed up and ascend to a certain point until a solution is derived. The traditional form of a five-act-play holds also true for Star Trek on most occasions; the five acts created by commercial breaks. The show usually follows this scheme, always working out conflicts and arriving at solutions. Even Deep Space Nine does that, although within this part of the Star Trek universe the conflicts might appear darker and much more intense.

On Star Trek, conflicts are always solved, sometimes it might take a bit longer, and when they are not directly solved, then they are solved in an indirect way. A good example is the Borg story: Of course it would sound strange if the collective would suddenly behave peacefully. But with the introduction of the rebels (TNG's 5.23 'I, Borg' and 6.26/7.01 'Descent', or VGR's 3.17 'Unity') and the presence of Seven of Nine on board of Voyager, the conflict is somehow deconstructed. That's what Star Trek does with any conflict: Deconstruction leads to a thorough review of another culture (like the initial arch-enemy, the Klingons) to make this culture and race more transparent and to provide different aspects and angles for storytelling; to finally arrive at a new relationship with the initial conflict - old structures to be overcome, concentrating on common grounds rather than on differences.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations - a philosophy governing the entire Star Trek history; a philosophy believing in common grounds as well as in intercultural exchange of ideas and achievements, a philosophy of cooperation and not just of tolerance but of acceptance, accepting the other as part of the own self. The philosphy of the Vulcans (as thoroughly described in Diane Duane's 'Spock's World') is a synonym for the philosophy of the entire show; a philosophy of hope and a philosophy of free will and of the ability to make a difference.

August 30th, 1998

9: Confrontations

One typical element for fiction is that it puts a cast of characters into a certain situation and confronts it with some conflict or crisis. That's something not really different in any of the shows, but there are certain types of conflicts and storylines typical for The X-Files or for Star Trek - confrontations and situations which differ somehow both in manner and type as in intensity.

With Star Trek, there seems to be this unwritten law that in the end everything is just fine; the premises of the show, the basic elements remain roughly the same. There is always the United Federation of Planets, always Starfleet, always a solution to problems. One effective example are the medical capabilities of the main Star Trek races - injuries that in our time would either need some time to heal or never really heal or even lead to death are effectively not existent any more; if someone gets injured by a plasma leak, they'll usually be fine by the end of the show (Of course people also get sick and die in Star Trek, but that would happen just for story reasons or if the unlucky crew member is belonging to Security).

The approach of The X-Files is slightly different: There might be some things staying the same or at least staying present all the time, which would hold true for institutions like the FBI, but those elements are just hollow frames to be filled by persons - and the persons and their position always change within the show. Even Mulder's convictions change over the years, as does Scully's attitude towards their work. She still remains skeptical but is not a skeptic anymore - she has seen too much, but her clinging to science is now much more kind of an escape into familiar grounds.

Within Star Trek, the borders of Good and Evil are quite visibly fixed. Although there might be some elements within DS9 to portray certain characters like Kira and Dukat or Odo a bit more thoroughly concerning their common history and their deeds of the past, there is still not really a doubt that Dukat is seen as an adversary and Kira as well as Odo as an ally of the Federation. Kira was a terrorist, that's true, but she was much more a resistance fighter against alien oppression. That doesn't make her a better person - she's still a killer and murderer and terrorist - but the difference between her and Dukat is that Kira's crimes are past events and that she has changed her way of life. Her sins of the past have troubled her for a long time, she hasn't yet found all the answers, but she's much more regretting them than Dukat. Dukat is plain evil.

Within The X-Files, the borders between Good and Evil are not at all fixed, they aren't even really existent. Deep Throat, X and the Well Manicured Man and probably even Mulder's father are considered allies of Mulder and allies of the truth - but on the other hand they are liars, conspirators and murderers. Even Mulder will turn into one of them; he has done so in the Gethsemane/Redux/Redux II trilogy - he has killed someone who was sent to spy on him (probably out of self defense, but I'm not so sure about this - he used a second shot), he lied by pretending his death, he lied when accusing the Section Chief - all his actions motivated by thinking that he would be doing the right thing, serving the right purpose. Mulder is self-righteous and becomes a fan of arbitrary law; he operates against people operating outside the law - and he could become just like the shadows he is hunting. But in spite of all of that he remains the hero of the show, a crusader against a conspiracy of still unknown dimensions. Fox Mulder, contrary to his opponents, still has a conscience.

August 30th, 1998

10: Development

The development of the discussed shows has been quite different; depending both on the time of origin, of the circumstances during that time and of other factors. The character of fiction has changed a bit when found within television or cinemas - the most significant changes resulting from the translocation into the new media. Enlarged availability and a greater supply of products of fiction make it more difficult to find quality productions; and the increased demand often leads to products just satisfying the needs of the audience but lacking originality.

The classical Star Trek series had become a victim of its time; the sf era had not yet begun and the show did not fit into the usual concept of television. But then, the extraordinary qualities of the show paid off during its syndication reruns - a buried show was resurrected and eventually returned - but then the situation had changed again: Now science fiction was really something common, with films like 'E.T.' or 'Star Wars', Star Trek had suddenly a much better company than it had before. But the concept of the show paid off again - Star Trek is basically the same show as it has been before; some changes were made, but the philosophy has stayed the same.

The X-Files came into existence at quite another time; a time already governed by science fiction. But it proved right that extraordinary things will speak by themselves - the show wasn't just a clone of another series, it was something really different. Not really in the same category as Twin Peaks, which somehow opened the series of shows discussing somewhat darker topics, The X-Files created something new, but something instantaneously classic - a simple concept and a complex topic. The success of the show was somewhat surprising; it came quite fast - and has continued to grow.

A possibility to measure the influence of a show can partly consist of watching the clones which try to imitate the original. A lot of shows trying to tell similar stories like The X-Files have entered the television screen; a lot of shows have tried to capture the appeal and the spirit of The X-Files - but most of them have either failed (Dark Skies, Nowhere Man, Baywatch Nights) or are just surviving somehow (Poltergeist - the Legacy, Psi Factor) - just a few of them can prove original (The Pretender, The Outer Limits and of course Millennium). But something really is evident here - the influence a show like The X-Files had on the following television seasons.

Fiction can be dealt with in various ways. The usual way would be to try to deal with the fiction, the story. But there is also the other way, to try to take a look behind the construction or to take a step aback and to watch the whole picture, the grander scheme. Such a view shows that success doesn't always lead to a weaker version of the original (as it would be with a lot of movie sequels), but sometimes - as in the case of Star Trek and The X-Files - the ongoing success has led to a concentration on the very basic concepts behind the series. Star Trek has become much more Star Trek than ever; one example is the much more balanced handling of the cast. The X-Files has gotten darker each year, its successor Millennium following that scheme too. It is somehow like testing the limits - and instead of staying within them, extraordinary shows always try to expand them every time a bit further. And that's why there can be four different prime-time Star Trek series without repeating itself all over the time.

September 1st, 1998

11: Representation and Reflection

What is fiction? To answer this question, one should rather ask what reality is. What a silly question. Indeed? Reality is not really the fixed entity it is assumed - or constructed - to be (see The Fabric of Reality ff). Reality is always a personal experience - an individually created image of a world that we can just define by the individually created images we see in our head - there is no objective control, no interpersonal possibility of comparison. We might very well rely on conventions concerning standard issues and questions; but those conventions cannot answer all our questions; indeed they could very well hinder us sometimes from finding a personal solution.

What the heck am I talking about - and what does it have to do with the topic? "It is just a tv show" - really? The best example for any post-structuralist approach I've ever seen is the DS9 episode 6.13 'Far Beyond the Stars' - who are we to be sure what reality is and what not? I'm quite sure that my reality looks different from the reality shown in a tv show, that's clear. I'm not wearing a Star Trek uniform and I'm not having Gagh for breakfast. No, I am not trying to defuse my statement some sentences before. What I meant was the following: Yes, Star Trek (or The X-Files respectively) is a tv show. Yes, it is fiction. But what then is our reality? How sure are we that our life is not part of any fiction created by someone else? What does the discussion matter, anyway? I always hear people saying that sf shows are not realistic television. Why not? Because sf asks too many questions? Because sf deals with the unexplained? If I tell other people about post-structuralist ways of thinking, they will soon get a certain facial expression trying to tell that they think that those theories are just for fun, cheating the thinking mind and being somewhat freaky.

How to represent reality? If I try to remember the past, I'm doing nothing else than creating a piece of fiction based upon some known story elements - the same process any historic writing uses. Fiction is the binding part to let us bridge the unexplained, to let us connect all the evidence and create new pieces of the fiction that we come to call reality. One example is again historiography: Historic research is never done; once there is one piece of work completed, it can always be done anew because of new evidence. But each published work will nevertheless always claim its authenticity and its reality - and although all the arguments might have been arranged very logically and very convincingly, they remain arranged - fictionalized.

Fiction is always a way of dealing with the unexplained that we call reality. That's necessarily so because the creators of a work of fiction have nothing but their lives and the stories of other lives to tell about and to tell the stories. What is in our imagination, is part of our reality. Our minds are our only connection with 'reality'; they are the interface connecting us with the outside world. All sensory information is brought to our brain and analyzed there. We might as well be nothing else than brains or minds dreaming all that we are believing to have experienced. That is another aspect of reality - do we trust our senses? Usually we do that. - Well, that's leading too far away for now. Back to the previous line of thought: Fiction reflects the thinking of its creators; with the creators not really being original creators but perhaps something like sculptors molding a story after a textual fiction present in their surrounding version of reality (see Intertwined Pts. 10ff).

Without fiction, there would not be any reality. Fiction is the medium by which we describe what we experience and perceive; perception is interpreted by means of fiction but seen as reality. Fiction which is consciously created as being fiction (that means fiction not wanting to make us believe in its authenticity and not claiming to be anything else than entertainment) shapes our reality because it is the ideal messanger for ideas belonging to issues of morality, philosophy and religion. Such fiction is not to be underestimated; it helps us approaching the unexplained. In fiction we seek answers and solutions, we also seek relief and entertainment. Basically, our demands concerning fiction parallel those concerning reality. Again, the difference is slipping away.

September 1st, 1998

12: The Truth Is Out There

Thus I have arrived at the end of an essay that is by no means a closed or consequential composition. An essay focussing on different aspects and facets of selected pieces of fiction, leading to loose ends as well as into discussions which could (and do) cause headaches. But putting those self-reflexive remarks aside for now, I have to somehow answer the given task. And I have four paragraphs left.

Approaching the unexplained - that's a task science fiction has always tried to fulfill. The method to do this is always a very different one; there are as many solutions to a problem as there are people asked for a solution. There might arise the question why it would be so important to do this, to approach the unexplained, but then the unexplained is not a definable thing, nothing one could categorize or label or make visible in any way. The unexplained is neither having borders nor giving us the opportunity to explain it all. The unexplained is nothing that - when explained to a certain degree - would be of a lesser size; the unexplained always stays an infinite category.

There are a lot of approaches to approach the unexplained, but the way of fiction-fiction is a very special one (You might by now have realized that with post-structuralist ideas it is much more difficult to use language; and so it would come that there are very funny words appearing, trying to define themselves, trying to make the reader as well as the writer aware of the ineffectiveness of language for purposes of description. By fiction-fiction I mean fiction labeled as fiction, and not fiction labeled as reality). The way of fiction-fiction is trying to explain objects in the reality-fiction world by allegoric means, pretending to talk about fiction-fiction but very probably truly intending to talk about reality-fiction.

The two shows discussed here (to be exact, it were a bit more) share some common elements but are very different though. Both set a certain stage, they define a certain frame-set helping them to establish a connection with the audience and creating a certain anticipation. The frame-set is indicating the conception behind the show and its concentration either on a rhetorical (Star Trek) or on an emotional level (The X-Files). Nevertheless, the stories represent aspects of the fiction we consider as reality - with both shows using science fiction and post-structural elements to approach something that can never be approached perfectly.

The truth is out there - a message which could be the sign of hope of any approach towards the unexplained; a message indicating that the search for the unknown will not be futile; a message indicating that, even if we might not succeed, the important part is trying. 'Out there' can also mean 'within us' - for both the reasons and solutions for most problems lie within human nature. One reason lying within human nature is curiosity; a reason to go on searching for a truth that would be out there. Without this curiosity, there would be no science, no philosophy, no religion, no art, no civilization.

September 1st, 1998

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