This month’s Movie That Molded a Geek is not a movie at all (well, eventually it was, but we’re not going to cover those today), but rather a TV show. When thinking back over what shaped me as a geek, one TV show rises above all others, and was perhaps more influential than any movie: The X-Files.
The year was 1993. I was a ten-year-old, starting the fifth grade. While I had grown up watching Star Wars and my parents were avid readers of speculative fiction, I hadn’t really hopped on the boat myself yet; my main hobby was reading, and there weren’t many sf novels aimed at kids, especially girls. It never occurred to me to give the genre a shot. In TV, I had seen Alien Nation, Star Trek: TNG, and most recently, Sightings, an awful Unsolved Mysteries-type show that covered everything from Nostradamus to MIBs. That show had me fascinated and terrified.
My mother snared me one Friday afternoon after school. “I think we should watch this show that starts tonight,” she said casually. “It looks good.”
Since that was the year I lived in a neighborhood with other kids, kids who climbed trees and played outside, I had no idea what show she was talking about. Still, that evening we settled down to watch the pilot.
Oh. My. God. There was an alien body in that first episode. Mulder was into conspiracies (some of which I knew about, thanks to Sightings) and Scully was a kick-ass doctor/FBI agent. By the end of the first episode, I was hooked, hooked like I’d never been before.
Really, X-Files was the first time I was involved in a fandom, as much as a ten-year-old with no Internet could be. I scoured TV Guide and the local newspaper, collecting clippings about the show. That first year, for Christmas, my mother gave me an X-Files t-shirt, with a design I’ve never seen since (sort of a lime and purple shadow standing in a doorway, very abstract). She’s still proud of that find; she tells me, Do you know how difficult it was to find that, two months after the show had started?
The next year, I had started sixth grade and middle school, and I invited several girls over for a sleepover… to watch the season premiere of the show. Funnily enough, there was a power-out in the neighborhood that started just minutes before the show started. It came back on just minutes before it ended. We spent the hour running wild around the darkened neighborhood rather than watching the show, which, in retrospect, was better for my social life. Still, to this day I’ve never managed to catch the second-season premiere.
Had I been just a few years older, or maybe had the Internet, I know I would have been even more involved with the show. As it was, my intense interest lasted through most of middle school, when it slowly waned as my social life grew (and, really, as the show got worse, imo). Even today, I have more affection for this show than any other. It’s carried into my adult life: I was always more interested in monster-of-the-week episodes than the mytharcs, and today my preferences are evident when I watch current shows like Doctor Who. I was thrilled about the recent X-Files movie, and even though the movie itself proved to be somewhat of a disappointment, I know I’d be back in line for another one.
I really can’t understate the effect that the Scully character had on me. I don’t normally give much conscious thought to women’s study topics, but honestly, having strong, interesting role models, both in life and pop culture, are so much more meaningful when you feel you can relate. I might not have had an interest in medicine, but I was at an age where I was feeling self-conscious about my intelligence, even dumbing down my vocabulary. Scully’s confidence and cool intellect were gratefully appreciated. I didn’t know I was missing a Scully until I had one. There’s still a part of me that wants to be Scully when I grow up.
It’s been awhile since I’ve watched The X-Files, and I’m not sure how it holds up, almost 20 years later (though talking about it is making me want to go back and find out). If you haven’t seen it before, it might seem commonplace in a TV world that’s now full of detective teams and supernatural events. Still, I like to think that this one still has something special. I know that, more than possibly any other movie or TV show combined, it’s molded me into the geek I am today.