The X-Files: (All Too) Familiar

The X-Files: (All Too) Familiar March 9, 2018

The title of this X-Files episode, “Familiar,” is a perfect pun. The episode explores the idea of a witch’s familiar, but also the familiar unleashing of more mundane evil in small town America.

The episode plays on the creepiness of characters in children’s television shows, at least when they are viewed from an adult perspective. Between that, the prospect of children being abducted and murdered, and the introduction of witchcraft, the episode focuses on some of the things that scare human beings most.

Yet the episode also challenges those fears at the same time, or at least challenges the focus of them. And I was particularly struck by the religious elements connected with the way that is done. A small part of a church service for a child who has been killed embedded in the episode, and it is in that context that some of the truth about things going on behind the scenes begins to emerge. But more than that, one of the characters admits to having let the devil into his soul, not by practicing witchcraft, but by breaking a sacred commandment, allowing lust to dwell in his heart and then committing adultery. For that reason, he suggests, he is being punished, as he himself through his wicked thoughts and actions has opened the gates of hell.

In the episode, however, it is not as though God is punishing him for his actions. Rather, it is the adultery itself which has caused hatred on the part of his wife towards him and his lover. We see rage run rampant in an irrational fashion, leading a grieving father to beat up and then shoot and kill a convicted pedophile that he assumes is responsible for having killed his son. The question of whether witchcraft is a real thing is, ultimately, completely irrelevant. Whether the weapons be spells or guns, it is we human beings who bring harm upon our families, our children and spouses, our entire communities.

The treatment of the man on the sex offender registry works very powerfully in the episode. The man actually has a mask of the creepy character Mr. Chuckleteeth (as well as a live monkey in a cage, balloons, and much else) in his house. He is a perfect suspect. Yet, as Mulder notes, he is “too perfect” and that in itself should cause one to look more closely, to remember our principle of considering individuals – regardless of their past – as innocent until proven guilty. In this case, it turns out that the rape for which he was placed on the registry was statutory – perhaps when he turned 18, and his girlfriend was still 17, her unhappy parents decided to press charges against him. He also worked as a performer at birthday parties, and there turned out to be video evidence as a result that showed he was performing miles away at the time the boy was killed. And so the episode doesn’t just explore our fears, but highlights that those fears themselves cause much suffering. Indeed, they perpetuate the things that make us afraid, since once we fear our neighbors, we don’t get to know them, and distrust leads to isolation leads to still greater distrust, and so on in a vicious circle.

The episode also highlights that the ones we really need to worry about are not the creepy looking characters with crooked eyes, but the seemingly respectable citizens, police chiefs for instance, who engage in adulterous relationships and unleash powerful and dangerous forces of a non-supernatural sort that can nonetheless “curse” them and their communities.

The episode made me wonder how often it has been the case that stories of monsters and witchcraft were developed in the past precisely so as to provide a scapegoat for the mundane human monsters that are the actual source of tragedy. When a child was killed in distant centuries past, was the reason for blaming witchcraft precisely to avoid exploring the possibility that the killer might be someone known to all, and the motive might be jealousy or revenge or anger rather than some inhuman power?

I continue to have ambiguous feelings about the X-Files. On the one hand, it seems to delight in playing on the very fears that cause many of our problems, sowing distrust and fostering conspiracy thinking. Yet on the other hand, at least during this last season, it seems to also be digging deeper and challenging that very propensity for fear that leads us to “trust no one.”

Of related interest, see the Washington Post article about research into fear for safety and how it relates to our alignment as conservatives or liberals, the Christian Century article about racism as the worst kind of mass hysteria (with very direct links to themes central to The X-Files), and Verso on history as a way of learning.

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  • Otto T. Goat

    A really unlikable episode. Being reminiscent of the classic Die Hand Die Verletzt didn’t help any, either.

    From your link:

    “Young, director of Harlem’s Schom­burg Center for Re­search in Black Culture, exposes the ugly tenacity of our stereotypes…The hoax’s haunting history of race was invoked by the likes of candidate Trump as a figure of horror: fake Indians, Mexican rapists, violent Negroes and their neighborhoods”

    But Elizabeth Warren is a fake Indian, Mexican rapists are a real problem, and Negroes are violent.

    • Your comment seems to illustrate the point well.

      That African-Americans are more prone to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted more frequently than whites could itself be indicative of racism rather than greater criminality, could it not?

      • Otto T. Goat

        The SPLC is a scam organization:

        There is no evidence African-Americans are more prone to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted more frequently because of racism:

        Look at the homicide numbers. Are we to believe whites are getting away with thousands of homicides every year, and it’s going completely unnoticed? Arrests and prosecutions are consistent with crime reports. Most crime is intraracial. I don’t believe there is widespread lying by black crime victims and eyewitnesses.

        • One can find individual studies supporting every viewpoint: tobacco does not cause cancer, vaccines cause autism, and so on. Merely linking to an individual article is not the appropriate way to make a case – you need to indicate what the consensus of relevant experts is.

          I am really astonished by your questions, and by your assumption that an organization is a “scam” without the self-awareness to recognize that you may think this because of your own views of people with shades of skin different than your own. Anecdotal evidence is not indicative of anything on its own, obviously, but it still seems worth mentioning that a trial has been on the news related to an individual who shot someone on his own property. If the individual had been white, the presumption of self defense probably would have led to it being treated very differently.

          But if you only read sources that confirm your stereotypes and fears, then you are (as I said) indicating the truthfulness of the analysis of this episode, and of the articles I linked to…

          • Otto T. Goat

            Ken Silverstein doesn’t share my views, he’s a liberal journalist. Other journalists have reported on how the SPLC keeps money in offshore accounts. You can look up for yourself the house Morris Dees’ bought from his lucrative “chairity”. SPLC smears have incited mass shooters:


            My views on crime are not based on anecdotes. I provided you with FBI data. This report from Obama’s DOJ observes:

            Blacks were disproportionately represented as both homicide victims and offenders. The victimization rate for blacks (27.8 per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000). The offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost 8 times higher than the rate for whites

          • And when we consider the history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that has led to African-Americans being on the whole isolated in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods through not merely years but centuries of systematic injustice, none of that is surprising. But you seem to still think that if you can find a source that says something that is spinnable in a way that fits your racist viewpoint, you needn’t bother asking what the consensus of relevant experts is when it comes not only to what the data shows, but what it means, how it is to be interpreted. That isn’t how things work.

          • Otto T. Goat

            Blacks were less criminal when they were subjected to more discrimination, and a moment ago you were surprised by the facts, because you were denying them. The only spinning is being done by you, because reality doesn’t conform to your liberal viewpoint.

          • It is ironic that you would make such a claim, while presenting not even the slightest shred of evidence, and in which even the data that one can imagine there being would be open to other far more natural interpretations. It is well-documented that, during the era of slavery, black slaves were presented as docile and obedient. Those with power and privileve depict those they wish to keep subservient however it is most convenient for them.

          • Otto T. Goat

            Given your reaction to current FBI and BJS data I don’t find your interest in data to be genuine.

          • Then you misunderstood me. I am not disputing the data. I am challenging your way of construing what that data indicates.

  • Chuck Johnson

    Whether the weapons be spells or guns, it
    is we human beings who bring harm upon our families, our children and
    spouses, our entire communities.-James

    Rod Serling used to show us things like this on a weekly basis.

  • Michael Wilson

    Otto, yeah Christian Century said some dumb things here. Not why they gave a problem with Trump’s mocking Warren for Native American heritage. She looks like should be Trump’s sister.

    However I never liked Trump’s “Mexican rapists” comment, nor do find your negeros are violent comment laudable. It’s a disrespectful way to talk about people, it’s hurful and sounds essentialist. Are all negroes especially violent? If not, what’s the value of the statement? If you were from a rough neighborhood would you want people to make assumptions about you based on that? Would you like for your own personality to be considered as an idividual?

    James, you should read a little of what people ask before commenting on it. Your being reflexively defensive. Be careful. Goats heart is in the wrong place, but his facts are all straight and you have been moving your goal post.

    The comment that “negroes are violent” is not offensive because this statement is untrue based on the amount of percapita violence of blacks vs whites or excusing violence as a racist legacy (is racist victimization why violent whites are violent? If not is it because whites are just inferior to other races when it comes to suppressing violence?) It’s simply overly broad and uncharitable, like saying Germans are genocidal and warmongering or white Americans are racist.

    • I don’t think I moved any goalposts – my point all along was precisely that his heart is in the wrong place and that is why he understands the data as he does even though other ways of understanding the significance of the data set are not only possible but preferable for a variety of reasons.

      • Michael Wilson

        Otto brought up an FBI crime chart that showed African Americans were more likely to be involved in a number of crimes and your response was,
        “That African-Americans are more prone to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted more frequently than whites could itself be indicative of racism rather than greater criminality, could it not?”

        Which suggest that African Americans are not in fact committing all those crimes, but are falsely charged with them because of racism.

        Otto responded with some data supported by the consensus of experts in the field to support the FBI data(the same guys we all trust are fair when it comes to prosecuting Donald Trump) after dismissing the facts without consideration, you adjust your argument to

        “And when we consider the history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that has led to African-Americans being on the whole isolated in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods through not merely years but centuries of systematic injustice, none of that is surprising.”

        So is it that African Americans commit disproportionately more crime because of their experience with racism or is it that African-Americans are only more prone to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted more frequently than whites because racism and not actual criminality?

        Now I have seen studies suggesting that when you account for family background, income, education, and geographic ancestry, Black people are not more violent than whites people. That geographic ancestry being ansestry from the SOUTHERN United States. Essentially in an alternate universe where penniless WHITE southerners moved to the big cities up north instead of blacks, their crime rates would have risen. In the south adjusted for income and such, blacks and whites are as criminal. It’s different in the north. Apparently Northern culture didn’t emphasize ones obligation to physically fight for your honor as in the south.

        Other studies have supported this. Bumping into a guy and calling him an ass hole in New York will get you flipped off. In Memphis it will get you beaten. Southern migrants to the north carried that mentality with them, and it happens that a lot of those migrants were black. Why?
        RACISM. so yeah black people are poorer and disproportionately represented in crime because of the effects of racism. If there were no Jim Crow, Black people probably wouldn’t be equal to whites in owe and money, the same as I doubt Americans of Irish decent are as rich and influential as the old English blue blood families, but they would be better. But it isn’t accurate to say that the reason some blacks resort to crime is racism. The do it for the same reason anyone does. And if racism was the culprit for crime, I would expect that even after adjusting for poverty, education, etc., that black people would still be far more likely to be involved in crime. And this is s poisonous idea, no different than a low brow racist because it assumes that even blacks people from good homes and possessing good educations are still more likely to harm you.

        • I will leave some of your points until another time if they still seem worth coming back to after what I write here, because you begin from a false premise regarding what you assumed I meant. I never said anything about false accusations and wrongful convictions, although undoubtedly such things are part of the picture and there is extensive evidence to back that up. The issue is not only that, nor that a historic and ongoing experience of discrimination leads to relative poverty which may lead to a higher rate of involvement with crime – although again, complaining that a nation is less stable than our own without mentioning that our nation was actively involved in destabilizing theirs (to make a comparison) would seem inappropriate, leaving out a crucial part of the story.

          But what I was referring to was the fact that the entire system from approaches to police patroling, through crime statistic data collection and reporting, all the way through to the increased likelihood of a black man being convicted for a crime compared with a white man in a similar case with a similar charge and similar evidence, all problematize the data set that was cited being treated as “just the facts.” Again, to make an analogy, one could look at student course evaluations and make a claim that white men are better educators – but only if one ignores the extensive evidence that this tool and the way students complete them show signs of inherent discrimination.

          Let me highly recommend Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction, chapter 5, which explores how allegedly impartial algorithmic approaches to crime prevention started with a data set and assumptions that linked symptoms of poverty and minor crimes more widespread in some neighborhoods than others – broken windows and graffiti – to more serious crime, responded with increased policing in those areas, which inevitably leads to increased arrests and convictions (as well as stopping and frisking of a far greater proportion of people with particular shades of skin color, as once again abundant evidence shows). But what O’Neil highlights is the “pernicious feedback loop” this creates and what it leaves to one side – namely the fact that a similar approach to different minor crimes more prevalent in white neighborhoods might lead to similarly increased intesection of police patrols with violent criminal activities there. The assumption that Otto made about the data set was that there was some means of gathering data impartially about criminal activity, and that such methods lead to the purportedly unbiased statistics from the FBI. But if reporting, police patroling, convictions, and other aspects of the entire system are skewed by discrimination, then the data set will inevitably reflect that.

          • Michael Wilson

            Sorry if I misunderstood you James. I think your response was unclear, Otto read it the same way. You said the figures might be indicative of racism as opposed to greater criminality. The natural way to interpret that is African Americans did not commit the crimes attributed to them. Other wise there is no reason to doubt the greater criminality.

            If a guy who lived in a terrible situation and was denied the life he could have lead because of racism kills his wife because he thought she cheated on him, his experience of racism doesn’t mean he didn’t kill his wife, it doesn’t mean he isn’t a criminal.

            I can see how I and Otto misunderstood you, and when he responded with “There is no evidence African-Americans are more prone to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted more frequently because of racism:”

            You didn’t clarify your self but dismissed his sources clearly without considering them.

            If you reaIly believed “I never said anything about false accusations and wrongful convictions, although undoubtedly such things are part of the picture and there is extensive evidence to back that up.”

            Then you should at least admit most convictions are not because of racial bias against the defendant but because the defendant is guilty. Until you affirm that point, it’s confusing to argue that no, racism is why they are there. The immediate reason for most inmates, of any color being in prison is they committed a crime. If Jared Kushner (please Lord!

          • You are quoting my words, which clearly can cover the range of what is well-documented, both the fact of more wrongful arrests and convictions, but also the main point that even among the guilty racism leads to fewer whites being arrested, tried, and convicted for the same crimes. You have the same data and yet are sure I did not mean the full range of things that I am sure I did. I think this nicely illustrates the key point, i.e. that the same data gets interpreted in different ways by people with different perspectives on this topic…

          • Michael Wilson

            I think your dancing around the main point, do African Americans commit more violent crimes per capital than the average for Americans? I don’t think assenting to this is attack on blackness. I think we can agree that African Americans are poorer than average and receive less education than average. I don’t hear people saying that African Americans are weathier than whites on average or go to better schools. Now if poverty and poor education are more likely to produce violent crime, is it shocking that more African Americans are involved in these than the average for Americans?

            You keep taking about wrongful arrest, convictions and how more African Americans are convicted for the the same crimes white people are committing.

            But do you think that after accounting for that violent crime among African Americans is lower than the national average?

            One of the links Otto posted up deals with the rate at which different populations in America are subject to being murdered, the apex of violent crime. Now it also points out the well known fact that most murders are committed by people who know the victim, hence most people are killed by someone of the same race as them, white, black Hispanic, whatever.

            What he communicated and you ignored is that the implication is that for s significant amount of these murders to have actually been committed by non African Americans means their is weird phenomenon where whites people are stealing out to kill blacks people and the black witnesses are blaming these crimes on other black people to cover it up. That is preposterous.

            In fact I would say because of racism black murders are more likely to not be arrested and convicted of murder because white run police don’t see dead blacks people to be as pressing an issue as dead white people.

            If the murder rates then are pretty accurate, murder is the sort of crime that almost always gets reported, (a lot of assaults, armed robbery etc aren’t reported for some reason or another) then it’s not unlikely that the rates for other violent crimes are pretty accurate.

            Issues of more blacks being falsely convicted, arrested disproportionately to the rate crimes are committed, getting longer sentences and so forth don’t significantly alter the numbers on African American crime, even though these could be legitimate issues and ought to be addressed.

            And certainly all these likely create a negative feed back loop where people getting busted for non violent petty crime, doing longer sentences and such help create a community more violent, but again if this is a very significant force on black people in particular it suggest that when you account for socio-economic background, family back ground, regional back ground, blacks are really much less violent than other people, because when you account for full these, their isn’t a significant difference between whites and blacks on violent crime.

            I am suspicious of claims that some races are inherently less or more violent, lazy, stupid, what have you.