I feel I should start this blog with an admission: I am a lifelong X-Files fan. I first watched it at the age of 12, and over 20 years later I’m as obsessed with Mulder and Scully as I was then. The news last year that the series was coming back for a 6 episode event season was met with a combination of excitement and consternation by fans (me included). Would Season 10 pick up where I Want to Believe (2008) left off? Would colonisation be dealt with, given we’re now four years past the date set in Season 9? How much involvement would Chris Carter have? Above all, was it simply the nostalgia factor at work that led to the new season, rather than a desire to creative new, innovative content? After all, as Doug Howard writes, existing series like The X-Files and Twin Peaks come with their ready-made fan bases, aware of and invested in the characters and their back stories. Instant ratings gold for whichever network picked up the series in the UK.
That network ended up being Channel 5, and as I write this The X-Files has aired its second episode in the UK (the fifth having aired in the US). Although we are only two episodes in, there is already a lot to talk about in relation to the series. Some of these I’ve mentioned above, others I plan to write about again, but what I want to talk about in this blog is the press positioning of the series as a reboot, and the fan positioning of it as a revival. I argue that the continued referral to the series as a reboot by the press suggests ties into the wave of nostalgia that seems to be hitting both small and big screens, while the term preferred by the fandom suggests a neo-religiosity to the series’ return. I argue that can be tied into discussions within fan studies of fandom as religion and part of the fannish life course, rather than perhaps a money-making plot by FOX.
In spring of 2015 rumours began to circulate that a new season of The X-Files was to be filmed. The series had ended on television in 2002, with a stand-alone feature film released in 2008. Although I Want to Believe fared badly at the box office fans, spearheaded by XFilesNews.com had continued to campaign for another film, encouraged by a Nerdist interview with Gillian Anderson. Shortly after that interview a new series was announced by FOX. The network’s press release referred to the season as “the next mind-bending chapter” of the show and a “momentous return”, while Carter suggested the event season was a return after “a 13-year commercial break”. Both were clear to state Duchovny and Anderson would be reprising their roles, and that it was a continuation of the previous seasons. Yet what the press reported was that The X-Files would be rebooted.
As Billy Proctor points out in a piece for CST, rebooting as a narrative device originated with the DC 1986 mini-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, which “collapsed the DC story-system from within to take account of the inconsistencies that had built up over the course of several decades in order to start over from scratch. For fans of world-building, the ontological realm of causality and continuity are an important feature of a reader’s pleasure.” This wasn’t to be the case with The X-Files so why the emphasis on the term reboot? In the same post, Proctor notes that “Many commentators and critics marshal the reboot concept to explain sequels, adaptations, prequels, remakes and others” and suggests that ‘reboot’ has become a buzz-word. Chuck Tyron (2013) goes further and argues for “two intertwined notions of the reboot, one based around aesthetic and economic attempts to revive familiar Hollywood franchises through the promotion of textual novelty and another around technological and industrial ideologies of progress meant to invigorate interest in theatrical moviegoing through promises of technological novelty” (433). I would argue that the use of reboot in relation to The X-Files draws on both of these concepts. The X-Files was considered ground-breaking for its day both in terms of the stories it told and the filmic way in which it told them. Updating the series for the twenty-first century, with stories like Wikileaks and Edward Snowden permeating the press, and increasing technological advances, would certainly speak to the “aesthetic and economic attempts” to revive the franchise. But Tyron also suggests that “reboots respond to, honor, update, and even challenge past versions” (434) – particularly past versions which have ‘crashed’ critically (Proctor, 2012). I wouldn’t argue that the last few seasons of The X-Files and I Want to Believe lived up to the episodes that came before them, and both critical reviews and ratings suggest that much of the audience moved on after Duchovny left in Season 8. Bringing the series back for the twenty-first century, rebooting the series – to use the press discourse – offered both FOX and 1013 a chance to tell new stories that felt, perhaps, more true to the early seasons of the show, when it was at its most critically successful.
Fans, however, seemed almost unanimously opposed to the term. This was, partly, due to the confusion caused by the press use of reboot. Fans took this to mean that The X-Files would be rebooted in the narrative sense of the term, with new actors playing Mulder and Scully. The X-Files as we know it would have been wiped out. Substituting the term ‘reboot’ for ‘revival’ thus functions as a correction (the series was not, after all, being rebooted) but also implies a resurrection, a continuation. Perhaps most importantly a second chance.
That the X-Files draws substantially on Christian imagery has been a topic analysed by scholars since the show premiered, and while I could (I really could) list all the episodes and their themes, I’m not going to. What I want to suggest, though, is that calling the series a revival not only speaks to Scully’s faith as a practicing Catholic and the themes of belief, resurrection and faith that permeate the series; it also speaks to fan responses to the series and the announcement of the event season. I do not want to suggest, here, that fandom is a religion or that The X-Files is a church. Rather, drawing on the imagery of the Christian revival and revival meetings, I want to suggest that the revival functions as a call to viewers to return to the series, which they may have abandoned years earlier, and to witness its resurrection. (Of course, how successful that resurrection it remains to be seen.) In discussing fans of Bruce Springsteen, Daniel Cavicchi highlights the similarities between the ways in which people under their entrance into fandom and Evangelical Christian conversion narratives: “the descriptions of transformations found in narratives of becoming a fan are remarkably similar to those found in the conversion narratives of evangelical Christians in the modern United States” (1998: 43). Just as becoming-a-fan narrative draw on this specific imagery, so too do returning-to-fandom narratives, particularly when the return of the fannish object is referred to as a revival.
Bethan Jones is a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University. Her research examines cult TV, fandom and nostalgia and focuses on the X-Files and Twin Peaks revivals. Bethan’ has published extensively on popular culture, fandom, gender and new media, and her work has been published in Sexualities, Transformative Works and Cultures, and the Journal of Film and Television, amongst others. Her co-edited collection Crowdfunding The Future: Media Industries, Ethics and Digital Society was published by Peter Lang in 2015.