Theresa Geller Analyzes The X-Files

November 29, 2016

Theresa L. Geller, associate professor of film theory and history in the department of English, will read from her new book, The X-Files,  on Wednesday, Dec. 7, in Iowa City.

Live from Prairie Lights,” the free, public reading presented before a live audience and streamed over the internet, will start at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St.

The X-Files is the newest release from Wayne State University Press’ TV Milestones Series. In it, Geller presents a social and cultural analysis of the series, focusing on the genres the program employed in its engagement with U.S. history, politics, and identity.

Premiering on the Fox network in 1993, The X-Files followed the investigations of two FBI special agents — Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) — as they pursed the supernatural, the bizarre, and the alien. Over nine years, The X-Files generated important television in what might be the largest variety of horror and science fiction narratives from a single source text.

Responding to its cinematic visual style, haunting score, complex and nuanced writing, witty dialog, and the exceptional acting of Duchovny and Anderson, fans embraced The X-Files, making it one of the most beloved cult television series.

With the return of The X-Files for a six-episode 10th season on Fox in 2016, Geller’s volume offers a timely assessment of the show’s cultural relevance and social significance. Fox has announced The X-Files will be back for an 11th season, but not before 2017-18.

Geller argues that The X-Files was a milestone because it employed the generic tropes of science fiction and forensic investigation to call our attention to contemporary global politics and the history behind them. Specifically, she maps the ways the series used its serial mythology (mytharc), not to predict the future but to unbury the violence and injustice of our past.

Chapters highlight the stand-alone episodes known as the “monster-of-the-week” (MOTW), as well as the mytharc. The book’s first section explores how MOTWs — fantastic, supernatural beings both strange and estranged — represented social differences. Through comparative analyses and detailed discussions of individual episodes, it becomes clear that the MOTW episodes were less concerned with the alien than with alienation, using the monster to focus on a range of ethnic, racial, and social outsiders.

The book’s second half examines the arc of the alien conspiracy, as well as the relationship between Mulder and Scully. While the romance subplot was powered in part by the show’s fans, the alien-government conspiracy mythology was show creator Chris Carter’s unique vision.

Geller, who recently was a Mellon research fellow at Yale University, will be affiliated with the Beatrice Bain Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, this spring. She is a widely respected scholar on film theory, cultural studies, queer theory, film history, and feminist studies. Her scholarship on the TV series, American Horror Story, is due out this spring in Velvet Light Trap (co-authored with Dianna “Anna” Banker ’15).

In addition, Geller has more research on The X-Files forthcoming in American Quarterly this March. She has been published in many academic journals, including Camera Obscura and Rhizomes. She also has written chapters in scholarly anthologies such as “Lady Gaga and Popular Music: Performing Gender, Fashion, and Culture,” “Gender After Lyotard,” and “East Asian Cinemas: Exploring Transnational Connections on Film.”