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'X-Files' devotion beyond explanation

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Gillian Anderson, better known as Agent Dana Scully, has just stepped off the stage at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and is making her way through some 6,500 fans to the autograph table. Jessica Barrett, a 17-year-old fan from Stockholm, N.J., offers an instant analysis of Anderson's performance in the hourlong question-and-answer session with audience members that just ended.

"I love Scully, totally love Scully," Barrett says. "But, after seeing Gillian Anderson, I have to tell you I think she's an airhead, total airhead."

"Blasphemy, man!" says Edward Hernandez, a stick-thin 14-year-old from Union City, N.J., dressed in black and wearing thick, black-framed Buddy Holly glasses. "How do you even know that was Gillian and not a wicked clone of some kind or the Alien Bounty Hunter morphed out to look like her so he could get in here? Yeah, think about that for a minute. Remember, man, what they say: Trust no one. Peace."

Welcome to the world of "The X-Files," specifically the New York stop on "The X-Files Expo Tour 1998" -- a traveling roadshow of promotion, paranoia and popular culture that opens today in Washington, spiritual home of all the conspiracy theories and counter-histories of the most popular series on television.

For those not familiar with the Sunday night Fox show, it stars Anderson and David Duchovny as FBI Agents Scully and Fox Mulder. They investigate unsolved cases that defy conventional explanations -- cases classified as "X-Files" by the bureau.

Many involve assassinations and alien beings, like the Alien Bounty Hunter who can change forms. In "The X-Files," almost all roads lead back to Roswell, N.M., in 1947, and an alleged UFO crash with dead aliens left behind, or to Dallas in 1963, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cover-ups and conspiracies that reach to the highest level of government are the order of the day.

What distinguishes the series more than anything else is its sensibility, with its weird camera angles, long shadows and scenes set in deep forests, basements and underground garages. It's a universe of whispers, tape recordings, secret files and a government that lies to its employees and "terminates" civilians who discover its dirty secrets.

What makes "The X-Files" so culturally significant is that prime-time television is supposed to be the soft, safe center of mainstream middle-class consensus -- as in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, when "Gomer Pyle, USMC" was America's most popular series.

Conventional wisdom says that while you can have a cult show here and there that is cynical and dark -- such as "Twin Peaks" -- you could never find the 20 million or so viewers it takes to support a hit series.

The Top 20 Nielsen status of "The X-Files" challenges that belief. Furthermore, with an eagerly anticipated feature film due next month and the roadshow playing to big crowds, "The X-Files" suggests that what was once marginalized as paranoid thinking has become mainstream in 1998.

"I can only speak to my own paranoia, which is great," says Chris Carter, who created "The X-Files" and serves as executive producer. "Personally, I think the world is a very scary place. ... So, for me, the darkness in this show is a response to the world I live in -- it's a response to the times. And that is important."

Carter says it's also important that any fan convention associated with "The X-Files" capture that sensibility.

"I was unhappy with the way they were done in the past," he says. "We work so hard to make this show as good as it can be, so any expression of the spirit of the show -- which is what these conventions are all about -- needs to follow that attention to detail. The problem is these things can turn into just an opportunity to sell stuff. Philosophically, I'm opposed to that."

Not that there isn't stuff to buy at the X-Files Expo: mugs ($17), keychains ($15), card games ($29.95), T-shirts ($20), baseball caps ($27), sweatshirts ($40) and jackets ($325 for leather; $195 for nylon). There's also an official "X-Files" map of the United States, showing where each episode of the show has taken place. (According to the map, a lot of spooky stuff happened in Maryland.)

Despite all the commerce, though, the dark mood of "The X-Files" is what dominates from the moment you pay your $40 admission.

The entranceway is a dark, low-ceilinged hallway filled with filing boxes and cabinets and backlit in a spooky green. All of the dates on the boxes are from the 1960s, most of them 1964 and '65, the years immediately following the Kennedy assassination -- an event "X-Files" fans don't accept as fact.

Asked about Nov. 22, 1963, Kelly Wrobleski, a 16-year-old from Syracuse, N.Y., replies: "You mean the Kennedy suicide and CIA cover-up?"

That's the kind of counter-history "The X-Files" posits for its fans, and the focus on 1960s-born conspiracies is worth noting. The message to the show's millions of young fans: These are the sins of your parents. They created this fog of duplicity and darkness that you, Mulder and Scully must now find your way out of.

In the May issue of Vanity Fair, Duchovny voices this same sentiment: "I wanted Mulder to go through an archetypical journey: starting from a position of innocence, which is one of trusting his father -- the elders, in mythology -- being a good boy and a good son, to being an outcast, feeling like his father is Darth Vader."

Duchovny credits the late anthropologist Joseph Campbell and his classic work, "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," as inspiration for Mulder. And with Carter, he's helped create a brilliant TV version of the classic hero quest.

That sense of journey might be the smartest thing about The X-Files Expo, where you are allowed to walk in the shoes of the hero. One of its hottest attractions is a simple desk. The line to sit at it and have your photo taken ($4) was endless. It is Mulder's desk, and on a special screen behind it, the photographer digitally paints in Mulder's office behind you.

Then, there are the museum-like, glass display cases with props from the show, which fans stare at as if examining a saint's relics. There's the Georgetown sweatshirt Mulder was wearing to jog when Deep Throat appeared and told him about a vast conspiracy. Nearby is a trenchcoat, identified as: "Trenchcoat worn by Mulder in 'Shapes' while investigating murders on a Native American reservation in Montana -- the same region where J. Edgar Hoover opened the first X-File."

My favorite display was that of a faux suede, high-heeled shoe blackened around the tip. "Scully's Burnt Shoe," says the card next to it. "After the Alien Bounty Hunter killed one of the cloned doctors, Scully unknowingly stepped on the green dissolving remains, which quickly burnt through her shoe in 'Colony' and 'Endgame.' "

And what about Scully? If Mulder's the hero, who is she?

It depends on gender. For many young males she is an object of desire.

"Bring on the babe," Tim Blasingame, 16, of Queens, shouted when it was announced Anderson was running late. Blasingame says he has a "very hot" poster of her over his computer.

For many young girls and women, though, Scully is the hero whose journey they follow.

"I like her attitude. She's very stubborn," says Jessica Rotile, 16, from Hamburg, N.J. "I like Scully because she kicks butt."

For the record, Anderson's Q&A; performance was not that bad, she just didn't seem to know for sure how to deal with 5,000 or so adoring fans, yelling such things as, "Gillian, we love you."

At first she responded as if she were a rock star, yelling, "Hello, New York!" and then just yelling into the microphone, "Wheeeewwww, yeah, wow!" Eventually, though, she settled into comfortable routine.

Several questions from females were prefaced with the same phrase: "I think you are the epitome of womanhood." The most probing question, though, came from a teen-age boy.

"I just want to know if, like, you and David were making it during that picture on the cover of Rolling Stone," he said, referring to a skin shot of the two.

"As I recall, David did have my naked breast on his naked chest, but from the waist down we were clothed," Anderson answered frankly, even adding a few details we won't include here.

Anderson won't be at this weekend's Washington expo. But Nicholas Lea (Agent Alex Krycek), Dean Haglund (Long Gunman Ringo Langly), Steven Williams (X) and Rob Bowman (series producer and director of the upcoming film) will be on hand.

Despite her assessment of Anderson as "airhead," Jessica Barret said she had a "great time" at the Expo.

"My favorite thing? Definitely getting arrested by the FBI guys," she said, referring to car salesmen posed as agents who "arrested" potential customers. "I don't know, it was just cool."

Courtney Woodward, 14, of Hamburg, N.J., said she came to the Expo because she likes Mulder so much.

"I don't know, he's like a child trapped inside a man's body," she explained. "He wants to believe, but there's so much evil."

Yayoi Mitomo, 22, a Japanese exchange teacher working in New Jersey, also was drawn to the event by Mulder. "He's so handsome," she said.

Was there anything else about the Expo or the television series that she liked?

"Yes," she said. "It teaches me about American history."

'X' Expo

"The X-Files Expo" will be at White Oak (25 Goddard Rd. in Springs, MD) from 11 a.m. to 8: 30 p.m. today (Saturday) and noon to 7 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday). Tickets can be be purchased at the door or by calling 1-888-EXPO-TIX. They are $25 each. More info on the Expo can be found online at www.thex-files.com.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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