LEADING ARTICLE:The Truth is not Out There

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The Independent Online
In a period increasingly defined by technology, when once eternal certainties (family values, left and right, law and order, that great smell of Brut) have apparently evaporated, and the great world creeds are either out of touch or on the wane, and the rational seems equally suspect, it should hardly surprise us that a nervous and spiritually malnourished mankind is searching outside itself for answers to all the old questions. Who are we? Why are we here? Is there a God? In pursuit of the answers, mankind has stumbled upon ... The X-Files, back on BBC2 last night for a second run.

The X-Files - tag line: The Truth Is Out There - concerns FBI ggents Mulder and Scully and their close encounters with, in no particular order, aliens, vampires, shape-shifters, ghosts, missing links and the fearsome results of covert government draining of the human gene pool. Nice work if you can get it.

You might dub The X-Files the Tales of Para Normal. They've taken what was once marginal - no, not marginal, loony - and moved it into the mainstream. It's impeccable timing. Now is also the era of near-death experiences, angel worship (the latest tome on our feathered friends claims they helped the Allies to win the First and Second World War), the return of Atlantis (it was at the North Pole - or was it the South Pole?), "authentic" autopsy footage of little green men and blockbuster movies about dead children hanging around "the physical plane" so they can land a date for the school prom (see Casper).

Of course, it's a backlash against the hard-nosed, bottom-line Eighties - and Nineties. We want Something More than the mere material. Yet it's also a direct outgrowth of that late, unlamented decade: when you have been told that there's no society, that everything is niche marketing and pick'n'mix, then why shouldn't one's spiritual beliefs be reduced to what amounts to a specialist concern, with all the commercial exploitation that entails? Especially when that exploitation draws on our disenchantment and distrust of the West's moribund institutions: well, of course our governments would not tell us that they are using UFO hardware from alien crashes, murdering political rivals through psychic power or suppressing the facts about mermaids, unicorns and Bigfoot.

Couched in convincing pseudo-scentific language, just about anything goes. It fits right into our turning away from the conventional (in medicine, in religion) towards the "alternative". But alternative routes often turn out to be Gullible's Travels rather than voyages of discovery. As the end of any century approaches, a suddenly dissatisfied world tends to have these bouts of doubt, and to look longingly beyond the logical.

While displaying a commendable curiosity, this course shows a lamentable sense of direction. No matter how entertaining or provocative The X-Files is, the premise is faulty. The Truth is not Out There. It is In Here. Not in extraterrestrial intelligence but in the home-grown brand - no matter how wilfully we abuse it.

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