The last few days has seen the explosion of an internet meme where participants post three pictures of fictional characters that they believe describe them best. Ufologists, UFO investigators, researchers, and many others involved in UFO discourse who have a life on social media have also played along, and you probably guessed it, Fox Mulder from The X-Files was a popular choice. There seems to be a recurring theme in the UFO subculture, a discursive element, that links those who explore the UFO phenomenon to television's most famous paranormal investigator. As an active field investigator with MUFON, researcher, writer, and blogger- I am not, nor ever will be, Fox Mulder. Nor will you. It is interesting, however, that many in the UFO discourse think they kind of are…
The agents of UFO discourse, the men and women who make up the various ranks, cliques, and groups, tasked with debating and examining the UFO question carry a sort of mystique, a mythological sense of self that heals some of the wounds caused by the discourse itself.
Ufology is a fringe subject, and for the many people who involve themselves in this field, they often feel a sense of anxiety in their pursuit of it. Those in the mainstream cultural zeitgeist view the UFO subculture as a collection of weirdos, and members of the subculture often work quietly on their Ufological work, not drawing attention to it. It is not shame, but rather, a cautious pause and choice to open the discourse to the uninitiated, lest they be insulted and laughed at by the mob and rabble of normative Western society. In simple terms, no one wants to be singled out and called a fool.
Being a member of the UFO discourse is damaging, not just to one’s image but rather to one’s psyche. This constant anxiety of caution fills the mind, it forces one to take pause when they should not have to. They strive to know more, debate more, and shout from the rooftops that the UFO question is not lunacy, but a legitimate phenomenon that deserves the attention of a culture that has already cast it aside. Similar to a wave, they swell in their passionate pursuit of the subject, then crash into the rocks, they break and recede into the depths because no one is listening, or no one cares, or they chose to remain silent because of potential embarrassment. And like the wave, they crash over and over again. Similar to the psychoanalytical concept of the death drive, a member of the Ufological community is continuously wounding themselves, fighting with the anxiety of their passion, yet continuing to pursue it knowing that those painful moments will come again.
Fox Mulder, as a representation of the self, in the meme, is a sort of protective act, like wearing knee pads before the next crash. It admits one’s engagement with the paranormal, their drive in seeking answers, yet as a pop culture icon, Mulder is an acceptable version of the fringe discourse. He has been symbolically negotiated into the mainstream; a normalised and sanitised version of the Ufologist. He stands in to protect the ego of the subject; if Mulder is part of the mainstream, so too am I. However, Mulder is limited. He is a false representation, an idol, and nothing more. The discourse is much more complex, and the taboo that holds the discourse out in the fringes is even more so. He may make one feel better, but it is only a band-aid to a larger problem- to be a member of the UFO discourse, one must be ready to continue the cycle of anxiety, embarrassment and internal conflict. Ufology can be lonely, and it requires a leap of faith into a chasm. What lies at the bottom of that pit is unknown, and those of us who participate in UFO discourse are still on our way down, tumbling and getting banged up, never sure what we are going to land on or find down there.
To mainstream culture, the UFO subculture is a collection of misfits. Mulder is a representation of the misfit, but a safe version, weird but not weird enough to be unpalatable- he needs to be syndicated after all. For those of us who involve ourselves in Forteana, we are not Fox Mulder, but something much more. We are the ones who continuously run into the brick wall of culture, only getting more bloody with every attempt to break it down. Mulder never had to deal with the wall, if anything, he is just another brick in it; he is the socially acceptable version of the subculture, creating a false image that real members of the discourse will never be able to achieve. If Ufology and Ufologists are to be accepted, we are duty bound to not recreate the same tropes and cliches. We must be honest with our work, and with ourselves. The vast majority of us are misfits, strange, and open to possibilities beyond the ideologically restrictive official culture. When we jump into the chasm, we can’t rely on Mulder to be our socio-cultural bungee cord.
You are not Fox Mulder because you simply do not need him. See you on the way down.