While recently re-watching an X-Files episode, I noticed something odd. A quick online search revealed that I wasn’t the only one to notice this particular quirk, and, in fact, there had been considerable previous discussion on it. What really struck me wasn’t the resolution of my question, but the fact that so much had already been written on a single episode of a single television program. It’s one of the problems with trying to keep up with pop culture—there’s so much out there (besides just the truth!). I’ve been exploring pop culture with the Bible for a number of years. There’s plenty enough in the X-Files to warrant a larger project, but even without that, there’s just no way to keep up. You could spend your life trying to unpack what several people wove into a single program. Each episode took considerable thought, planning, and resources. Once it was out there, reception history began.
So much of scholarship is analyzing what someone else has done. Some monographs are more footnote than actual text. What I’ve been suggesting regarding pop culture is that it is the way people understand religion. The information people receive often comes from what modern authors and screenwriters compose. A few X-Files later, during a religiously themed episode, something was implied to be in the Bible that’s not. Again, I address this directly in Holy Horror, but every time I see an example, it catches me by surprise. The average viewer doesn’t know to research what they’re being told and if it’s played straight, as it was in this episode, it becomes part of the truth that’s out there.
Those interested in how beliefs develop and change over time have recently begun to ask about the average person instead of “official religion.” In antiquity this is difficult to gage since the average person was illiterate and poor. Even in modern times with relatively high amounts of literacy and everyone writing on the internet, trying to understand religion is difficult. Now it’s a matter of too much information. Fan sites exist for popular media. The canons of Harry Potter fandom alone would require a lifetime of study. Limiting oneself to the X-Files might be a start. My own publication history with pop culture and religion began with Sleepy Hollow. It could have just as easily begun with the X-Files. No matter where you choose to begin understanding religion, you’ve got your work cut out for you. And this post has just added to it.