Why a world needs a Mulder

Has the 21st Century been outFoxed by Jack?

All opinions about the actual threat felt by the public at the time are to be taken tongue in cheek. Shit was going on, but there wasn’t this constant dread in the media which is so ingrained right now. I miss it.

Remember the 1990s? For many of us, compared to now, they were total salad days where all the evils of the world had learned their lesson. Nothing could interrupt the sense of safety where suddenly things were a whole lot better. From a day-to-day point of view, the worst the news had to offer which affected us was Bill Clinton’s little incident with an intern. There were nasty things going on, but both as a teenager and an observer of the news, it was all a very long way from British and American shores. There was less sense of impending death and imminent annihilation from popular news sources. Even the IRA’s peace process was looking like a full-blown success.

The only things we were afraid of were the sinister machinations of our government s, and alien invasions (Independence Day). People were openly reading Fortean Times on the bus. These fears were brilliantly encapsulated in Chris Carter’s X-Files. Every teenage boy wanted to be Mulder, and lusted after Scully. Girls tended to want the same things but in reverse. UFO magazines were everywhere, and no one quite believed the government’s side of things.

Wikipedia’s X-files article quotes:

According to Glen Morgan, the writers were inspired by a glowing New Yorker review noting the show’s exploration of “suburban paranoia”, and planned for more thematic unity in the second season: “the whole year was to be about the little green men that you and I create for ourselves… because there’re not nuclear missiles pointed at our heads, you can’t consolidate your fears there anymore.”[33] However, the plan fell through quickly due to the pressure of the network TV schedule.

So, remembering Mulder. Here we have the least likely hero. He’s an openly porn-loving, basement-dwelling, paranoid loner who grudgingly takes on a capable, beautiful, sceptical partner. Between them they work to uncover the Truth behind things the government wouldn’t like us to know. It’s no surprise that Jack Nicolson’s ‘You can’t handle the truth’ speech seemed to be used only slightly less than ‘show me the money!’ during this decade. The decade before Tom Cruise went to crazy religious-ville, when he still made decent flicks.

Let’s flash forward to now. Our most popular hero, at the time of writing, is CTU agent Jack Bauer. Not so much a hero as a trained pitbull. Initially, at least, he’s a family man who’ll come after you if you get his pizza delivery wrong (insert youtube vid). He’s got an S&M streak a mile high, but there’s nothing truly quirky or potentially as filthy as Mulder’s video collection.

Bauer races around within a strict format. The style of 24 has been much-imitated on youtube, with parodies and music videos cut around him. He focuses on discovering the truth, too. He just tends to find it faster than Mulder. The X-Files cheerfully spent season after season pretending to set up things to reveal later on.

Like Mulder, Bauer uncovers layers and layers of conspiracies designed to destroy mankind. Unlike Mulder, Jack Bauer tends to hurt a lot more people on the way. Who knows, if Mulder had just grabbed Cigarette Smoking Guy and busted his kneecaps until he started crying for his mum, he might have figured it all out by the end of series 2. Or, he would have been immediately killed by one of the alien bounty hunters. Maybe Bauer IS an alien bounty hunter. That would explain a lot.

We need Mulder again. The ambiguity and hopefulness of the Mulder era has been replaced with a paranoia that allows for very little reflection. In 2007, it’s Us or Them, and feels much more like the pre-1991 era of Cold War unmask ‘em and shoot ‘em. Only this time, there are no other certainties, no one person who is necessarily good or bad. Jack Bauer doesn’t hope for anything, except to die with a purpose (his mantra at the start of series 6). He is a government puppet, who only questions his purpose at the end of the line. And even then, we know he’ll keep doing what he does best.

Mulder’s screwed-up family life is what drives him. He lost a sister, and over the series’ course his parents, too. But he has Scully, a friend he earned and respects. And knew that he needed to believe in something real. Mulder tended to use his cell phone more than his gun, and rarely came up with a definitive explanation for all the weird shit he and Scully uncovered in the Vancouver woods.

Jack Bauer is an unstoppable force, and he’s become a legend, and a parody. He’s also a blank sheet on which to crib your own ideas of life, liberty and the American way. The X-Files went through similar stages, but Mulder’s legacy is a far deeper warning. He warns us to distrust the government, to always question your orders, and to look for your own way out. There are still some similarities. And differences.

For example:

Jack Bauer

Fox Mulder

Betrayed by


Almost everyone

Family life


Loses everyone

Google Hits



Government agency



Iconic Status

Millions of you tube parodies

Influenced everything from Buffy to Lost

Kill rating


NOT 185



Snogging sneaky Krychek



Vancouver (as entire USA)

Paranoia rating




Every series

Millions of puzzled fans…after 10 years


Bit through terrorist’s neck

Beat up Skinner after LSD poisoning


Strictly out of office hours

Huge porn collection

Surname means

Pawn – German

Unknown, Dutch name



Little Green Men

TV Network



Who can you trust?

Chloe O’Brian

Dana Scully

Who’s Behind it all?

Anti-American Terrorists

The Government, or CSM, or…

Both 24 and the X-Files are equally far-fetched. The X-Files was about paranoia in “The suburbs”. Jack Bauer is both more international and more insular. Threats all come from outside, but they generally boil down to the good government and the bad terrorist, with everything into between either un-American or unquestioning. And no, the heavy-handed ‘both sides’ argument said by various characters in 24 series 6 doesn’t really count.

Jack Bauer’s point of view is summed up rather nicely here. He’s perfect for some reassurance of certainty during these difficult times. But we should always listen to the Fox Mulder part of us that refuses to believe the facts are exactly what we’re told.

Not everything is a conspiracy. Or is it?

Edit: Sci fi in our teenage years has also been covered in Monday 9th July’s TimesOnline, thank you, Caitlin Moran


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