The XX and XY Files

by Melanie Anne Phillips

What is it about The X-Files that has attracted such a following? Is it the blend of New Age philosophy and hard science fiction? Could it be the taboo subjects or government conspiracies? How about the flashy production values and high-tech special effects?

Naturally, all of these contribute to the phenomenal success of the show, but they don't fully explain the unusual "feel" of the program. Anyone who has seen the series knows what we mean. There is a strange emotional aura experienced by the viewing audience that is almost metaphysical itself. In fact, tracking down the source of this strange atmosphere could be a case right out of The X-Files themselves. Fortunately, as the opening credits assert: "The truth is out there." In this case, Dramatica can help illuminate it.

To begin our investigation, let's look to our intrepid agents, Mulder and Scully. Who are they? FBI agents, of course. But we asked who they were, not what. For our inquiry, we are more interested in their natures than their functions. It is not that they unravel the tangled, clarify the obscure, and defeat the random. Oh, they do all of that all right, but that's just plot. We are more interested in how they accomplish these ultra-human feats, not their methodology but their mentality.

Who are they inside? What makes them tick? What do Mulder and Scully have in common that makes them uncommon? The answer lies in the Dramatica concept called Mental Sex .

Mental Sex has two options: male or female. It has nothing to do with anatomical sex, gender identity, or sexual preference. Mental Sex refers to the mind of a character as being either spatially (space) or temporally (time) biased. Space is where our sense of logistics comes from. Time is where our intuition comes from. Male Mental Sex sees logistics clearly, but is a little fuzzy on the intuition. Female Mental Sex is intuitive, but not as clear on the logistics.

Of course, males can be intuitive and females logical, but it requires a little extra work. Also, intuition may be exact, though it seems inexact to men because it is a fuzzy logic to them. But to women, intuition is perfectly clear: a form of holistic logic of its own that deals with problems by the "inter-influences" of the many parts, rather than trying to find a direct path from problem to solution.

For the most part, authors create characters who have the same Mental Sex as their anatomical sex. Occasionally, through intent or feel, these two get mixed up. For example, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the original Alien was a male mental sex character. The part was actually written for a man; all they changed were the gender references. Her manner of approaching a problem was male right down the line. In contrast, Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte) in The Prince of Tides is a female mental sex character who tries to bring his life into balance: a holistic technique.

Just because a physically male character has a female mental sex does not mean they will be feminine. An example is Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) in The Hunt For Red October. Notice how his problem solving technique is quite different than that of all the generals and soldiers he is competing against, yet he is unquestionably masculine.

The difference in Jack Ryan's manner is easily recognized in his meeting with the chiefs of staff near the beginning of the story. While they are concentrating on how to respond to the threat, Ryan is feeling the influence of many bits of information. Though this data seems unrelated, its overall impact on his mind allows him to surmise that the wayward Russian captain is not attacking but defecting. Only a female mental sex character would arrive at that kind of solution from that kind of data.

So... what is the strange attraction of Mulder and Scully in The X-Files? Mulder is a man with a female mental sex; Scully is a woman with a male mental sex. While Mulder is getting a feeling or being intuitive, Scully demands facts, measurements, and a linear theory without gaps. In most episodes, both methods are required to uncover the mystery. Though this is not uncommon in real life, switching mental sexes is atypical of most television fare.

The charm of the show is partly because the kinds of problems that occur could not be solved by either one of them alone, but truly needs both views to triangulate. Mulder gets a sense of what's going on; Scully describes it. Scully projects where things are leading, Mulder determines what it means. Since we are talking about a series rather than one specific story, things do change.

In some episodes, Scully is also made female mental sex. In these programs, Scully becomes a simple skeptic instead of an alternate problem solving perspective. This weakens Scully and Mulder's relationship. Mulder is still female mental sex, but he cannot explore that perspective since he has to spend all his time trying to overcome Scully's skepticism. Scully keeps demanding proof instead of working out a theory. Under these conditions the show still has its conspiracies, new-age sci-fi, and special effects, but the heart stops beating. That special something is clearly missing, but in episodes where Scully returns to male mental sex, the charm is back.

It is unlikely that the creators of the series were aware of this phenomenon. Still, they engendered it by feel and were inspired to do so. Each of us, male and female, sees the world from a mental sex direction. This gives us a clear perspective on some things and a fuzzy perspective on others. By working together, we can solve problems neither of us could handle alone. That is the real attraction of The X-Files, made all the more apparent (yet obscured) by clothing each mental sex in the unexpected body.

About the Author

Melanie Anne Phillips is the co-creator of the Dramatica theory of story. Later, as Director of Research and Development for Write Brothers, she collaborated in the design and development of the Dramatica line of software and accessories. Today, Ms. Phillips develops writing tools for her own company, Storymind and provides writing tips on Twitter @WritingTip and on her story structure blog, Dramaticapedia.

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