Two Books on Racism in American Christianity

Thus summer, after the killing of George Floyd, there was a movement in Catholic circles on Instagram calling Catholics to #RendYourHearts, praying 18 days for racial justice. There was also an emphasis put on the stories of Black Catholics about their experiences and how the Church can repair from a history of racism and injustice. It gave me a lot to think about. During this time, I saw two books on race in the American church that caught my eye, The Color of Compromise and White Too Long. Because both books look at American Christianity, they deal largely with Evangelical and mainline Protestant churches, but also include information on the Catholic experience in the United States. Because I have a small child at home, it took me several months to get through them both.

(A quick note: I did not realize until I was partway through White Too Long, which I read second, that one of these books is by a Black author, the other by a White author. Although each author’s race is important to their experiences and perspective, I am not doing a comparison of the books on that basis.)

In The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby does a deep historical look at the relationship between racism and Christianity in American history, going back to the Colonial Era. He frames his analysis by looking at the theological compromises that Christians in the United States made in order to excuse or uphold racism. For example, during the slave trade, baptism did not make slaves free, but slave owners were encouraged to evangelize their slaves. Yet, Christian tradition had previously held that Christians should not enslave each other.

Tisby’s analysis follows this thread up through Black Lives Matter and to the present urgency. He explains that facing the complicity Christian churches have had in the racist history of the United States is essential for healing:

“History and scripture teach us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.”

In the 20th Century, Tisby examines the rise of the KKK, the complicity of American Christians in Jim Crow and segregation, and the failure of many white churches to speak up during the Civil Rights Movement. Into the 21st Century, he examines the complicity with racism, often via silence, of American Christianity during the Black Lives Matter movement: “Christian complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past. It looks like Christians responding to ‘black lives matter’ with the phrase ‘all lives matter.’ It looks like Christians consistently supporting a president whose racism has been on display for decades. It looks like Christians telling black people and their allies that their attempts to bring up racial concerns are ‘divisive.’ It looks at conversations on race that focus on individual relationships and are unwilling to discuss systemic solutions.”

Tisby’s writing is clear, concise, and moving. He makes apparent how American Christian churches have repeatedly turned away from opportunities to be more just, more inclusive, and more equitable and therefore have been complicit, often through inaction as much as through overt racism, in the continued systemic racism in the United States. It’s a hard read emotionally, but an easy read intellectually because of the clarity of the writing. He also includes stirring calls to be better such as: “Complicit Christianity forfeits its moral authority by devaluing the image of God in people of color. Like a ship that has a cracked hull and is taking on water, Christianity has run aground on the rocks of racism and threatens to capsize—it has lost its integrity. By contrast, courageous Christianity embraces racial and ethnic diversity. It stands against any person, policy, or practice that would dim the glory of God reflected in the life of human beings from every tribe and tongue.”

In White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones uses sociological studies to create a data-driven analysis of these same issues. He writes:

“This book puts forward a simple proposition: it is time–indeed well beyond time–for white Christians in the United States to reckon with the racism of our past and the willful amnesia of our present. Underneath the glossy, self-congratulatory histories that white Christian churches have written about themselves is a thinly veiled, deeply troubling reality. White churches have not only been complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality. This project has framed the entire American story.”

Jones comes to the conversation through his background as a Southern Baptist who was struck by the racist history of his own church—the split in the Baptist church came over slaveholding, with the Southern Baptists branching off during the disagreement. In fact, Jones explains how virtually all of the major mainline Protestant denominations split over slavery. Not letting Catholics off the hook, he also examines the history of colonialism and how that introduced racism into the American Catholic church, even as race works differently in that history. For a long period of American Catholicism, a large portion of the church has been comprised of people who were not viewed as white by a majority of American culture—Irish people, Italians, Mexicans, for example. Catholics were also targeted as unAmerican by the KKK, but that does not mean that Catholics have not also been complicit with racism within American culture. It’s a complicated history and Jones unpacks it adeptly. 

He also looks at how white supremacy has become synonymous with organizations like the KKK and that has become soothing to many because it has concealed the less blatant ways in which white supremacy works in our culture. The most upsetting aspect of the book, for me, was when Jones gets into studies that examined the correlation between Christian belief, church attendance, and racist beliefs. The studies found that, more than any other factor, knowing a person’s affiliation with a Christian church was the easiest single factor for guessing that they would also hold racist ideas. Jones writes: “To put it even more bluntly, if you were recruiting for a white supremacist cause on a Sunday morning, you’d likely have more success hanging out in the parking lot of an average white Christian church–evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, or Catholic–than approaching whites sitting out services at the local coffee shop.”

Jones’s book was slightly less readable than Tisby’s, but the data that he includes is incredibly valuable at making the picture of American Christians’ complicity in racism clear. I think these books work beautifully in tandem for those who are looking to do a deep gut-check on the state of race in the church and how much room there is to do better. 

The Ultimate Thanksgiving Episode Showdown – Revisited

In 2015, Julio and I were newly married and decided that, because we lived across the country from our families, we could only afford the airfare, PTO, and energy to travel home for Christmas. We haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since. In 2020, many people are staying home, away from their families for the holiday, and I want to tell you, as a veteran of spending Thanksgiving away from my family—it’s going to be okay. I will admit, I am strongly biased toward Christmas, but there are plenty of ways you can enjoy Thanksgiving with your own household. As blissful vegetarians, Julio and I have made a tradition of having a feast comprised of all the side dishes (my favorite recipes are here) and watching Thanksgiving TV episodes. That first year, on a short-lived blog we ran, we held a tournament to determine the greatest Thanksgiving episode of all time. For your Thanksgiving enjoyment, I present here a rerun of how that tournament went down, in reverse chronological order (for clarity’s sake, I think). Let me know in the comments: what is your favorite Thanksgiving episode of all time?



Before we begin, a quick note about the process. Each matchup was posted with a survey in the blog post and participants voted on the episodes they thought should win each round. Julio and I generated the seeding for the tournament based on the IMDB rating for each individual episode. At the time, each episode was available on Netflix unless otherwise noted, but what is available for streaming and where has changed significantly since then.

Final Result….

The winner is: “Indians in the Lobby”

I never would have guessed that this would be the result. Honestly, I thought it would go to “Slapsgiving” or Friends. I’m delighted that it went to The West Wing, a show that I love and which produced a few outstanding holiday episodes. As I discussed with our friend Keaton on Facebook, though, I think the better West Wing episode was “Shibboleth,” which lost to HIMYM back in the quarterfinals. (2020 edit: If you rewatch “Sbibboleth” this year, it hits all the harder. Oi.) Although “Indians in the Lobby” raises interesting points about how the poverty line is calculated and the ramifications of that, the relationship between the federal government and tribal governments, and, weirdly, extradition and capital punishment, “Sibboleth” is more focused and resonant than “Indians in the Lobby,” and packs several earned emotional punches, well balanced by some wonderful humor. If you have never seen it, it is worth a watch this holiday. 

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(Book Review) The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

The Water CureThe Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

This book is an odd one. I’ve seen it described as a dystopian coming-of-age fairytale and I think that is mostly a fitting description, but the fairytale part I’m a bit iffy on.

The Water Cure is a story of three sisters, Grace, Lia, and Sky who are raised by their parents on what they think is an island, safe from the toxin that has infected the rest of the world beyond their border. Women sometimes come to their shores to recover and be cured after violent, poisonous experiences with men. Men—except for their father, King—are dangerous, and by keeping the girls isolated and purifying them up through torturous “cures” their parents strive to protect them. They are toughened up through rules and rituals around love, preparing them to do anything for their sisters. The protection itself, however, is traumatizing. Lia explains: “Trauma is a toxin that hooks into our hair and organs and blood and becomes part of us, the way heavy metals do, our bodies nothing more than a layering of flesh around everything ingested and experienced” (46). Then, King dies and three men turn up on the shore.

This book has been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale and I get the comparison, but Mackintosh’s writing style reminds me more of Emma Donaghue, specifically in Kissing the Witch. There is a lightness to her tone, even when the narrators recount difficult, brutal experiences. Somehow, the writing seems to skim over the surface of things without being shallow. That feature makes the book a quick read with a lot of impact.

For example, Lia observes, “Llew puts the lid of the piano down without comment, pushes the stool back. There is a fluidity to his movements, despite his size, that tells me he has never had to justify his existence, has never had to fold himself into a hidden thing, and I wonder what that must be like, to know that your body is irreproachable” (77).

Even still, I did not love this book. I think that there are interesting elements and the ending included a twist that I did not see coming and a gut-turning one that I did predict, but once those twists are revealed, I do not think that Mackintosh took advantage of the emotional punch in a way that fully resonated. I wanted more. More detail. More why. The narrative perspective follows the three sisters, or sometimes a chapter on all of them, but I wonder if having one toward the end that dove more into Mother’s experience before the story opens would have settled my disappointment.

I think this book is at its best when the girls’ experience connects to the world beyond their shores in a way that readers’ might recognize. For example, Lia’s relationship with Llew and his subsequent pushing her away sounds strikingly like a bad, half-assed breakup that it is clearest then of anywhere in the book that the men are meant to represent toxic masculinity, not some sort of dystopian world beyond the shores.

At any rate, The Water Cure puts a unique spin on violence against women and its emotional impact and features a compelling narrative voice. It is not a must-read in my opinion, however, because of how much of the book feels borrowed from other dystopian feminist literature. Fans of that genre, will likely really enjoy this book.

The Queen’s Gambit, Addiction, Grief, and Genius

Like many people in the last few weeks, I started watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix and ended up binge-watching it because it is just that good. The seven-episode limited series follows the rise of chess master Beth Harmon from her learning to play from the janitor at her orphanage to playing the Russian world champion. I have loved chess off and on since I was a girl. I was in the chess club in the first grade and grew up playing chess with my dad. One of my life’s regrets is that I didn’t keep playing with him. I gave up in college because I could never, ever beat him and I wasn’t at a place where I wanted to/could put in the time to get better. When I worked as a jail librarian, chess came back onto my radar, because it was popular with the guys and some of them gave me tips to help me beat my husband. Anyway, The Queen’s Gambit is fabulous and in place of doing a cohesive analysis, I just want to do some bullet points of what stood out to me as I watched. Spoilers ahead.

  • Of course, I loved the 1960s costumes and interiors and Anya Taylor-Joy is a treasure. When she wore Twiggy-inspired eye makeup, my husband asked, “What is under her eyes?” and I about screamed “Twiggy!”
  • The series throws us into the story at two critical points in Beth’s life: right before she blows a match by staying out partying in Paris instead of preparing and then, back in time, when she was orphaned. I think perhaps this is an interesting move on the part of the writers because they position two types of loss together. Losing a parent is not even nearly equal to losing a chess match, but for someone as brilliant and unused to losing as Beth is, there is real grief that comes with the latter. How she handles the embarrassment of losing that match in Paris nearly derails her life in a way that is transformative much like being orphaned was. In both instances, she has to make herself anew.
  • As someone who studies girlhood, I enjoyed the depiction of young Beth Harmon. Beth is such an odd, cold girl that her depiction falls out of step with how young girls are expected to behave, and right into tropes more aligned with older male geniuses. It was great. I loved watching her play chess on the ceiling and got a real kick out of the look that passed between her and Mr. Schaibel when the high school chess coach brings Beth a doll—a look that said, “Oh brother; what can you do?”
  • Rarely do we see a story about addiction that starts in childhood like Beth’s does. That the orphanage was giving the girls tranquilizers every day (and in the middle of the day!?) is really troubling and hints at a complicated history around children and pharmaceuticals. I think that the show could have done more with Beth’s recovery from the pills, especially since there were so many murky ties between the pills and her grief, and her sense of control over her life, but that these connections are made without getting super explicit or after school special-y is in itself a pretty nuanced take.
  • loved watching Beth’s relationship with her adoptive mom, Alma (played by Marielle Heller), develop. When Alma finds out that Beth has such a talent for chess and that she could make money playing it, I was concerned that it was going to turn into a terrible momager situation. Instead, the relationship grew with such tentative affection that it was oddly suspenseful. I was relieved that Alma seemed to be interested in Beth’s career, not just for the financial opportunity that it afforded them, but also for the way it broadened her horizons. She benefited from Beth, for sure, but she did not just take the money. She supported her and took an interest in her career. There was a lot at work emotionally between the two and it was wonderful to watch a mother-daughter relationship that was not built on cliches. Both had their demons and, well, I was so fascinated.
  • Beth endures more than her share of grief in the series and the audience sees this play out throughout the character’s story and in flashbacks. Beth usually handles her grief in an intensely reserved fashion and it does not really come out until she finds Mr. Schaibel’s photo of the two of them. (Side note: I was disturbed to find out that she never sent him the $10.) It would be easy to write Beth off as unfeeling, but I think the series does a great job of portraying how still waters run deep. Her grief does not look like people might expect, but there are tokens along the way that point to how she is feeling: Alma’s housecoat, her watch, the photo. Beth is reserved with all of her emotions, so it is no surprise that her feelings of loss would be similarly muted in their expression, but that does not mean she does not feel them. I think our culture has a lot of expectations for what grief looks like and it was refreshing to see a portrayal off that beaten path.
  • Finally, I was delighted when Jolene showed up again and that she was portrayed as having made a successful life for herself in her own right, pursuing her own goals and defining what her success looks like. I think in part this could be an effort to bring a character of color into the very, very white world of chess, but I was glad the effort was made, especially because Jolene is such a fun character.

Did you watch The Queen’s Gambit? What did you think?

The Queen’s Gambit runs for 7 episodes and is rated TV-MA. It was created by Scott Frank, Scott Allan, and Allan Scott.

Further Reading

Ten Books like The Queen’s Gambit

What is the Queen’s Gambit Opening? 

(Book Review) Burn Our Bodies Down

Burn Our Bodies DownBurn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

I came to Rory Power’s Burn Our Bodies Down not having read her first book Wilder Girls (it’s on my TBR), but knowing that it is an eco-horror, feminist novel. That set my expectation that this novel would similarly take up environmental themes, but I kept waiting and waiting for them. When the eco-horror finally hit, boy did it.

Burn Our Bodies Down reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone in that it drops the reader into a situation-in-progress that seems tense, not unusual, but as the story unfolds and the context grows, the circumstances get stranger and stranger. To me, that made the first three-fourths of the novel a pretty middle-grade YA mystery. It was not until the last quarter that the book really took off.

The book focuses on Margot, the only child of a difficult, emotionally withholding single mother who has never told her anything about her father, grandparents, or where she came from. On the verge of turning 18, Margot is determined to find out where she comes from. When she uncovers clues that lead her to her grandmother’s farm, however, she wonders if her mother was keeping her away for good reason.

The tension between Margot and her mother, Josephine, is the least compelling part of the story. The source of their tension is pretty vague and the angst Margot feels about it very well may resonate more with younger readers than it did with me. Josephine is also one of the lesser developed characters in the novel, especially as we see her only through the filter of Margot’s heightened emotions about her.

The mystery comes together at a slow burn that kept me reading quickly to find out where exactly it was all going. There are plenty of strange twists and clues, but I was relatively surprised when the final twist came. Given all the breadcrumbs along the way, I thought that the twist ending was well-written and earned. I was very satisfied with the book’s end.

For more, including spoilers, keep reading…

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Girls in Horror Movies 2015-2020

Girls have long been an integral part of horror movies, from Final Girls to girls possessed by demons, so many of the best victims and heroes in horror are little girls or teenage Scream Queens. For part four of my spooky season series, I took a look at horror movies released in the last five years to highlight some of the best and worst girls in contemporary horror. Happy Halloween!

hereditary movieHereditary (2018) Let’s start with the creepiest, most well-known girl in recent horror. Charlie from Hereditary. This movie messed me up. I was really angry about it until I listened to the Scaredy Cat Horror Show episode about it and Midsommar because I felt so emotionally wrecked by that one scene—you know, that one in the middle. The one. If you’ve seen the movie, you know. If you haven’t and you are going to watch the movie, I’m sorry for what you’re going to feel when you do. Anyway, I think Hereditary has some real flaws as a story. The narrative does not come together very well and I hated the ending—I thought it was cliched and abrupt and not worthy of the tension that the story had built emotionally. Whether you love or hate the movie, however, it is hard to say that Milly Shapiro’s chilling performance as Charlie, an emotionally troubled and grieving young girl, is not part of the suspense and fear audiences feel watching it. Hats off to you, Milly.

the binding movieThe Binding (2020) This Italian horror film focuses on Sofia and her mother who are visiting her mother’s fiance’s family in Southern Italy. Sofia becomes the victim of “the evil eye,” but there’s more of a mystery to the situation than that, as Sofia seems to be paying for the sins of her step-father. The Binding is not a great film, but it is passable for a blustery autumn afternoon. It makes this list because as Sofia, Giulia Patrignani gives a pretty great performance, alternately very sweet and physically overcome by the curse. The emphasis on the connection between mother and daughter is somewhat interesting in this film, as Sofia’s mother, Emma, notes that she is sometimes jealous of the bond that her daughter and her finance share, as though she is getting edged out. Ultimately, a mother’s love is what saves Sofia, predictably. 

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Children in The Twilight Zone

As I mentioned in my post about The X-Files, The Twilight Zone was a favorite show of mine in my own youth. When I set out to cover childhood in spooky entertainment, I was curious to see what childhood looked like on The Twilight Zone. I could not remember many episodes that featured kids. When I went looking for episodes to study, I really did not find that many focused on children, but a common theme emerged quickly in the episodes that did—adults treat kids pretty badly in The Twilight Zone. As any casual viewer of the show knows, most episodes of The Twilight Zone end with a short, sharp commentary on human behavior. What I found was that the episodes that focus on children are most often commenting on the relationship between children, adults, and imagination, with children usually (not always) holding a moral high ground counter to their adults. 

If you enjoy The Twilight Zone and its take on life, you would like Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone by Mark Dawidziak. It’s a short, pity read that examines classic episodes, the lessons they teach, and what they have meant to actors, filmmakers, and other creators. 

In this post, I am focusing on the seasons that are currently available on Netflix, curiously seasons one, two, three, and five. Because there aren’t that many children in general, I have focused on children rather than girls specifically. 

Children on The Twilight Zone

Nightmare as a Child (1.29) In “Nightmare as a Child,” a woman who was traumatized by witnessing her mother’s murder returns to her hometown after years away. She comes home one night to find a little girl sitting on the stairs outside her apartment and befriends the “strange…sullen and wise” child only to later discover that the girl is herself from the time her mother was killed, a manifestation of her repressed memories coming back. Often, children represent things that adults are afraid of, but this episode makes that dynamic literal. The ep, written by Rod Serling, also reminds me of a Hitchcock movie on a small scale. 

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Childhood Innocence in Adaptations of The Turn of the Screw from The Innocents to The Haunting of Bly Manor

A ghost!? in The Innocents (1961). Keep an eye out for a recreation of this shot in The Haunting of Bly Manor

On October 9th, Netflix released The Haunting of Bly Manor, a followup to last year’s The Haunting of Hill House. Whereas Hill House was inspired by one of my favorite books by Shirley Jackson (I’ve written about my love of her here), Bly Manor is loosely based on another one of my all-time faves—The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. In the story, a governess takes a job at a remote manor house and is gradually driven mad as she tries to unravel the mystery of the governess who held the job before her (Miss Jessel), the wicked gardener (Peter Quint) who was her lover, and if the ghosts of these two people are having a corrupting influence on the children under her care, Flora and Miles. (Mild spoilers ahead for The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Turn of the Screw in general, but I have tried not to ruin the ending of any of them. As a result, my analysis is rather surface level, I suppose).

James’s 1898 novella takes place in an interesting context for the history of childhood, which lends itself to the ambiguity at the heart of the story: has the governess gone mad, are the ghosts real, are the children messing with her, or is it some combination of the above? 

A Very Brief Overview of The Innocent Ideal of the Child

In James’s time, views of childhood had shifted significantly and childhood became increasingly commodified. For centuries, children were viewed as miniature adults who were not entitled to additional protection from the state. In contrast to today’s view of children as innocents, some Evangelicals during the 19th century viewed children as inherently immoral, in need of strict discipline to save their souls. The very notion of children as a protected category of person emerged during the 19th Century as Victorian ideals about domesticity took hold. In the latter half of the century, social reforms began protecting children’s rights to education, safety, and leisure. Child labor laws, juvenile justice reforms, and other such legislation went into effect, codifying the growing cultural view that childhood was separate from adulthood and was a time meant to be spent in innocent play. With the rise of this view of childhood, children also became increasingly targeted by capitalism. In tandem with the growth of the mass-production of consumer products, more and more items hit the market aimed at children. And, children were also increasingly consumed by adults as the subjects of entertainment. (This is a very brief overview, for more depth, see the works in the suggested reading below). 

And yet, there was a dark side to the codification of childhood innocence. In Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture, James Kincaid argues that by emphasizing childhood and the innocence of children so much, Victorian culture drew attention to the child in a way that was pedophilic. That argument seems pretty extreme, but consider one of the most famous Victorian children—Alice of Alice in Wonderland. Alice is based on a real little girl who author Lewis Carroll had what seems like a very inappropriate interest in. The argument follows that as we continue to idealize childhood, we open children up to exploitation because we have made them perversely desirable. Conversely, it can be argued that in solidifying this idea that children are innocent (as in unknowing, pure, and good) we oversimplify what real children can be, forgetting that children can also be mean, manipulative, and other not-so-sweet aspects of human people. If you’ve ever had a child treat you in a less than angelic fashion, you know that children can be naughty in a way that does not line up with this notion that they are an innocent ideal. 

Childhood Innocence in The Turn of the Screw 

In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James plays with this tension between the knowingness of children and their innocence. The governess struggles to understand if Miles is malicious in his treatment of her or if he is just being a young boy (or, perhaps, these two are not mutually exclusive). Similarly, at first, she views Flora as a beautiful angel, who is innocent of any bad behavior and is in need of protection from the dangers at Bly. As her mental state deteriorates, the governess starts to view the children’s good behavior as a manipulative charade, with Flora under the influence of her brother or the ghosts. As she starts to see Flora’s role in the mystery, she asserts that when she behaves badly, Flora is not even a child:

“She’s not alone, and at such times she’s not a child; she’s an old, old woman.”

In doing so, the governess separates Flora’s childhood—her innocence—from the bad behavior. She compartmentalizes them irrationally.

In Miles’s case, the governess’s waffling perspective on innocence is especially pronounced. When Miles is sent home from school, she finds him as beautiful and charming as she does Flora, and concludes, essentially, that he was too pure for school, anyway:

“My conclusion bloomed there with the real rose-flush of his innocence: he was only too fine and fair for the little horrid unclean school-world, and he had paid a price for it.”

As Miles continues to alternately flirt with and frighten the governess, she starts to suspect that he is not the angel she believed him to be. But, she blames his badness on the influence of Peter Quint. Miles even tells the governess he can be bad—he warns her to imagine what he could really do if he wanted—but she has a hard time imagining that he could be bad because he is a beautiful child. In the end, she turns the situation into a zero-sum premise in which either the ghosts are real and corrupting the children or the children are innocent and she is mad:

“It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent what then on earth was I?” 

The ambiguity of James’s story insinuates that drawing these stark boundaries around the children’s behavior does not make much sense.

Film Adaptations of The Turn of the Screw

Because of the juicy ambiguity of James’s novella, its Gothic setting, and the relative simplicity of its cast and plot, The Turn of the Screw is ripe for cinematic adaptation. Many different films and miniseries have been made based on the original story and I’d like to look at a few versions and if/how they preserve James’s take on the children. 

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Girlhood on The X-Files: Top 5 Episodes

Happy October! Welcome to the spooky season and part one of a four-part series looking at girlhood in some of my favorite spooky entertainment. This week, I am taking a look at girlhood on The X-Files (do do do do do doooo).

Girlhood on The X-Files

I have such good memories of The X-Files from my own girlhood; for me, it was really the gateway drug to creepy entertainment. (I mean, other than Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark). My dad enjoyed the show, but it came on around the time that he usually went to bed, since he had to get up so early to go to work as a morning show host. That meant that he usually fell asleep watching it. In the house we lived in until I was in the sixth grade, my parents’ bedroom was next door to mine and, after they got a little TV set for their room, I would sneak to sit in the doorway of their room, watching The X-Files while Dad was asleep and Mom was watching her own show downstairs. Did it scare the crap out of me? Yes. Did I love it? Yes! The monster of the week episodes have always been my favorite, and, later, Dad and I would spend Saturday afternoons watching reruns of The Twilight Zone or old B horror movies such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. When it came to The X-Files, though, I was waaaaay more into the show than Dad was. Perhaps it was because of how dreamy Agent Mulder could be, or perhaps it was because, as I entered my teen years, I was at an age prone to getting obsessed with things. Either way, The X-Files and Early Edition ruled my early adolescent TV screen.
When it comes to girls on The X-Files, the first character who comes to mind is Samantha Mulder. The abduction of his sister motivates Mulder to go into the FBI and to explore alien phenomena. More on that later. The presentation of Samantha Mulder as an innocent who needs to be saved or avenged is not the only representation of girlhood on the show, however. On a show that had a relatively complicated take on human nature and an often Twilight Zone-like bite to its commentary on human behavior, girlhood is no less twisted than anything else. Often, girls are connected to the show’s obsession with fertility, its poking fun at Satanic Panic, and the darkness with which it generally presents childhood. Often on the show, children are victims or observers of the bad behavior of adults. Just as often, however, they are perpetrators of their own schemes. The following are my top 5 episodes of The X-Files about girls (in chronological order). Spoiler alert, obviously. This show is almost 30 years old, c’mon.

Top 5 Episodes

Come play with us forever.

Eve (1.11) This episode features evil twins! Sort of. Like I mentioned, The X-Files is obsessed with fertility (Scully’s, “Small Potatoes”, “Home”, “All Souls”, “Terms of Endearment”—It’s everywhere). In this case, Scully and Mulder are investigating a strange murder, which turns into two murders, which turns into them almost getting murdered by two girls who were created as part of a secret government project that genetically modified children (called Adams or Eves), who ended up with super strength, intelligence, and homicidal behavior and/or psychosis. What I love about the young Eves, Teena and Cindy, is that they play the role of the innocent little girl, but their muted affect is a little creepy, and they are really whipsmart little murderers. They use what people see when they look at young girls against them. When the jig is up, one of them tells Mulder “We’re just little girls,” and it is darkly funny.

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