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Leaving Normal

‘X-Files’ fans invade an expo in search of truth — and stuff

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Chris Carter seemed a little dazed. The creator and executive producer of Fox’s The X-Files — the man who set FBI special agents Mulder and Scully on the trail of felonious extraterrestrials — was appearing at his third Official X-Files Convention, and it was starting to get to him. ”I’ve never had any experience with the paranormal,” Carter told the sellout crowd of 2,500, ”until this convention.”

For nearly an hour, those gathered at the Pasadena Center auditorium had remained rooted to their chairs, staring at a large screen with nothing but a giant green X on it. When scenes from the show at last appeared, a young man slowly raised a video camera to his eye and began taping the tape.

With big X’s stretched across their chests like cross hairs, the attendees were happily proving that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. In this case, it’s Fox’s aggressive licensing division that has these X-Philes — Trekkies for the new millennium — in its sights, with as many as 20 conventions planned by the end of the year. That makes the two-year-old series — which has granted about 10 companies licenses to peddle its brand — a mere boutique compared with Star Trek and its merchandising. The Next Generation inspired hundreds of conventions and around 50 licensees.

Carter realizes he’s sitting on something big — and he’s happy to keep on sitting. He carefully monitors convention merchandising. ”I think the overcommercialization of the show works against the spirit of The X-Files, which is rather antiauthority, antiestablishment,” he says. ”I say no to X-Files boxer shorts all the time.” In addition to the conventions themselves, Carter has said yes to T-shirts, key chains, comic books, trading cards, paperbacks, and prepaid phone cards.

As he glides through the hall, it’s clear that Carter is regarded by the faithful as a kind of holy man, and yet he remains committed to not-for-prophet TV. ”I’m not a guru,” he says while idling backstage. ”These people can call me The Creator, or whatever, but I just go out there and answer their questions. This is not a tent revival.”

And stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson aren’t laying on hands. Neither has appeared at the first half-dozen conventions. The rank and file have made do with such supporting actors as Mitch Pileggi (who plays Skinner), William B. Davis (Cigarette Smoking Man), Steven Williams (X), and Doug Hutchison (Tooms, a yellow-eyed mutant who appeared in two early episodes). ”David tends to frown upon the canonization of the show,” Carter says. ”You don’t want the glorification of it to become bigger than the show itself.”

But glorification seems to be where it’s at. The longest line coiling through Pasadena’s bizarre bazaar led to the Official X-Files Prop and Costume Display. This exhibit included such curiosities as the Erlenmeyer flask, an ”alien fetus” floating in a jar; the shoe Scully wore when she stepped in alien DNA; and 16-year-old Steve Hermanowitz, who was trying to measure the shoe to see how big Scully’s feet are. Steve, who belongs to a group at his high school in Chino, Calif., that investigates extraterrestrial sightings, was flabbergasted to make such a find. ”That was rather exciting,” he said later. ”I was glad I had my camera for that.”