Outrage Watch: Last night’s ‘X-Files’ is being accused of the very thing it was attempting to critique

02.16.16 1 year ago

Welcome to Outrage Watch, HitFix's semi-regular rundown of entertainment-related kerfuffles. Not feeling anxious enough already? Get your fix of righteous indignation below, and stay posted for outrage updates throughout the week.

The X-Files revival may be a major ratings success, but since its debut the series has weathered its share of cultural critiques (its sixth and final installment is slated to air next Monday). The third episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” was leveled with claims of transphobia, and this week's episode…well, read on.

Our own Alan Sepinwall dubbed last night's episode, entitled “Babylon,” “an occasionally entertaining mess,” criticizing the “tonal whiplash” that ensued when writer Chris Carter tried to cram comedic moments into a plot that saw Mulder and Scully trying to communicate with a comatose Islamic suicide bomber in an effort to prevent a future attack. Nonetheless, Alan's was a mild critique compared to what many critics and viewers are charging the episode with today: Islamophobia. 

Count International Business Times contributor Ismat Sarah Mangla among the offended. Though the writer praises Carter's “noble” attempt at crafting a story that illuminates the fear of the “Other” in contemporary American society, she goes on to write that he “backfires spectacularly.”

“[It's] an hour of television that manages to traffic in tired and dangerous stereotypes, especially of Muslims, whose beliefs and practices are shown only in the most ominous and reductive ways,” writes Mangla. She goes on to cite examples of just where Carter went wrong, including what she terms a “cartoonish portrayal” of the Muslim terrorists, who are “shown as nefarious brown men with long beards, holed up in motels building bombs, while saying Islamic prayers in congregation and shouting 'Allahu Akbar.'”

Mangla goes on:

“Never mind that such sleeper cells full of ominous, foreign men isn”t how extremism has manifested itself in the United States. Or that it”s been shown that many terrorists have a flimsy grasp on their so-called religion themselves – as evidenced by the jihadists who bought 'Islam for Dummies' before carrying out acts of terror. Or that the Quran doesn”t actually call for 'death to infidels' (which Scully utters in the episode – a tragic occurrence when the usually brilliant scientist and medical doctor is forced to speak nonsense).  Or that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America are highly assimilated, educated, productive members of society. No, 'Babylon' ignores all that, abandoning any hope of  demonstrating the complexity that seems to be Carter's intent. Instead, it feeds right into a stereotypical demonization of Muslims, their beliefs and rituals.  

“And that”s a problem, because the only time we see Muslims on television or film, whether they”re performing the ordinary daily prayers practiced by 1.6 billion Muslims around the world or just behaving in otherwise 'Muslim-y' ways, is when they”re about to blow people up. It”s a shame that Carter doesn”t seem to understand that the honest and fair depiction of minorities in popular culture matters – particularly from a pop culture giant like  'The X-Files' – and it”s precisely this kind of bungling portrayal that serves to perpetuate the fear and mistrust he says he decries.”

Over at Medium, writer Rim-Sarah Alouane also launched into a brutal critique of the episode, decrying Carter for his use of comedy (“I really do not think that issues related to terrorism should be taken lightly,” she writes) and for imbuing the Islamic terrorist characters with a host of stereotypical attributes, including having the characters speak Arabic when, as Alouane notes, “the majority of Muslims are not even Arabs.”

Many viewers on Twitter were similarly outraged. Here's a roundup of responses:

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