The X-Files, just confirmed for its eleventh season this summer, is thought of as being virtually synonymous with the unsolved, unknown, and misunderstood. Many of the paranormal entities and cryptozoological creatures featured on the show are employed as metaphors to explore larger societal issues. The show has its own designation for one-off, self-contained mini-narratives – the so called “freak of the week” episodes – which feature monsters and mutants that seldom make more than one appearance in the series-arc, but which are among some of the most iconic of the long running program. None, perhaps, has achieved the levels of notoriety as the episode simply entitled Home.
Home has gained the distinction of being one of the most disturbing episodes of The X-Files, or of broadcast television in general, for that matter. The episode focuses on the members of the Peacock family, comprised of three disfigured brothers and their limbless mother. Ruthlessly violent and prone to anti-social behavior like incest and infanticide, the Peacocks embody that most prevalent and historic trope surrounding people with disabilities – that is, that they are inherently deranged, lacking in morality, or simply, evil. Disability scholar, Marilyn Dahl, acknowledges this tendency in media towards negative reductions of people with disabilities, saying, “It has been a convention of all literature and art that physical deformity, chronic illness, or any visible defect symbolizes an evil and malevolent nature and monstrous behavior” (1993). This is certainly the case for this episode. While capitalizing on the sensational and gruesome, the show never truly addresses the heart of the most troubling matter: why are we so afraid of physical difference? In fact, it plays off our fears of people with disabilities, using them to scare us rather than considering the consequences for those with disabilities.
The episode uses the Peacock family to embody many modern social anxieties surrounding people with disabilities. Outward physical characteristics directly translate to villainous and anti-social behavior, suggesting a direct, one-to-one correlation between appearance and character embedded within the logic of the show. Again, Dahl notes that, “Research into the relationship between physical attractiveness and crime in various media found that physical ugliness and physical differences are often associated with media depictions of violence and crime. Horror movies [and TV shows] make free use of this strategy.” In an attempt to contain and justify the horrific qualities of the Peacocks, the show uses incest as a plot point to further emphasize and distinguish the differences between people with disabilities and non-disabled people. The show appears to desperately enforce the demarcation of the disabled other through the stripping of humanity from the disfigured Peacocks. In the episode, the brothers are characterized as having animal-like qualities, as Sheriff Taylor says, “Guess you could call them human.” Even the name, the Peacocks, is a hint towards an ironic othering of the family – not only are they animals, but peacocks are symbolic of physical beauty stemming from their colorful plumage. The show’s desperation in enforcement of ableist precepts concerning different bodies threatens to destabilize the certainty of bodily normality. It’s focus on fears surrounding disabled people reveals broader social anxieties concerning disability. American culture and media remains preoccupied with distinguishing between those with bodily differences and those supposedly without. In terms of disability, for The X-Files the truth is still out there.
Dahl, Marilyn. “The Role of the Media in Promoting Images of Disability: Disability as Metaphor, the Evil Crip.” Canadian Journal of Communication 18.1 (1993): 75-80. ProQuest. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.