Time's 25 most influential Americans
Chris Carter CREATOR, THE X-FILES
To every generation, there is a televisionary. First, Rod Serling enfolded a still innocent America in The Twilight Zone; then Gene Roddenberry launched the country, disguised as the multicultural Enterprise, on a voyage in Star Trek; David Lynch led audiences away from cosmopolis and back to the suddenly unfamiliar heartland of Twin Peaks. Today's seer is Chris Carter, 39, creator of The X-Files, a show that takes America's obsession with the occult and cover-ups, with truths impossible to ignore but too terrible to be told, and transforms that paranoia into a compelling amalgam of hipness and horror--proving it possible to be both cool and unnerved.
The saga of two FBI agents skulking along the fringes of the paranormal, The X-Files sparked a genre renaissance (including Profiler and Carter's own Millennium) and spawned a legion of young, wild-eyed followers as fanatical as the older army of Trekkies. Why does X mark the files and the generation? "Clearly, there's a widespread belief that there are secrets that can explain an otherwise unfathomable world," says Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology at New York University. And with the approach of the millennium, he says, "the odds sure go up" for paranoia.
Carter is wary of claiming to reinvent the form. He feels he's just pumping his love of truth-seeking movies like All the President's Men and The Silence of the Lambs into a medium that he feels has lacked a good frightfest since the mid-'70s. "What I've attempted to do was scare you in a smart way that makes you think and question," he says. "If you just put on special effects, you're not storytelling, you're pandering."
A TV series can't go too far wrong with killer cockroaches and sinister feds with nicknames like "Cancer Man." Yet the show's biggest draws remain the sly, sexy agents Mulder and Scully, who represent the true believer and the skeptic. Their intertwined quests mirror the popular thirst for certainty as well as the hope that "the truth is out there," even if it is way, way out.