&Quot;I Want to Believe&Quot;: a Netnography of the X-Philes’ Subculture of Consumption

Robert V. Kozinets, Queens University
[ to cite ]:
Robert V. Kozinets (1997) ,"&Quot;I Want to Believe&Quot;: a Netnography of the X-Philes’ Subculture of Consumption", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 470-475.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 470-475

"I WANT TO BELIEVE": A NETNOGRAPHY OF THE X-PHILES’ SUBCULTURE OF CONSUMPTION

Robert V. Kozinets, Queens University

 

Mulder: "Hey Scully, do you believe in the afterlife?"

Scully: "I’d settle for a life in this one."

"Shadows"

On 10 September 1993, a daring new television drama debuted on the Fox television network. Created by Chris Carter, The X-Files television series features the bizarre exploits of FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. These two agents work on the "X-files," cases that have unexplainable elements and often involve the paranormal.

The X-Files features a nearly inseparable juxtaposition of truth and fiction drawn from popular conspiracy theories and belief in supernatural powers. Three canonical maxims summarize the show’s guiding philosophy: "Trust No One," "I Want to Believe" and "The Truth Is Out There." Despite these individualist mottoes, The X-Files has inspired a large and growing fan culture.

Fans of The X-Files wasted no time in coining their own nickname: 'X-Philes,’ the 'phile’ derived from the Greek word philos, meaning 'to love’. . . . few shows have prompted the sort of emphatic viewer response as The X-Files hs in such a relatively short time period. Indeed, as with any cultural phenomenon, fan reaction to the series has become as much a part of The X-Files story as the show itself, from the conventions that have sprung up around the country to the hours of chat about the series whipping around each week on the Internet." (Lowry 1995: 239).

X-Philes are characterized by their enthusiastic devotion to the series, as well as their sophisticated connoisseurship of all things relating to it. X-Philes are a subset of all viewers of the television series, a "small percentage" of the more than 14 million regular viewers who tune in to the series on an average week (Lowry 1995: 242). Typical viewers of the series are young, urban and educated (Lowry 1995: 22). [It might be interesting to note that this same group is often the source of recruits for religious and other "cults" requiring high levels of personal devotion (see Cushman 1984).]

The existence of fans is an important cultural phenomenon that has been a part of our social reality since mass media were first developed. The Lisa Lewis edited (1992) volume The Adoring Audience considers this history in its examination of the multifaceted relationship between fans, stars, media texts and the media industry. Through a range of contexts ranging from Beatlemania to Elvis worship to science fiction conventions, the contributors to this volume argue that fan behavior has been dismissed by scholars as deviant or trivial. However, they suggest that fandom is a complex, contradictory and fascinating arena that affects a wide range of social behaviors, including consumer behavior, and is therefore worthy of serious academic attention.

Recently, Schouten and McAlexander (1995: 43) defined a "subculture of consumption" as "a distinct subgroup of society that self-selects on the basis of a shared commitment to a particular product class, brand, or consumption activity." The "X-Philes subculture of consumption" (abbreviated to XPSC) thus may represent a transferable site (Lincoln and Guba 1985, Wallendorf and Belk 1989) for studying the consumption of entertainment by subcultures and these subculture’s impact on the consumption of related artifacts and services.

Studying fan cultures such as the X-Philes as subcultures of consumption allows researchers insights into contemporary consumer behavior by (1) exploring the relationship between mass media programming and consumption (see Hirschman 1988, Holbrook and Hirschman 1993), (2) adding to our understanding of the ways in which social values and attitudes are created, expressed and maintained through subcultures of consumption, and mediated by popular culture, and (3) understanding how these cultures are created and maintained, particularly using new communications technologies such as the Internet. Because of its focus on consumption-related meanings, the focal research question of this investigation is "What are the key characteristics of X-Philes consumption practices and how do they extend and inform our knowledge of contemporary consumer behavior?"

METHOD

Data Collection

This ethnography of X-Philes culture was undertaken as part of a larger consumer behavior research project investigating mass media culture and a major fan movement within that culture. However, the investigation possesses sufficient depth and scope to be considered a separate endeavor in its own right. The ability to construct a "thick description" (Geertz 1973, Arnould and Wallendorf 1994) may, however, be constrained by the necessarily limited size of the text.

Data collection by the sole author took place in three venues over a seven-month period that began in August 1995. A form of site triangulation (Wallendorf and Belk 1989) was employed through the use of multiple sites for sampling X-Philes culture. The sampling sites consisted of three areas of highly visible X-Phile activity: at two three-day media fan-related convenions (one which featured Chris Carter as guest of honor), at a media fan club, and on several X-Files related sections of the Internet, [The entire arena of discussion of The X-Files on the Internet is termed "the X-Net" by X-Philes.] particularly The Official X-Files Fan Forum on the Official X-Files Web Site (at http://www.thex-files.com) and the Usenet group<alt.tv.x-files>.

The term netnography [I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for suggested this revised term.] refers to the textual output of Internet-related field work. This paper defines a netnography as a written account of on-line cyberculture, informed by the methods of cultural anthropology. Cyberculture refers to culture that is mediated by contemporary computerized communications technology (i.e., "the Internet"). Researchers in marketing are beginning to explore consumption and cultural activities on the Internet (e.g., Fischer, Bristor and Gainer 1995).

Netnography as a type of research inquiry is quite new, and hence has few guidelines. The validity of netnographic data may be subject to many of the same validity concerns and evaluations as other types of qualitative data (for guidelines and discussion see Denzin and Lincoln 1994: 479-480; Lincoln and Guba 1985; Wallendorf and Belk 1989). The Internet audience combines computer literacy with other types of technological literacy Cin this case television literacy. It thus presents consumer researchers with an interesting site of intersection between the private and public spheres, where the audiencing consumption of television programming overlaps with the interactive cyberculture of Internet use. [I am also indebted to an anonymous reviewer for this interesting point.] The XPSC is an excellent site to study this cultural negotiation, because it apparently is the most Internet-active community of fans of any current television show (Lowry 1995: 240-2).

Jenkins and a research assistant [The assistant was not the co-author of the volume, John Tulloch, but presumably a hired student researcher.] (Tulloch and Jenkins 1995: 281-2) "closely monitored the interactions of two computer discussion groups" related to another media fan culture. Jenkins described the reasons he found Internet observation important to his ethnographic project:

monitoring the nets allowed us to observe the regular interactions of community members within a context that is neither created nor directed by the researcher; that can be legitimately observed without any invasion of privacy or interference with its activity; that offers a dense cluster of information about the group’s interpretive categories=and discursive resources.

Due to the richness of this method, this investigation focuses mainly on the analysis of netnographic data. All direct quotations are from Internet sources. However, the mainly observational stance of the researcher in the netnographic component of this work is balanced by observation of participation (Tedlock 1991) in the other sampled sites. In observation of participation the researcher actively participates in the studied culture. Participation in several panels and discussions at conventions, at fan club meetings, during informal interviews with media fans, combined with X-Phile fan activities such as viewing and reviewing the show and reading X-Files related materials constitutes a prolonged engagement of approximately 350 hours in duration. This prolonged engagement was utilized as a form of triangulation of analysis (Wallendorf and Belk 1989). It also provided indirect quotes, personal involvement in the X-Philes culture, and enhanced cultural fluency.

Ethical Issues

It might be helpful if ethical issues pertaining to this research were briefly addressed, particularly because it involves a new type of research. Althugh all the Internet areas used are unrestricted publicly accessible forums, to meet ethical research standards, all names of participants were changed in this ethnography so as to ensure confidentiality. In the interest of ensuring informed consent, contact by e-mail was established with all persons whose direct quotations have been used to attempt to gain an extra level of consent. Most of the XPSC members contacted said that they were "flattered" or "honored" to be quoted in this research. Of the fifteen persons contacted, only one asked that their quotation Crelated to their UFO sightingCnot be used. That persons who posted messages to a public forum would still deny the right to quote them in research testifies to the necessity of contacting them and receiving their informed consent. In this ethnography, only persons who provided their informed consent were quoted.

XPSC members contacted through the fan club and through conventions were guaranteed anonymity, and were apprised that the researcher is performing cultural research, thus again establishing informed consent and confidentiality. The use of member checks to solicit comments provided another measure of informed consent to X-Philes members.

Data Analysis

Data was recorded on paper notes, in written and word-processed journal entries, in saved computer files, and in photographs of fans. Archival material such as fan literature and brochures was also collected. A holographic sampling frame (Denzin and Lincoln 1994: 202) was utilized, whereby specific sites are analyzed for their insights into universal phenomena.

The data collected totaled 83,150 words, contained on 606 double-spaced pages. This data was read approximately 9 times, and analyzed using the constant comparative method, categorization, abstraction, and the holistic search for unifying themes (Spiggle 1994). Contacts with fan club members, and with X-Net participants were established and this contact was utilized to perform "member checks" that proved helpful in the revision of the text (Lincoln and Guba 1985, Wallendorf and Belk 1989). Nine interested X-Philes were provided with a complete copy of the text, that had not been rewritten for lay readers. Six XPSC members returned comments. The comments were favorable, and supported the contention that the ethnography was an "accurate and fair" portrayal of X-Philes culture. Among additional comments were some which noted the presence of different subgroups or "sub-subcultures" within the XPSC community, Chris Carter’s assurances to minimize "overmerchandising," and enforcement of group standards by the e-mail practice of "flaming" [Flaming is the practice of sending embarrassing and insulting e-mail messages to a person's mailbox or in response to their public Usenet posting.]. Other comments noted the attraction of the relationship between the show’s two protagonists and the series’ high production values. The member checks led to the alteration of the text by including these elements.

THEMES

The X-Philes culture is diverse, constituting people from many locations, many age and demographic groups, and many ethnic backgrounds (Lowry 1995: 240). This investigation focuses on three foundational themes that unite this diverse group of people into an X-Philes culture. The culture is based on shared aesthetic tastes, shared experience of awe and mystery, and a shared drive to consume the symbols related to The X-Files. The motivations underlying these themes might be termed "The Meaning Is Out There," "I Want To Believe," and "Trust This One." These themes are explicitly integrated into the single theme of an individualistic and faith-driven quest to uncover a deeply hidden "Truth," a covert "mystery" theme that also often pervades religious and other sacred cultural beliefs (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989). Chris Carter, The X-Files’ creator, says that he thinks the show is "all about reigion, really. Not necessarily Christian religion, but it’s about beliefs Cand meaning and truth" (Stegall 1996: 24).

Finding the "true" interpretation of the television show is obvious in the first theme, the theme of Negotiating Aesthetic Consumption Standards, in which fans gather to discuss the consumption of the shows and to collectively build categories for judging their quality. The second unifying theme, Consuming Beliefs About Mysterious Experiences, refers to The X-Philes attraction to mysterious paranormal narratives, such as those regarding UFOs, religious manifestations, and psychic abilities. The XPSC’s Connection Through Consumption of Artifacts and Services is the third theme. These consumption goods and services offer tangible manifestations of the mysterious. They also offer opportunities for building communitas both in person and over the Internet. The three themes will be explored in turn.

"The Meaning Is Out There": Negotiating Aesthetic Consumption Standards

A significant amount of activity in the X-Philes cultures can be conceptualized as the socialization of evaluative standards. Consuming media entertainment is an important part of XPSC members’ lives, and they create evaluative standards that are well-considered, consistent, and articulated in great depth. Fans negotiate and teach each other these standards regarding The X-Files episodes, plots, characters, images, and products. As McCracken (1990: 34) notes, social groups such as subcultures seek to distinguish themselves through cultivating "certain kinds of knowledge." This knowledge can include aesthetic categorization schemes denoting "good taste" regarding their interests. As Bourdieu (1984) notes, "taste classifies, and classifies the classifier." This construction of tastes is a key activity of consumption subcultures, defining the boundaries of their shared interpretations of social reality.

The reception of "Teso Dos Bichos," an episode of The X-Files that first aired on 8 March 1996, provides an example of the manner in which episodes are used to teach this "classifying taste." Among members of the XPSC, a clear consensus appeared that the show was "a letdown" and "disappointing," sentiments explained in the following posting by "Matthew": [To guarantee anonymity, the names of all culture members have been changed.]

Man, this thing was all over the place. I appreciate it when they try and put a little bit of a curveball in there, but I also appreciate it when at some future point it becomes coherent. Instead, this just spun out of control. . . . Okay. So it’s a jaguar spirit, but it’s also a feral-cat spirit?. . . . If the thing can be a jaguar to off the guy in the parking lot, why couldn’t it have been a jaguar down in the steam tunnels? Answer: Because if Scully saw it, she wouldn’t have been able to come up with her scientific explanation.

In this posting, Matthew not only points out what was wrong with the episode, he notes why it was wrong, and which aesthetic standard was being violated. These comments articulate a "coherency" evaluative criterion. The show, although it is recognizably fiction, must work to maintain the suspension of disbelief necessary for viewers to fully enjoy its consumption as a possible real-world experience. The show must be internally consistent, carefully maintaining the rules of its own universe. As Matthew states, contradictions such as jaguar-feral cat can not simply be left unresolved. Otherwise, the intentions of the writers become transparent and thus reduce the enjoyment of the show. Even the extraordinary must believably conform to physical limitations. "Leanne" noted "What’s up with these killer kitties? A cat cannot kill a human! Even if it is possessed by some spiritual dude."

As well, the show must conform to standards of tastefulness in the wider social community, and not excessivel "gross-out" its core audience. Sam, another fan, reinforces Matthew’s’ later comments about the high "gross-out-visual factor" of "rats in toilets." Sam adds, "What’s with the glistening entrails-thing anyway? This is two eps in a row we’ve been treated to human viscera and small furry animals eating the same."

Aesthetic standards extend to shared assessments of actor’s physical characteristics. The "David Duchovny Estrogen Brigade" is a homepage, an e-mail list, and a public forum for several dozen women who highly admire "the work" of the actor who plays Agent Fox Mulder. Many of these brigade members also share stories (some of them erotic in nature) featuring the character of Mulder. This XPSC subgroup focuses on an actor. Its members negotiate standards that might enhance the hedonic pleasure (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982) of audiovisually experiencing Cand fantasizing aboutC the actors’ televisual and romantic presence.

It is important to note the parallels of these empirical findings with Scott’s (1994) and Stern’s (1989) use of reader-response theory. As individual viewers of the show, XPSC members "read" meanings from the text of the television shows. They act as skeptical, knowledgeable, imaginative and even resistant readers (Scott 1994). This reading experience is initially idiosyncratic for isolated viewers, but then becomes collective subsequent to contact with the fan culture on the Internet. Meanings initially garnered as individuals are then negotiated as a group. For instance, "Martina" originally interpreted the feral cats in "Teso Dos Bichos" as nonphysical manifestations. However, after prompting and explanations from other X-Philes, she changed her interpretation to accord with that of other XPSC members.

OK, I’ve thought better of it-the feral cats probably *were* real. . . . I just assumed they were illusions because they vanished at the end of the ep. Could be...doesn’t have to be. I’ll go with it.

This alteration of taste confirms Scott’s (1994: 463) contention that reading is not "completely idiosyncratic," and is "based on collective conventions" allowing for "shared responses." In member checks, some XPSC members pointed out that a lack of conformance to aesthetic standards was often enforced through the persuasive threat of communal "flaming." The relative anonymity of e-mail and postings may contribute to greater license being taken in flaming than would be taken in issuing insults in person. As a positive incentive, throwing off one’s idiosyncratic meanings in favor of shared meanings may also contribute to a long-term sense of communitas, defined as the "transcending camaraderie of status equality" and communion with others (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1999: 7). These observations portray the learning, enforcement and reinforcement of these collective conventions in action in the XPSC.

"I Want To Believe": Consuming Beliefs About Mysterious Experiences

Marshall McLuhan posited that television programming reflects humanity’s unconscious mind and is therefore our collective dream. The X-Files episodes might reflect humanity’s collective nightmares and delusions, exploring frightening, paranoid corners of our modern mental world. TV guide calls The X-Files a "whole new kind of dark, subversive program" and notes that Chris Carter says that the show is "very dark" "in its tone, mood and look" (Saddy 1995: 15). Based on this core devotion to the darkly mysterious, XPSC members build communitas based on their shared exploration of this creepy threshold, united in their "want to believe."

X-Philes’ core devotion to the show seems to depend on its ability to draw on and mbiguously extend extant paranormal and government conspiracy accounts. Chris Carter claims that he was convinced of The X-Files’ commercial viability by a Roper Organization poll showing that three percent of the U.S. population "believes they’ve been abducted by aliens" (Lowry 1995: 11). Several fan club X-Philes noted that the conspiracy theories drawn on by The X-Files were particularly interesting to them, and that their belief in UFOs predated the show. Panel members at a convention said that their interest in The X-Files originated in the "serious way" in which it treated UFOs and governmental UFO conspiracy or cover-up theories. They pointed to actual government cover-ups Csuch as "CIA testing of LSD on civilians"C to justify their faith in the show’s precepts.

An open forum for discussion of these beliefs is also present on the X-Net. A particularly dramatic and dominant area of interest was personal information regarding UFO sightings. "Cassandra" shares her sighting by posting it on the X-Net:

A couple of nights ago I was driving with my dad and saw these two bright white lights just hanging in the sky. Or so I thought. Then they started moving, kinda slowly. As the lights moved on, a blinking red light appeared between the two white ones, and further on, another white light came into view, making a perfect triangle with the little red light in the middle.

Many XPSC members seem embarrassed by the act of sharing their UFO experiences, likely because this is stigmatic behavior in "normal" society. Some note that they "feel kind of stupid doing this," or ask others to "please contact me if you believe me because others say that I am crazy". Yet the XPSC remains an open forum for the extended discussion of these experiences, providing a unique sanctuary for their display.

XPSC members also produce communitas by sharing their belief in mysterious government conspiracies. Several fan club members expressed their mistrust of "all governments," and their belief in a "worldwide UFO conspiracy". On the Internet, similar confessions could easily be found. On the Usenet group, "Dudley" enthusiastically shares his belief in UFOs and governments conspiracies:

Greetings all! I’m [Dudley], a believer! I feel that it is my responsibility to tell the truth! . . . . People think that UFO’s, Aliens, etc are just Hollywood fantasies. It’s not true! It is not true! . . . . Don’t be a fool ! Be a believer!

Other XPSC members share somber assessments of conspiracy theories. "Marcus" notes that "one day the truth will finally be presented, and not suppressed under a government’s heavy cloak of darkness". Spiritual beliefs and theories were also evident on the X-Net. Some XPSC members, such as "Ted," see belief in UFOs as part of a larger spiritual process that humanity is currently experiencing:

For the past few years now, I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the awareness of the paranormal. But not just the paranormal, more spiritual as well. . . . As we enter the next century, and grow as a mass, I believe that we will grow into a very spiritual society that will learn to except that we are not alone in the universe.

X-Philes thus consume mysterious and mystical notions through The X-Files show and through their Internet activities and membership in the XPSC. As noted by Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry (1989), mystery is an important element of the sacred. Mystery is "above the ordinary" and derives from "profound experiences and meanings" (p. 7). Consumers are increasingly turning to secular sources Csuch as television shows, and the subcultures of consumption that spring up based on themC to fulfill their deepseated need for connection with the sacred. It is also possible that in our faithless, hyper-rational and scientific society, many people crave the excitement and energy that the only the unexplained can inspire. Cushman (1984) notes that many people in our current social era are psychologically characterized by an "empty self" that may seek to be filled up by an all-consuming spiritual or religious "truth," or through mass consumption of material objects, or both (Cushman 1990).

The X-Files draws on profound and extraordinary events, mysteries ranging from UFOs to religious phenomena such as reincarnation and stigmata to psychic abilities. Through repeated pairings, the television show and its many associated symbols become associated with these profound symbols. The sacred meaning is transferred (McCracken 1990) and the show itself, its characters and trademarked symbols, becomes sacred.

"Trust This One": Connection Through Consumption Of Artifacts and Services

The X-Philes subculture is based upon shared aesthetic standards regarding the television show, shared mysteries, and a shared belief in the sacred nature of the show. The embodiment of these notions finds its expression in a variety of artifacts drawn from the television series and services related to the show. In this theme, it is suggested that these goods intensify the spiritually fulfilling experience of The X-Files, deepening both the feeling of devotion to the series and the communitas felt towards other XPSC members.

An instance of attempting to bring items and images from the show into subculture members’ daily lives is provided by "Simon." Simon asks other X-Philes "Where can I find the poster behind Mulder’s desk that says 'I Want To Believe’ [and contains a picture of a flying saucer]." Presumably, possessing this poster will intensify the experience of being an X-Phile through its immediate physical presence, symbolically announce Simon’s fan status to others, and help to connect Simon to the transcendent world of The X-Files through evoking its symbolic vocabulary of UFOs and belief. Beyond this, the poster itself both verbally and pictorially reinforces the themes that attract people to the show: belief in the paranormal, in UFOs and, perhaps, simply belief in something.

Subculture members desire to bring other elements of The X-Files into their daily lives. One X-Phile admires the "equipment used on the show" and expresses a desire to buy "one of the flashlights they use." Other fans inquire about the availability and content of the upcoming music album based on the series. Fans even conceive of new products such as RPGs (role-playing games) that they would like to see developed. All of these products share an emphasis on intensification of The X-Files experience, of bringing symbols from the show more concretely into the lived experiences of the XPSC members.

Members of the XPSC reinforce the value of official products through publicizing their capacity for providing hedonic experiential pleasure (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982). "Constance" shares her enthusiasm for official X-Files merchandise in terms that might make many marketers envious:

I am so excited about the month of March. I must’ve been born under a lucky star or something. The X-Files videos, X-Files "soundtrack" and 2 new episodes to tickle my fancy

XPSC members collectively negotiate acceptable quality and price standards. "Franklin," a collector of the Topps X-Files Cards notes that their "quality control" is poor, since he found missing cards in packages, and the distribution of "premium cards" was inconsistent. Price warnings are also communicated to culture members. "Kathryn" states that, after seeing The X-Files videos selling for "$19.95," "I feel like I have ben mugged." Another XPSC member replies that fans should take this as a "Rip-Off Alert," because he was able to purchase the same videos for a much lower price. These communications can be interpreted as a resistant reading of product offerings, or even as a form of consumer activism. This type of information exchange builds trust, and further differentiates the longer-term communitas of the X-Philes community from the more time-delimited and self-interested exchanges of strangers.

Exchange of information about products and services promotes social adhesion. Exchange of information and exchange of physical artifacts tie the community together by promoting dyadic interaction. There is a considerable amount of trading, buying and selling activity on the X-Net. Fans seek missing editions of comic books, or trading cards, or they may simply want to determine "what something’s worth." Sharing items of common value, and remarking on their worth, is another way X-Philes reinforce the merit of their mutual fascination with The X-Files.

For some subculture members, the fascination may become stressfully overwhelming. The member might even feel a need to join the on-line group XPA C"X-Philes Anonymous". As "Kevin," a member of XPA notes, XPA has no pretension of actually "curing you of your obsession for the X-Files. It is more like a support group, where you can talk about your problem." However, Kevin states that he has "NO desire whatsoever to be cured!. . . . This group is for the people that are a lost cause!!!"

Notwithstanding XPA, the X-Philes subculture of consumption members are not going to relinquish their affection for the show, and the multifaceted cyberculture and fan culture based on its consumption. For, despite any anguish the show might cause, as one member exuberantly expressed it:

I think The X-files is the most amazing show on earth and it should be shown until the end of time!!!!!!!!!!!!

Conclusion

Studying mass media fan cultures such as The X-Philes subculture of consumption holds several important insights into contemporary consumer behavior. First, it should be noted that individual audiencing of television programming is an extremely complex act, one that resembles the interactive view of interpretation related in reader-response theories (Scott 1994, Stern 1989). The television viewer, far from a mere passive receiver of meanings, actively, skeptically, and creatively constructs an interpretation of the meaning of the television show, both by building on prior television series, episodes of the same series, and related information regarding the series gleaned from other sources such as TV viewing guides. This finding underlines the importance of reader response theories to understanding the consumption of entertainment media and other performances (Deighton 1994).

Second, it is important to note that among fans (and perhaps among other less involved consumers) the consumption of mass media messages is subculturally mediated. Interpretation is significantly collective in the XPSC. Mass media meanings no longer reside solely in individuals, but are negotiated, enforced communally and presumably intensified Cthrough consumption-related exchanges such as this research found occurring over the Internet. These exchanges focus on the enthusiasm and preference for consumption goods and services, their attributes, and even acts of resistant activism regarding their purchase and consumption. As access to sophisticated communication technology continues to proliferate, and as its use in the lives of individuals mounts, the consumption-negotiation and consumer-activism behavior of the X-Net XPSC members may become more and more commonplace in society at large.

Third, the need to consume the mysterious, and to speculate on the spiritual seems to fulfill a specific heartfelt desire for belief in Truths that extend beyond the ordinay, providing support for a specific aspect of Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry’s (1989) theory. This profound need to fill an achingly empty self with spiritual or sacred faith Cand consumptionC appears to be manifest in the deep devotion of XPSC members and may be related to that particular brand of anomie that seemingly afflicts the young, urban, and educated of the Western world (Cushman 1984, 1990). However, an important insight of this research is the mass mediated, commoditized nature of the sacred experience of XPSC members. For X-Philes, consumption of the show is a sacred experience, occurring during a sacred time slot, and the act of discussing the show transforms the Internet into a sacred space [This insight was provided by an anonymous reviewer comment.] (Belk, Wallendorf and Sherry 1989). This intimate relationship between entertainment media, spiritual beliefs, mass commodification and consumption is an area that might be transferable to explorations of other consumption behavior and subcultures of consumption, such as those based around sports, music, and "high culture."

Finally, this investigation points to the importance of popular culture in the lived experience of contemporary consumers. Popular culture is not merely a vehicle for advertisements, but is itself an exceedingly potent driver of consumption. The images and symbols of popular culture programs such as The X-Files provide a new vocabulary for the construction of culture, community, and meaning.

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