Okay, I admit it. I'm an “X-Files” addict. So when I found out that William B. Davis (Cigarette-Smoking Man from “The X-Files”) was going to be speaking at the State University of New York at Buffalo as part of its People’s Speaker Series, there was no keeping me away. Arriving obnoxiously early, I managed to get a front-row seat and smiled pleasantly at all the people walking past me to the higher rows. Not even when the fire alarm went off did my fellow front-rowers and I dare to move lest we lose our seats.
The event had been poorly advertised, so only about eighty truly obsessed fans could be found eagerly awaiting his appearance. Finally, there he was: the vile, loathsome, conniving, infamous Cigarette-Smoking Man. He politely thanked everyone for coming and humbly confessed that he was a little nervous about coming to Buffalo, mentioning the “X-Files” episode in which Cigarette-Smoking Man (CSM) vowed that Buffalo would never win the Super Bowl as long as he was alive. He also thanked everyone for coming on the last night of the world series, but said we needn't watch anyway: he had arranged it so that Cleveland would win. (Maybe Buffalo still has a chance after all!)
Opening a typed manuscript with an alien head on the cover, he began his lecture by pointing out a common misconception about the show. “You see,” he paused for effect, “I think that CSM is really the hero, and Mulder and Scully are the bad guys.” He explained that if Mulder got his way and the truth was revealed, everyone would panic and terrible things would result. But if CSM got his way, everything would stay the same. So why is everyone rooting for Mulder? He went on, comparing and contrasting the different characters, each time making it seem like CSM was doing the honorable thing. Finally, he asked us, if we were to chose a leader, who would we want: a young, inexperienced guy who acts on the spur of the moment and pulls out his gun, waving it around at the first sign of danger, or an older gentleman who has a lot of experience, is very level-headed, and doesn't even carry a gun? He figured the choice was clear.
After his prepared speech, he opened up the floor for questions. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions asked was whether he was a “believer.” Instead of answering right away, he turned the question on us. “How many of you believe aliens are among us?” he asked. About half of the audience raised their hands. Then he smiled and surprised a good deal of the audience by confessing that he was, indeed, a skeptic. That’s right, Mr. Conspiracy himself is, in real life, a skeptic. To the disappointment of a few audience members, he made it very clear that he didn’t believe aliens are among us. Then he asked if anyone knew who John Mack was, and smiled a sly grin.
One of the audience members asked if Davis knew that Chris Carter was in Buffalo a while back “for some skeptical thing” (the June 1996 First World Skeptics Congress). Not only did Davis know, he also informed the audience about CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer, which he said he reads whenever he can. He said many people think that, because he’s in the show he’s a believer, but for him it’s just a job.
There were a few questions about the upcoming movie, but CSM wasn’t revealing anything; finding out details about the movie would be harder than breaking into the defense department. The one thing Davis could confirm was that he would appear in the film; something he never expected at the beginning of the show when he got the part of CSM, a character with no lines who stood mysteriously in the background. At that point, not even Chris Carter knew how important his role would become.
A night of preaching skepticism didn’t seem to deter his fans though, who were lined up afterwards for autographs and pictures. One imaginative fan even brought a cigarette lighter for him to sign. One thing is for certain about “X-Files” fans: they're “out there.”