The Scully Effect. The You Effect
I thought about quitting but then I noticed who was watching.
A few months ago, I attended a talk at Oakland’s Impact Hub, one of many co-working spaces for the Bay area. Erika Alexander (who played cousin Pam on the Cosby show and Maxine Shaw on Living Single) was the keynote speaker along with her business partner. They were in attendance to talk about their new venture, Color Farm, a media company and venture studio with the aim of developing and producing content that brings greater diversity to the media landscape. They spoke about the importance of exposure for young people to images, people, and experiences that positively influence how they view themselves and their future. She mentioned a phenomenon called the “Scully effect”, which I had never heard about until that evening. Intrigued, I went home to do a bit of digging.
Here’s a bit of background. Gillian Anderson, was an actress who played the role of FBI Special Agent Dana Scully in the popular sci-fi 90s show, The X-Files. She was one of two main characters, the other being David Duchovny who played Agent Moulder. The premise of the show centered around FBI special agents investigating cases within the government’s X-files. The X-Files contained unsolved cases involving paranormal events. Agent Scully was a medical doctor (turned paranormal detective) on the show tasked with conducting the scientific analysis of her partners’ discoveries.
The show ran for many years and ultimately developed a cult following. What’s particularly interesting about the series is that Agent Scully’s character seemed to have a significant social impact beyond the screen. There was an online study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute (details here) with over 2000 female participants where nearly 63% stated that Dana Scully served as a role model and 63% stated that it contributed to their confidence to succeed in a male dominated field. There were many girls of that generation who watched the show and were compelled to pursue careers in science, medicine and law enforcement because of her. It really drives home that what you see (on or off screen), particularly as a child, really matters whether it is fictional or real life.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have role models close to me but I was certainly also influenced by what I watched and the characters I followed on television. Phylicia Rashad, who played Claire Huxtable on the Cosby Show, was one of them. She was a successful mother, lawyer, wife, and daughter, all the while speaking fluent Spanish and without a hair out of place. Even though I was old enough to be well aware that it wasn’t reality, I took it all in. I think we all do whether consciously or unconsciously. Those actors, along with countless others, planted a seed in many of us and gave those who watched them a peek into a different life; another option.
I don’t think you have to be an actress to affect the people around you, young or otherwise. It happens daily—the coworker that’s really into fitness, thereby inspiring you to take a Zumba class or walk during lunch time. The friend that goes to graduate school planting a seed of courage to maybe return to school or pursue a different career. The son that sees his father treating the women in his life with love and respect, subsequently affecting how he views and treats women in his life.
We all make impressions on each other every day and depending on our careers and life roles, those impressions can be far reaching to people that you don’t even know. I think it’s an interesting notion for all of us to take some time to think about.
Who’s watching you and what effect are YOU having on the people in your world? Is it the effect you want?