Mulder and Scully investigate a strange disappearance in what turns out to
be a town of cannibals.
"Our Town" is a classic play by Thornton Wilder,
an American playwright. I'm sure there are plenty of parallels between the play and this episode, but I'll leave
that for someone else to dissect.
Our Town link: http://www.danbury.org/org/rwpa/ourtown.html
The episode begins with a the disappearance of a sanitation inspector in
the woods of an Arkansas town built around a chicken processing plant. Residents
of the town have reported seeing lights in the woods at night for years, so
Mulder thinks that there's a posibility of UFO abduction involved. Of course
there's the possibility that these lights have nothing to do with UFOs, but are
actually manifestations of ball lightning. This curious phenomenon has yet
to be fully explained by scientists, but theories abound. (However, in this
case, Mulder's just a little off the mark--the lights happen to be something
a little more mundane.)
For more information on what is actually known about ball lightning, read two
postings from the newsgroup sci.geo.meteorology at
When Mulder and Scully show up at the Chaco Chicken processing plant, one of
the workers goes bezerk, is shot by a policeman, and falls face-first into a vat
of chicken waste. Since she's dead, she doesn't really have a chance to admire
the amazingly utilitarian way that chickens are slaughtered and processed for
consumption. Some might say it's brutal and inhumane, but you decide for
To read a decidedly biased exposition on the chicken production business, look
It's not well-documented, but with an objective perspective, you can find out
a lot about chicken processing.
It turns out that both the plant worker (incidentally the granddaughter of
Mr. Chaco himself) and the sanitation inspector had a rare illness called
Creutzfeldt-Jakob's disease (CJD, for short). CJD is a debilitating brain
disease for which there is no cure. Much like Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
(BSE, a.k.a., "Mad Cow Disease"), CJD is caused by rogue
proteins gone bad--that create a plaque on the brain that eats holes in it
and makes it appear spongy. Prions are unlike any other infectious agent
(bacteria, viruses, etc.) in that they cannot be destroyed easily, and they
contain no DNA or RNA.
Prion definition link: http://whyfiles.news.wisc.edu/012mad_cow/prion.html
To learn more about CJD and BSE, read the
The Why Files' detailed report on the
subject at http://whyfiles.news.wisc.edu/012mad_cow/index.html.
For a thorough, simply-written, and well-researched paper on BSE and CJD, read
To read another perspective on the transmission and nature of spongiform
encephalopathies, go to http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/may96/827547087.Vi.r.html
(and scroll down to the answer to QUESTION 4).
As Mulder and Scully continue their investigation, they find evidence of
cannibalism in the small town. Human bones are found in a local river with
rounded ends--implying that they were boiled. It all leads back to an period
of time that Old Man Chaco spent with a group of
cannibals in the South Pacific.
Cannibals in New Guinea ingested the brain tissue of dead relatives for religious
reasons (that I do not know). This episode asserts that eating human brains
increased longevity, and that Chaco brought this dark secret back to Dudley,
Arkansas, from parts unknown. What Chaco didn't do his homework on was the
fact that in remote tribes in the South Pacific where brain ingestion was
practiced, there was an outbreak of Kuru in the 1950s. Kuru is a spongiform
encephalopathy very similar to CJD, and its onset in the indiginous populations
effectively ended the religious practice of eating grey matter.
South Pacific Cannibals link: http://www.salon1999.com/12nov1995/humor/cruickshank.html
To read more about Kuru (along with the other diseases discussed above), check out
To compare pictures of Kuru-infected tissue and BSE/CJD-infected tissue, go to
This page was last updated: 09/05/98
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