The X-Files And Conspiracy Irresponsibility

The X-FilesThe sci-fi geeks among you are probably aware that The X-Files returned recently, for a limited-miniseries run on Fox. I loathe the current sequel trend, but not on general principle. It’s because the sequels tend to be enormously lazy cash grabs. It’s perfectly fine to redo or add to existing material, if you have something worth adding. (The first few seasons of Sherlock are true to the original in spirit, and well-liked by Holmes nerds even though the stories differ wildly from Doyle’s originals.)

Like many people, I enjoyed The X-Files when it first aired in 1993. Its leads, as FBI agents investigating UFOs, Bigfoot, and such, played their encounters with monsters so dryly they seemed more like accountants than law enforcement. Or: DMV meets Dracula. While the show’s hints of an overarching, the sinister plot to cover up “The Truth” about UFOs was fun, suggesting that kooks everywhere were right all along. Although this had been stolen from, and done better in, Close Encounters, it was enjoyable transposed into scary-show format.

X-Files Loses Its Spark

Also like many people, I drifted away as the Sinister Plot became more labyrinthine. It lost its air of spooky silliness and drifted into a tedious mix of pretension and sloppiness. The show’s creator, Chris Carter, seemed not to realize he was pulling together bits from earlier popular successes (Twilight Zone, Close Encounters) and believed viewers tuned in for his “vision.”

“If the conspiracy is really as powerful as Mulder thinks it is, only collective action can change it. Only some version of democracy can stand up against it.” —James Surowiecki

The Sinister Plot got away from poking (not entirely harmless) fun at UFO and Bigfoot conspiracy buffs (at times, the show’s depiction of such could be downright mean-spirited). And it moved into much more irresponsible territory. In addition to covering up Roswell, and lying about abductions, the Bad Guys also assassinated JFK. And Dr King. Seriously. That’s really reprehensible.

(The episode where this is revealed mentions actual historical facts about Hoover’s attempts to smear King, and how hard-right elements considered him a communist threat. Maybe in Carter’s mind this information justified working such a tragedy into his monster serial. If so, Carter’s mind is unhinged.)

Giving X-Files Another Try

But, I have high admiration for Gillian Anderson as a performer, and some nostalgia over seeing her recreate the role which started her fine career. Plus, I like miniseries. American TV shows tend to have seasons which are way too long (cable has begun figuring this out.) So, I thought I’d give it a try.

Oh, boy.

Our FBI agents and now retired from the UFO biz. They had a kid who’d been genetically altered with alien DNA, whom they had to give up and never see again for the kid’s own safety or something. They are contacted by a Glenn Beck type, who wants their input on a big story he’s planning to break. They’re hesitant, being good liberals, but the Beck fellow knows his UFO lore, so maybe he’s not entirely an opportunistic TV liar.

Turns out Beck has an honest-to-God alien spaceship (or working copy, anyway), stashed in a hangar. Why? Oh, herein lies a tale. Brace yourselves. This is Scientology, Story of Xenu-worthy stuff.

When we started exploding A-bombs, it attracted the notice of space aliens, who came to save us from destroying ourselves. But the Big Mean Earth Bad Guys kept shooting down alien ships and learning from their technology. They built replicas of those ships to abduct people and perform genetic experiments involving, again, alien DNA. Also, stories of alien abduction helped distract the public from these Mean Bad Guys’ master scheme, which involves environmental devastation, obesity, consumerism run amok, sparking wars, and blowing up skyscrapers. This is all to justify the buildup of a surveillance/police state which will finally be unleashed after the next manufactured catastrophe to take over the world. Starting with America. Bwahahaha!

Where to start with this? Wouldn’t any aliens who mastered FTL travel to stop us from using atomic warfare realize we were pretty violent primates and, I dunno, keep their ships from being shot down? But the illogic isn’t worth going into.

The Same Old Thing — But Newer

What I do find bizarre is how this equates both right-wing fantasies (the Beck type moans about gun confiscation), left-wing reality talking points (global warming, the military/industrial/security complex), and conspiracy stuff (JFK again, UFOs, the World Trade Center), mashing them into a giant pile of equal Woes Upon Ours.

And I guarantee you, as usual, our FBI heroes will never be able to solve. One more layer upon one more layer to uncover… The Beck character is shut down. The Great Truth can never be revealed. “They” won’t allow it.

What the hell does Chris Carter think he’s doing with The X-Files? Making some profound statement about our troubled times? I suspect he’s a reasonably left-leaning guy with a very large bank account from his overpaid cinematic work, who thinks he’s providing “fun entertainment” with “a little meaning to it.” I suspect this because this is what Hollywood types with slightly leftist sympathies who enjoy their comfortable lifestyles very often say they think. You know, the new Star Wars has an anti-Mean War message! In there somewhere. Amidst all the explosions.

Collective Action and Conspiracy

As to the annoying persistence in our culture of how people with marginalized positions believe “if only I could make people understand this one truth, they’d realize I’m totally right,” let me refer you to almost every chat thread on the internet. (Not here! We’re quite civil when we disagree. Mostly…) Or The Atlantic review of The X-Files from 1997 by James Surowiecki, from which I take this fine quote: “If the conspiracy is really as powerful as Mulder thinks it is, only collective action can change it. Only some version of democracy can stand up against it.”

Exactly. And by turning real fears, genuine abuses of power, into plot material for a monster show, Chris Carter mocks the very notion of democracy. He says, in effect, “It’s all just another form of entertainment… but that’s OK, since it has a little meaning to it.” So, too, did Indiana Jones defeating the Nazis.

Star Trek and Doctor Who have more bite. And Terry Pratchett would eat this weak social commentary for breakfast.

But I still love Gillian Anderson.

12 thoughts on “The X-Files And Conspiracy Irresponsibility

  1. I never really watched X-Files. I’d been listening to the podcasts The Black Tapes and Tanis, but had to quit Tanis because of these same issues, and I’m on the edge with Black Tapes. Endless conspiracies layered on top of one another with no end in sight, and Tanis started trying to tie in things like Charles Manson, 9/11, and the Voynich Manuscript. It was just getting too ridiculous. Conspiracy shows should give at least some answers once a season, and then use those answers to lead into new stories. It’s similar, in an odd way, to romantic stories in sitcoms. “Will they, or won’t they?” Drag out the tease of two characters becoming romantically involved while never delivering on it, and eventually I just get bored. The same thing happens if you tease that there’s a big conspiracy and never give any resolution.

  2. I was a big X Files fan in the ’90s. I preferred the monster of the week stories to what the show turned into in it’s last couple of seasons. One of my favorite episodes is Darkness Falls, where tiny glowing insects are released from an ancient tree that was cut down by illegal logging. There’s also Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose where Peter Boyle plays an insurance salesman who can see how people will die. But his precognition is limited to this and he’s always frustrated trying to pick lottery numbers. I did watch the miniseries. I hadn’t intended to, but I found it cycling through channels and found it engaging. It’s a Fox show and always was. But Fox wasn’t Fox as we know it in 1993. Am I just more highly politicized, because things seemed yank me out of the story as Fox talking points occasionally. Fox obviously used 24 as a vehicle for policy advocacy after 9/11, when it had just been a tv show prior to that. The inclusion of an Islamic terrorist bombing was an unfortunate choice as plot device, but it was more the Glen Beck surrogate that grated. The Mulder on acid montage was funny, and a nice cameo for the Lone Gunman guys. But I also have a brother in law who resembles David Ducovny, and my sister tells me of trips they have taken to Vegas where he has gotten a little more liquored up and sillier than normal. The ‘I gave you a placebo’ punchline to that was a nice twist, but no follow up as to what actually happened. Mulder does manage, somehow, to find the terrorist cell from his hallucination. I also liked the younger incarnations of Mulder and Scully. Liked everything about the prehistoric were-man episode.

    • It was sort of an odd show in the number of balls it was juggling. Still is! You had some really scary episodes, some very funny ones, some heartfelt ones like the Boyle episode or the one with the writer putting a “Rashomon” story together, and then the bizarre conspiracy plot that just got crazier and crazier — and not in a fun way.

      That acid trip is a good example of what the show could do well — use kind of supernatural elements to go really unexpected places — and what it did badly, by giving them a psuedo-serious explanation. The were-monster one WAS great. I wish they’d just have decided “the conspiracy is solved, it was Nixon’s brain in a jar all along” and dumped that whole angle.

    • I’m afraid it’s all Greek to me since I haven’t seen either show. I knew a lot of people who liked The X-Files. And I think it was historically important in terms of television entertainment. I can’t really see the point of 24. Even without its vile philosophical basis, it’s just one “ticking time bomb” story after another. Sounds boring. But then, that’s probably why I’m not a rich television exec.

      • You’d like the were-monster one. I think it’s actually titled “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were Monster” or something close. It’s sad and funny and irreverent to the conspiracy theory nonsense. But that’s because Carter didn’t write it.

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