It’s now official, The X-Files is coming back to TVs everywhere this coming January. The topic of what shape an X-Files reboot might take came up during an edition of The /Filmcast earlier this year when David Chen noted a tweet from Escapist contributor Bob Chipman who said:
I can’t take the idea of an X-FILES reboot/revival seriously unless there’s some attempt to address how sketchy Mulder is in modern context
— Bob Chipman (@the_moviebob) January 18, 2015
“Sketchy?” Mulder? On the surface you may think that Chipman was referring to Mulder’s occasionally discussed affinity for pornography, but no, he was referencing the ways the world’s changed since The X-Files 1990s heyday, and where we currently sit in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century. To be direct, what Chipman is referring to is the rise of “trutherism.”
But putting that aside for a minute, there is a compelling reason for an X-Files reprise: the encroaching surveillance state. Thanks to Edward Snowden we know that Uncle Sam is now also Big Brother, rending some of the most paranoid assumptions about government intrusion from the 90s almost pitifully underestimated. When The X-Files said “Trust No One” in 1995, it was just an assumption, a safe guard, but now we know with 100 per cent certainty that the government is collecting all our information wholesale.
Secret government bases? We’ve got those too. They’re called “black sites,” a term so on the nose in the way it implies insidious intentions, it’s doubtful that the X-Files writers on even their best day would have used it. It would have felt like insulting the viewers’ intelligence at the time to say, not only goes the government have super-villain-like hideouts where they do and plot terrible things, but they also call them “black sites.”
In the last decade, we’ve learned that the government is capable of torturing suspects, spying on its own people, launching wars without end for dubious reasons, and willing to let unregulated markets run unbridled to the point of near-total global economic collapse. The people responsible use their power and influence to escape responsibility, while millions of ordinary Americans are forced to pick up the pieces, disenfranchised and screwed by the system that’s supposed to protect them. The X-Files can relate, so many episodes of the series ended with the brutal realization that the victim was up against forces beyond reckoning. At times, even Mulder and Scully could not fight city hall, so to speak.
In the end, it seems that all things being equal, the government can be plenty nefarious on their own without a secret cabal aligned with alien invaders pulling strings from the dark. But if the government’s gotten worse in intent, there’s still one thing that keeps it from being capable of carrying out the advanced planning and malevolent scheming of a Cigarette-Smoking Man: bureaucratic incompetence. Consider FEMA.
In the X-Files movie, Fight the Future, Mulder is told by an informant that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is the linchpin to the government’s plan for alien colonization, the secret government inside the government through which the colonization plans were being created. But then Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, and how could we believe FEMA capable of that kind of conspiracy when it took them three days to get water to thousands of people at the Superdome?
When an American city was practically wiped out, it took them days to mount even a marginal response to the most predictable of natural disasters. When the President of the United States goes on TV and says that the FEMA director is doing a “heck of job,” when he clearly is not, the fictional space invaders would probably turn out to be Spaced Invaders under the watch of George W. Bush. That brings us back around to “trutherism” and its dumber, lamer little brother “birtherism.”
“Trutherism” assumes that the government is perpetuating so-called “false flag” operations to make the population scared into supporting its sinister goals. Hence “9/11 was an inside job,” or suspicions that tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, or the death of four diplomats in Benghazi, or even January’s attack at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, were all government ops meant to frighten the populace into accepting any new law or policy it deems fit.
In the 90s, The X-Files said that “The Truth is out there,” which might as well be considered the root of the word “truther,” a shorthand to describe someone who looks for the truth. Of course, that truth was tied to aliens and other supernatural phenomenon, a quaint, almost harmless form of trutherism because the existence of aliens is still, at best, theoretical. It was easy to write off those people and keep them contained, relegated to likes of Unsolved Mysteries or Ancient Aliens.
This is where the downside of the internet comes into play, as it makes it all the more easier for the people who believe in crazy things to connect with people who have the same beliefs. People like Alex Jones, who the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America,” attracts more than 4 million unique views monthly to his websites, has a YouTube channel with nearly 1 million subscribers, and Loose Change, the truther documentary he executive produced, has been seen by millions of people across all its edits and iterations.
To put it another way, think of the Lone Guman, Mulder’s three nerdy friends who run a conspiracy laden alternative weekly newspaper of the same name. The only thing that separates Jones from the Lone Gunmen is money and respect. And maybe the size of their megaphone.
Alex Jones is pertinent here because of something else Chipman wrote on Twitter:
…Mulder basically becomes Alex Jones, and Scully has to take him down because he’s building a radical militia out in the desert somewhere.
— Bob Chipman (@the_moviebob) November 8, 2014
Aliens, mutants and vampires are easy to dismiss as the source of conspiracy; no video cameras captured Roswell, and vampires don’t appear on TV advocating for their rights like on True Blood. But on the other hand, that lack of empirical proof makes it easier to build your own reality. “Sure, the government says there’s no proof of aliens because they’re hiding it.” “I saw a black helicopter in the area, but the government denies any knowledge.” And so forth. The problem with turtherism though is that it builds fantasy out of reality, the logic of the narrative can’t be tested because all evidence to the contrary is part of the scam.
Of course, people are free to believe what they want, but the nagging question about the 9/11 Truth movement I’ve always had is why if the “false flag operation” that was 9/11 went off so flawlessly, then why did everything that came afterward get so messed up? Why is Iraq the quagmire it is if there was this detailed plan to seize Middle East oil by creating a justification for military action? How does that explain the Arab Spring? The rise of ISIS? The ongoing struggles in Egypt, Libya and now Yemen? If there was someone orchestrating this, shouldn’t it feel, well, orchestrated? If 9/11 was phase one, then someone really fell down on executing phases two, three and four.
But in the end, The X-Files didn’t handle the real world well. Laying aside the question of willingness to mess with a winning formula – another Fox revival, 24, had the chance to break the mold but opted to do exactly the same thing structurally but with a lower episode count – The X-Files doesn’t actually do that well when it tries to mirror actual events.
Remember, the final season of The X-Files was 2001/2002. What happened in September 2001 do you think that might have made the idea of the FBI indulging personnel and resources in chasing monsters, magic and aliens seem more far-fetched than usual? True, you may say that by season nine that the X-Files had become a pale version of its former self, drowned in a sea of confusing mythology while being faced with the lost of its two provocative and photogenic leads, but it’s also not going too far to say that after 9/11, the idea that a federal agency would squander time and energy over shape-shifters, ghosts and flukemen suggested priorities really terribly out of whack. Belief just could not be suspended anymore.
None of this is to say that an X-Files repose should not be attempted, or that it can’t even be interesting, but the series was born in a time of splendid ignorance. The Cold War had been won, there were no more enemies, and there was this new frontier of science and technology and mass communication that was opening up. (Remember, The X-Files was one of the first shows to really popularize the use of cell phones.) There was also uncertainty. The future was coming and the magical year 2000 was looming with all sorts of promise and/or nightmares.
But now we’ve now seen the future, and while it has its wonders, even the ordinary problems seem wholly intractable: you can’t get a job, you can’t afford a house, your student loans are coming due, and you may have to choose between buying milk or toilet paper tomorrow, so who gives a crap if the government’s hiding the existence of extra-terrestrials? And besides, the government took months to make a damn website work, are we honestly supposed to believe they’re plotting our doom with little grey men?
The Truth may still be out there, but it may not be as sexy or as lucrative as it used to be.