The X-Files and Fake News

The return of the X-Files for its new season was fascinating as it combined its classic conspiracy theory themes with up-to-date connections with current politics, science denialism, and fake news. The irony, of course, is that conspiracy theories are themselves one of the ways that the powers that be can sow distrust and shift blame – just think of the way that antisemitic conspiracy theories have served to shift blame for societal problems onto scapegoats not only in 20th century Germany but in many other times and places, including in certain circles in the United States in the present day. The idea that aliens have visited Earth throughout its history can be used to reinforce the racist idea that “primitive” colonized peoples could not have created great monuments, art, or engineering. The idea that a powerful group is really controlling the events that unfold in our world can serve to distract attention from the genuine role played by incompetent leaders.

The Cigarette Smoking Man’s retrospective speech with which the episode begins, as well as all his commentary throughout the episode, provide a major focus for those who want to explore the view of truth, lies, and knowledge on the series. The fact that the episode is called “My Struggle III” not only ties it to the previous episodes in which the Smoking Man (whose name is revealed in this episode to be Carl Gerhard Bush) looks back on his life, but also connects him to Adolf Hitler whose famous book, typically known in the English-speaking world by its German title Mein Kampf, means “My Struggle.” In an era when Nazism is seeing a resurgence, the question I find myself asking is whether the X-Files will challenge or reinforce that, since there is a close connection between conspiracy thinking and white supremicism. When the Smoking Man affirms global warming, comments that humanity has thrown science out the window, and says that people would dismiss as “fake news” his plan to unleash an alien virus even if they were to hear about it, he seems to be at the same time someone who speaks accurately about problems, and someone who wants carry out a Holocaust in an attempt to solve them. This gets at a key issue that I thought was also central to grasping LOST: it is not enough to ask about truth and answers, we must also concern ourselves with ethics. (See my posts on “Eggtown” and “The Island and the People” for more on this topic as it relates to LOST). Solving the world’s problems is not a matter of exterminating the right enemies, but of recognizing that such an approach is inherently wrong regardless of who the victims are.

I also want to highlight the fact that Chris Carter actually brought into focus something that he had planned since back in Season 7, relating to Scully’s son William. See the discussions in Entertainment Weekly and CinemaBlend for more on that topic, if you’ve already seen the episode. I won’t reveal quite so big a spoiler here. I will acknowledge being unclear exactly what from Season 10 is supposed to have been a vision and what if anything actually happened. But that very element fits nicely into the theme of individual perception and reality/truth.

For those who’ve seen it, what did you think of the episode?

For more on the question of how we find out the truth in the present era, see my blog post from yesterday, “Wikipediatricians and Ways of Knowing.”

Related to science fiction and critique of (Neo-)Nazis, see also this wonderful set of comments on The Force Awakens:


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