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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"It also has the best cameo spot in any of the original series episodes, with ..."

Doctor Who: City of Death
"Tom Baker is my favorite Doctor, Douglas Adams is my favorite script editor, and The ..."

Doctor Who: City of Death
"This is one of my favourite stories of the series, both because of Tom Baker's ..."

Doctor Who: City of Death
"CNN and MSNBC already does an adequate job covering those subjects."

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  • Illithid

    Love the Star Wars tweets. I’d grumbled a little about the First Order being Empire retreads, with yet another freaking Death Star, but this brings it the ogether. Don’t know if that’s really what the writers intended, but I like it.

    • arcseconds

      I liked Kylo Ren as soon as I realised he wasn’t a carbon copy of Darth Vader, and his similarities are as a result of him deliberately trying to live in imitatio Vaderi (and failing — Vader never threw tantrums, for a start). He’s pretty much the best thing in The Force Awakens as far as I’m concerned.

      I can’t really forgive the super-Death Star, though. That is just bad fan fiction: do exactly what the original did but blow it up by an order of magnitude. I like the idea that the First Order are Empire-wannabes, but this doesn’t justify the super-weapon (I can’t remember the name of it and I refuse to look it up). It doesn’t make any sense from a world-building perspective — how is it that a bunch of wanabees make something much lager and more deadly than the Empire ever managed, even at its height? And from a story-telling perspective it’s poor form to have the same thing for a third time. Get your own super-weapon!

      (I suppose it could be some kind of existentialist point? Referrencing Nietzsche’s eternal return and the myth of Sysiphus, maybe?)

      • John MacDonald

        Arcseconds said: “I liked Kylo Ren as soon as I realised he wasn’t a carbon copy of Darth Vader, and his similarities are as a result of him deliberately trying to live in imitatio Vaderi (and failing — Vader never threw tantrums, for a start).”

        I would say Anakin certainly seemed to violently lose his temper at times, such as with Dooku, and the sand people, and when he used the force to choke Padme when he discovered Kenobi was with her. Remember this exchange between Anakin and Palpatine:

        [Anakin has Dooku on his knees. Having cut off Dooku’s hands and caught his lightsaber, Anakin is about to finish the job]
        Chancellor Palpatine: [joyful] Good, Anakin, good. [suddenly turns sinister] Kill him. Kill him now. [Dooku looks shocked]
        Anakin Skywalker: [hesitates] …I shouldn’t.
        Chancellor Palpatine: [Angrily] Do it.
        [Anakin decapitates Dooku]
        Chancellor Palpatine: You did well, Anakin. He was too dangerous to be kept alive.
        Anakin Skywalker: Yes, but he was an unarmed prisoner. I shouldn’t have done that, it’s not the Jedi way.
        Chancellor Palpatine: It is only natural. He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge. It wasn’t the first time, Anakin. Remember what you told me about your mother and the Sand People?

        • arcseconds

          Even these acts are not the wantonly and pointlessly destructive ‘trash the hotel room’ tantrums Ren throws. They are acts of revenge against people who have wronged Anakin.

          And the murder of Dooku doesn’t look like a tantrum at all, but a calculated act. Motivated by revenge and Anakin’s black-and-white thinking, yes, but he has clearly thought about what he is doing.