The X Files strange loop

trustnooneThe X Files returns to TV tonight for a six-episode run. As Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever writes, the world is no longer a Mulder and Scully place; conspiratorial thinking is mainstream.

I suspect that the X Files did what reality-type paranormal shows certainly did – latched on to a latent interest by the public and provided a vehicle to indulge what were fringe beliefs. Now, these beliefs are not fringe, they are not something that is kept secret or considered embarrassing. They are common. Heavily-invested belief in such topics as government conspiracies about everything from vaccines to UFOs, faking tremendous tragedies and false flag claims, are typical fodder for social media. When such thinking becomes mainstream, it inevitably changes the norm. It’s no longer shocking to discuss; we become acclimated.

Even if it’s fiction, there are some who connect this fiction too tightly to real life. The lines between fiction and real life are blurred. There are REAL people lobbying the government to release UFO secrets. There are way too many who seriously consider that 911 was planned by insiders in U.S. power positions. There are people off the rails who think that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. This is not good for the future of society. Such thinking needs to remain in the minority in order for society to function. (Uh, oh, someone is going to accuse me of being a disinformation agent!)

There are large amounts of data accumulated in academia regarding conspiracy thinking in society. A good portion does include mention of the X Files as a key show where fans could connect in online forums and discuss the mythology of the show. It became a popular touchstone for weird ideas – some think the truth is “in there”, that there is something to conspiracies. Here is info from an online article from Advances in Consumer Research that examined the online community around the show:

Chris Carter claims that he was convinced of The X-Files’ commercial viability by a Roper Organization poll showing that three percent of the U.S. population “believes they’ve been abducted by aliens” (Lowry 1995: 11). Several fan club X-Philes noted that the conspiracy theories drawn on by The X-Files were particularly interesting to them, and that their belief in UFOs predated the show. Panel members at a convention said that their interest in The X-Files originated in the “serious way” in which it treated UFOs and governmental UFO conspiracy or cover-up theories. They pointed to actual government cover-ups – such as “CIA testing of LSD on civilians” – to justify their faith in the show’s precepts.

We can observe that people had prior beliefs, the show tapped into those, made them mainstream, and treated them in a serious way. Actual conspiracies were cited as the bridge to say “Who knows? Maybe there are real X-files?” It sounded plausible.

Today, people like Alex Jones and David Icke push their baseless sci-fi speculation. There is a long list of others like them who encourage people who have a very bizarre worldview to indulge even more in that worldview. I’m not one to blame the media for all the ills in the world. To do so is naive and is a misunderstanding of the problem. Culture is complex, meanings are negotiated in society based on many factors at any point in time. Subversive ideas like government conspiracies – once moving freely in society, greatly helped by out interconnectivity – are reinforced and grow bigger.

Did the X Files further the mainstreaming of conspiracies? Did it pave the way for jokers like Limbaugh, Trump, Palin and Jones to peddle half-truths and outright lies to the public who eat that stuff up? The truth is out there – but it doesn’t seem to matter much anymore.

If I’ve learned anything from doing Doubtful News for these many years, it’s that there are some people who REALLY believe this stuff. And if they don’t really believe it, they are doing a good job at convincing others that they do. It’s a strange loop.


Check out all our stories on conspiracies here. There are a lot.

  33 comments for “The X Files strange loop

  1. Tom
    January 24, 2016 at 2:28 PM

    During a recent conversation about America a friend remarked that he did not believe the moon landings actually happened.
    I asked why and he said because they (the Americans) had not been back and nobody else had therefore they (the Americans) had never been to the Moon
    I pointed out that the enormous cost of new Apollo type missions could not be justified by any nation following the landings and scientifically even Apollo was not worth the money spent.
    He was not convinced.
    The fact there are no Moon Bases was to him proof that the landings were faked.
    He is of the post-Apollo generation intelligent and articulate but……

  2. James G
    January 24, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    I recently got the first four seasons on DVD. I’ve always been a huge fan. The show is interesting, because in the beginning, at least, there was a tug of war between Mulder’s faith, and Scully’s scepticism. When I watched it originally, as a young man in my twenties, I was pro-Mulder. Now as I watch it in my 40s, I find I’ve switched my allegiance to Scully, and am occasionally annoyed by the poor job she does debunking Mulder’s beliefs. I once believed in the paranormal, but somewhere in my thirties, I was ‘cured’ in the pursuit of a physics degree. (ha ha – It was a miracle!)

    The show turned people like the Lone Gunmen into heroes, and it made their way of thinking look attractive. It could have done a much better job representing Scully’s side of the debate, but I can see how it would be hard to do that and keep the plot moving forward. Eventually they had to commit to one side or the other, and Mulder’s side promised much higher ratings. I think the argument that the show spread belief in the paranormal is a lot like the claim that video games inspire violence. I doubt anyone who did not originally believe in it was converted into a member of the water dowsing or tinfoil hat crowd. Perhaps it gave people who already believed a steadier voice and courage to express their beliefs, but that, by itself, is not a bad thing.

    As sceptics, I think we can sometimes come across as boring. It seems a lot of people would rather live in a world with ghosts, aliens, and Sasquatch. Can we begrudge them that? Could there be an X-Files where the sceptical element was the flashy, exciting part? I think of myself as a crusader for the truth, but I suspect I am thought of in some quarters as a remorseless buzzkill. It’s hard to make scepticism sexy.

    I’m excited to see the new season. I can still enjoy it as entertainment, because I understand the difference between TV and reality. I would be thrilled if they brought back the tension between the paranormal and scepticism, and did a good enough job at it to leave you wondering whose position was correct. I doubt that will happen. It’s probably going to put a slick finish on all of our ‘favourite’ conspiracies, but even so, it’s not going to spawn a new plague of conspiracy thinkers. At worst it will give a voice to those who already believe. But that gives us an opportunity to explain why those beliefs are not based in reality. And let’s try to make it sexy, people! 😉

  3. Stephanie
    January 24, 2016 at 4:36 PM

    As a kid I always loved reading about paranormal stuff, because it is tempting to think of a world where such possibilities are true. Still, when XF premiered, I wasn’t really interested in watching it. I had grown up and changed to a more scientific mindset. Around season 3 I gave in and watched an episode and was drawn in by the characters. I was always pro-Scully. Despite her failings in debunking things (the storylines were really not in her favor), she was smart, competent, determined, and basically pretty damned awesome, particularly for a woman in sci-fi. Things really went off the rails by season 9, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed they can recapture some of the magic for this short series.

    I think it’s funny that people like to point to it as having increased conspiracy thinking, when it was just a tv show. I think the way our politicians behave and the way the media covers events, and the basic complicated way the world works is more than enough explanation for why conspiracies are more popular now. People feel they can’t trust the government (Trust No One seems like a valid motto now), the banks, the media, the companies they work for. They want to feel smart and ‘in the know’. There are plenty of real life reasons for the rise of that sort of thinking without blaming a tv show.

  4. Katey
    January 24, 2016 at 5:46 PM

    I was the same way, being pro-Mulder when I originally watched the show 20+ years ago, but on my most recent viewing of the series a couple years ago (yes, I’ve watched the entire thing… several times) I am definitely more pro-Scully, and it is disappointing that her debunking is pretty lame, to say the least. But that’s just how the show is written; that’s what was created, and I’m okay with suspending my disbelief for a work of fiction.

    As Scully says later on in the series, “The truth is out there. But so are the lies.” A much better motto than “I want to believe,” I’d say. 🙂

  5. January 24, 2016 at 5:59 PM

    Here is a link to Jason Colavito’s post on a similar thread I had not read this before, someone just pointed it out to me.

    Also, I’m on Page 24 of Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 2016 issue, whereas on page 33 is a story on the new X Files revamp. So… I’m going with great minds think alike.

  6. Grumpy
    January 24, 2016 at 9:01 PM

    O Doubtful One,

    I’m saddened to see you resorting more and more to ALL CAPS (and a sprinkling of bold). As you know each so mistreated word earns you five points on the Crackpot Index scale (

    Worse, it’s poor typographical style, even for the Interwebz…

    Just trust you readers, they aren’t stupid.

  7. Mike C.
    January 25, 2016 at 6:48 AM

    There’s was something Mulder said that I liked. He said he wanted to believe, but he couldn’t find the evidence to make him believe.

  8. Jim
    January 25, 2016 at 7:45 AM

    Did you try pointing out that there were actually six trips to the Moon? I had a girlfriend who was dubious, but she didn’t even know how often we’d been, all the photos, etc.

  9. busterggi (Bob Jase)
    January 25, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    I’ve had that same conversation w/ my 34 yo daughter. She doesn’t get that the US & USSR had massive competing space programs, that the moon landings didn’t come out of nowhere.

  10. Larry Arnold
    January 25, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    “Did the X Files further the mainstreaming of conspiracies? Did it pave the way for jokers like Limbaugh, Trump, Palin and Jones to peddle half-truths and outright lies to the public who eat that stuff up? The truth is out there – but it doesn’t seem to matter much anymore.”

    Fair questions. Did XFs further the mainstreaming of conspiracies? Surely so. (Indeed, too, there are real-life X-file-style cases of anomalous events for which documents are still being withheld – coverups? – or only partially released long past their authorities/government agencies public-release dates.)

    Hard for us to blame Chris Carter and The X-Files for the Trump/Palin/Cruz (we’ll add him to your list) Syndrome. Crowds yelling approval for building a “great, beautiful wall” with “one beautiful door” along the length of the USA-Mexican boarder – we heard one Trump supporter advocating the same for the USA-Canadian border (an engineering, as well as financial, impossibility) – and for “carpet-bombing” Arab lands (to win friends?; at what cost, morally and militarily?) are plot lines too far-fetched for Chris and any X-File conspiracy, we would hope. Blame for this rests more, we would humbly suggest, on disenfranchised frustration; failure of discernment; absence of critical thinking; declining education; naivety; willingness to cede personal responsibility to others; and, to be blunt, ignorance.

    Sadly, for whatever reason(s), there can be no quibbling with your third sentence: truth is out there, yes, but whether overt or concealed it doesn’t much matter anymore to far too many Americans. And this nation is in deep, deep trouble as a result.

  11. Bonnie
    January 25, 2016 at 11:15 AM

    Don’t know if I’d call the Lone Gunmen heroes, but that was a wonderfully funny show! I’m enjoying Grimm for the same reason – it’s quite entertaining. 🙂

  12. Kurt
    January 25, 2016 at 11:29 AM

    Just the other day someone posted a picture that someone else had made in all seriousness of the module landing on the moon asking how there was a picture of it landing. I had to explain that, well, someone was in the command module taking the picture because that’s how space travel works. I think so few people really know that 12 people walked on the moon. It’s not like we went once and never went again.

  13. Karl
    January 25, 2016 at 11:32 AM

    Odd choice for Fox to kick off this reboot at 10:30 pm Sunday night, given its core audience are old like me now. Wonder how much of the core audience fell asleep five minutes into this. I did. Going to skip the Monday showing too and probably maybe just watch the whole series now once it’s over. Dumb dumb move, Fox.

  14. Christine Rose
    January 25, 2016 at 1:03 PM

    I have a different viewpoint. I tried to like the X-Files and did watch it occasionally, but was never a huge fan. What bothered most about the series is that Scully refused to believe. The evidence the characters on the show encountered was enormous, high quality, and overwhelming. If there were anything like it in the real world all rational people would believe in the paranormal. The implication was that real-life skeptics are as pig-headed as Scully.

  15. Bob Jase
    January 25, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    The non-conspiracy stand-alone episodes were pretty good but when it went full-time conspiracy I dropped it as boring.

  16. January 25, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    I didn’t even realize how often I did this until I went back and looked. (Only one bold, though.) I suspect I’m feeling rather ignored lately. The mainstream is so deluged with nonsense that I may feel the need to shout on occasion. I’ll try to resist the urge. Though, it would help if we had as many readers as the drama queens and mystery mongers. I guess this audience is more discerning, and thus, fewer in number.

    [I’ve gone back and fixed some of them.]

  17. One Eyed Jack
    January 25, 2016 at 3:16 PM

    The world needs less X-Files, and more House and Sherlock (BBC).

  18. One Eyed Jack
    January 25, 2016 at 3:32 PM

    We left stuff behind on the moon. For example, Apollo 11 and 14 left mirror arrays that could be used to reflect a laser back from the moon to get very precise measurements of the distance from the Earth to the moon.

    Of course, if you friend doubts the moon landings, it’s unlikely this information will convince him. On the other hand, he might like that idea that, although we’ve been shooting lasers at the moon for over half a century, the moon people have not surrendered. They are a resilient people. 😉

  19. Graham
    January 25, 2016 at 7:51 PM

    I remember back when the first series was originally running in Australia someone sent in a letter to what was then Australias second conspiracy magazine ‘New Dawn’ proclaming that the episodes were “…dramatized accounts of real, but supressed events…” Even the editors of the magazine were unwilling to accept that one, but it didn’t stop them from launching a ‘Real Live X-Files’ column in the next issue.

    That said Jason Colavitos comments on the series are well worth the read as well.

  20. Mark
    January 25, 2016 at 8:46 PM

    My only disagreement with the author’s (idoubit), written essay is how the author gives the impression that people on the right, conservative are the only people that are fixated on conspiracies.

    idoubtit mentions, “Did it pave the way for jokers like Limbaugh, Trump, Palin, and Jones to peddle half-truths and outright lies to the public who eat that stuff up?” I am know there are kooks on the right but so are there many in the left. For example, one can see that the anti-vaccine proponents have many supporters from the left of the political spectrum since many of the proponents hate corporations like “big” pharma.

    As a side notetidbit, on the first reboot X-Files episode, there is an Alex Jones type character, Joel McHale, who Fox Mulders despises and even makes fun about his association with the NRA.

  21. Haldurson
    January 25, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    I partly agree with this, but it’s been so long since I watched the show, so I can’t think of specific examples. I already had a pretty good science education and was a skeptic back when the show premiered. And I recall that liked that they had someone like Scully on the show. But too often, she didn’t really act like a skeptic, more like a believer who simply believed that Mulder was wrong. If you don’t follow the evidence, you can’t really be considered a skeptic. You’re simply a different kind of believer. I do recall that in later episodes, some of this made sense — Scully WAS a believer. Her personal belief was in religion. They kind of turned things on their head when they were exploring Scully’s beliefs, and I remember Mulder, for once, being on the side of disbelief (I hesitate to call it skepticism, for reasons I’ve already mentioned)

  22. Engler Pascal
    January 26, 2016 at 5:05 AM

    There are 2 tropes for that by the way:

    But yeah, i agree. Also what Haldurson said.

  23. January 26, 2016 at 9:37 AM

    I concede this point. Since the X Files focused on government coverup, that’s the focus I considered. Today’s promoters of government conspiracy in the public eye are Republican; perhaps because the view of this party has threads of intense distrust of government and fear mongering.

  24. Graham
    January 26, 2016 at 8:09 PM

    Looks like the current day Conspiracy Theorists are spinning this into proof that everything they say is real, or at least that the show now reflects “…what’s really going on…”

  25. Mark
    January 26, 2016 at 11:05 PM

    I do agree that in the 1990’s most of the anti-government paranoia was coming from the political Right. I believe that all changed during the attacks on 9/11/2001 and the U.S. Invasion of Iraq.

    This is when the political Left started about the attacks on 9/11 were an inside job. The government wanted cheap gasoline as the real reason for the invasion of Iraq

    I think the certain conspiracies get more attention than others maybe who and which political party is in power.

  26. Perseus
    January 27, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    Long time reader, first time commenter. You’re not being ignored… just, some of us don’t comment much. Or at all.

  27. Russian Skeptic
    January 28, 2016 at 4:08 AM

    I used to love “X-Files” back in 1990s, but when they became increasingly obsessed with the government cover-up of aliens, I got fed up with that stuff. The earlier runs did in fact have some interesting detective and/or sci-fi ideas.

  28. Scott Snell
    January 28, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    John Podesta, a major purveyor of alleged US govt coverup of UFOs, is not just a Democrat, but has been (and probably will be again) a high-ranking Democratic government official.

  29. Ray
    January 30, 2016 at 4:14 AM

    “It could have done a much better job representing Scully’s side of the debate…”

    Worse, Scully’s skepticism (as we spell it on this side of the pond) is portrayed as stubborn and irrational. Week after week she saw things that, in the show, should have convinced her about the reality of the supernatural. But she always maintained her skepticism in spite of the evidence. That makes skeptics look bad and it makes science look incompetent and negative. It sent the message that science will always deny what is obvious to everyone else. And that’s what I resented the most about the show.

  30. Lloyd
    January 31, 2016 at 10:57 PM

    Like others here I loved the monster-of-the-week episodes more than the ones focused on conspiracy development. I found Scully’s character to be weak and unassertive. She was there to provide technical information Moulder didn’t have and to ask the questions that would trigger his rants.

  31. Richard uk
    February 6, 2016 at 5:33 AM

    X Files or not, I would still like to know why no wreckage of the commercial jet airliners that crashed on 9/11 was found..also why didnt we see the evacuation of 600+ kids from Sandy Hook…and can someone explain how we got through the van Allen belts back in 69 -72. I am sceptical about a lot of things in this world and most ,if not all ,of the religions of the world and lake monsters,bigfoot et al…I like the reasoned arguments on Colavitos site and on CSI…but sometimes awkward questions do need to be asked.

  32. busterggi (Bob Jase)
    February 6, 2016 at 8:07 AM

    And how do they get toothpaste into those tubes? I can never get it back in when too much comes out.

  33. Ray
    February 8, 2016 at 10:02 AM

    Playing the Poe? Or is this guy for real?

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