The 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.