The new X-Files is one long gulp of Clinton-era conspiracy theories
Roswell is alive and well
BY MILES RAYMER | Jan 25, 2016 | Film & TV
One of the more impressive parts about the new The X-Files miniseries—premiering tonight on Fox—is how little it does to accommodate new viewers. The creative team, mostly drawn from the same one behind the original series, seems to have guessed that anyone interested in paranormal procedurals who wasn't around for its first run would have by now binged it on Netflix or DVD, so they only take a few minutes in the first episode to throw Scully and Mulder right back into the alien-human conspiracy that they've already spent nine seasons constructing to dizzyingly batshit levels of complexity.
Its creators are so enthusiastic about picking back up where they left off that they barely acknowledge that any time has passed since the series went off the air in 2002. Mulder's gone a little crazier, Scully's been busy doing selfless medical work, and Skinner's grown a beard, but otherwise they're still pretty much the exact same characters from the first time around.
The show has also retained its distinctly Clinton-era conception of what's lurking in society's shadows. While Tad O'Malley, the Bill O'Reilly-meets-Alex-Jones character amusingly played by Joel McHale, is a 9/11 truther, the elaborate plot about a global system of populace control that he lays out centers around the Roswell UFO crash site, and only barely touches on the biggest source of conspiracy theories since the Kennedy assassination.
When The X-Files first ran, the world of conspiracy theories (not to mention computer graphics) was a very different place. They were just starting to make their way from the cultural fringe into the mainstream, thanks in part to the newfangled Internet that frequently figured into its plots in sinister ways. Once exclusively the province of the mentally ill and edgy bohemian intellectuals, the theories often had an element of the fantastic at their core: intelligent extraterrestrial life, troves of mind-bendingly advanced technology, a hollow Earth where lizard people lived alongside Hitler's zombie armies. They promised that our world was much bigger and more interesting than we thought, even if there were classified government programs keeping it a secret.
Conspiracy theories have changed fundamentally as they've made their way from obscure bookstores to your extended family's Facebook posts. They've lost their mythological aspects and become more darkly existential, as well as drifted further and further toward the political right. It's no longer dreaming about hidden alien technology–it's about seeing the grieving families of shooting victims on TV and thinking they're hired actors.
The phrases "crisis actor," "creeping sharia," and "white genocide" didn't exist when the X-Files first aired, and they don't really exist for the new series either. Thanks to social media and fake news sites, we're awash in conspiracy theories—from Obama's plans for a military invasion of the American Southwest to subliminal messages about interracial sex encoded in the new Star Wars movie—that the show's creators have decided, reasonably, to ignore in favor of almost quaintly old-fashioned stuff like Roswell and gravitational warp drives. It seems like real life has finally gotten too weird for The X-Files.
First published in Esquire US.