'The X-Files' Trolls Us All to Explain Why We Believe UFO Conspiracies
The 11th season of Fox's seminal sci-fi classic The X-Files premiered on January 3, and four episodes in, it's already playing out as a sort-of "Deep State" reality show. By bringing back a key old character, involving the Russians, and ripping apart the very meta-textual fabric of paranoid thought, this season giddily tears through the webs of plots that our minds form, trolling us all or, at the very least, the average viewer of Fox News.
Episode 1 plays up the series' most "Deep State" character with a story focused largely around The Cancer Man (also known by more PC aliases The Cigarette Smoking Man and Smoking Man).
We learn that his true name is Carl Gerhard Busch, and without spoiling a key plot detail that's likely to begin the larger multi-epsiode arc, he and his shadowy organization The Syndicate are using Mulder and Scully in another plot that can have huge consequence on their lives and futures. Once we learned in Season 4's "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" that he was an ex-black ops agent responsibly for killing JFK, MLK, and arming anti-Castro rebels in Cuba, The Cancer Man character became much more prominent as an avatar for Mulder and Scully's discovery of our country's alien cover-ups. Though still firmly relegated to the realm of sci-fi, of course, Trump's America calls people The Cancer Man and organizations like The Syndicate the "Deep State"-those who know where all the alien bodies were secretly burned, and will kill to keep it that way.
While his early inclusion seemed to suggest that this season was going in a direction that validated the paranoid style, episode two finds Mulder and Scully being shot at by Russians who are trying to stop them from shutting down an artificial consciousness platform. This episode makes clear that, in Mulder and Scully's world, both a "Deep State" and a malevolent Russian antagonist are both very real.
It isn't until episode 4, though, when the full meta-mind-fuck of this season's brilliance begins to flower. Though "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat" was the show's funniest episode in years, it will not be remembered as incidental comic relief or a deviation from the larger arc that Season 11 is building toward.
Written and directed by X-Files veteran Darin Morgan, "Forehead Sweat" tells the story of a man named Reggie whose inability to remember his own life accurately blurs the boundaries between communal memory and reality, between fake news and real cognitive conditions. Reggie suffers from The Mandala effect, wherein a large sample of people mis-remember something in collective consciousness. Mulder offers an example of a ton of people who could swear that they remember Sinbad starring in a film about a genie called Shazaam, though the film in question was Kazaam and starred Shaquille O'Neil.
When Mulder asks Reggie who this omnipotent "They" is that he keeps referring to, Reggie tells him there actually is a Dr. They, who specialized in erasing people's memories to suit his own nefarious goals. What follows is a series of famous X-Files scenes past, absurdly altered to include Reggie and demonstrate how memory can re-write a narrative. This episode even suggests it was Reggie who hung up the "The Truth Is Out There" poster! At one point, an alien lands that quotes Donald Trump and plans to build a wall around our solar system to keep other aliens out. When Mulder confronts Reggie to tell him that he's likely suffering from The Mandala Effect, Reggie tells Mulder that he must be thinking of "The Mengele Effect", which Reggie has so named for a group that swears it remembers infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele being apprehended in Queens.
It's long been understood by sociologists that the dots in a conspiracy theory are often true or based on truth, but the strings connecting them are nonsense. For instance, it's on record that FEMA is a horribly mismanaged organization, that founding FEMA director Louis O. Giuffrida suggested our country round up black militant groups in his military school thesis, and that our country imprisoned its own Japanese-American citizens during WWII. Those facts were woven together into an absurd, hurtful tapestry by conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones, though, when he suggested that Obama was secretly rounding up 'patriots' to work in FEMA prison camps.
The point is, our desire to make sense of problems that we can't find an easy answer to often leads the mind to make up a conclusion that, while absurd, is more satisfying. Remember, "The King died and the Queen died" is not a plot. "The King died and the Queen died of grief" is a plot. At its best, The X-Files walks a fine line that reminds us you can't have a narrative without causality, and this episode expertly demonstrates how blurred the line between correlation and causation can become in an age of fake news.
"Conspiracies are our modern-day mythology," an artist once told me. "We have these gaps in our knowledge and we fill them in. We fill them in in a bunch of different ways, and conspiracy theories are one of those ways. In many ways, all this is is the natural human inclination toward narrative run amok."