The X-Files is one of the most iconic shows of the 1990s, conspiracy theories and aliens would seem an odd idea for TV but it became a hit. David Duchovny, who plays Fox Mulder, once said that when he shot the pilot he never feel sure that they would be on TV, but they were for nine seasons. The X-Files will be back in January of next year for a small season of six episodes.
The show developed an intense fan base, it was one of the first shows that hit in the age of the internet, so since the beginning there have been a lot of online forums developed to the series. The geek culture was shaped by a show where the heroes were almost geeks themselves. It was a success both in America and overseas.
But it wasn’t just another Hollywood show. Libertarian academic Paul Cantor argues that X-Files wasn’t left or right but posed the question of the legitimacy of nation-state — after all, a key premise was that the government was part of a conspiracy involving aliens to conquer the world. After the Cold War, a show like The X-Files had the license to be anti-government. The FBI is portrayed like a bureau institution which is against the interests of the citizens. A curious thing is the strange conservativism of the show, in several episodes foreigners weren’t treated with sympathy, the strange traditions of some groups of immigrants were feared by the local population. It also seemed to have some sympathy for militias. However, some episodes had more left-wing themes, like suspicion of corporate culture or planned residential communities. The logo of the show “Trust No One” could be interpreted as a libertarian mantra.
The funny thing about a series that insinuate that the government is involved in a big conspiracy is that both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have confessed in press conferences that some fans had told them they joined the FBI, CIA or other government agencies because of them. It doesn’t like the most logical step, but a hunger for answers exerts a powerful pull on young people. If one can fathom why a libertarian like Edward Snowden could decide to work for the government, he might have taken a similar path to Fox Mulder.
Another interesting element was The Lone Gunmen, three hackers who were friends of Mulder and Scully, these computer geniuses mixed some ideas from geek culture, conspiracy paranoia and a vague concept of achieving social justice with technology. The Lone Gunmen were some kind of precursor of Anonymus, though in the last season they were portrayed as patriotic, unlike Anonymus which is mostly described as anarchist.
There were particular aspects that made a show like The X-Files a success in America and abroad, among them the sentiment found basically anywhere in the world, that their politicians are corrupt.
The 90s were a particular time, now with a popular politician like Ron Paul it’s not difficult to imagine that today the series could have made an issue of the spying, drones and growth of the Military-Industrial Complex, positions that were before at the fringe and now have become relatively mainstream. It would not be a surprise if the new X-Files episodes retain their anti-statism. The lesson of the X-Files is that people may distrust their leaders, but they still like heroes. It doesn’t matter if their name is Fox Mulder or Edward Snowden, sometimes the anarchist is the real patriot.