The Coastal Post - November, 1995

Media And Media-ocracy


Did you ever notice how the internet gets real quiet between the hours of 9 and 10 on the Friday nights when there are no baseball games? That's because the scene has shifted to television, with elite hqrs and newbies all tuning-in to the hit Fox series The X-Files, which, despite its not winning an Emmy award for best dramatic series (it was nominated), is nonetheless the show that everybody is talking about, spawning a cult following that has picked right up where Twin Peaks left of a couple of years ago. Like Twin Peaks, The X-Files features FBI investigations into weird goings-on, but the newer show trades in the absurd stream of glib non-sequiturs for a much edgier tone that harks back to the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits, as well as Canadian film director David Cronenberg's cinematic syntax of a cool, thinking-person's horror. In fact, The X-Files is produced in Canada—in Vancouver, to be exact—but the brains behind the show is renegade producer Chris Carter, a former surfer who has taken an almost-forgotten page out of the book of the early Hollywood moguls, which is to say that he closely supervises the show from A to Z, and doesn't mess around with market research of committee decisions. In this age of the corporate takeover of everything, one wonders just how Carter did it, and more importantly, how he continues to get away with it.

Part of the answer is the fact that he has skirted the heavily-unionized environment of American television in favor of cheaper and friendlier Vancouver. He has a knack for finding talented actors who are yet to be discovered, and he consistently gets quality scripts that balance unbelievable events with very believable characters, even if he has to write the scripts himself. More importantly, he orchestrates all of these elements into a mix that has somehow managed to tap the anxious pulse of our current cultural and political climate in an astoundingly consistent way, doubly astounding because the whole thing actually airs on television, the corporate mind-control medium par excellence.

Of course, paranoia is "in" right now, which is natural for a time when dissatisfaction with everything runs at an all-time high while actual dissent runs, paradoxically, at an all-time low. For the past fifteen or so years, every rebellious utterance—from rap to punk to cyber-post-modernism—has been instantaneously co-opted by the forces that they pretended to be critical of, leading to a widespread feeling of not being able to trust anybody, especially the government. The fact that right-wingers distrust the government because the government wants to take away their guns, and left-wingers distrust the government because the government wants to take away their drugs and free speech is immaterial, because everybody knows that "the system" is against them and their private pleasures, because the system inevitably serves the oh-so-alien interests of administration, be they called "communism" by right-wingers, or "the corporations" by those on the left. In the universe of The X-Files, corporations and governments are neatly wrapped up into one all-encompassing mega-conspiracy against the people, and the linchpin of this conspiracy is the suppression of information about encounters with extraterrestrial aliens, because the forces of evil are trying to develop an alien-human hybrid for unstated, but very evil purposes.

Out to unmask this conspiracy are two rather nerdy FBI agents named Muldar and Scully (respectively played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson), who sustain a kind of William Powell/Myrna Loy repartee while they labor to get to the bottom of it all, only to inevitably come up empty-handed in the hard evidence department, because the conspiracy is so much more powerful and omnipresent than they can even imagine. Despite the best efforts of an odd tribe of allies, which include a group of whacked-out computer nerds code-named "The Lone Gunmen" and a reluctant functionary of the Senate Intelligence Committee named "Mr. X," (who has taken over for the rudely deceased "Deep Throat"), Muldar and Scully are always just outside the threshold of the big Truth that the show's epigraph constantly reminds us is out there, once again thwarted by the forces of conspiratorial administration. The forces of Evil, represented by the agent's double-dealing supervisor and a chain-smoking toady dubbed "The Cancer Man" (his paymasters are a bunch of old guys that sit around in dark meetings muttering things about "policy" in a variety of G-7 languages) who is always a cell-phone chat away from marshaling a gang of paramilitary thugs in an unmarked Black Helicopter. Is this real life or what?

Every time I watch The X-files, I think of Franz Kafka smiling contentedly in his grave, knowing that television of all things has given him a worthy successor—well, almost worthy, but a lot closer than any of us have a right to expect. In fact, The X-Files eloquently summaries the general zeitgeist of not only the paranoid, but the Libertarian mindset as well (tell everybody to leave us the fuck alone!) in the way that it proposes institutional liberals and corporate plutocrats as being the hand-in-glove sandbaggers and bloodsuckers of just plain folks controlled as they are by mysterious alien forces and subterranean logic. It's the little touches that bring the big point home, as when Muldar waxes indignant about a conspiracy against the American People as he stands in front of a photograph of Janet Reno.. When The X-Files is over, watch the news, and see how the Libertarian Ethic (not to be confused with the Libertarian Party) exerts itself in this year's election, especially in the Republican primaries. Colin Powell to the corporate rescue, perhaps?