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Conspiracy Theories Reign Supreme: The Significance of ‘The X-Files’ Today

by Lidia Lucovic

In the early 1990s, a small genre series based on UFOs and paranormal phenomena, inspired by the short-lived Kolchak, premiered on Fox. Despite airing on the “Friday night death slot,” this new series, mysteriously named The X-Files, garnered 12 million viewers and quickly became one of the highest-rated television programs of the era. Though it never made it to the “top 10 in viewership,” the show came close on several occasions and acquired a strong cult following over the years, leading to two feature films, two revival seasons, various comic books, video games, and more. Undoubtedly, The X-Files has become a cultural phenomenon, and its appeal is not difficult to comprehend.

The series predominantly follows FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, respectively. They are assigned to the basement “X-Files” unit, where they investigate the weird and unexplained. For Mulder, this is a dream assignment as he has spent his entire career building the means to investigate the childhood abduction of his younger sister, who he believes was taken by aliens. Although Mulder and Scully investigate everything from stretchy mutants and homicidal talking tattoos to demonic creatures and inbred hillbillies, The X-Files is best known for diving straight into a government conspiracy surrounding the secrecy of extraterrestrial life.

Growing up during the Watergate era of political distrust, emphasized by films like All The President’s Men, series creator Chris Carter, who has a knack for telling stories that feel shockingly real, admittedly believes in conspiracies, the possibility of alien life, and that the government actively lies to the American people. These beliefs influenced his work on The X-Files, and given his youthful exposure to the infamous Nixon scandal, it’s no surprise that Mulder’s first informant was named Deep Throat. “I’m a child of Watergate,” Carter wrote in a 2021 New York Times article discussing his skepticism regarding the government’s disclosure of UFOs. “Do I believe in conspiracies? Certainly. I believe, for example, that someone is targeting C.I.A. agents and White House officials with microwave radiation, the so-called Havana syndrome, and your government denied it.” Nonetheless, The X-Files is still a work of fiction, or at least it’s meant to be.

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