The (post-) truth is out there: The X-Files in the age of “alternative facts”

Shanna R Gilkeson

Bowling Green State University


In the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, terms such as “fake news” and “alternative facts” have grown in prominence in American social discourse, with escalating concerns that we are living in a post-truth society. Higgins (2016) describes post-truth as “blatant lies being routine across society” and “politicians can lie without condemnation” (para. 3). The assumption that honesty and truth are the norm no longer holds, and facts are often overshadowed by opinion shaped by emotional reaction in our everyday interactions. Furthermore, conspiracy discourse has steadily become more mainstream within the last two decades (Soukup, 2002). Because of its central themes revolving around mistrust for authority and government conspiracies rooted in myth, legend, and the paranormal, The X-Files is uniquely situated to both reflect and influence American culture in that it has the distinction of enjoying enduring popularity from both its original 1993-2002 run and its revival in 2016. Given that televisual texts are at once a mirror for the society in which they are created and a framework from which viewers can interpret their world, the show’s revival on television in 2016 seems rather timely. Using Ott and Walter’s theories of intertextuality, this study will employ a textual analysis of select episodes from the original 1993-2002 run of The X-Files as well as new episodes from its 2016 reemergence. This paper seeks to explore today’s cultural relevance of The X-Files as well as interrogate its possible contribution to the current post-truth climate.

2018 National Conference
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