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New “X-Files” episode highlights scary modern concept…

Posted on January 30th, 2018
Posted on January 30th, 2018

by Coop Cooper

In the mid-nineties, “The X-Files” was my favorite TV show. It became a cultural zeitgeist so quickly that it eclipsed all similar shows that came before it, including the ones that inspired it such as “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and “The Twilight Zone”. With its recent resurrection, it has struggled to recapture the magic of its earlier incarnation. Now in its 11th season (the 2nd season of its revival), it may have delivered a comedic episode which may go down as one of the classics, and highlights a scary concept which might be all-too-real for its now modern audience.

In the episode titled “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”, after a day of ‘Squatching’ (Bigfoot hunting), Mulder (David Duchovny) returns home to discover an old, secret signal used by his most clandestine informants back at the beginning of his X-Files career. The signal brings he and Scully (Gillian Anderson) to a nervous, spasmodic man who calls himself Reggie (Brian Huskey) who claims memories from his past have been altered or erased. His story intrigues Mulder who comes up with some wild theories while Scully simply thinks the guy is a kook who has escaped from an institution. When Reggie’s story begins to start generating some leads, Mulder and Scully start realizing that they may be suffering from memory loss too when they learn that Reggie may be their long-lost partner, and the original founder of the X-Files.

I normally don’t write about individual episodes of a show unless it is a pilot for a new series, but this one stuck out for me for a particular reason. It focuses on a couple of concepts which generate feelings of paranoia in our modern age of media and the internet where we are never quite sure what is true, what isn’t and whether we can trust our own memories when people can create convincing content on the internet to convince you that your own memories may be false.

Bear with me here… There is a real-life phenomenon called ‘The Mandela Effect’ in which commonly-held memories, recalled by many people from the recent past have been proven as false. The name for it comes from the idea that many people have the false memory of Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980’s when he actually died a free man in 1991. There is also another common one where many people remember a movie in the 90’s called “Shazam” starring Sinbad which never actually existed – even though there was a movie called “Kazam” starring Shaquille O’Neal. One that personally stumped me was whether a beloved series of children’s books I used to read as a kid was titled “The Berenstain Bears” like I remember or “The Berenstein Bears” like most people remember. While this may be a deja vu-like cognitive malfunction made worse by false information in the internet, the X-Files suggests this is no coincidence. Reggie claims that it is an intentional act to control the minds of people by altering their perception of the past. While this is far-fetched, the internet is the primary source of information these days and some of its primary informational resources, like Wikipedia, has been proven to be highly unreliable since just about anyone can alter the information. And it fools people routinely.

The episode also explores the idea of ‘fake news’ and how its proliferation makes it difficult to find truth in a sea of misinformation. In the episode, Reggie takes it further saying that there is an intentional effort to spread disinformation in an attempt to confuse and control the public so ‘They’ can create soldiers for their causes while their enemies become too confused and misinformed to act. While false news routinely spreads around the internet due to an overabundance of amateur online journalists and unscrupulous writers/organizations with agendas, some might argue that Reggie isn’t so far off the mark here.

Reggie also points out that the glut of information and digital distractions in the modern age are enough to damage our sense of reality. This is an idea that many reasonable people would agree with. Over the decades, mental health professionals have warned about the idea of fiction, movies, comic books, television, etc… causing damage to the minds of developing children. In 1999, David Cronenberg made a sci-fi/horror movie called “eXistenZ” in which a terrorist organization was attempting to assassinate the creators of realistic virtual reality games because of the crippling effect the games were having on the minds of the public by destroying their ability to recognize reality. One could say these ideas are ahead of its time, but an argument could be made that the ‘time’ is already here.

Sci-fi films and TV shows – especially current favorite “Black Mirror” – are known to be be prophetic when they are at their best, but this funny yet deceptively scary episode struck a chord with me that it was seeing something frightening already within our society that is present but a lot of people are ignoring. Towards the conclusion of the episode, Reggie informs Mulder and Scully that the most powerful words that President Trump routinely says is, “Nobody knows” because he is planting a seed of doubt within us for every piece of information we receive. When it comes to our current state of media as well as entertainment or entertainment masquerading as media, how long will it be before we truly cannot separate the truth from fiction? Are we already there? According “The X-Files”, the answer may be ‘yes’.

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