From JFK’s assassination to the CIA for distributing LSD in ghettos, the conspiracy has become a more than familiar part of the American cultural landscape. In the 90s Hillary Clinton goes so far as to use this term to defend her husband during the Monica Lewinsky affair. It is at this same time in 1993 precisely that a series is born, it is called X-Files and it will know a planetary success.
But why did this series so fascinate and influence television? And above all, how did she become cult?
To answer this question I propose you to look at two elements that have made the reputation of X-Files: his aesthetics and his theme.
To answer this question, we must take the time to go back in time … a few decades ago. The X-Files appeared on our screens at a crucial moment in American television: it is often linked to a period of renewal of television, so-called quality, having developed in the sixties and then really emerged in the seventies. We begin to understand that an audience is composed of different publics, that they are structured differently depending on the gender, the age and the social classes that form it. The purchase of advertising space is therefore increasingly targeted and accurate. the awakening of possibilities seems to be widening and television channels are beginning to look for creators with a deep sense of aesthetics and artistic freedom hitherto uncommon. The researcher Todd Gitlin considers that television entertainment is modeled through the psychological and social cracks of society.
According to him the ruling class took advantage of this medium to transmit his hegemony, a term whose definition is similar to that of Gramsci. He sees in television a means for the ruling class to establish its legitimacy by not proposing a program that goes against a certain social stability. Television would come almost, through its schedule of programs to organize our lives. But with this evolution of television production, product programs seem to be taking a new turn. In the eighties, according to John Caldwell, the visual style becomes more and more important. For him past aesthetic considerations are gradually breaking for new ones with a reconfiguration of aesthetic methods. Through textual format, marketing and content, economic motivations will change what exists. We are beginning to see the emergence of a television that stands out in a whole lot of niches trying to adopt more and more targeted content. For the researcher Robert Thompson, when the Fox decided to broadcast X-Files in the nineties, they will bet succeed in supplanting the cable channels that start to grow more and who seek to create themselves public niches where other channels like ABC or CBS are then much more cautious.
Most of the series of this time follow a simple aesthetic, X-Files will be more and more subversive, original, offering episodes sometimes incredibly stylized and a particularly complex plot meeting on two aspects. Chris Carter, who has written and directed several episodes, will play a key role in every detail of this production with a signature, unusual pie and storyline for the time. Composer Mark Snow will experiment with musical techniques little known or widespread in the world of television. We are therefore confronted with a work whose aesthetic innovation and themes remain rare in the mainstream television of the time.
The series presents itself in the form of a postmodern pastiche drawing on political elements, traditional folklore, from classical cinema to that of genre to produce a mix with various inspirations and references.
The show, on this wave, from the first episode by proposing a serious form almost documentary with a presentation of the characters who evolve in a bureaucratic government system and implying from the beginning that the series would be based on real case. We are in full hybridity. It is in this way that they do not create either a clear separation between real and unreal as it was common at the time of its diffusion.
In 1998 the series is combined with films, proving that the boundaries between film and television are easily blurred where cinema was already perceived as a legitimate art, it seems finally obvious that television is also , even if his codes are different. Finally, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit by using the word “obvious” because in 2018/2019 it still does not seem to be for everyone. X-Files will resume classic television melo drama, crime drama while also drawing on the science-fiction of the 50s and 60s.
Real social criticism, we find in X-Files multiple mythical creatures.However these monsters do not seem out of any right of nature or a happy chance but on the contrary, they are the product of human action, the police even the government. They are not inexplicable, so the folklore here has an important meaning going beyond the imaginary but referring to the product of these structures that accompany us on a daily basis, X-Files seeks to question us about our own conceptions, what we integrate as ideas to encourage the rejection of our vision of morality in order to go beyond our own beliefs.
In the episodes that are part of the mythological arc of X-Files, the paranoid mode unfolds to the maximum, the series shows in a very negative way the authoritarian institutions and the established order. Thanks to hyperboles, allegories and exaggerated representations, X-Files has created a specific and varied aesthetic representing the complexity of the present. This series shows a society in transition. This series shows a society in transition with institutions, values and identities in crisis, testifying to the tenuous limit between truth and falsehood, truth and unreality, fantasy and reality.
No series has previously had such a critical view of the US government. Chris Carter admits he himself was inspired by the scandal of the Watergate to succeed in keeping the public in suspense.
In the last four years, it seems that this is a new paradigm of the TV narrative that has emerged with a reconceptualization of the serial but also episodic form. On an awareness of the mechanisms and springs of writing with an increasingly strong demand to engage the viewer. It sounds very basic to you, but for the time it was not. It was risky and we did not necessarily conceive the series in this way.
The show is definitely part of these works that have allowed the following series to evolve, I think including the series Lost appeared in 2004.
During each of the seasons, X-Files spent its time playing with the rational fears of the Americans to switch into completely irrational intrigues. This is how they flirted very explicitly with widely used conspiracy theories. It worked thanks to:
• a duo of shock actors,
• a series with a narrative arc that retained its charm for several years “even if sometimes it was a bit uneven”
• A world of references that has gradually developed a unique aesthetic.