Knowledge credibility in popular culture: The X-Files

26 Jan


If you could peruse the titles in my entertainment collection you would notice an inordinate over-representation of science fiction, among which is an abundance of The X-Files DVDs.  From the early days of Dana Scully [1] struggling unsuccessfully to rein in Fox Mulder’s [2] paranormal proclivities, to the persistent conspiratorial high jinks that saw the two investigators locked in story-arc combat with shadowy government figures, to today when the selfsame couple return in a later incarnation and convincingly reposition themselves in the X-Files saddle, I’ve loved it all.


Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, The X-Files, 20th Century Fox

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I’ve spent years soberly researching the credibility of images (widened recently to knowledge credibility generally) and the computing and social solutions we need to re-instill trustworthiness in our knowledge infrastructure. This subject has only recently become popular in the public zeitgeist.

So you can imagine the dizzying moment yesterday when my academic world collided with my X-Files fan world while watching the 4th episode of the current season to hear the following exchange between Mulder and the mysterious Dr They:

Mulder: As long as the truth gets out…

Dr They: Oh, they don’t really care whether the truth gets out, because the public no longer knows what’s meant by the truth.

MulderWhat do you mean?

Dr They: I mean no-one can tell the difference anymore between what’s real and what’s fake.

Mulder: There’s still an objective truth, an objective reality.

Dr They: So what? I mean you take this Mandela effect [3]. Well, in the old days I would never have come out and admitted to you that yes I can change people’s collective memories. And that would have meant that I can control the past. And if that’s true, well as Orson Wells once said, “He who controls the past controls the future.”

Mulder: It was George Orwell that said that.

Dr They: For now, maybe.  Anyway, the point is that I can say all of this right out here in the open because it doesn’t matter who hears, they won’t know whether to believe it or not.

Mulder: To be honest, I’m not believing any of this.

Dr They: Well, believe what you want to believe, that’s what everyone does nowadays anyway.  … You know our current president once said something really profound.  He said “nobody knows for sure.”

Mulder: What was he referring to?

Dr They: What does it matter?


So it has finally happened – the concerns I’ve been espousing for years to often deaf ears are finding expression in mainstream popular culture.  And not just any popular culture, but my much loved X-Files. [4]  Have to make some slight mental adjustments, but hey, super news!.  Hmmm — and just a bit spooky.


[1] Brilliantly acted by Gillian Anderson.
[2] Portrayed by the timeless David Duchovny, who also played the lead role in one of my favourite ‘feel great’ movies of all time: Return To Me.
[3] Changes to collective human memory.
[4] Chris Carter (creator). The X-Files Season 11 Episode 4 “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”.  (2018)  20th Century Fox. Aired in Australia 25 January 8:30 pm Foxtel.  Transcript and screen capture image used in line with fair use provisions of copyright law. Screen capture lightened.


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