Riffin’ on The X-Files, part 2

The practice of the previous post fits into a larger project of mine I lovingly call “Indians and Aliens”, and by “project” I mean  obsession.  You may remember from my review of The Swing Voter of Staten Island that there is a noted trend in the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genres of incorporating subtexts that deal with America’s anxiety over their genocidal history.  I am interested in studying how this anxiety plays out specifically in  story lines that revolve around the association between the landscape of the West and U.F.O’s.  Whether it be Roswell, Area 51 in Nevada, or Cowboys and Aliens, the connection between the lands of the frontier and visitors of the last frontier is one of the oldest  in the alien genre.  The genre also deals with people’s mistrust of their government and their sneaking suspicion there are secrets in this country as vast as the desert lands.  (Hint: one of those secrets is that America killed a whole bunch of populations in order to become America.)

The X-Files episode we just looked at, however, deals with a different kind of unknowable landscape and a different kind of “alien” being.  In “Detour” it is the swampy forests of southern Florida that are the setting for an age old battle typically associated with the frontier: the taming of wilderness in the pursuit of progress.  The alien beings populating this strange, vast landscape are not outright identified as Indians but are rather primitive looking men with glowing red eyes.

You might recall however that there was some ambiguity over the identity of the creatures.  The invisible men of the forest, indistinguishable from the trees and soil of their home, were definitely primitive but what first seemed like a metaphor for indigenous defenders was explained in the final scenes as Spanish conquistadors who had discovered the fountain of youth.  It is a very interesting conclusion considering that the traditional narrative of the Spanish conquistadors may include their cruelty towards Native peoples, but rarely ever portrays them as small primitive men—they are after all Europeans.  Perhaps then what Mulder is implying when he asks at the end of the episode “After four-hundred years in the forest, don’t you think they would have adopted perfectly to their environment?” is that the Spanish acquired a type of indigeniety due to their time in the forest.  This process of becoming indigenous means adopting all the typically racist markers of being Indian: animal-like, dirty, uncivilized, violent.

In that way “Detour” is a bit like The Heart of Darkness plot and other colonial tales of the frontier  where savage lands turn civilized men savage as well.  It also seems like a strange validation of the American form of occupation, as if somehow the loss of instinct and the distance from nature allows them to remain rational and human.  This narrative assuages fears Americans may have about the subconscious realization that they are the aliens in this land.

The X-Files as a show, and as the division of the F.B.I. within the show, operates to reveal that our fears, anxieties and suspicions are all in fact based on reality.  Mulder, as the rebel who cannot be contained, unmasks repressed paranoia to be warranted fears, and the ridicule he experiences is really just a further attempt to repress this truth.  For example, many Americans suspect that modern development on fragile ecosystems is a violent act, and “Detour” displays the violence, but also projects it onto the invisible primitive men monsters.  This allows viewers to face their anxieties about destroying  “indigenous species”, but also to feel vindicated in this destruction because of the inherent primitive violence of these species, which must be subdued in order for the life of ordinary citizens to continue.  This is one of the most common narratives of the frontier and of settler colonial societies in general: while the demise of the wilderness and the beings collapsed with it (Indians, buffalo, Palestinians, olive trees, etc) may be sad, it is necessary for the safety and prosperity of a vulnerable new nation project.  I won’t go into the reasons such a logic is flawed except to note the paradox of being both an invader and a victim.

 If you have any further suggestions of cultural texts awaiting “Indians and Aliens” analysis, please let me know and I can do a special post per your suggestion.



Filed under TV Review

4 responses to “Riffin’ on The X-Files, part 2

  1. I love this analysis. I would be really curious to hear your thoughts on the episode you mentioned at the beginning of part 1, that 3 parter with the Navajo code-talker.

    • That is probably my all time favorite storyline on X-Files ever. Albert Hosteen is obviously a ridiculous caricature, but I think the story itself is pretty interesting. I really liked it when I was a kid mainly because it was one of the only times I saw Navajos on TV. But watching it as a semi-adult, I liked it because even though the Navajos are beat up by the FBI, Hosteen also gets to be the hero (when is the Indian ever the hero?!?). And he saves the day with “the oral tradition of his people” (when is oral tradition ever portrayed as a legit form of knowledge?!?). The story arch also portrays the US government, or at least the bad guys of the government, as this violent entity intent on silencing Native people and erasing secret colonization programs. Oh, and there’s that part about the white buffalo, which is kind of wacky, but also brings in this whole pan-Indian liberation mythology which I thought was positive. However the buffalo does die at the end (if I remember correctly) and the episode ends on a familiar trope: Indian spirituality is a tool for the recovery of a great white man (savior/martyr type) who is on this grand mission to rid the world of evil. I think the way they wrote Hosteen’s part infantilizes him to some degree making him incapable of fighting the cigarette smoking man without the aid of a more modern, white counterpart.
      What I really want to see before I die is an Indian X-Files that follows a pan-Indian coalition of extraterrestrial investigators who would riff on all that bs about Natives being descendant from aliens.

  2. I just watched that episode set a couple days ago and was really intrigued by it. Throughout my revisit of the series, I’ve found it intriguing how they touched on native themes since the beginning (there was that unfortunate time they turned manitou into monsters, kind of like werewolves with their contagious bites, but grosser…) They half do the standard X-Files thing of taking paranormal/supernatural or otherwise kind of spooky concepts and stories from really any culture or religion they can think of, and giving it a pretty surface treatment with all the stereotypes intact and largely unexamined…. but then they also do this thing where they really make an effort to be 90’s PC and represent native characters as real people living contemporary lives in the contemporary world, having differences of opinion within their own communities and generally allowing them to be protagonists.

    I was also super stoked at the end when oral tradition fucking wins, and Hosteen and his friends are able to checkmate the cancer man and his top shelf conspirators. In that exchange there was that moment where Skinner said “so unless you want to kill every Navajo in 4 states….” and I was like, well, would they balk at that? They’d balk maybe, because it’s just so large and sloppy a move, but there would be a certain historical continuity if they, say, purposely leaked some uranium tailings into the watershed to get their way… but there’s a tangent.

    Anyways. I’m hoping that as I make my way through the series I’ll be able to clarify some of the sort of vague thoughts I’m having about what exactly they’re doing with this. How the way they approach native themes and characters relates to the broader story arc, and at that, how it ties in with the way they also constantly refer to environmental and animal rights direct action type activism… which they always seem to be inferring is inspired by sound motives and a clear critical perspective but then never support as a terribly valid approach.

    Oh, and regarding the bit about the aliens and the Anazasi, I thought they just meant that the Anasazi were all abducted, not that they were aliens themselves? But it seemed slightly ambiguous so maybe they did mean it that way. Maybe they were like, the first alien human hybrids. That’s another thing I’m not clear on. Are those tiny little child-sized alien bodies, like the ones they found in the boxcar buried on the rez, the “full-blooded” aliens, or are they the hybrids? I am slightly confused about that still. (This theme is still just emerging where I’m at now, at the beginning of season 3.)

  3. Wait no, I get it. Those are the full aliens, those people who look human but have the green boiling blood are the hybrids.

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