Capitalism, Climate Change, and The X-Files

As a kid, I stayed up on Sunday nights to watch “The X-files” with my dad. Some of the episodes spooked me so much  that I wouldn’t sleep in my bedroom because I had fears I’d be abducted.  I still find the notion that an intelligent life form could invade our bedrooms and snatch us in the middle of the night to be terrifying. I remember an opening from one of  the mid-season episodes in which a father is returned after an alien abduction. His family finds him, pale and motionless, outside of a field, and to this day, I find it one of the most chilling scenes that I can think of in any sci-fi or horror production. I’ve also written about “The X-files” a few times in poetry, especially that skeptic/believer, Scully/Mulder dynamic that drives the show.

And while I enjoyed the monster of the week episodes, I always enjoyed the alien conspiracy arc that factored into each season.  The new season, which, at only six episodes long, was really a mini-series, only featured two alien/conspiracy arc episodes, the opener, “My Struggle” and the finale, “My Struggle II,” which aired last night. I liked the season opener quite a lot and after a 14-year hiatus, I was surprised how well the show writers adapted the series to fit the age of Obama. A new character was introduced, Tad O’Malley, who could be any right-wing conspiracy nut, such as Glenn Beck or Alex Jones. On his internet talk show, he parrots right-wing conspiracies about the government coming to take everyone’s guns and eventually putting us all in white tents. However, he succeeds at convincing Mulder that the aliens aren’t the real bad guys, and the much hyped alien colonization that was supposed to happen in 2012, according to the show’s arc, was all just a smokescreen, a way for the elite to acquire more power by lessening the human population.

This same storyline picks up in the season finale, when the audience learns that the show’s main villain, the Cigarette Smoking Man, did indeed infect the human population with  a disease. Only those he gave a vaccination to will be protected, so essentially the elite get to decide who lives and who dies. Even Mulder starts to succumb to the disease, and his fate is uncertain by the season’s final moments. When Mulder confronts him, in an last-ditch effort to save the human race, the Cigarette Smoking Man tells him that mankind is ultimately doomed and the way we’ve sucked dry natural resources, killed off half the rainforest, and wiped out species through climate change is evidence of that. In his view, he is saving us from ourselves by speeding up our extinction, but it’s more likely he just wants to obtain ultimate power by lessening the population and subjugating the few that survive.

This new conspiracy arc is good stuff, and in the backdrop of Occupy Wall Street, divisions between the rich and poor, civil unrest, and dire climate change reports, it fits. The aliens aren’t the bad guys. The elite in power are the real bad guys.

The season finale and the new conspiracy arc resonated with me in light of two recent books on the fate of human kind and climate change, The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert and This Changes Everything: Capitalism and the Climate by Noami Klein. Both books detail the serious consequences humans have created because of climate change and our quest  to suck up all of the resources we can because we assume we’re entitled to dominate the Earth and everything on it. Each chapter in Kolbert’s book focuses on a different part of the world and one or two species that have gone extinct or are near extinct as a result of humans. The book also details the severe consequences, including possible human extinction, that will come as a result of warming temperatures and carbon we are trapping in the atmosphere and oceans. Klein’s book is more of a critique of capitalism, and its main thesis is that despite the overwhelming science, humans have been reluctant to do anything about climate change because those in power know that it would lead to a profit loss. It would fundamentally challenge the “I” structure of capitalism. We would have to live in a more shared, conscious society. We simply can’t consume like we do now.

The outcome of all this won’t be good. It will lead to strained resources, probably more warfare over such resources, including water, and it will allow the elite to acquire more power, which is what the new X-files arc is getting at.

The new series ends with a metaphor very reflective of our times, an era in which Donald Trump  could end up president of the U.S. because he is playing on the current divisions, paranoia, and strife that exist.  By the closing frame of the season, Mulder and Scully are on a bridge, surrounded by hundreds of infected Americans, struggling to flee the nation’s capital. Mass panic! Meanwhile, Mulder is dying of the virus the Cigarette Smoking Man unleashed, and though Scully’s DNA seems to be a cure, we don’t know if she has enough time to save him. The episode ends with a shot of a UFO hovering over Mulder and Scully, and it is unclear if the craft is there to save them or just wipe out the sorry human race.

Scully’s belief in science and resolve to find a cure before it’s too late resembles Klein and Kolbert’s belief that in the most dire circumstances, human beings can pull through to find solutions to major problems, including climate change, which, like the alien virus, poses a major threat, one that could eradicate human beings and continue taking down a bunch of other species in the process. The series ends with a question mark. Will Scully’s belief in science save Mulder and her fellow humans? Will aliens intervene and save humans from themselves, or will a more intelligent life form just let us die off, and would the Earth be better off without us?

We’ll have to wait until next season to find out.

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