This essay returns to Fredric Jameson’s early writings on film to assert the continued importance of cognitive mapping, which remains a necessary critical response to the problems posed by contemporary mass culture. I employ Jameson’s methodology—one essentially absent from television studies today—to historicize the FOX series The X-Files, in light of its reboot in 2016. Airing from 1993 to 2002, the series figured what Michelle Alexander diagnoses as “the New Jim Crow”—the phenomenon of mass incarceration that marked a new racial caste system in the United States emerging in the 1980s and 1990s. At the height of the war on drugs, the show’s investigatory framework allegorized the vast juridical system controlling surplus populations at the end of the twentieth century. The historical allegory of The X-Files is to be found in the dialectical relationship between the mythology and the monster-of-the-week episodes, with the former providing an indictment of governmental “conspiracy” and the latter narrativizing the material, embodied effects of its unchecked power on marginalized communities.


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pp. 93-115
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