restricted access Kingdom of Darkness: Autonomy and Conspiracy in The X-Files and Millennium
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KINGDOM OF DARKNESS: AUTONOMY AND CONSPIRACY IN THE X-FILES AND MILLENNIUM Michael Valdez Moses The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educatorjudge , the "social worker"-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his achievements. The carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of the normalizing power. —Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish Mr. (and Ms.) Noir In Michel Foucault's influential account of the rise and consolidation of modern society, the individual soul, ifit can be said to exist at all, is the easily manipulated product of an all-pervasive and interlocking set of disciplinary institutions and administrative bodies, a "carceral archipelago" consisting of prisons, schools, hospitals, psychiatric clinics, the army, social-welfare agencies, the police, and the courts. For most Americans, Foucault, like Orwell before him, would seem to describe the realities of Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany (rather than modern France), but in any case not those of the United States of America, whose citizens historically understood their nation as a bastion of individual liberty and freedom. And yet, at the turn of the last millennium, a mass viewing audience in the United States 203 204 Michael Valdez Moses (and around the globe) sat transfixed each week before televised images of America as the quintessential disciplinary society. To be sure, Chris Carter's two most successful shows, The X-Files (which ran from 1993 to 2002) and Millennium (1996-1999), regularly presented their chief protagonists—Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, John Doggett, Monica Reyes, Frank Black, Emma Hollis, and Lara Means—as resolutely heroic in their efforts "to fight the future," to defend a traditionally American conception ofindividual freedom and personal autonomy against those agents ofdarkness, whether mundane, extraterrestrial, or supernatural, who would impose upon the American people and the rest of the world a compulsory disciplinary order. And yet, what may prove most memorable about these two television shows is not their wildly imaginative use ofalien abductions, extraterrestrial bounty hunters, genetically engineered super-soldiers, satanic agents, angelic manifestations, prophesies ofthe coming apocalypse, or even the sudden worldwide celebrity of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, but rather an uncompromising vision ofpostwar (and post-Cold War) America as a kingdom ofdarkness, a fallen republic in which political rights are routinely violated, a nation in which the realm of individual autonomy is both increasingly circumscribed and fatally imperiled.1 Given their dark vision of postwar America, it should come as no surprise that both of Carter's shows are deeply influenced by classic film noir. Featuring protagonists who are current or former FBI agents, both series play off the well-established conventions of gritty and hard-boiled crime and espionage films that came to prominence in the 1940s and 1950s and which include such classics as The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), Laura (Otto Preminger, 1944), The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946), Out ofthe Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947), The Third Man (Carole Reed, 1949), The Asphalt Jungle (Huston, 1950), and Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958). While it is impossible to offer a single formula that would fit every episode of the two series (which ran for 201 and 67 episodes respectively), both shows feature intrepid investigators whose attempts to solve mysterious, bizarre, and often grisly crimes lead them to uncover a vast conspiracy involving governmental agencies, religious organizations, business interests, and nonhuman forces (extraterrestrial interlopers, satanic powers) who attempt to control the lives ofordinary citizens. The quest to discover the truth leads Carter's protagonists on a labyrinthine journey through an underworld of crime, deceit, danger, and paranoia, a dark realm populated by illegal immigrants, street hustlers, prostitutes, exotic dancers, sexual deviants, the destitute, the insane, disabled vets, alcoholics, junkies, assassins, spies, mystics, fortunetellers, misfits, circus Kingdom of Darkness 205 freaks, black marketers, disgraced government officials, petty criminals, religious fanatics, adolescent runaways, computer hackers, and conspiracy nuts, to name only a few ofthe more commonly encountered types. And yet, as with the detectives ofclassic film noir, Carters protagonists belatedly discover that at the organizational hub ofthe underworld are the very people and institutions that ostensibly represent the cause of law and order, public respectability, and moral rectitude. The protagonists of The X...


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Subject Headings

  • Detective and mystery television programs -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Fantasy television programs -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Film noir -- United States -- History and criticism.
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