The American Dream in The X-Files: Introduction

In my last post I commented that one day I might attempt a series of posts about how episodes of The X-Files treat the American dream as something which is actually laid over a dystopian scenario of government corruption, interference, violence, experimentation, and is largely a delusional front to what is portrayed as a controlling despotic country. Needless to say this throwaway comment bit me and so this is the first post in that series of posts.

I am absolutely not qualified to do this. I'm not American and have never been there, and have no more than the usual knowledge of US history that anyone who drinks tea has. I have not been through the US education system and keep finding references to things I have never heard of as I read around the subject, so I am certain to miss lots of cultural references and am as always very happy if anyone wants to correct me or add stuff in the comments.

On the other hand, what does qualify me is that I am an outsider and so not coloured by the baggage you get by being brought up in a particular country. I must apologise in advance, therefore, if my perception seems like a stereotype or straight out of Fox Mulder's head. I will not be taking it from Fox News for obvious reasons.

But what is the American dream? I had an idea in my mind when I started some reading that it meant prosperity, free speech, justice, the rights given by the constitution, and something defined by Bill Clinton:

'The American dream that we were all rasied on is a simple but powerful one - if you work hard and play by the rules you should be given a chance to go as far as your God-given ability will take you' (Speech to Democratic Leadership Council, 1993,  cited in Jennifer L Hochschild: Facing up to the American Dream. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995, p. 18.

But I was surprised to find that the nature of the dream has varied over time (see, I told you I had no idea about American history) to include things like freedom from the Church of England, the freedom to keep slaves, and other things like that. In a country where it could conceivably happen that a presidential candidate be campaigning from a jail cell, and even more that ANOTHER candidate did just that a century ago, I shouldn't be surprised that the dream should be somewhat adaptable to circumstances. 

For this reason, for the purposes of these posts I am going to define the American dream using certain simple features which I've got from the Wikipedia page about it: 

'The American Dream is the national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals including representative democracy, rights, liberty, and equality, in which freedom is interpreted as the opportunity for individual prosperity and success, as well as upward social mobility for oneself and their [sic] children, achieved through hard work in a capitalist society with few barriers.' (

I will use this as the background definition (and anything else that comes up) to see how these ideas come up and are portrayed in The X-Files. My idea is that the show repeatedly shows the dream being chipped away by forces within the country. I gave the examples of unethical experimentation by the government, troops living with the effects of not being able to sleep for the rest of their lives, killing people with leprosy. I will try to draw parallels from The X-Files to real-life examples of the US government doing these sort of things. I am not certain how this will apply to core mythology episodes yet.

Update 22/7/23: I have since found this definition of the dream, which is the best description I have found of the aspects being criticized in The X-Files: 'But what does America stand for these days? Traditional answers-the rule of law, equal opportunity, equal justice, hope for the oppressed, human rights-are necessarily qualified by the uglier realities of American history: forced removal of indigenous peoples, slavery and segregation at home, illjudged wars abroad. Nonetheless, America used to have certain ideals. We often failed to live up to those ideals, but they were a moral template inspiring (or reproaching) our leaders.' Source:

Personally, sitting here in the Old World I can see problems with the definition of the Dream immediately, and am certainly going to get critical so perhaps I'd better be upfront about a few opinions and biases which will inform these posts. I am broadly left wing but have some opinions which may come across to Americans as reactionary. For example I absolutely do not think that speech should be free. I do not think that you should have legal right to say whatever you think. I applaud countries like Germany and South Africa which have been through horrendous trauma and have made it illegal to say certain things to make it clear that those views are not acceptable and will not be getting a foothold in their country again. I do not think that just anyone should be able to or need to have a gun in a developed country: it is the police and armed forces' role to defend the citizens. I am very critical of capitalism and the unrestrained pursuit of wealth; I am very critical of a small group of people possessing a disproportionate amount of power or wealth. The question of religion is almost certain to come up so I will be frank about my religious bias: I was brought up in a household where we initially belonged to a Methodist church, managed to get confirmed in the C of E and then went to a Roman Catholic one. I have a degree in theology but do not have a Christian faith any more. I am very critical of religion's wiles. Just in case anyone thought I wasn't going to contradict myself I will also say that I am for constitutional monarchy, against disestablishing the Church of England and live in a safe Labour seat so have the luxury of voting whoever I way without risking a Tory MP but would still like us back in Europe and our whole parliamentary system overhauled. I put these things here because my own perspective is certain to butt heads with the American Dream at some point, so I may as well be upfront and repulse the entire blogosphere at once rather than bring my views in piecemeal.

I have no idea how long I am going to be able to carry on with this or even how I will go about it. I am certain that I will have lost interest well before I have worked through all ten series! I suspect what I will do is comment about a couple of episodes in one post and deal with one episode in more detail, rather than even try to do a single blog post about every episode of The X-Files.

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