The American Dream in The X-Files: Born Again, Roland, The Erlenmeyer Flask

The introduction to this series of posts about the American dream as it appears in The X-Files can be found here:

1x21 Born Again (Monster of the Week)

No overt reference to the American dream.

1x22 Roland (Monster of the Week)

No overt reference to the American dream.

1x23 The Erlenmeyer Flask (Core Mythology)

It may seem a strange decision because of the direct references to US government unethical experimentation and Deep Throat, Mulder's contact in the government, I am not going to treat this episode as significantly referencing the American dream. Although the setting is clearly The X-Files' dystopian depiction of the reality of the dream, the episode makes all of the real references refer to the series's alien core mythology. You can read some absolutely barmy attempts to assassinate Castro that are definitely real, but this episode is definitely about things which are not real, just with some connections made to reality.

Reflection at the End of Season 1

Having got to the end of Season 1 I'm not intending to stop but a little reflection might be suitable here.

When I started this series of posts I adopted a definition of what it meant (which you can find in the introduction linked above) and also commented on the way the definition of the dream had changed over time. Since then my reading has made me see that there is more contrast in the American dream than is apparent to an outsider: for example from my own point of view I thought that unrestrained capitalism could lead to a few billionaires and a relative lack of opportunity for others. I also found that at various times some people's opportunities were severely restricted in one way or another (without even mentioning that some people weren't legally whole people at all. Mary Trump articulates the ongoing trauma that these things cause in the US's society and collective psyche. I had heard of Project MK-Ultra but have been surprised to find the full extent to which the US government has gone at various times to protect the American dream from those it perceives as threats. (Tea, anyone?)

Unsurprisingly I have found that the American dream is depicted loud and clear in Season 1 of The X-Files, but never in the foreground of the episodes, but as the setting. It is literally the architecture in which the show takes place but we are pointed away from it. These references are always inverted to avoid an idealistic depiction of the USA and to depict the dream as deeply flawed: I'll sound absolutely barmy saying this but I'm finding it difficult to believe that with the consistent depiction and criticism of aspects of the American dream, I'm finding it hard to believe that this is never mentioned in any of the literature on the show I have seen. I don't think the phrase 'American dream' occurs in the show. None of the crew, cast, or writers, mention it in any commentary I've come across. It's not mentioned in any literature or commentary. It's as if the show has a signifcant plot element about the American dream but that this is deliberately backgrounded and our attention is instead directed to something else. Spooky, eh?

The references I can identify have therefore been a bit shadowy, but there are references to the dream of the incoming inhabitants of the USA and the effect on the indigenous inhabitants, there are references to prosperity and security, there are references to freedom of religion, but both of these are seen from a negative perspective, for example a lucrative healing ministry is depicted as a scam.

However the aspects of the American dream which appear most often and are most insistently depicted as not being half as good as they could be are the government and justice. Specifically we are already getting heavy hints that the government has a LOT of really bad things to hide and are going to make sure they stay hidden. If you believe the dream you would presumably expect the US government to be open about what the hell is going on. Again, I don't think I have ever seen it explicitly mentioned but I'm finding it hard to believe that the real-life history of Project MK-ULTRA wasn't an inspiration for the way the government carries on, with government fixers hiding stuff and the CIA manipulating FBI agents to ensure the right impression is given. 

Similarly if you believe the American dream you would believe in liberty and justice for all. But here, for example, we see US servicemen thoroughly messed up for life as a result of their service and their relatives not getting any sort of answers. 

In this The X-Files references real history in the belief in mind washing. I have been reading an interesting conjunction between the dream and mind washing in the American mind in the book about Sidney Gottlieb. From World War 2 onwards, Americans had the greatest difficulty understanding just why some of their fellow countrymen were becoming sympathetic to other regimes, such as Communist regimes, given that they were citiens of the best and most free country in the world and the only one which would guarantee their rights, and so on. Because of this failure to believe the American dream, their conpatriots concluded that they simply had to have been 'brainwashed' into believing the things they did in some way, and this thinking was largely what underlay the CIA's experiments into trying to change people's thoughts and memories. In my opinion the irony is that they were messing about with hypnosis when the CIA themselves were victims of the most obvious way to manipulate people's beliefs: put them in a situation where believing a certain thing is normal and the majority will soon believe it. Even when the belief is in the magnificent land of the free, which at the same time is conducting unethical experiments on humans:

'"Postwar conspiracy theory is deeply influenced by the growth of the covert sphere," [critic Timothy] Melly wrote. "US foreign policy during the Cold War developed around a fundamental contradiction: the public advocacy of democracy versus the deployment of covert strategies and institutions operating outside the purview and control of the democtratic public sphere. The incongruity in this strategy - the open secret that US policy relied increasingly on undemocratic, secret means - contributed significantly to suspicion of government, and redirected brainwashing fears towards homegrown targets."' (cited in Stephen Kinzer: Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2019, p. 137.)

This is precisely the conflict between the American dream and the reality which underlies so much of The X-Files. You could almost see it as if the state is trying to change Mulder's mind but when it finds it can't, resorts to undermining him. It is as if the state had finally caught up with the idea that Group Think is the best way to change someone's mind, but Mulder was the sort of individual who won't have his mind changed to agree with the group and thus is the outcast.

So, so far The X-Files makes repeated references to the American dream but continually makes it clear that the dream is at best an illusion, and only applies when the government feels it should, or you are white, or some other random chance. Damnit where am I going to emigrate to now?

Oh - meanwhile our Selfservative Party held a dinner to celebrate the 75th birthday of the NHS. I don't think the patriots who turned out to welcome them made it into the mainstream media:

As I go through these posts I am going to keep a tally of how many episodes of Core Mythology and Monster of the Week types have significant content making the American dream in effect part of the plot rather than the omnipresent setting, and so far we have 

Core Mythology: 6 (3 with signifcant content relating to the American dream: Deep Throat, Fallen Angel, and E.B.E.)

Monster of the Week: 18 (5 with significant content relating to the American dream: Eve, Beyond the Sea, Young at Heart, Miracle Man and Shapes.)

As always, I'm totally unequipped to do this so if I've missed anything corrections are very welcome in the comments.