The American Dream in The X-Files: Herrenvolk

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

Now you may say that it is slightly ridiculous that I left this series of posts for a break and since then have only managed one general round up post and have come back again. All I can say is that it was like that time Patsy Stone gave up drinking: it was the worst eight hours of her life. And also like heavy drinking, I think I will need another break after this one.

4x01 Herrenvolk (Core Mythology)

Of course the reason I've returned to these posts is that the events of the last week made me think of one aspect of this episode in particular. That aspect is the alien bounty hunter, and since the phrase 'I hope the bondsman has a good bounty hunter' has been rather thrown around the internet in the past week, it made me look the subject up.

I had assumed that bounty hunters were purely historical or fictional, going by the understanding in my head that a bounty was a sum paid as a reward for capturing or killing a person. I rather pictured this happening in the Wild West or other relatively undeveloped society, where there wouldn't be the statutory forces in place to implement the law. I would have said that in a developed country the family of a crime victim or organisation might possibly put out a reward for information leading to the capture of a miscreant, but that catching them would still be up to the police (hollow laugh).

For nearly thirty years I have been seeing the alien bounty hunter through this lens: I guessed that someone was paying him to exterminate the evidence of the alien invasion and that that was kind of his job, although he's obviously got some very special qualifications in terms of being able to shape shift. And that, I thought, was it for the bounty hunter outside of films and history.

How wrong I was.

As always during this series of posts, I have so much to thank the defeated 45th president of the USA for. He's educated the entire world about the fifth amendment, the third section of the fourteenth amendment, the fourth amendment, the speedy trial clause of the sicth amendment, and now the fact that you not only have to pay to be bailed for a crime, but that you still have actualy bounty hunters. Only now you call them bail enforcement agents or fugitive recovery agents. What the hell. Not for the first time doing this series of posts has slapped me around the face and left me reeling.

The connection between the alien bounty hunter, the USA, real fugitive recovery agents, and the American dream, is of course that in many states in the USA you have to pay a sum of money to get bailed for a crime. Obviously this is liable to mean that only people with money can get bail so there is a whole industry of bail bondsmen, who for a commission put up the money for you to get bail. The fugitive recovery agents apprehend the ones who've skipped bail. I think the mere fact of having to pay for bail and that there is a whole industry around this is the most American thing I've ever come across, is completely nightmarish, and I just can't believe that anyone was fool enough to put up the bail money for 45. (In the UK, money hasn't been a necessary part of bail since the Bail Act 1898, which was explicitly to stop the inequity that only people with money could get bail.)

This whole nightmarish scenario is reflected in the show in the way the alien bounty hunter is a bounty hunter. The connection is tenuous, obviously, but he doesn't really need to have that title: he could just be some random alien who pretends to be different people and is still mysterious. By giving him the title, the American ?dream is projected onto him. It's almost as if he can't just be an alien shapeshifter: in true capitalist style he has to be paid for doing what he does.

Then the show introduces the misnamed Smallpox Eradication Program, which is really a cover for mass nonconsensual tracking of citizens. Once again the show cleverly weaves things inspired by real historical events into the fictional events, to create the scenario that the US government is covering up the alien conspiracy. Once again the connection to the dream is the essential part of freedom, civil rights, and justice. I suspect the most similar real world historical government atrocity which may have inspired it is the Tuskegee Study, in which for decades African American men who had syphilis (and a control group who didn't) were told they were being treated for 'bad blood', not informed they had syphilis and not given treatment for it, so that the progression of their syphilis could be observed. 

The similarity is that health professionals and government officials carried on these unethical experiments for decades: and this goes both for Herrenvolk and Tuskegee. It's US citizens doing it, and they must have known, and nobody said. What kind of dream is that?

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: 22 (7 with signifcant content relating to the American dream: Deep Throat, Fallen Angel, E.B.E., Little Green Men, Anasazi, The Blessing Way and Paperclip.)

Monster of the Week: 52 (9 with significant content relating to the American dream: Eve, Beyond the Sea, Young at Heart, Miracle Man, Shapes, Blood, Sleepless, Fresh Bones, and Syzygy.)

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