THE LIGHTHOUSE: July 23, 2001THE FBI AND AND THE X-FILES THE LIGHTHOUSE
"Enlightening Ideas for Public Policy..."
Vol. 3, Issue 29
July 23, 2001
The recent troubles of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are a far cry
from the nearly unanimous praise the agency received from the federal
government and the media for most of its life. Yet judging by the popularity
of the Fox-TV show "The X-Files," the American public entertained doubts
about the FBI years before it had heard about Robert Hanssen, Wen Ho Lee, or
the agency's missing firearms and laptop computers.
What a tidal change. Before the show debuted, Fox executives worried that
the show's political undertones, implying that the FBI routinely withheld
Important News from the public, would turn off too many viewers. Today, we
know "The X-Files" was the hit that put Fox on the map.
"One can see what an extraordinary development 'The X-Files' represents in
American popular culture by concentrating on the fact that, for all its
science-fiction and horror elements, it is fundamentally a series about the
FBI," writes Paul Cantor in the summer issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW.
"As a TV advertiser might put it, however, this is not your father's FBI --
and certainly not J. Edgar Hoover's. Far from being the hero of the series,
as one might expect on American television, the federal agency is virtually
And the FBI's television villainy was not limited to bureaucratic
incompetence, although that was one aspect. "As the series developed, it
began to suggest that the opposition to [main characters] Mulder
and Scully is the product of sinister forces working within the FBI or at
least exerting pressure on it from other branches of the federal government.
We gradually learn that this agency, which more than any other over the
years has represented the federal government's ability to uncover threats to
its citizens is being used as part of a plot to cover up the greatest threat
the American people have ever faced -- a worldwide conspiracy to aid aliens
in taking over the earth."
"Alien takeover" aside, the reality of the FBI's problems may simply be
inherent in the agency's operations as a government bureaucracy subject to
political whims and pressures.
See: "This Is Not Your Father's FBI: 'The X-Files' and the Delegitimation of
the Nation-State" by Paul Cantor (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Summer 2001), at
Bruce Benson's op-ed, "The Countervailing Trend to FBI Failures," at
And TO SERVE AND PROTECT: Privatization and Community in Criminal Justice,
by Bruce Benson (The Independent Institute/New York University Press, 1998)
Copyright © 2001 The Independent Institute
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