• Trying to Tell 'The Truth': Metafiction and Historiographic Metafiction in The X-Files

    Sherry Truffin (see profile)
    American Literature, Television Studies
    Popular culture--Study and teaching
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Popular culture studies
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    The X-Files may be one of the most popular forms of historiographic metafiction, as Linda Hutcheon defines the term, ever produced. The show is, among other things, an extended meditation on the inescapability and elusiveness of history, both personal and public. At the center of the show is Fox Mulder’s personal history—his obsession with the memory of his sister’s abduction, his quest to find out what happened to her and what role his father and his father’s government cronies played in what happened to her. Public history is, however, no less an issue, since Mulder’s family history cannot be separated from contemporary American politics. From McCarthyism to Nazi-produced (or inspired) medical research, Roswell, Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, and so on, mid-to-late 20th century American history and politics provide much more than “backdrops” to the stories. They are both the subtext and the text of the show. Again and again, the protagonists are faced with discrepancies between the history offered by official, authorized documents and the history offered by renegade, fugitive, discredited witnesses, both living and dead. Again and again, they look for history and find texts (usually heavily censored ones); again and again, they read texts that refer them back to history. Along the way, their stories do little to resolve questions of fact, legitimacy, and authority but need not be interpreted as simplistically, hopelessly relativistic. Instead, their stories can be read as oriented to process rather than product. In this light, they suggest that there are ways of telling stories and writing history that are constructive, as well as ways that are destructive.
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