A killer virus that annihilates a population. Vaccinations that track and catalogue human beings. Government interest in UFOs. These could all be current headlines. They are also all plot points of The X-Files, a TV show that is almost 30 years old.
The X-Files starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as FBI Special Agents Mulder and Scully. They worked in the X-File unit of the FBI, investigating UFOs, mutants, and other inexplicable cases outside the FBI mainstream. Like most sci-fi, the fiction often becomes science fact as our technology grows. But The X-Files was oddly, specifically, prescient about things that we are facing today in our increasingly conspiracy-laden world.
One of the most blatant examples of this prescience comes by way of a 1996 episode, “Herrenvolk.” In this episode, Scully finds proof that smallpox vaccinations were used to catalogue people. This sounds suspiciously similar to the QAnon conspiracy theories that came out 15 years later, claiming that there was a microchip being implanted in anyone who gets a coronavirus vaccine.
The X-Files creator Chris Carter is just as vexed by this turn of events as anyone. “Someone told me last night that Alex Jones was talking about exactly what you are asking about, and how The X-Files actually was talking about spiked viruses long before we ever heard about the coronavirus—or were made more aware of it,” Carter told me in an interview. “I’ve got serious cred on Info Wars, apparently. I don’t know what to do with that.”
That virus Carter mentioned was a major plot point in a 2016 episode of The X-Files. In “My Struggle II,” a plague explodes across the world, causing rapid illness and mass casualties. The Spartanvirus, as it was dubbed in the show, was not a respiratory disease; rather it caused your immune system to falter. And while pandemics are a common sci-fi trope (what do you think all those zombie outbreaks are about?), this one was a mere three years before coronavirus emerged.
Carter credits Dr. Anne Simon for these plot points. Dr. Simon, a virologist, acted as the science advisor for all 11 seasons of the series. “We had talked about a pandemic and remedies for it. No one had heard about Crispr Cas9 yet, so we thought we would play with cutting-edge science and interestingly, no one had imagined that it would be somewhat prophetic.” (Crispr Cas9 is a genome editing technology that, according to research organization the Broad Institute, “can be programmed to target specific stretches of genetic code and to edit DNA at precise locations.” This is similar, though not identical, to the mRNA technique that is used in our COVID-19 vaccines.)
Carter, as one might imagine, has become quite the conspiracy expert over the last 28 years. Back in 1993, when the show began, the most outlandish conspiracy theory was that the United States didn’t land on the moon in 1969. “It feels like [the conspiracies] have gotten crazier,” Carter admits. “It feels like the level of paranoia and the imagination—the amplitude has been stepped up. There’s much more creativity in the kinds and numbers of conspiracy.” While Carter couldn’t put a finger on the craziest conspiracy he’s ever heard, he’s “surprised every day.” Points for originality go to one he wrote about in the New York Times: “The idea that we are all living in a black hole created by the CERN supercollider in Switzerland. I thought that was an interesting conspiracy.”
Of course, the main conspiracy that The X-Files dealt in was aliens. Abductions, visitations, hybridization… if it involved creatures from distant planets, The X-Files covered it. As of late, this has become common chatter within the government. Navy pilots have described seeing things they were unable to explain, and the government recently released a trove of documents about their own investigations into extraterrestrial biological entities.
“This is a good thing! We want answers!” cheers Carter. Of course, he doesn’t just want to know about the existence of creatures from another planet; he wants to know the truth behind the mechanism looking into such activities. “We want to know, if in fact, the truth about UFOs is above top secret,” Carter explains. “They talk about 38 levels above the president. That’s an interesting idea. That’s something I’ve heard thrown around. That’s how top secret it is, and that’s why people at the highest levels of government can only throw their hands up and claim to know nothing. Because they do know nothing.”
At what point, though, does that claim fail? A few months ago, I saw a news article about scientists who had discovered a creature living in an ice core sample from 20,000 years ago. This was, almost word-for-word, the plot point for a 1993 episode entitled “Ice.” My first thought was, Have you guys learned nothing? “Your stock and trade is in your imagination,” Carter reminds me. “In your wildest imagination, you try to come up with stories, and often times the scariest ones are the closest to the truth.”
Alyse Wax has published three non-fiction books, hundreds of online articles, and watched thousands of hours of television.
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