THE TRUTH IS STILL OUT THERE:
The X-Files and 9/11
Paul A. Cantor
What does this science fiction have to do with anything?
—Special Agent Kallenbrunner, “The Truth,” The X-Files
From the beginning it was very difficult to separate the significance of the events of 9/11 from the significance of the media representation of them. The impact of what happened that day was bound up with the fact that it largely took place on live television, with the whole world watching. The terrorists who planned the attack no doubt were counting on media coverage to magnify its impact and thus to achieve their sinister purposes. With the media rushing to cover such a shocking event, their commentary quickly turned into meta-commentary, as they began to discuss not just the event itself but also how they were covering it. Within days, if not hours, of the event, media commentators began speculating about how 9/11 would affect American popular culture. At times, the talking heads on television seemed concerned as much about the cultural impact of 9/11 as about its political, economic, and military implications.
Under the stress of a profoundly traumatic event, the media experts were understandably tempted to make apocalyptic pronouncements. Soon a consensus seemed to emerge: after 9/11, American popular culture would never be the same again.1 Cynicism about America was out; patriotism would return to movies and television. The mood of the moment was crystallized in a Time magazine article by Roger Rosenblatt with the title “The Age of