Differences: The X-Files, Race and the White Norm

By Kydd, Elspeth | Journal of Film and Video, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Differences: The X-Files, Race and the White Norm


Kydd, Elspeth, Journal of Film and Video


In War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells presents the Martian invasion of London as an allegory for colonial expansion. The book was first published in 1898 during the time of the "Scramble for Africa" and the western expansion of the United States. London, the heart of empire, becomes the target of the Martian's colonizing force. Through this reversal, Wells critiques the imperial project, at the same time as he evokes those same fears of the Other that were used in racist discourse to justify colonial violence. Wells' Martian colonization is effected through extermination and eradication-the violent removal of humans to make room for the Martian invaders. This reflects the nature of the turn-of-the-century colonial expansion, when European and European-American territorial wars swept away with genocidal force the native inhabitants of Africa and the Americas.

A century later, The X-Files uses a similar generic science fiction metaphor of alien colonization to evoke the fear of difference. The X-Files also represents a reversal of the power axis whereby Europeans and European-Americans are the primary potential victims of colonizing forces. However, whereas Wells' turn-of-the-century fiction represents the colonizing threat as one of extermination and eradication, The X-Files colonization metaphor is expressed as hybridization. In the late twentieth century, when relations of race and difference are more ambiguously represented than they were in Wells' time, assimilation, hybridization, and the blurring of boundaries characterize contemporary racial identity and experience. The X-Files's colonization metaphor represents this shift: the colonizing forces of The X-Files represent the invasion of the human body in an endeavor to take over Earth. It undermines the integrity of individual identity, producing an ambiguous invasion in which human identity and purity are no longer assured, the lines between us (the human) and them (the alien), no longer clear. Wells' aliens are defeated by "the putrefactive and disease bacteria" (171) that are Earth's only effective defense against the colonizing force he envisions. In both a reversal and an extension of the Wellsian scenario, extraterrestrial invasion in The X-Files is frequently presented, and resisted, on the level of microscopic disease and bodily penetration. At the center of The X-Files narrative is the fear of colonization and invasion, fear of both invasion of the planet by the extraterrestrial aliens and fear of human bodily occupation by the disease of extraterrestrial organisms, that is, colonization by hybridization.

The colonization metaphor is assured as both texts centralize white Europeans as representative agents for humanity. The X-Files presents conventional white, middle-class characters who are menaced by unknown forces, that compromise their self-contained (white) bodies-threatening disease, hybridization, and ultimately, physical colonization. Through the conventions of the representation of difference, these themes are racially coded. The codes are determined by a process of racial marking that is accomplished through the conceptual framework of Whiteness: the normative white subject's fear of and desire for the Other.

Thus, in The X-Files, colonization fears are significantly represented through the anxieties around the boundaries that maintain Whiteness as a purely defined racial category. Despite the reversal of the colonization scenario, The X-Files relies on assumptions that associate Whiteness with certain positions and manifestations of power that are threatened by difference. White power is directly represented in The X-Files through the consortium of white men who are the human participants in the colonization conspiracy. It is also through the important constructs of purity and normativity that white power is evidenced and the differences that endanger white power are resisted. The association of Whiteness with anxieties about pollution and racial boundary control evidence an investment in the concept of racial purity. …

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