As a kid, I grew up watching Agent Fox Mulder work tirelessly from a basement office full of files – but not the sort of files most of us work with today. No, these weren’t drawn facsimiles of manila folders glowing on the desktop of Mulder’s computer screen – they were hand typed and printed documents inside actual manila folders. That’s right, the 90’s were a crazy time.
Thanks to modern streaming platforms like Hulu, I’ve recently been able to revisit the X-Files and watch it with a new set of eyes: those of a person that’s participated in formal military investigations (into much less dramatic things), developed a breadth of life experience to pull from, and understands that Scully’s shoulder pads weren’t a product of her own lack of style, but rather the lack of style everyone was subjected to in the 1990s. Most importantly, as an adult, I’ve seen things I’m not sure I can wrap my head around – though admittedly, nothing that I believe constitutes proof of anything other than my imagination’s ability to argue against Occam’s Razor when I see lights darting across the dark, Georgia skies.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, Occam’s Razor is a pretty simple concept at its fundamental levels: when faced with two potential solutions to a mystery, the simplest answer is often the correct one. More to the point, when problem solving, the solution that requires the fewest assumptions on your part is likely the more accurate one – per William of Ockham’s 14th century theory. Why isn’t Occam in Occam’s Razor spelled the same way? Some mysteries I may never unlock.
As what I like to think of as a well-reasoning adult, re-watching the X-Files has been a clinic in shame regarding my childhood hero-worship of Fox Mulder. Although he often turns out right, he also demonstrates a real lack of tact when it comes to conveying his theories to his professional counterparts. In fact, I often find myself now empathizing with the cut and dry Dana Scully, medical doctor and skeptic… but is that because Mulder’s quest had drained him of empathy for disbelievers (fictionally), or is it because our world has grown less mysterious in the last twenty years? Has the internet age simply made skeptics of us all?
Well, based on the steady surplus of fake news bouncing around the cyber-highways of the web, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe the X-Files just suffers from a bit of cheesy writing then.
My concerns about my own skepticism prompted me, however, to look a little harder at those filing cabinets Agent Mulder maintains his meticulous X-Files in. Drawer after drawer of research it doesn’t seem as though Mulder did himself, but rather accounts of mysterious events, military documents recounting witness statements, and – if you’re familiar with the show – lots and lots of slides to show Scully.
So where did he get all those folders full of UFO sightings? The show indicates that the X-Files were ongoing before Mulder’s involvement… but where did that guy get all this stuff without access to the internet? It’s not like your local library has a “secret government alien cover up” section… does it? I haven’t been to a library in a while. Was it just some more cheesy writing, or is there precedent for such a thing?
As I’ve mentioned before, I was a bit of a nerd growing up – I may have been the captain of my football team, but I was also that geeky kid with an “I want to believe” poster hanging in my bedroom… so I had a good idea of where to start my search for a real life equivalent to the X-Files: two words that stick together in my mind as though they belong together, despite not having a really clear recollection of what they entailed: Project Grudge.
Project Grudge, a bit of research would tell me, was the second of three formal military investigations into reports on Unidentified Flying Objects carried out by the U.S. military in the years following the now infamous Roswell Incident, in which a supposed flying saucer crashed into a farm in New Mexico. The first investigation, Project Sign, was active for a bit over a year, followed by Project Grudge, and finally Project Blue Book. These investigations were overseen by the U.S. Air Force, and they overlapped a bit in terms of timeframes and people involved in the cases.
Each of these projects received significant support from the U.S. military in terms of personnel and resources. Some claim that support was part of a concerted effort to discredit UFO sightings in order to alleviate public concerns about the topic (with obvious conspiratorial overtones) while others claim these investigations were legitimate efforts to determine if UFOs were real – and therefore a threat to national security. For believers, the dismissive tone found in many public documents from these projects points toward conspiracy, as do the accounts of members of the investigations that later spoke out publicly (and via leaked internal documents) claiming that UFOs were indeed real, and a subject worthy of concern from our own defensive infrastructure.
Of course, Occam’s Razor, which was the primary tool used by investigators looking to explain UFO sightings in these reports, also dictates that public conclusions drawn by these projects, namely that UFOs are more in our heads than the skies, are probably accurate. Skeptics point to Projects Sign, Grudge, and Bluebook as U.S. government efforts to appease the believers, and verified facts discounting their extra-terrestrial theories.
Just like today, two groups of people with opposing beliefs can look at the same documents and come to completely different conclusions.
Fortunately, in the years since, many documents from these investigations have found their ways out of the classified cabinets they once sat in (I imagine in a dimly lit FBI basement?) and made their way onto the internet. In a follow up article, I will present some of these documents to you with my honest assessment of them.
Of course, these documents won’t provide the kind of insurmountable evidence to conclusively prove or discount alien life… if they could, they would have in the 1940s. What they can provide you with, however, is a chance to look at the evidence and make a decision for yourself.
Has alien life visited earth? And should our military be concerned with their presence?
Or is it all just fodder for Fox Mulder to keep a paycheck rolling in? After all, they did just green light another season of the X-Files.
I’ll let you decide.
Images courtesy of Fox, NICAP, The Event Chronicles