Google finds zero results for the exact phrase “Vietnam created a riff which has not healed.” This apparent non sequitur appears in Dana Scully’s field journal for October 24, 1993, as intercepted by a malign artificial intelligence in the X-Files episode Ghost in the Machine. She is describing computer whiz and Eurisko, Inc. founder Brad Wilczek, a suspect in the X-Filesy murder of Eurisko CEO Benjamin Drake. The text on the screen does not match Gillian Anderson’s voiceover, which states “Some see genius as the ability to connect the unconnected — to make juxtapositions, to see relationships where others cannot. Is Brad Wilczek a genius? I don’t know. But I do know this for certain…,” and then tracks the onscreen text.
The malapropism (“riff” in place of “rift”) and grammatical error (either there ought to be a comma before “which,” or “which” should be “that”) make the phrase more or less unique. Its absence from the Internet highlights something I’ve noticed as I’ve been rewatching the first season of the X-Files (thanks to Amazon’s free streaming video for Prime subscribers): the X-Files corner of the internet is strikingly underdeveloped. Even though the pilot episode aired fewer than 20 years ago, it predated popular use of the internet as a creative medium. Version 1.0 of Mosaic, the earliest browser that would be recognizable by users of Chrome or IE9, had only been released a few months earlier. The company Yahoo! was incorporated during the first season of the X-Files. Apple was selling the Macintosh Performa line of computers (which can be credited with ending my time as a “Mac person”), and Steve Jobs’ return to the company was still several years away.
In other words, you could say that the pop culture world surrounding the first season of the X-Files had not yet been remade by the Ineternet. The people who became fans of the show (hi!) would have been well familiar with the sound of a modem and the customer service nightmare of cancelling AOL after the free trial period. But there were no blogs or wikis and, for all but the most hardcore geeks, TV fandom as a cultural phenomenon had not yet been transformed into the all-seeing, all-consuming enterprise that it is today.
So maybe I should not be surprised that the phrase is not online. It would surprise me if any unusual string of eight words from the series Lost were absent from the Internet. The fact that even a show like the X-Files, perennially popular among nerds, has not been completely cataloged and picked over on the Internet shows the depth of the divide between pre- and post-Internet popular culture.
By the way, we get a better look at Scully’s notes later in the episode, and it becomes apparent that she was describing the death of Wilczek’s father in Vietnam. The phrase I searched for is not as completely bizarre as it first seemed. On the other hand, the scene where Scully repeatedly rewinds a cassette so that we hear Wilczek saying only the phrase “Eastern philosophies” three or four times in a row, with no other action taking place, is downright Lynchian. Which reminds me that David Duchovny played transvestite DEA agent Denise/Dennis Bryson on Twin Peaks only a couple of years before starting his X-Files gig: