- Approaching Hackers and Film in General
- Hackers Notes
- Possible Paper Topics
Films are texts just as novels, poems, and plays are texts. Head over to this page on Cultural Studies for more information on how to think about film through a cultural studies lens. It isn’t directly related to Hackers, but it might be useful to understand how one can look at texts from a cultural studies perspective. Even though it mentions Marxist theory, I promise it isn’t propaganda for a Marxist revolution. I have a more general discussion of film below.
Film often falls under popular culture studies, but there are entire programs devoted to film that cover production, screen writing, acting, etc. Although you’re open to that type of analysis of film, we’ll take a cultural studies approach and ask what does the film say about the culture from which it comes. It might be difficult to understand Hackers from a historical perspective if you weren’t around in 1995. I’ll provide some brief context about the time period below, but we’ll try to compare the issues raised to contemporary situations.
Again, I want you to reflect on films as products of American culture. What values or ideologies signal that the films are uniquely American (even though they may appeal to a variety of different cultures)?
Iain Softley’s Hackers (1995)
This film came out in the mid-1990s, which was a very wonderful time. Seriously, there really can’t be another great decade like the 1990s. TV is better and the Internet is faster, but, culturally, it was amazing. Here are some important things to consider about the time period:
- Gen-Xers as slackers
- There was a huge prevailing view that those of us coming of age in the early to mid-1990s were slackers with no ambition. Reality Bites (1994) is an example of this lifestyle, but many films reflected it.
- Here’s a 90-second video that will catch you up to speed on this attitude
- Here’s an article comparing Gen-Xers to Millennials…(yes, that picture represents the white middle class youths of the mid-1990s)
- Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and many other bands tapped into the sense of alienation 1990s youths had (yet we would gather by the thousands together at rock festivals…)
- Third Wave Feminism
As you watch Hackers, consider how the characters and plot reflect the above aspects of the 1990s. Also, consider contemporary issues that this film could parallel:
- Online surveillance
- Online pirating (aka file sharing…stealing)
- Identity theft
- Cyber attacks
- Rave Culture–roller blades and rolling (refers to using the drug ecstasy, which was common at 1990s raves and other parties from what people have told me…see the film Go (1999) for more dramatization)
The film might be innocuous, but there are some complicated aspects regarding gender, specifically, a women’s role in hi-tech fields. Of course, these characters don’t have jobs per se, but, metaphorically, we should be able to follow a thread about who can access this field.
Hackers (1995) is an exaggeration of the life of computer hackers, or, more accurately for the time period, computer aficionados. You need to understand that, by the mid-1990s, computers were almost universal household items, but they weren’t all hooked up to the Internet, and, if they were, it was dial-up, so you’d be on intermittently (yes, you’d have to choose to be on the phone or on the computer because you accessed the Internet through a phone line). In the 1980s, only serious geeks had computers. Hackers elevates the computer user from a loner in his* parents’ basement to a stylish, sexy cutting edge hipster. Below are 2 versions of computer aficionados:
*I use “his” because the stereotype was that mostly men programmed or tinkered with computers in the 1980s.
- 1990s Hollywood version of hackers
- 1980s real computer geeks
Well, I realize this isn’t a great film. It isn’t even good in terms of story. However, as a period piece and representation of American culture during the mid-1990s, it’s pretty accurate. We were in the beginning of the World Wide Web revolution. Some thought the Internet would liberate us, and everyone would have equal access to information and an equal voice…not sure what happen (if you have the time and want to read a perspective, check out the notes from another class of mine–this is purely FYI and not required).
- What’s uniquely American about these hackers wanting to bring down the “tyranny of corporations”?
- The montage in the beginning where Acid Burn and Crash Override fight over which movie to play can be interpreted as a fight over who can control the airwaves.
- Did you catch that Crash Override wanted to turn off the “America First” episode that was playing? Any parallel to today?
- Why do you think there’s such a dramatization about being on the ‘net in this film? Those special fx were quite impressive in 1990. There seems to be a need for filmmaker’s to visualize being online as being among huge skyscraper-like structures that represent data storage.
- Dade Murphy (aka Crash Override) is the new comer who beats Kate Libby’s score (aka Acid Burn) on the game at the raver club. What comment (perhaps unintended and sexist) might his scene be making about women in the computer field?
- Sure, it’s a video game, but your goal is to read between the lines; make an interpretation.
- What’s the (sexual, perhaps) undertone of this scene in the film where the guys are talking about hacking major organizations (it makes more sense if you watch the entire 2-minute scene, but I could only find this 45 second bit online).
Keep watching and reading! Don’t forget your Essay #1 draft is due Monday, 6/1, so review the requirements on Canvas or on the Assignments page.