Recently, I watched the film Hackers again. It’s a weird, fast-paced jumble of tech paranoia, Camp, techno-babble, a contrived hacker youth sub-culture that – perhaps sadly so – neither existed at that time nor ever came to be. It’s very much a 90s film with its colourful clothing, the techno music and the general premise that technology is going to change everything. The Web was in its first early boom phase and the people involved already felt that it would have a huge impact on every aspect of society while the general public mostly still either thought the Internet to be a passing fad or were vaguely scared technology and evil hackers will upend each and every societal rule and everything a middle-class citizen holds dear. This was the time of the Hacker Manifesto (a short excerpt of which is read in the film) and the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.
Hackers nicely fits in this period and the predominant sentiment at the time. While most of the technical stuff isn’t even remotely accurate it has a sort of a “Neuromancer in the 90s” feel to it, even referencing the famous author as an eponym for the Gibson mainframes used by the bad guys. It’s also one of the first films to portray law-enforcement agencies as not universally good but as at least conflicted and ambiguous in their objectives. The film also reflects a lot of the fears at the time that frivolous, reckless hackers might hit society where apparently it hurts most: Money – a paranoia that also served as motivation behind overly harsh laws regarding hacking and computer fraud.
That said, Hackers is a fun flick to watch. Its campy style, plot and acting doesn’t detract from that at all but provides a few hilarious scenes in its own right the best of which probably is the one where the bad guy (donning the hacker handle “The Plague” …) is handed over a floppy disk with incriminating data while bumper-hitching a limo for no good reason other than – supposedly – looking cool and bad-ass.
If you’d like to read more about the film and what actual hackers have to say about it Hopes&Fears has an interesting piece where they have the guys at Hack Manhattan watch the film.