Before Al Gore invented the Internet, we nerds didn’t have many refuges to seek to mock our aggressors anonymously. But now, with the ubiquity of Rivers Cuomo-style nerd glasses and unstoppable crushing, stabbing behemoth that is The Big Bang Theory it’s time to face facts: Being a nerd is no longer the black-sheep status it once did. Making good on the prophecy Huey Lewis foretold in the ’80s, it is now hip to be square. And dark times are upon us indeed.
Everyone in Hollywood from Homer Simpson to Destination Truth host Joshua Gates has realized that to seem smart, all you need is to sport a thick pair of glasses, speak some technological hokum, type really fast, and you’ll seem like a nerd to mainstream America. But to paraphrase Yoda, wearing glasses and talking about computer stuff doesn’t make you a hacker. And yet, we keep seeing it again and again in movies, games, and TV shows. So, that said, this being the Internet, and this being a list for Topless Robot, let’s poke some logic knives through some of the least plausible hackers we’ve had the displeasure of laying our bespectacled eyes upon.
8) The Entire Cast of The Net
It’s strange to start this list off with an entry that it’s hard to figure out where to begin on, but if you haven’t seen The Net, all you need to know is this: It was a 1995 cyber-thriller starring Sandra Bullock and Dennis Miller that, in the year 2012, is largely only intriguing because it predicted a security system called Gatekeeper, which, of course, is a new feature in the recently released OS X Mountain Lion. That was a total coincidence, though, unless CEO Tim Cook was trying to make the most obscure reference imaginable. Anyway, The Net was a clumsier The Matrix with far stranger casting and an even lazier stab at technobabble – so lazy that Bullock never pronounces “modem” correctly even once. It isn’t worth spoiling if you haven’t seen it, but the only other thing you should know is that a huge conspiracy is unearthed by Bullock clicking, and then pressing ctrl + shift on a ? icon in the corner of a screen in a program called Mozart’s Ghost. If you do that, you can control everyone’s identity. Really. I mean, not really, but in the movie, yes, really.
7) Derek Karlavaegen of Daventry from King’s Quest
Just the mere explanation of who this character is from the Sierra-verse alone should more than justify his inclusion here. Okay, so, Karlavaegen is the nom de plume of the author of the hint guides for early King’s Quest games. But, because adventure games love needlessly thorny and convoluted puzzles, Karlavaegen also has a thorny and convoluted backstory. Karlavaegen is an investigator and scribe who has found “The Eye Between the Worlds” (basically, a medieval computer), which he uses to communicate with the “Other World” (basically, our reality). This is all barely even weaved into the games themselves, but is explained in ridiculous detail in the hint guides. No wonder they used to burn people like this and call them witches back in the day – because it’s so ridiculous to even wrap one’s mind around. It’s cute and clever, sure, but let’s burn that warlock and get back to our tasty sandwiches.
6) You in Fallout 3
Look, I don’t know a ton about hacking, but I do know there’s a lot more to it than going into DOS and guessing whether a password is BREAD or BEARD based on how many characters were entered in the right sequential order. So, the next time you’re playing Boggle, you can sit back, consider yourself a master hacker, and just wait for Wired to do a 55-page spread on your skillz.
5) Lex Murphy in Jurassic Park
“It’s a Unix system. I know this,” she gasped. And with that, a tyrannosaurus-sized hat tip to Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton for making a little girl’s “hacking” skills far more dubious than reanimating a bunch of dinosaurs and attempting to turn it into an island-based tourist attraction.
4) Justin Long in Live Free Or Die Hard
The only reason Justin Long could even be thought of as a hacker is because he plays the Mac in all those Apple commercials. In Live Free Or Die Hard, Long plays a white-hat hacker who is also somehow the least plausible computer geek in a movie full of completely plausible dweebs like Kevin Smith and Timothy Olyphant. Ignoring the issues around the movie’s lack of hacking logic (the bad guys redirect gas lines to cause explosions, but they’re not accessible via from remote locations and aren’t automated anyhow) and zeroing in on Long, maybe he was intentionally miscast because deep down he’s the next John McClane: At the end of the movie he shoots the last bad guy and starts romancing McClane’s daughter. (Insert obligatory clich?d joke about hackers not going outside or talking to women.)
3) Professor Moliarty in Darkwing Duck
Just because you’re an anthropomorphic mole who’s an inventor and wears glasses – and clothes! – doesn’t mean you’re also a master hacker. I have no problem with a cartoon animal being a hacker, but in the series, Moliarty creates the Kineto Beam, which would block the sun and allow his mole-brethren to live topside. He also later hacks an electronic safe lock by entering numbers on a pocket calculator and then whacking the lock with a wooden mallet so it disintegrates. As much as I appreciate a clever joke – the mole is whacking something with a mallet! – let’s at least say the sun’s rays or whatever gave this guy an incredible amount of knowledge a la Heat Vision and Jack. Just having glasses doesn’t cut it even if you’re a mole.
2) The Department of Doom from Law & Order Episode “Computer Virus”
When a computer virus causes the death of two diabetes patients in a hospital, Briscoe and Logan work the case and find the D.O.D. could be to blame. They’re referred repeatedly to as “a local hacker gang,” which demonstrates so so so much misunderstanding of both how the Internet works and nerd culture in general. It’s not as if there are “local hacking gangs” roaming the streets in cutoff shorts made of receipts from their purchases from Babbages – they’re isolated individuals scattered all over the earth and would easily be out of the jurisdiction of a wise-cracking cop and his partner who romances Sarah Jessica Parker on the side.
1) Mega Man in Mega Man Battle Network
The reason why hacking is misrepresented so egregiously in games, movies, and TV is probably because it isn’t very cinematic or exciting to watch. Mega Man Battle Network takes things a bit too far, though, with the Blue Bomber running around inside networks and mega busting viruses in a 6×3 grid. You know when you see the beach ball spinning indefinitely? That’s because Mega Man is fighting all those viruses wandering around your computer with the key cards it needs to finish updating your cracked copy of Photoshop CS6.