Category Archives: The Hacker Under the Stairs

The Hacker Under the Stairs: Enhance!

By Steven Moore

On the Buried Cinema podcast I’m sometimes referred to as the curmudgeon. Little things about a movie get to me, reducing my enjoyment of an otherwise perfectly good film. When I watch a movie, I want to inhabit a world. By now, most people are aware of the ridiculous “Enhance!” device in films: the magic phrase that allows an agent to look down your shirt from space.

While there has thankfully been more of an awareness of how ridiculous this notion is in the last few years, it hasn’t kept films and T.V. shows from abusing the general public’s magical thinking when it comes to computer imagery. The real problem is that this little device reminds me that I am watching a movie, that none of the action really matters, and everything is going to be fine. When I am watching protagonists try to escape whatever problems they have gotten themselves into, I must feel the hero’s desperation. I need to want to find the McGuffin as much as she does. Anything that reminds me that that desperation isn’t real puts a dent in the film-watching experience. Too many dents, and I just lose interest. Movies where the climax depends on some discovery made through enhancing an image to reveal a hidden truth, such as Blade Runner and Enemy of the State, can fall apart because no amount of technology, no matter how futuristic, can make something from nothing.

While past films, such as the aforementioned, can be excused because the general public misunderstood so much of computing, there is no longer any excuse. The next time you see an “enhance” moment in a film or T.V. show, don’t sit there and let the writers insult you. Perhaps some screenwriters do believe in the omniscient powers of the Google, but I don’t want to live in their world. Here’s a little video of their work for you:

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The Hacker Under the Stairs: Smarter than the CIA and living in mom’s basement

By Steven Moore

In this series of brief articles I’m going to take a look at technological clichés and plot holes in a variety of films. While some are pervasive clichés that illustrate a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of filmmakers in general, occasionally, I will look at specific films to point out plot holes that could have been avoided had the writers stopped to think for a few seconds. I’m a computer geek, and these are the things that annoy me when I watch movies.

The worst cliche that has somehow become a film institution is the plot point when the protagonists must seek out the most brilliant hacker in the world, and they find him still living in his mom’s basement. I say “his” because filmmakers can’t seem to accept women as computer scientists, so in their films girls rarely know how to operate a computer, despite the historical fact that the first computer programmer was a womanLive Free or Die Hard, Enemy of the State, even as far back as Hackers–writers seem to confuse an ability to operate the command line with brilliance. This unemployed, Cheetos-dusted typist who can change directories from the terminal is smarter than all of the CIA, FBI, and Cyber-Military combined. Yet, he or she can’t seem to find a job or even be bothered to bathe. The reality is that a 25-year-old kid still living in his mom’s basement actually spends 90% of his time arguing with 12-year-olds in Call of Duty, and if he is a decent programmer, he is making enough money with a spambot to afford his own place. Of course, the movies think they are modeling Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg types, but neither of these people were brilliant hackers. They were decent programmers with a nose for business. Rarely does brilliance coincide with a good business mind, which is why people like this are so successful, not because they kept their brilliant hacker mind out of the spotlight. What irritates me about this stereotype is that it completely undercuts all the hard work that it takes to do anything worthwhile with a computer.

I’ll leave you with XKCD’s summing up of the problem: