It’s no secret that movie villains are reflective of the world the films themselves are made in. A post-9/11 landscape saw a decidedly Arab shift in who we painted as evil in cinema. Following the financial crisis in 2008 that was directly caused by corporate greed, suddenly our movie and television baddies were Wall Street criminals and CEOs. More often than not, our real life fears are sussed out and explored in our art, and more specifically in the media we consume on a daily basis. The newest boogeyman though is rooted in people that have been getting more and more headlines: Hackers.
Hacking has long been a deus ex machina of TV and film. Can’t get something done? Cool, just hack the mainframe and all your problems will go away. But the last decade has seen virtually everything from bank accounts to all your personal information exist somewhere online, leading to the next logical conclusion: If movies will have us believe hacking our information is so easy, what’s to stop someone from hacking into my life? Before recently though, that fear hasn’t been fully substantiated.
But then the Sony Hack happened, where nearly 100 terrabytes of data was stolen from a major corporation. This was swiftly followed by hackers crashing the Playstation and XBox networks on Christmas, apparently just for fun. Pair this with claims from publications like Ars Technica that even things like city traffic lights are easy to hack and we have a fear that’s being realized on a very real level. As reported by The Christian Science Monitor back in 2011, CIA Chief Leon Panetta even went so far as to claim the “the next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our power systems, our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems.” It’s no wonder we’re suddenly scared senseless.
The latest James Bond movie provides us with an introduction to these fears. Skyfall‘s big bad is a hacker with the capability to break into MI6, as well as any secure network he sees fit. This idea is expanded on by a release from just this last year in Transcendence, where Johnny Depp plays a man who becomes a virtual consciousness that takes control of the world after connecting to the Internet. The conflict only resolves itself when (spoilers) Depp’s consciousness (and by extension all the technology of the world) are taken offline and disabled.
Even TV has gotten in on the action with shows like Revolution, imagining a world where we’ve lost all access to power and electricity. Now more than ever people are worried about a world where we’ve never been more connected, and long to wipe the whole thing clean and start over. All this has culminated in the latest effort by Hollywood to encapsulate our fear of hackers, Blackhat. Starring Chris Hemsworth and releasing on January 16, it tells the story of a hacker released from prison tasked with finding and capturing a cyber criminal intent on destroying the world.
A movie like Blackhat is a culmination of everything we’ve become afraid of. What’s to stop the average anonymous person behind a computer from clearing our a bank account? Or stealing your social security number? In a world where the Internet connects us all, we’ve slowly begun to face the fear that this connectivity could very well be our downfall. Realistically, no one’s really out to rob you, but the fact remains that we’ve become increasingly aware that the digital age has a dark side. We’ve since begun expressing that fear in our media as a way of exorcising our demons. What better way to face a fear head-on than to see an action hero like Chris Hemsworth fight it on the silver screen?
This is of course something that won’t be going away any time soon, as more and more corporations and government organizations will likely be doubling down to fight hacking in the real world. Meanwhile, Hollywood will continue to assuage our uneasy feelings as we watch Chris Hemsworth punch a scary hacker right in the face (or at least we assume that’s what happens in Blackhat).