For 15 years, CSI has dominated as the quintessential crime procedural. In many ways it’s defined the genre on television. Eventually, it spun off into CSI: Miami and CSI: NY, while simultaneously convincing a generation that forensic science isn’t in fact the most tedious profession law enforcement has to offer. In the spirit of staying topical, the newest offering of the franchise was born just this year in CSI: Cyber. The series was designed to really dig into the Age of Technology, showing its dangers and risks within the world of hackers.
The premise of the show alone though is enough to make you cringe: Patricia Arquette plays Special FBI Agent Avery Ryan, a former behavioral psychologist who left the field after her patients’ most sensitive files were released to the world by a malicious hacker, leading to the death of one and the end of her career as a shrink. Already it reeks of a certain “people who read about the Internet once and now think it’ll destroy us all because technology is scary” smell. Based on what we’ve seen so far, this isn’t a show made by people who’ve been anywhere near the trenches of the deep web, much less understand the basic workings of the technology they’re depicting.
But that’s not the biggest issue with CSI: Cyber. Sure, the show is jam-packed with techno-babble pulled straight from the Wikipedia entry for “Hacking.” But the underlying theme is one that fears technology for the sheer sake of its existence. In the fictional world of Cyber, we see a world under siege from hackers everywhere. Technology is a constant war, and if this show is to be believed, we should be very, very afraid.
Of course we’ve seen a fair share of all too public leaks of information. Every other month it seems another celebrity is getting their private photos stolen and shown to the world. Sony found itself victimized by one of the biggest corporate hacks in history, leading to the subsequent airing of almost all their dirty laundry. The fact that the world has never been more connected has come at a price. If our entertainment is going to dig into that, it should be in the hands of a show more responsibly well-researched than a half-brained CSI spinoff.
CSI: Cyber serves only to take a complex and nuanced ideal, and spin it down to its most basic elements of fear. If there’s one way to describe the way this show feels, imagine if your mom that’s still learning how to set-up her email account decided to make a TV series about everything she found intimidating about the big bad world of the Internet. That’s essentially Cyber in a nutshell: A show aimed at the social media generation, made by one that doesn’t fully understand the depth and breadth of technology past a series of buzzwords and what they’ve seen on the news.
The topical nature of hacking makes it prime for adaptation. Already we’ve seen Blackhat, a movie that was light on substance but said to be accurate in the way hacking actually works. Television itself is still coming into its own in trying to be similarly accurate. That said, CSI: Cyber is far from a step in that direction. If you want to fully understand cyber-crime in the Age of Technology, we recommend looking elsewhere.
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