So, this Saturday I did two things. First, I hung out with one of my best friends, someone I haven’t seen in a long time and don’t see nearly as often as I like. I went to his house in New Jersey…something I haven’t done in well over a year at least, maybe even two. This, of course, prompted us to talk about old times, how we missed each other and staying up until 3 AM talking in front of the Starbucks about everything. This put me in a general kind of melancholy and nostalgic mood. Then, secondly, we watched HACKERS. Which is what I really want to talk about here.
Now, there’s a lot to talk about with this film surprisingly. We could discuss what a funny and genuinely decent movie it is. I realized halfway through that my enjoyment of it was not at all mocking, ironic or even wistful for something I loved as kid. My laughter came at the actual jokes just as much as they did at lines about how great a 28.8 modem is. I could talk about the way it uses cyberpunk and hipster fashion to create a dream world underground that never really existed like that. I could talk about how a movie that is so cheesy in its hacking visuals (because we all know hacking looks like psychedelic math equations floating in a monitor or like a virtual reality flight simulator game) can also suddenly get so many things right like its discussion of the important computer bibles or by using the Hacker Manifesto. There’s a lot to be said about how that idealism and change the world for the better attitude from that Manifesto and that time has failed to materialize. Hell, there’s a whole book to be written about how that idealistic youth culture of misfit rebels repeats itself every generation and how it often fails to enact real change. But no, I’m not going to talk about these important topics or the film’s technical or artistic merits. I’m going to use it as a spring board to talk about subcultures and the way watching it caused me to think about my own place in the world and how I relate to those subcultures. How all of that is tied up to my unending desire to be a part of a community.
All my life I’ve had this propensity to romanticize certain things. Time periods in a specific place, or certain genres of music in a certain area or era. I would think about the East Village in the early 90s and dream about the idea of creating art and going to a place at night where there were a bunch of other feverishly creative people to discuss things with and who would push one another towards making something. Every time I’d hang out with my friend or go to a show with him I’d long to go to them as often as he did, to the point where he’d know nearly everyone, where you were just expected to run into people and everyone got your in jokes. I’d see all of his friends as so fucking cool. I’d wish I was born in a different time period or that I hadn’t missed out on things. Inevitably this would leave me feeling melancholy for a time, dissatisfied with my own life. This led further to a massive interest in the idea of subcultures, movements and groupings within a larger place. From the Harlem Renaissance to the electronic music scenes of the mid 90s to tumblr to the way Korea Way is its own little country inside the larger city of NYC, this stuff just fascinates me.
As I was watching Hackers I felt myself getting this emotion again. Right from the beginning of the movie we hear this lovely song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV-hSgL1R74, which to me just sounds like aural nostalgia, set beautifully to a bird’s eye view of New York City as it passes underneath us. Quickly we see the loner protagonist find the like minded but unique individuals who accept him and introduce him to a larger world of people like him. They quickly form a close knit family of acceptance and in the end of the film this turns global as hackers everywhere unite to save the day. Cheesy I know but I found myself moved by this idea. The global movement, separated by distance and language but still all one big family. I found this melancholy feeling beginning again. I found myself wishing I had been born earlier, had studied computers, had lived in the fictional world of William Gibson or this film where this mecca of coolness and electronic music and anti-corporate progressive politics were utilized in an epic battle of the good fight versus the corrupt elite. I knew this was silly of course, I am not that disposition. This is a running thread for these bouts, of course. The realization of their silliness and of how my personality differs from how I wish I acted or…whatever.
I was talking with my fiancee the next day about where I think this came from and she very smartly pointed out so many things about myself and what they could mean. We realized the common thread for every single one of these moments was the idea of community. Belonging to a group larger than you that accepts you, recognizes you, has common goals and interests. Not feeling so damn alone. I started to realize how important to me this was and why. So many of my days in high school were spent in my basement on the computer or watching movies. Learning about the things I loved and that shaped me but not sharing them with anyone except maybe my brother. I realized how often I’d be somewhere like a show or a video store or a comic store or a rep screening and how I’d be alone and too anxious to join in any conversations or make any connections/join any ongoing community. How, in College, I had my close friends but I never really became a part of the campus or houses that they were a part of. Eventually I would find more close friends who loved the things I did and who made me feel loved and valid and help me to discover a sense of self worth and belonging but that community was still something I always wanted. It would forever be a weird desire that would infect my days.
Which led me to realize that…I am part of one now. It might sound silly to some but it brings me genuine joy to realize how many people I know only on twitter I consider genuine friends. I love the different interests my followers have and the bonding we all participate in with each other. I love that people whose writing I am a huge fan of and love are actual buddies and the way we will all discuss these interests and writings. Apart from that I am more at home in myself and at ease in my friendships than I ever have been before even if I don’t see everyone nearly as much as I wish I did. So, yes it’s true, HACKERS helped me reach a real epiphany. I realized how satisfied I am in my life and how much I am grateful for my community and the people I love.
I shall leave you with this. Evidently Halycon and On and On actually has lyrics, that I had never been able to actually hear. This is them: “I need a place where I can go, Where I can whisper what I know, Where I can whisper who I like And where I go to see them.” I know that this has a romantic meaning but something about that feels very apropos to this discussion and gave me chills when I realized.
Anyway, Hack the Planet motherfuckers, I’m going to read Neuromancer and listen to Achtung Baby.