Console Cowboys | The Representation of Hackers in the Media

Hacker - Movie, 1999

Trending on from the net culture of the 90s was an outbreak of exploratory sub-cultures, leading to the development of online communities, often idealists, even hippy in nature. Hacking emerged as an online community creating an ethos of individual empowerment and personal control.

Exploring the relationship of hackers and mainstream contemporary culture, has lead to findings that tell us more about contemporary culture attitudes surrounding anxiety over technology, than they do about the culture of hackers (Douglas, 2002). Interestingly enough the reasoning hacking has gained so much momentum and popularity in the media is due to our fear of this culture that is totally removed from the mainstream, a radical anarchy.

This representation of Hackers links closely to that of David Tomas’ (2000) description of the males in Gibson’s novel ‘Johnny Mnemonic’ as “console cowboys, members of alternative tribal group”. Gibson’s (1998) short story depicts the “adventure of a volatile male-dominated underworld populated by small-scale independent entrepreneurs” (Tomas 2000). This alternative post-industrial hybrid culture conveyed by Gibson, mirrors the representation of the hacking culture, one dominated by males, an underground world fuelled by anonymity.

There are two competing discourses in representation of Hackers. We have pop culture, Hollywood created films like The Matrix and Hackers.  Conversely, we have Hack Zines such as Phrack and 2600, made by the hacker for the hacker.

Phrack is a journal written by and for the computer underground, a tradition of producing literature and disseminating information that was not only technical but practical (Douglas, 2002). Phrack turned the once illegible hacker code, into a how-to guide. Could this have turned hacking into a mainstream practice? Douglas (2002) describes Phrack as literature that publicised the culture of hacking, directing a new generation of computer-literate hackers to a collection of contained technical information serving as a guide to the underground.

Finally, the representation of Julian Assange in mainstream media has given the individual celebrity status. Hollywood has jumped on the bandwagon, presenting a stylised, misleading portrayal of the hacker’s life. Films, novels, documentaries…. What’s next for these rebellious cowboys, reality Television?


Douglas, T, 2002, ‘Hacking Representation’, Hacker Culture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, USA, pp 113-170.

Gibson, W (1998), ‘Johnny mnemonic’, Burning Chrome, Grafton, London, pp14-36

Tomas, D 2000, ‘The Technophilic body: on technicity in William Gibson’s cyborg culture’, in Bell, D. and Kennedy, B. (eds.), The Cybercultures Reader, Routledge, London, pp 175-189.

Image: This image is from the film Hacker, produced in 1995, starring Angelina Jolie, Jonny Lee Miller and Jesse Bradshaw.


About Nicola Salter

Nicola. 21. UOW Graduate
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