FASHION IN THE AGE OF THE HACK
IN JUNE OF 2013, DAZED DIGITAL DEVOTED A WEEK OF PROGRAMMING TO THE SUBJECT OF HACKING. WHAT FOLLOWS IS PATRIK SANDBERG’S INTRODUCTION TO THE WEEK’S PROGRAMMING INCLUDING LINKS TO STORIES HE COMMISSIONED TO RUN WITH THE DIGITAL EVENT.
Hacking—how topical! As the Bradley/Breanna Manning Wikileaks trial rages on—executed to maximum force by the bulging United States Military industrial bicep—the American government has haplessly (and unapologetically) admitted to spying on its citizens under the apocryphal warrant of that nebulous, Elysian promise referred to by our leaders in a beseeching refrain as “national security”. Former C.I.A. technical contractor Eric Snowden, the young National Security Agency whistleblower who exposed unlawful government hacking and such aforementioned surveillance practices, continues to make headlines as recently as this morning as Hong Kong demands answers to the allegations that the United States hacked hundreds of targets including public officers, students, and businesses—all charges that Snowden has brought forth.
On the one hand, hacking’s a gas gas gas: the release of privileged information through organizations such as Wikileaks puts the power back into the hands of the people, leading to exposed corruption at the highest levels of power, catalyzing revolutions like the Arab Spring, overturning autocracies and giving hope to oppressed civilians that they can in fact demand access to the world they deserve to inhabit. On the other hand, hacking is insidious: many of the heroic figures who’ve hacked big governments and brought paper trails of corruption to the surface were apprehended with the help of fellow hackers who betrayed them. White hat hacking—or hacking done for or by a reigning government—violates privacy and brings us a few thousand miles stealthily closer to the bloated and frightening Orwellian model of ultimate government repression. In other words, hacking is cyclical, and morally tenebrous any which way you look at it.
So why is it glamorized and the subject of an entire week of programming at the U.K.’s coolest fashion publication? Perhaps you can blame pop culture—Ian Softley’s ’90s classic Hackers springs instantaneously to mind: Angelina Jolie in a Quicksilver wetsuit riding on the back of a Kawasaki motorcycle, rollerblading through Times Square with Jonny Lee Miller and espousing the virtues of her lightning-speed 28.8 kbps modem, daring her rival to wear a latex dress. Chic. Or Angela Bassett in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, racing through an apocalyptic New Year’s Eve celebration to expose a digital memory of a hip-hop assassination with cataclysmic implications. Bad-ass. You might see such stylized influences of hacking culture in the popularity of today’s tech-gear accessories and utilitarian activewear (even though most hackers probably wear jeans and sweatpants and have bad eyesight from sitting in front of computer screens all day). But on a deeper level hacking is synonymous with freedom of information in an information-fueled age. It’s the new lawlessness. Hacking is punk because punk doesn’t exist. This thought process helped when I was asked to put hacking into the context of fashion. A few ideas immediately sprung to mind.
I immediately thought of the culture and industry of luxury brand impersonation and the way Babak Radboy, Cyril Duval, and Avena Gallagher trace the phenomenon to its deliberately irreverent, inbred cousin known as Shanzhai, and interpret this in their own context with their project, Shanzhai Biennial. In Steph Kretowicz’s thoughtfully spun interview with Radboy, the punk spirit of what he calls the “event of Shanzhai” is brilliantly explained. Read it now.
Another fashion-related item of concern is the morally ambiguous and undeniably dark genesis of Google’s Project Glass eyewear, an accessory that basically shatters all conventions of personal privacy and eliminates the time-honored legal protection of an image release form, so everyone can suddenly film everyone else all the time without permission. Its appeal is partly that it is a futuristic fashion item—Diane von Furstenberg even put it on the runway—but its promotion as a chic and progressive trend, though lensless, ironically masks the horrors that it carries right when even our government leaders are shrugging away a citizen’s right to control their own privacy. Steph also expands on that idea, another must-read story.
Finally, there is anti-surveillance fashion, explored by Veronica So in an illumination of the anti-drone hoodie. This topic has also been covered by DIS, most comprehensively in this outstanding editorial by Marco Roso and Adam Harvey entitled “How To Hide From Machines”.
Perhaps the newest trend will be privacy and how to retain it at all costs in a society where, let’s face it, we’ve all contributed to its erosion for better or worse. It’s a topic that demands great scrutiny—more than can be provided here by the likes of me. In the meantime, I suggest checking out the compiled stories on Dazed Digital today, and waiting for the next round of leaks to wash up on our digital shores. Let’s see if they drag us out with the tide.