Something for the Weekend, Sir? I have an urge to dress up in unconventional clothing, don a wig and parade myself around east London.
You may be relieved to learn, without indicating prejudice, that this will not involve women’s clothing. I am neither a master potter nor am I on the game. Sorry to disappoint. I had better explain.
MCM London Comic Con takes place this weekend. Held twice a year, this event is a smaller and very British version of the rather more famous San Diego Comic Con. It differs from San Diego in a number of significant ways: there are fewer people in superhero fancy dress and a great deal many more manga/anime cosplayers, for example.
One of the unique joys of MCM, even for the casually attired visitor, is finding yourself crammed into a Docklands Light Railway carriage heading to London ExCeL in the company of 100 young women dressed up in Gothic Lolita lingerie.
“No, the other carriage is full, honest, I have to use this one. Excuse me, sorry, sorry, beg pardon. Busy today, eh? No, don’t worry, that’s my umbrella.”
Another particularly British aspect is that British cosplayers tend to be, er – how can I say this nicely? – a little less trim around the waist compared with their ’Murcan counterparts.
This is a good thing. Superheroes and camp crusaders bore me but I’m sure I’d find them more interesting if they were imperfect from time to time, such as if they spent entire weekends slumped in front of the TV, or found themselves in urgent need of a midnight slash after a long Babycham-drenched evening spent with the Hulk. It would certainly be amusing to watch them struggle to get out of all that Spandex faster than a speeding bullet.
As any fancy dress partygoer can attest, it’s only when you actually don the cape that you begin to fully appreciate the utter ridiculousness of it all. That’s why live-action superheroes tend to have their costumes redesigned from tights to black leather for their big screen appearances. This apparently makes everything more realistic.
Black leather! Can you imagine the smell? “Holy cow, Batman, you stink like a cross between Wolverine’s armpits and the Asgardian public toilets after Loki’s last curry night.”
Oddly enough, when it comes to dressing up computer hackers in films and TV shows, the opposite rule applies.
On screen, hackers are depicted as punky, funky and spunky. They are yobs and rebels who still manage to have apparently achieved some sort of formal education in computer science. They claim to be anonymous and then roar about town on motorbikes. They harp on about the importance of secrecy but are forever announcing themselves and summarising their hacking credentials to every fucker they meet, like some kind of deranged walking LinkedIn profile stuck in screenreader mode.
My favourite cliche is the way a keyboard’s keys always go “blip blip blip” when being typed upon, and the monitor goes “bleert, whirr, tagadagadaga” when text appears on it. The only way I can get a computer to do all this is to vocalise the noises myself while working, much to the annoyance of my colleagues. I guess it’s the cyber-thriller equivalent of waving a broomstick about while making light-sabre sounds.
Whether it’s a 12-year-old girl in Jurassic Park exclaiming “It’s a Unix system! I know this!” or Mr Andersonnnnnn choosing to do his hacking via monitored company Internet access from his office cubicle, Hollywood’s idea of hacking is all so much bollocks.
In real life, hackers do not look like Keanu Reeves, nor are they ever female. Rather, they are friendless overweight blokes in faded Iron Maiden t-shirts, huddled over a second-hand laptop for hours in a bedroom in their Mum’s house, windows shut, curtains closed and with a row of urine-filled cola bottles arranged along the wall.
On screen, a hacker, with no apparent source of regular income, rents a flat alone and has filled his or her living room with five acres of Vittsjö shelving and 400 miles of cabling and managed to assemble their own Large Hadron Collider in the kitchenette.
And now, far from breaking away from this norm, the newly hyped cyber-hacking thriller series Mr Robot just repeats all the cliches. Hilariously, International Business Times says it participated in a webchat in which a member of Anonymous praised Mr Robot for being “the most accurate portrayal of security and hacking culture ever to grace the screen”.
Well, of course he’d say that. The protagonist of Mr Robot is young, slim and handsome. He is smart. He is articulate. He has no zits. It even looks as if he’s washed his hoody within the last seven days.
Tell you what, I’ll write an autobiography about my life in IT journalism and get Chris Hemsworth to play me in the big screen adaptation. Honest, we could be twins.
I can see it all now. The editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, could be played by Samuel L Jackson; Rupert Murdoch would be played by Johnny Depp; Felix Dennis could be played by Tom Cruise; The Register’s John Lettice will be played by Keira Knightley.
In the meantime, I will just have to play (with? – Vulture Central's backroom gremlins) myself. As the incomparably terrible Mike Yarwood used to remind us unnecessarily, this is me.
On the other hand, back to my earlier admission concerning odd clothes and wigs, I’m not always me.
To amuse myself, accompany my daughter and embarrass her friends over the years, I have occasionally joined in with her penchant for cosplaying TV, movie and cartoon characters at MCM London Comic Con. As someone of “a certain age”, this means I can act the fool playing the older character parts from series as diverse as Ghost In The Shell and Adventure Time, while also being the “responsible adult” accompanying one’s teen offspring and her chums.
Thankfully for everyone concerned, I took a tip from the stars and have always chosen parts that involve heavy disguise. I will leave you with following video which, believe it or not, is me on stage from five years ago.
Sad bastard? Maybe, but at least it’s only when I’m fooling about, having a laugh. The real sad ones are the bottled-urine bedroom brigade who believe in their own on-screen personas. ®
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He has about as much hacking skill as his own cat, so is hardly an expert to be criticising the Brad Pitt lookalikes that apparently populate the ranks of Anonymous. Just in case he becomes a target for the notoriously thin-skinned and humourless hacker community, he will remain in this disguise for the foreseeable future.