Revenge of the Cyberpunks

Toward the end of the 1995 film Hackers, Jonny Lee Miller (character handle: “Zero Cool”) crowd-surfs a throng of goggled,

Toward the end of the 1995 film Hackers, Jonny Lee Miller (character handle: “Zero Cool”) crowd-surfs a throng of goggled, neon-clad cyberpunks while seeking the aid of two furry-booted hackers named Razor and Blade, the hosts of an underground TV show called Hack the Planet. That message is broadcast to the hackers of the world at the film’s climax, via beepers like the one that can be seen on Zero Cool’s belt as his shirt is pulled up on the dance floor.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a rel="noreferrer" href="">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

This scene came to mind Saturday night at the party for the film’s 15th anniversary in Greenpoint. Off to the side of the rolling dance floor, a Google computer engineer named Jeremy fingered a beeper at his belt with a hand covered in a woven fingerless glove with Rasta coloring. “People think this is part of my outfit,” he said. The pager was actually a way for his employer,  “the big G,” to contact him in an emergency. “If this goes off, I’ve got to catch a cab to Manhattan to put out something that’s on fire.”

The party spread across the loft’s two rooms, one home to the dance floor, where songs from the film’s soundtrack like Stereo MCs’ “Connected” pounded as ponytailed gentlemen in roller blades and tank tops mingled with their sleek female counterparts, who had used the evening as an opportunity to riff on trends found in the designs of Alexander McQueen (“Everything that’s uncool is cool,” one pencil-skinny blonde in a tunic told The Observer, in no way explaining why there were so many attractive women in attendance). On a couch nearby, a heavyset couple sharing a laptop said they were doing some “exploratory” hacking of the local networks.

Benenson had garnered $9,400 in donations, receiving money from groups as far-flung as Chicago and Tennessee.

A projector in the second room shot the movie of the hour into a curved corner and another allowed guests to try their hand at a video game similar to the one in the movie’s Cyberdelia nightclub, running off a Playstation that had been modified to resemble the console in the movie. In giant letters on the wall was Zero Cool’s motto, “Mess with the best, die with the rest.”

For the party’s less stylistically inclined guests, there was a costume closet featuring a variety of garb selected from the vintage shop Beacon’s Closet the day before, and a fashion designer named Marianne, in suspenders and lime hot pants, who specializes in cyperpunk fashion, to assist guests on the spot.

“Unfortunately, this one does not fit me, I think,” said an accented man with dark hair, emerging from the dressing room in a pale blue bowling shirt.

“Oh, well, why don’t you try the camo shorts?” Marianne said.

“When we were in college, we were seeing this ironic ’70s and ’80s stuff just filter through our pop culture, and I remember thinking, ‘Well, when do the ’90s come back?'” said Fred Benenson, who organized the event. “Now I’m kind of forcing the issue.”

Mr. Benenson works at the Internet start-up Kickstarter, an experimental fund-raising site that he used to raise the money for the party. Because Kickstarter doesn’t commit donations until a certain threshold is met, he saw no harm in pitching the idea of an anniversary party for a movie that was instrumental in fostering his interest in technology and electronic music when he saw it in theaters at age 12. He asked for $5,000, and donors would receive entry to the party or benefits like all-you-can-drink privileges–depending on how much they gave.

Mr. Benenson garnered $9,400 in donations, receiving money from groups as far-flung as Chicago and Tennessee, who came to Brooklyn for the party. “It turned into something much bigger than I ever expected,” he said.

The proceeds from the party will be donated to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an ACLU-style nonprofit dedicated to the free exchange of information. Appropriately, Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor credited with popularizing the concept of net neutrality, was circulating the rooms wearing cowboy boots, goggles, motorcycle pants and glowing blue fiber-optic cables wrapped around his body. A pair of admirers complimented the getup. “Thanks!” he told them. “I didn’t want to just wear my Burning Man clothes.”

The popular resurgence of Hackers is in part due to its recent availability on Netflix’s instant streaming feature, which has become a powerful Internet tastemaker, and though cries of “Hack the planet!” were returned in kind, frequently, throughout the party, not every attendee had an initial fondness for the movie.

When an Australian programmer named Dan made mention of the party on Twitter, his friends were quick to remind him that he hated the movie when he’d seen it at age 16, to the point where he walked out of the theater. Wearing a suit bedecked in silver sequins Saturday night, he said he’d done a fair amount of teenage hacking himself, “robo-dialing different sets of secure systems and exploiting default passwords, that sort of thing” and likened seeing the movie in his youth to watching the movie 24 Hour Party People while in the thick of the Manchester music scene.

“If you were in, say, England in the early ’80s and you were a fan of the Happy Mondays and then Hollywood came along and made a film about them, you’d be very annoyed because the film cannot possibly replicate the experience of seeing the Happy Mondays pre-film-worthiness,” Dan said. “But now, of course, I quite enjoy this, and the film is kind of fun. I don’t take it too seriously at all because I’m 32 and I have bigger fish to fry than whether or not a Hollywood film correctly portrays the act of bypassing security on a computer.”

The movie is about more than just hacking. A man in an amusement-park-style furry dragon outfit, who estimated that he wears it “about three out of four” weekends a month, said he was struck by the film’s New York elements–Zero Cool and his comrades hack from the top of the Empire State Building in one scene.

“There’s a strong percentage of me that’s New Yorker, natively,” the dragon man said. “I was born in New York City, I’ve been mugged. But not in this”–he gestured to his costume. “Wouldn’t that have been a trip?”

“At one point in my life, I was sure that this was exactly what coming to New York would be like,” said Martin, a technology lawyer who seemed slightly older than most of the crowd. He wore a T-shirt with an electronic interface across the chest that reacted to the thumping decibels of the room. “I was an idiot, let’s be clear, but much, much later, it’s nice to get to go to a party where people are actually wearing roller blades.” —Dan Duray


With additional reporting by Max Abelson.

Revenge of the Cyberpunks