I can remember back in 1993 when I saw Sneakers for the first time, I was mildly surprised to find this was fiction. Our government didn’t already have ways to eavesdrop on everything we humans do and say? I found that highly suspect. It was just fiction though. The NSA, CIA, and FBI didn’t claim at that time to really have a device that broke codes. Sneakers was clearly fiction, but the film seemed out of date even when it hit theaters. It was clearly all fiction and this was the end of The Cold War and everything was changing. Notice I keep telling myself this is just fiction as if to comfort myself. Maybe if I say it enough times, all these years later, I’ll eventually convince myself. It’s just fiction. It’s Hollywood. Silly movies. This can’t really be true.
New technological marvels were happening all the time back in the 1990s. A personal computer could fit inside my house. Phones were becoming portable. Zork wasn’t just a text adventure anymore. Laserdiscs and Betamax had promised to change the world, but they were already being impolitely ushered out the door in favor of newer sexier gadgets and promises of things to come. Sneakers (tho still one of my favorite movies of all time) also seemed to be ushered away almost as soon as it arrived. Great story. Fun ensemble. Took too long for the producers to get on the starting block, and the starter pistol shot before it could catch its breath.
Here’s one of many delicious scenes from Sneakers, when the crew call the NSA at a desperate, crucial point in the film. Robert Redford. Mary McDonald. Sidney Portier. David Straithairn. Dan Ackroyd. River Phoenix. and the voice of James Earl Jones.
Hollywood has been fighting to keep up with the times ever since phones no longer had to be hooked to a wall. From War Games to The Net to Tron to The Matrix to Enemy of the State and beyond, it’s all obviously fiction, but there’s an underlying “truism” of the public’s subjective perception of reality that repeatedly creeps in to these stories and others like them.
That conceit is this: Behind closed doors and away from prying eyes of the riff-raff, the most rich and powerful of the world are always a few steps ahead of the rest of us in all things but most especially technology. If we poor ppl have everything James Bond could want in the palm of our hand, surely the rich and powerful are even better equipped.
Today, each and every cellphone owner has at their fingertips a tool that woulda made both James Bond and the crew on Sneakers green with envy. In Sneakers, the character Cosmo (portrayed by Ben Kingsley) explained to Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) that “the future is going to be about who controls the information; what we see and hear.. it’s all just electrons!”
“I don’t care,” Bishop replied, but the way Redford delivered the line, we the audience knew he was bluffing.
Who wouldn’t want the information of the world at their fingertips? Who wouldn’t want the power to connect all the dots across the planet or in their own home town? Who wouldn’t want to have the power to move those dots to suit their whims?
This past week or so, multiple news sources have been reporting that according to (either) patriot whistle blower (or) terrorist traitor (depending on who you ask) Edward Snowden, the NSA has the ability to spy on everyone, and have had this ability for years. About this same time, Barack Obama has been accusing China of spying on us. How convenient that when Obama blows the whistle on Hong Kong, Snowden blew the whistle back, then high tailed it to Hong Kong? Peculiar, much?
Interestingly, Shia LaBeouf mentioned this very concept of the government recording our conversations on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show back in 2008 when he was hawking for his film Eagle Eye:
The hows are sometimes disturbingly simple and other times boringly complex, but the point is, it IS possible. It’s NOT fiction. The government is still denying they actually record our phone calls. They’re not keeping detailed information on each and every one of us in servers somewhere in an undisclosed bunker. They have a secret court that tells them when it’s okay to spy on us in interests of national security, when they see a clear and present danger. blah blah blah. That “plausible deniability” is wearing mighty thin, but it has been for some time now. Hasn’t it?
The news media seems surprised that its audience is not even pretending to be shocked by this monumental revelation. We’ve been jaded. We’ve been conditioned by Hollywood for decades into thinking this ain’t the end of the world, cuz there’s always gonna be a Robert Redford or a Shia LaBeouf out there to save our butts in the nick of time. We got Edward Snowden, whose most exciting move thus far has been to hide out in Hong Kong. No explosions or car chases or top secret doodads from Q or even a couple scantly clad women on beaches. Do they even have beaches in Hong Kong?
We wanted Robert Redford. We got Edward Snowden. Jaded ain’t the half of it.
What I find shocking is that the US government was not already doing this back in 1993. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to believe they’ve been at it since 1963 when they killed JFK. However, I have this thing about hating belief and not accepting blindly anything I can’t prove and all that..? It’s a thing. You may have noticed that about me.
While I don’t believe one way or the other, I doubt it started with the Bush Jr administration. Surely Reagan learned from Nixon’s mistakes and figured out how to do it in a way where they wouldn’t get caught. This can’t be a recent phenomenon. Like with Richard Nixon and the Watergate (see All The Presidents Men with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman GREAT flick!) scandal, The “news” here is that the government got caught. They have gotten caught doing what we’ve all assumed they have been doing all this time anyway. We don’t like it, but what can we do about it?
Let’s call this a hypothetical analogy. Let’s imagine for a moment that the other day, an acquaintance of mine showed me that just by surfing the Web, she was able to uncover some ..things about me which I didn’t even know about myself. Now, I won’t dwell on the details here, suffice to say it’s not racy or sexy. If you try to find out about the skeletons in my closet you’ll probably learn something far worse. I’d ask you not to try, but that’s my point. That’s why I’m bringing this up. Let’s say I didn’t ask this acquaintance to dig up anything. She just did. She brought it to my attention as a curiosity. Turns out she does this a lot. It’s like a trick she likes to do at parties and around the water cooler.
“Look what I can do. I can bend my elbow backwards.”
“I can read off pointless sports statistics.”
“Oh really? Look what I can do with your cellphone.. ”
Ooh. Ahh. Yikes!
Frankly I was mildly uncomfortable that she was looking me up at all, but I couldn’t get angry about it. It’s not like I can do anything about it.
She didn’t know my home address, so she rattled it off right there in public to confirm with me that what was on her screen was about this me and not someone else with my name. Again, I just confirmed it without thinking about it. Gene Hackman didn’t magically show up behind me to warn me about how careless and naive I’m being. This acquaintance of mine is not exactly someone I distrust. I’ve known her for months. Maybe years, in a cursory way. Still, our relationship is not exactly intimate. Just ..friendly.
Let’s say for sake of argument that if something like this had happened to me, it was just.. weird.
And again, what can I do about it? Demand she never search on the Web about me anymore? That’d just make her all the more intrigued. What else can she find? Ooh won’t this be fun? I just shrugged it off and moved on with my day, but days later, it still leaves me feeling a little uneasy. *ahem* I mean. It would. If in fact this ever happened at all. *innocent look*
If someone I almost consider a friend can find out more about me than I know about myself, I can only imagine how complete strangers can do even better. When she asked why I didn’t want to explore further, I used an analogy of a bee hive. If you’re a bear, and you smell the honey coming from that bee hive, it might appear very inviting at first. However, to get that honey you’re gonna have to get stung. A lot. To mix metaphors and analogies, I’d rather just leave my skeletons in their closet, thank you very much. I left them there years ago for a reason. No use digging them out now. Let sleeping dogs lie. A friend or acquaintance might understand. But other people don’t give a fuck.
We all put our lives on the web all the time. I’m doing it right now. People have tumblr and facebook and twitter. We’re doing the NSA’s job FOR them. They don’t have to tap our phones. Just make up an account and befriend everybody. Heck maybe the reason why all this stuff is free is cuz they WANT us to volunteer our personal information, our most intimate thoughts. They’re using our secret desire to be discovered for being good, that they’re digging around waiting for us to give away when we’re being bad.
Let’s try another analogy. Or metaphor. or whatever this is.
I could probably pull a few virtual strings here and there, run a few searches based on what little I currently remember, and find out right now what my ex-wife is up to. We haven’t spoken in ..oh, it’s probably been a decade or more now. The only reason I haven’t tried is I don’t care. At least not enough to make an effort. And as I type those words I’m reminded of Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley on that rooftop with Martin telling Cosmo that he didn’t care when we all knew he did care.
I tell myself I’d mostly just want to know that she’s alright. That she’s happy and healthy and all that. However, any attempt to actually start up a relationship again would probably just lead to the reason she hung up on me that last time. I’d make another awkward crass comment about how much I miss being in her pants. Okay so I don’t really care about being in her pants any more but I’d make the joke anyway cuz I use humor when I’m nervous. Besides, I did like being in her pants long ago, otherwise we never woulda gotten married in the first place. My point is, I could, but I don’t. It’s best I don’t. Look her up I mean. I could never get in her pants again. Trust me. I burned that bridge. Or at least, I think I could look her up. I haven’t tried. It might be harder than I imagine. She could be in Hong Kong with Edward Snowden for all I know.
The NSA, CIA, FBI, and other government acronyms could make any of our lives.. uncomfortable. I’m sure they can dig up dirt on anyone. None of us are perfect. Contrary to what religions want you to believe, I don’t think a single human being can get through this life without accumulating their own fair share of skeletons. The cleaner they try to look on the outside, the more skeletons they’re probably hiding.
We like to believe the NSA wouldn’t do this to us. That they’d have the decency to not call us up to see how we’re doing and make crass comments about getting back in our pants. And most of the time they don’t.. unless they feel they have good reason. If they think you might have a friend who knows someone who said at a party somewhere they wished the president would jump in a lake.. you might find yourself targeted. Probably not. You know, present company accepted. I’m sure YOU are WHITE AS SNOW but maybe you know a friend who knows somebody and THEY get in trouble with the NSA and then you have to hear your friend whine about it and if it makes them unhappy it’ll make you unhappy and why does the NSA wanna make everyone unhappy? We have no control over what they do. If they NSA insists, we could maybe go get a restraining order or something, Like that would prevent them from thinking about getting in our pants.. ew, gross. Analogies can be creepy..
Honestly, Loxy. What would I do in your pants? It’s all just electrons.