Lingo, Loyalty, & Lambaste: The E-Zines of the Early French Hacker Scene

Kevin Gotkin, Rachel Ward*
New York University

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“This is our world now . . . the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud.”
-The Mentor

Introduction: Shortly after his arrest in 1986, “The Mentor” wrote a short piece for the American hacker e-zine, Phrack, entitled “The Conscience of a Hacker.” We can only assume the writer is a man because his penname masks everything about his true identity, including the arrest that apparently led him to write the article. In the piece, he tells stories of his childhood, of discovering the computer, and of reading newspaper articles about amateur hackers getting arrested. The piece is very short with only a handful of paragraphs that barely stretch to a second printed page, but at the end of each paragraph he repeats five words taken from the admonishing voices he hears all around: “Damn kids. They’re all alike” (1). Through his piece, The Mentor allows us a glimpse into some of the most personal parts of a hacker’s mind.

Yet his article illustrates some of the most complex external factors about the life of a hacker, too. It shows us the subcultural relationship to the perceived authoritative normal, the strong bonds between hackers via their e-zine medium, and the interplay of identity and anonymity that define the hacker scene. On a grander scale, the genre of hacker e-zines can teach us about the significance of the subculture historically and today. This paper examines the e-zines of hackers in another place and time: those of France in the 1990s. Via a close reading and critical contextual analysis of these e-zines, we find that the early French hackers developed their scene in ways both very similar and very different from those around the globe.

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