research * the future * culture

Swapping SNEAKERS

I have a deep and abiding love for Sneakers, Phil Alden Robinson’s film, penned in part by Lawrence Lasker, who also wrote War Games. Like that film it’s also a critique of how technology and power intersect. But instead of cute-but-scrawny Matthew Broderick, it has rumpled-but-sexy Robert Redford. I’m not saying that Sneakers is entirely responsible for my sexuality, but, well, I invite you to check out my wedding photos. More importantly, it’s a much better film than its contemporary, Hackers, which is basically about Hot Topic employees fighting computer graphics. I’ve probably watched Sneakers at least twenty times. I was nine when it came out. I probably first saw it around the age of ten, when it appeared on VHS. As a kid, it was one of my favourite movies. And it still is.

The only thing was, I never really identified with Mary McDonnell’s character. She’s The Girl, in case you didn’t know. Because, you know, There Can Be Only One. It’s her job in the story to rope-a-dope an engineer by getting him to say the right word (“I just love the word passport,” she coos) that will allow the guys entry to Playtronics Industries. Also she gives them the use of her townhouse for a while, which quickly becomes more of a treehouse, strewn with computer parts and someone else’s garbage. The point is, she’s basically there to be attractive enough to seduce the mark. Growing up, I knew that would never, and could never, be me.

Which is why I thought about gender-swapping the story.

And, well, the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. You see where this is going, right? I mean, it’s not like I have too many secrets.

EXT SUBURBAN HOME — NIGHT — 1992
We are deep in the Pacific Northwest. Rain falls steadily but quietly on Douglas Firs and other evergreens. The entire cul-de-sac seems to be asleep, but for a single yellow light, burning brightly in the attic of one home. Credits  begin to spool across the screen.
INT BASEMENT BEDROOM
Wires everywhere. The A-frame room is a tapestry of anime and manga art circa 1992: Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Tekkaman Blade, interspersed with posters for Hole and The Fastbacks. THREE TEENAGE GIRLS face each other in the blue glow of multiple CRT monitors. One of them is crying and wiping her eyes. The other is watching her carefully. The third is watching something on a television screen positioned over a VCR. We see only the rhythmic blink of light. We hear tinny laughter.
MEGAN
He left this copy in my mailbox this morning. He says he’s going to show the tape to everyone, if I don’t do what he says.
MARTI
He won’t show it to everyone. He can’t. He raped you. And this is the proof.
LAUREN
(With a Pocky stick between her teeth and shaking her head at the screen)
No, it’s not.
MEGAN
What?
MARTI
Yeah, what?
LAUREN
(Turns to the other girls. She withdraws the Pocky from her mouth and gestures with it, as though it were a cigarette holder)
That’s not how the defence will spin it. I’ve watched this thing three times. You’re drunk. You’re laughing. You’re having fun. And then you sleep with him.
MEGAN
(rocketing to her feet, voice shaking)
That’s not what happened at all! He drugged me!
MARTI
(Holding her hands up, trying to stop a fight)
Hold on, you’ll wake up Lauren’s mom.
(Turns to Lauren)
Come on. He drugged her. Remember what Brandy told us, last year, about what happened at Whistler?
LAUREN
Of course I remember. And of course he drugged Megan. I know that. And you know that. We all know that. But the rest of the world doesn’t know that. And they won’t believe you. Not with this evidence. We need more.
MARTI
Do you think you can get him to admit to it, Megan? Like, over the phone or something? We could record it and show the police.
MEGAN
I’ve tried. But he keeps saying that he didn’t do anything wrong. That I enjoyed it.
(She sits down, in tears. )
I don’t even remember. You know? I woke up in his backyard. In the doghouse. And I don’t even know if he put me there, or I crawled there.
MARTI
(Reaches into a mini-fridge, pulls out a roll of Thin Mints, rips them open savagely and hands them to Megan. It is literally cold comfort, the smallest thing she can possibly do, and they both know it. They eat in silence.)
LAUREN
You have a choice to make. You can go to the police. It’s too late for a rape kit, but they never run those anyway. But you could show this to them, and see what happens.
MEGAN
What’s my other choice?
MARTI
(Smiling tightly.)
Revenge.
LAUREN
How would you feel about flagging Caleb’s passport?
MEGAN
What?
MARTI
Oh, I think we can do better than that. This calls for something more…personal. Intimate.
LAUREN
You’re right. Let’s take away his scholarship. See ya, Stanford.
MARTI
Caleb got admitted to Stanford?
LAUREN
(Clicking with great flourish)
Not anymore.

…At this point I had to quit, because I had other things to do. (Way too many of them, in fact. This is me procrastinating.) But the work itself was easy. I wasn’t able to complete the scene (which would have had police bursting in on Lauren and Megan after Marti goes down to the basement freezer for a Mountain Dew, and Marti escaping via a basement window), but this little piece didn’t take too long to write. It came very naturally, especially after I re-read some of Lasker and Robinson’s screenplay. The hardest part about it was setting this initial prologue scene in 1992, as a nod to the original.

I also wanted to post this as a kind of proof-of-concept. It’s entirely possible to tell these types of stories about women, technology, and women in technology. In fact, this plotline is ripped directly from an episode of Veronica Mars, a series which frequently made the social engineering hacks in Hackers look like, well, hack-work. You can tell stories that are openly and aggressively political. Hell, Sneakers featured Martin and Cosmo using Richard Nixon’s bank account to donate to the Black Panthers. It’s funny, sure, but it’s also strident. Go back and take a look for yourself:

(Warning: this is among the weirdest trailers ever. It goes from comedy to drama to thriller and back. But it’s worth it for Dan Aykroyd basically playing Dan Aykroyd.)

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  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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