Black Hats

As frequent readers know, I have a connection with SUNY-Binghamton, and a distaste for mis-used metaphor.  So it is more in sorrow than anger that I read the latest issue of the SUNY-Binghamton Watson School of Engineering alumni magazine.  In it, there was an article about “white hat hackers” which, as the name implies, are hackers who use their talents for good.  But it seems the authors of the article didn’t trust the connotations of “white hat” and “black hat” hackers to be obvious, and in trying to make it more clear, managed to muddy the waters.  As you can see here, they added a sidebar defining white, gray, and black-hat hackers, and illustrated it with little pictures of hats in those colors.  So far, so good, but for some reason they used black, gray, and white fedoras.

Now, as anyone could tell you, the whole “black hat for the bad guy / white hat for the good guy” thing is a metaphor based on westerns, so the hats used for illustration should have been cowboy hats.  But the choice of a fedora makes it even worse, because a) bad guys are not known for wearing black fedoras (is anyone?), but they are known for wearing white fedoras.  I mean, think about the last time you saw someone in a movie wearing a white fedora.

It was this guy, right?









Frank Nitti in The Untouchables is hardly the first person most people would go to for help, computer-based or otherwise.  Or maybe you thought of Sydney Greenstreet, in some movie where he wasn’t just wearing a fez.  Again, not one of the good guys, I bet.

Now, maybe the illustrator was making a callback to the fact that these days, about the only people who wear fedoras are computer science majors, but in that case, shame on them.  We don’t need anyone encouraging that behavior, especially not at my alma mater.



Filed under Metaphor!

3 Responses to Black Hats

  1. Alex

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s a disgrace to our fine institution. Am I being age-ist if I say that I suspect the writer to be too young to be properly versed in the cultural reference? Binghamton, you didn’t do your job.

    • admin

      Indeed. Our alma mater should be producing the sort of graduate who is curious about things they don’t know, and looks stuff up. Not the kind of person who says things like “they’ve got another thing coming” or “nip it in the butt” or uses a hat metaphor without wondering why it doesn’t make any sense. (shakes fist at cloud)

  2. Alex

    Hear, hear! (I looked that up, otherwise I surely would have written “Here, here!”)