Open source misrepresented on TV again, community speaks out

No readers like this yet.
An old-fashioned video camera

You wouldn't think supporters of open source would be collectively discussing Disney's latest episode of "Shake It Up," but there's a first time for everything. Earlier this week, the children's TV show misrepresented the meaning of open source, reminding us that in film and TV script writers often generalize programs, platforms and ideas in technology to the point of skewing the definition of them completely.

In this episode of "Shake It Up", the classic geeky character gives tech advice to a less computer-savvy character:

Geek: "Did you use open source code to save time, and the virus was hidden in it?"

Less computer-savvy friend: "Maybe"

Geek: "Rookie mistake."


We posted about this mishap on both our Twitter and Facebook feeds, and our community provided us with some interesting feedback and insights.

On our Facebook page, Richard Ryder commented that TV entertainment writers consistently make errors in their script of this nature. Both Ryder and Juan Rodriguez provided examples of other TV show and movie scripts making similar mistakes.

Richard Clinker commented that, "The only example of credible use of tech in a film [that I can think of] is nmap in The Matrix." He adds that the writer of the Disney episode, "was just being ignorant."

"It does give entirely the wrong impression of what open source means in terms of security and reliability," said Clinker, "[It's] disappointing that Disney didn't pick up on this as they extensively use free [open source] software for animations, etc."

Across the web, bloggers and writers of other tech news sites have left commentary regarding the mishap.

On The Register, Simon Sharwood pointed out that, "In a company the size of Disney it is understandable that the left hand sometimes scarcely knows the other even exists. It therefore seems entirely likely the sitcom was written, filmed, and screened without anyone involved knowing that Disney-owned Pixar recently released some of its production code under an open source license."

What do you think this misrepresentation of open source says about Disney? Is it simply a mistake due to too many moving parts in the industry, or should entertainment companies require their writers to pay more attention to the details? Do you know other film or TV tech blunders?

Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Other references

User profile image.
Casey is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She spends too much time perusing social media sites, and she's especially fascinated by open source startups. twitter: @caseybrown_


And perhaps a more recent film that gets closer to being <a href="">an open source
legacy is Tron</a>.

"It's a ... <a href="">Unix system!</a>"

Well, at least the system in Jurassic Park was an actual existing Unix system. The file manager wasn't exactly one that was commonly used, but it was real. It didn't matter whether it was common or not though, the important thing was that it looked good on camera.

It is a teachable moment. The fact they knew open source was an important subject in technology. The mention of Unix in Jurassic Park was just as significant. We make fun of it, but it brought the term to the masses.

But more seriously, the stereotypical geek representation is more disturbing. Why couldn't one of the 'cool' kids be the technology expert? The leaders and innovators of our society are skewing more to the geek side these days, and its time for the creative class to start reflecting that in media.

Disney teen coms are not made by the create class. We are the creative class.

But seriously if this sort of thing happens a few more times the community could be faced with another problem along the lines of how the word "hacker" has been abused. Try explaining to a layman the difference between a code grinder a hacker and a mindless vandel.

Disney in particular will need to take into account their increasingly sophisticated audience. Companies that thrive on entertaining the young cannot afford to appear to be less tech savvy than their target demographic.

well, I don't think this was just an 'error'...

kids programs serve a lot to condition later adults
here the seed is placed that open source is equivalent to fail...

just short of 'should better have bought a <closed system of your choice here>'

I am not proud to admit this but my daughter was actually watching this episode and I caught this bit of misinformation.

I tend to be suspicious when large companies like Disney include misinformation like this in their shows. Now it is not the highest quality show so I'm sure the script is not extensively reviewed for accuracy.

To quote the parent:
<blockquote><em>kids programs serve a lot to condition later adults
here the seed is placed that open source is equivalent to fail...</em></blockquote>
This is the first thought I had after hearing the line.

It could be one of two things: corporate propaganda or ignorant writers technobabble.

Does anyone remember the movie that mentioned Red Hat Linux back in the day? It was a CIA/FBI movie--and the mention was pretty legit. I've run a few searches but can't find it.

Do you mean Antitrust? I seem to remember some hubbub about GNOME and KDE desktops in it, and a brief search of the internets provides this thread:

Someone down the thread posted an image of the scene with the red fedora (it does look a little like ours...):

Just shows that the universe is quite busy making ever more <strong><em>iDiots.</em></strong>

In 6th grade -- granted that was in the dark ages of the 1960's -- I was taught to write from knowledge and to avoid making unfounded assertions or casting opinions when facts were unconfirmed. Those writers must have been thumbing their way through that class.

The opinion expressed by the Disney kid is real. A couple of years ago I was at a dinner and at my table was an engineer who commented that open-source is subject to viruses and malware because anyone can contibute code - and by assumption there are not checks made to see if it is clean.

The Disney writer has picked up on Apple and Micorsoft prograganda I fear.

Meanwhile, out in the real world at least one teacher is using open source to bring to his school a level of education that students wouldn't otherwise have.

My son also refurbishes computers for people who can't afford them and fits them up in exactly the same way. Linux operating systems tend to be streamlined and more reliable than most software, so he gets a lot more mileage out of these older computers. Like the teacher in the article, he says that the thing that went wrong with most abandoned computers was the (proprietary) software.

> Do you know other film or TV tech blunders?

In Poland there was a movie The Hacker (2002). A pretty lame comedy about, well, a hacker who hacks. Nothing interesting, however there was one dialogue between two hackers, which has achieved a cult status:

hacker1: how are you doing?
hacker2: it'a a fortress, triple firewall.
hacker1: any exploits?
hacker2: no bugs.
hacker1: tried with Emacs through Sendmail?
hacker2: yep, but they redirected me to a fake.

Now 10 years has passed, and we still can't have a proper discussion about hacking, Emacs or Sendmail without a reference to each of them. :-)

Because of all the discussion around this topic, we decided to have a little extra fun. Check out these new memes: <a href="">"Rookie Mistakes"</a>

Best tech line I heard on '24' was 'I hard coded my own binary matrix'. Not sure what it does, but it sounds cool.

A "binary matrix" is literally a truth table. Certainly something that is often "hardcoded" - so a legit reference.

Well that must be a first :)

Given enough time a million screen writers will come up with a semi-legit technical reference.

The fact that "hard coding a binary matrix" is meant to sound impressive gives away how that one was stumbled onto by accident. Even I do that sort of thing when I need to...

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.