From 2006-2010 Heroes (NBC) told the stories of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities who joined forces to save the world. Different to other superhero TV shows or movies, most of the so-called ‘evolved humans’ possess only one special skill: one man can fly, another can read minds, and one girl can’t be hurt for example. And character Hana Gitelman can tap into any data stream with her mind, and then alter it however she pleases. In the world of Heroes, this is one of the “technology manipulation” superpowers, a skill called “cyberpathy.”
But it should also be called hacking, even if it doesn’t require a device, or even an internet connection. Hana’s actions are presented as inexplicable, as beyond the possible comprehension of both her fictional peers and the audience watching at home. But this, too, is a common feature shared by all television hackers, where any impressive feat of technokinesis (-kinesis being Greek for any nondirectional movement) is treated as pure magic.
Superhero “hackers” (like the transducer Gary in the sci-fi TV series Alphas) share other clichéd traits with their “Hollywood Hacker” peers as well: they are typically depicted as physically weaker than others; seem rather shy or secluded; and are made out to be geniuses on the verge of madness (and often residing on some fictionalized autism spectrum). In the Heroes graphic novels that extended the TV show and added information on characters and their backgrounds, it was made clear that Hana and other superhero hackers share a similar attitude about an entirely hack-able world too—or as Hana says: “I know any code can be broken. You just have to identify the key” (Wireless, Part 2).
Heroes like Hana aren’t really any more “super” than other fictionalized hackers. But, they bring to the fore that writers treat seemingly superhuman hackerpowers the same way they’ve always treated paranormal superpowers. The tropes are the same, only the hardware is different.