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what the facebook/cambridge analytica whistleblower's style says about him

How much is the story helped along by Christopher Wylie looking less like the IRL hackers we’ve got to know, and more like the hacker we’ve been sold in films and TV? And can we unravel what his look might say about his intentions?

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23 March 2018, 12:38am

Image via YouTube

"What is a juvenile delinquent today?” wondered John Waters, king of camp just last year. Noting that today’s juvenile delinquent works digitally, “bringing the government down” behind the computer screen from their mum’s basement, he moaned: “Hackers don't have fashion. What fashion has started from hackers? They have bad posture and they don't go out.”

Enter Christopher Wylie. A pink-haired gay vegan who studied for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, who’s just blown the whistle on Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy once run by Stephen Bannon (Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager), harvesting data from 50 million Facebook users to create a “psychological warfare tool” to influence elections. Wylie also claims Facebook knew about this data breach. Cambridge Analytica denies Wylie’s allegations, and has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix. Facebook also denies Wylie’s allegations, and has deleted his Facebook and Instagram profiles.

Which is annoying, because I bet I’ve got a few mutuals with Wylie. He looks like someone I could know, and perhaps someone you could know. With a pink jarhead crop, horn-rimmed glasses, a nose piercing, long gold pendants and clothes bearing inscrutable all-caps slogans and the Weeknd’s logo, he doesn’t just look like a gay guy who, five years ago, would’ve gone to East Bloc to do ketamine. He looks like a guy who shops at Westfield.

More annoying for Facebook, though, is that people -- at least those who can’t be bothered to remember people’s birthdays -- are preparing to delete their accounts and the company’s stocks have taken a tumble. MPs have summoned Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to explain himself.

Of course any story about a data breach involving 50 million people and Facebook, a social network with a user base numbering over a quarter of the world’s population, will be big. But how much is the story helped along by Wylie looking less like a trad hacker nerd -- à la Edward Snowden -- and more like Hackers-era Jonny Lee Miller crossed with a 21st century entry-level streetwear fuckboy? After all, he’s used a fashion analogy to explain how his ex-boss Bannon wanted an “inflection point” for Trump’s popularity. Because if Uggs and Crocs - the ugliest shoes of all time - could become cool, then perhaps a truly terrible human could become US President.

i-D asked our very own fashion expert Jack Sunnucks and personal brand expert Jenny Holloway what they thought of Wylie’s get-up.

So Jack, what do you think of Wylie’s style?
Jack: I think he looks like a graphic designer who vacations in Berlin and has a kitsch tattoo of his dog on his upper thigh.

Is it fair to look so deep into his looks?
Jack: Not really, but I’m guessing from the neon pink buzzcut that he got a fresh hairdo for his photo opp, so I’m sure he knew it was coming. He hasn’t given himself a dowdy make-under.

How would you compare him to, say, Edward Snowden, the iconic hacker-whistleblower?
Jack: Snowden’s normcore look has set the hacking fashion agenda for the past five years, I think we’re ready for a new digitally dangerous fashion plate. I mean, Wylie actually has a look, rather than being completely neutral in appearance like Snowden, so there’s not really any competition -- Wylie wins. Not as chic as anyone in the Matrix however. Who would play Wylie in a film? I feel like Robert Pattinson would embrace the nose ring.

Do you think the story would have legs without Wylie’s looks?
Jack: Yes it’s of global political significance, to the extent that he’s going to testify in front of the House Intel Committee. The hair just makes everything more FAB. I like the anarchist-by-way-of-Topshop look that he’s going for, it’s very “Of the people”. One thing that I would suggest is that he really go for it over the coming weeks -- as we know, dastardly revelations are non-stop in the current political climate, so he’s only got a moment before something even worse comes out. I’d love to see a range of hair colours, then perhaps a more uptown look -- would be great to see him testify in a blouse and kitten heels.

Hi Jenny. So what do you think of Christopher's style?
Jenny: If you were to just listen to him, he says a lot of umms and ahhs, he’s got a lack of polish. Meanwhile Edward Snowden comes across as more credible, more sure of himself. Yet, it’s the lack of polish that makes Wylie work. People see he was just this guy doing his job.

Does his umming make him lose credibility?
Jenny: It’s the opposite, the hesitations means he’s speaking from the heart. He’s not entirely put together but it boils down to the fact he’s not working too hard to convince us of himself.

And what happens when you add the visual aspect?
Jenny: Wylie really matches the audience that is affected by this -- Facebook is seen as a youth-brand and his brand is a good match for his audience and story. There is something very striking about him, the pink hair and the nose ring mean you’re not going to forget who he is.

Does him presenting so uniquely make him seem more brave and therefore trustworthy? He’s hardly going into hiding dressed like that.
Jenny: Yes, I can’t see him being accepted by Russia. Being gay and having pink hair doesn’t exactly fit in with them. It's notable that he looks like an anarchist and he’s done something anarchic, he’s said he’s going to stand up against the big boys. Facebook pitch themselves as our friends, the good guys, but they’re not. Him sticking out like a sore thumb shows that while he doesn’t look like the rest of society, he’s on our level and he’s standing up for us as well. It certainly appeals to a younger generation that likes people who are different.

As for the photoshoots of him in front of graffitied and fly-postered walls which could be Camden, Brick Lane or east Berlin?
Jenny: The pink hair, the nose ring, the camo jacket all in front of graffiti -- it all puts across an anti-establishment message. His humour also helps his brand -- after his Instagram was deleted, he tweeted that he wouldn’t be able to see photos of food and “thirst traps” -- it shows people you’re like them.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.