Deconstructing the Trinity hack

What or who is or is not a hack? Has it been reclaimed or is it pejorative? If so, who can use it? Are some hacks more equal than others? What does Jack Leahy have to do with it?

hacksScreen shot 2015-02-09 at 22.31.56comment1Students’ Union elections. When a handful of brazen colour-coded pretenders, wearing the same clothes for the bones of a fortnight, shamelessly sell highly branded versions of themselves to us in exchange for our EC-approved approval.

For these two weeks, after “Vote for X?” and “No, I’ve already got one”, the most common utterance being thrown around the campaign trails will inevitably be “hack”. Not that the word is exclusive to election time. It’s arguably one of the most used words in Trinity, or rather I should say in Trinity society. The two are very different and to conflate the two is something a hack would say. Am I a hack then? Undeniably. Proudly and at times ostentatiously. But before that I should ask what exactly is a hack?

If you wikipedia the word, you’ll get the page for “hack writer” which gives the definition as “a writer who is paid to write low-quality, rushed articles”. Sounds like me to me. Considering the fact that I’m getting my definitions from Wikipedia I think it fair to say I’m a TN hack, though I don’t get paid. But I’ve said enough about that.

This original meaning of hack, limited as it is to the field of journalism, would make it applicable only to TN and our friends across the hall. I won’t specify what hall but the hacks will know. The definition is also explicitly pejorative, in that it suggests the hack doesn’t take pride in their work.

But we at Trinity don’t reserve the term specifically for hack journos. How would we then explain terms like SU hack or GMB hack, people who don’t have anything to do with articles, low-quality, rushed or otherwise? And all these candidates? How can they be hacks as the grapevine is suggesting, within the confines of this narrow, hastily googled definition?

In Trinity parlance the traditional definition of hack has been broadened to encompass anyone involved in anything whose involvement is for self-gain rather than for the benefit of the organisation with which they’re involved. A bit of a stretch from hack writer but the sentiment of insincere engagement stands.

However, more often than not, it is simply used to designate anyone involved in anything who we don’t happen to particularly like and it’s most often used by hacks to describe other hacks in the spirit of Dylan Thomas’ claim that “An alcoholic is someone who drinks as much as you do that you don’t like.”

Anyone mixed up in anything is liable to be called a hack of that something. Sheer exposure and overuse has seen the derogatory aspect of the word lessen and its meaning has been altered to the point whereby hack now merely signifies engagement.

Alongside the fading negative characteristic of hack, the word has also been re-appropriated by Trinity society, most of us now comfortable to use the term within the community. Hack is now considered a friendly term of solidarity within certain sectors of Trinity life. However there still those who take offence, particularly if the word is directed from one sphere into another.

For example, I may be entitled to call other people involved with TN hacks, due to our common involvement, and certain people in UT due to working relationships and professional courtesy. But given my non-existent relationship with the SU, my calling them hacks has not historically gone down well, though they may be happy to use the term among themselves.

The success of the re-appropriation movement has meant that the pejorative sense of the word has been so removed that today, for a derogatory sentiment to be implied, it’s necessary to emphasise the word by prefacing it and calling someone a “fucking hack”. Fucking hack has replaced plain old hack as the signifier of a self-interested schemer on the make.

At this point it’s worth defining where we stand:

hack, noun. 1. Any individual involved in a particular aspect of Trinity society, e.g. “House 6 is full of hacks.”  2. (Pej) An individual involved in a particular aspect of Trinity society for self gain, e.g. “House 6 is full of fucking hacks.”

verb. To be involved in a particular aspect of Trinity society, e.g. “Dahlings, welcome to High Society, tell me, who does everybody hack with?”

adjective.  Being of a hack nature, e.g. “I fucking love campaigns,” said Jack. “That’s such a hack thing to say,” said Jill.

This year will see a further shift in the wordscape of hack. Now that the position of University Times editor is separated from that of Comms, will the position still come under the definition of SU hack? Up until now the combined position meant that, on election, the sabbatical officer, if they weren’t already, became a top SU hack and the UT hack. High level hacking in more than one sphere is often discouraged due to the possibilities of conflicting interests, but the position, by its nature, guaranteed the elected hack’s status in both.

This, however, could all change. With the position now split, will the other sabbats still consider the UT editor a fellow SU hack? Is it even a matter of consideration or is it just a reality we must now contend with? With its newfound editorial independence, has UT lost all SU hack associations? Will it be acceptable for UT hacks to call SU hacks hacks? And vice-versa? Will there be UT hacks who will continue to identify as SU hacks? DID ANYONE THINK OF THESE POSSIBLE REPERCUSSIONS?! Undoubtedly the SU is approaching a linguistic minefield.

Returning to the point, are the Leadership Race candidates all hacks? Presumably, surely in fact, they must be. I should hope they are. It means they know what they’re doing. Molly Kenny, if you look at her credentials, is a massive SU hack. Excellent. Edmund Heaphy is a complete UT hack. Perfect, I‘m sure he knows what he’s doing. To say that the candidates are all hacks is an endorsement. And it’s reassuring to see that they seem like a bunch of hacks to me.

If they weren’t already hacks then I’d be worried. It would mean they haven’t been involved in student life, regardless of what aspect of it, up to this point. It would suggest that the only reason they were getting involved on a sabbatical level is because of the free accommodation, iPhone, salary and high profile nature of these particular hack positions.  And if that was the case then they’d all be fucking hacks.

Illustration: John Tierney

D. Joyce-Ahearne

D is former Contributing Editor of Trinity News and Trinity Graduate.