‘Break out that Perl script’: The imaging and imagining of code in The Social Network and Catfish | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 32, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 1466-0407
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9118



For most users of digital technology, code is the hidden engine of their experience: silent, disguised, unknown and possibly unknowable. It is this experience of code that will be the subject of this article. Code, which is often perceived as textual, runs software, which is predominantly received as graphical. As with printing and handwritten script, all text is technically graphical, but this observation refers specifically to the increasing use of graphic icons, and visual media, to form the language of digital communications – the egg-timer, the pointer, Twitter and Facebook ‘buttons’, video CVs and avatars.

This article will consider how the user encounter with code, as image, can perhaps be brought to our attention through visual narratives that attempt to represent digital communication and programming. The article will begin with a consideration of code itself as a problematic imagetext: that is, code as a semantic, or linguistic, material that is not readable in a human context, that persists as a sign until the instance of its being run – an instance of potential performativity. It will do so through a discussion of critical interventions in the field of code studies by scholars such as Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Alexander Galloway and Adrian Mackenzie. Having established this reading, the article will move on to consider how code might resist representation in narrative form, particularly in film. It will do so through a discussion of Matthew Kirschenbaum’s term ‘medial ideology’, a construct that references fictional representations of code and coding that wilfully obscure the actual mechanical process. The main section of the article will be given over to tracing Kirschenbaum’s term through two recent films that creatively interpret the difficulties of depicting computing and communication on screen, The Social Network (Fincher, 2010), and Catfish (Joost and Schulman, 2010).


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