International Archives Day: Archives are Magic

It’s International Archives Day, and the theme is “Archives, Harmony and Friendship.”

A blog post seemed appropriate, but on what subject? As the parent of young children, the theme immediately suggested My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Twilight Sparkle’s performance as a librarian has already been analyzed, and she is not herself an archivist—though her use of special collections material is often pivotal to the plot and, on occasion, the fate of Equestria. My Little Pony can therefore be added to the list of fictional works depicting the public good of archives, and rather refreshingly avoids presenting them as universally dusty and boring to all major characters.

But I’d like to step back from the show and instead take a quick look at fandom.1 Bronies (loosely defined as adult male fans of the show) emerged online as a self-identifying community thanks to message board postings, made accessible and retained for future users. Unboxing videos reflect personal opinions and also capture details of material culture, not simply consumer goods but also their ephemeral packaging. Fanfiction online aims to transcend the ephemeral, as indicated in the name and mission of Archive of Our Own, launched in the wake of content and community purges on commercial sites.2 Six pastel Ponies have inspired an awful lot of community archiving.

I find that heartening. Every time I think of Digital Dark Ages, organizations that are careless or malicious with their records management, and the challenges of preservation, I also think of the people who really want other people to hear their opinions about Hasbro properties…and the people who do, in fact, want to hear their opinions…and the people who want to make sure content is classified in an appropriate manner…and the substantial number of people who may not all have the technical skills to design and maintain data repositories, but certainly have the savvy to use and adapt them as needed. People are documenting themselves, in ways trivial and significant, and future historians will have a blast. Material is out there, and if it’s not as permanent as some creators may think, neither is it quite as ephemeral as archivists may fear.

  1. I intended to do some of this in a more extended fashion, once upon a time; we’ll see if I ever get around to assembling the scattered little bits into a presentable whole. 
  2. Admittedly, My Little Pony accounts for a small fraction of the material on that particular site; but it’s a handy intersection of the more feminized realm of fanfiction and the more masculine Brony set. And though my encounters with copyright concerns are primarily filtered through Section 108, I’m also interested in how “transformative” is deployed. 

Zeroith drafts

A couple days ago, I was mentally drafting a Scathing Footnote. (This is a genre I have not previously explored in any meaningful sense, but I stand in awe of some of the passive aggressive heights reached by masters of the form.) I came across a YouTube channel dedicated to “research,” the apparent goal of which is to mock Bronies and autism. The footnote in my head was basically “Really? Presumably-adult, presumably-male person combing through a bunch of YouTube videos, going to the trouble of uploading them, then uploading them again when they were taken down because of copyright complaints? This is somehow a superior use of time than guys making videos of toys?”

…and then it occurred to me that I am an adult who had been spending time watching videos about toys, and checking the biographies of the posters on YouTube, and following links and googling for more information and reading message board posts about a defunct YouTube channel, and doing scholarly research for the purpose of writing in a somewhat scholarly fashion about those videos about toys.

So I think it’s quite obvious that I am superior to the person re-posting videos for purposes of mockery. But my Scathing Footnote needs work.

On autoplay

I am generally of the opinion that autoplay is evil. If I open a website (or close the easy-to-accidentally-eject DVD on my laptop), I don’t want to hear anything until I ask. This is one of many reasons my phone rarely has the sound turned on, and why I am happy about being speaker-free at work.

This morning, I was searching for unboxing videos on YouTube. (Finally! I think it’s been like two and a half years I’ve been meaning to do this, and in the past few months I’m at last getting down to some writing.) My method is fairly unsophisticated: do a search, open tabs, add tabs to bookmarks for review later. That means I have a bunch of tabs open at once, some of which automatically play ads or the video. So I have recently been subjected to a cacophony of voices and the dulcet tones of Pinkie Pie.

It was actually a bit more soothing than expected. I am quite glad that I have now paused everything, of course, but it was not nearly as annoying as it sounds like it should have been…though I realize that is not saying much.