• Samantha Cross

Archives on TV: The Venture Bros., "Twenty Years to Midnight"

This is going to be a quick one as I'm in the middle of a project at the real archives I work at that will be taking up most of my time and energy until the new year. Updates will be a bit infrequent - not that they were regular to begin with - but I'll try to get a few more posted if possible.


Anyway, I've talked about the neutral observer in a couple of articles and one of the first things that popped into my head after diving into characters like Uatu, the Watcher, was the Grand Galactic Inquisitor from The Venture Bros. episode "Twenty Years to Midnight". The Inquisitor is kind of like the anti-Watcher in that he arrives at the Venture Compound right at the moment Dr. Venture, Brock Sampson, and the boys discover a lost Betamax tape from Venture's long dead father, Jonas Venture, Sr., and makes himself known almost immediately.





There is no subtlety to the Inquisitor. He's a tall, imposing figure in ostentatious dress that has a very Jack Kirby-esque look to him, which is likely deliberate considering The Venture Bros. references Johnny Quest and the Fantastic Four in the same episode. He "speaks" through a distorted speaker on his chest that is incredibly noisy, making it sound like the Inquisitor is yelling at all times. The reason for his sudden appearance on Earth is to "observe and pass judgement on mankind," using Dr. Venture as humanity's barometer. He insists on Venture and company acting naturally during his observations while regularly shouting, "IGNORE ME!"


Now, I'll admit, the Inquisitor isn't an archivist by any stretch of the word, but I bring him up because if the Watcher is the stand-in for what people assume is the role of the archivist, then the Inquisitor is much closer to the reality of the situation. Archivists can never truly operate from a distance when it comes to collections or the communities we serve. The very act of archiving makes the archivist a participant.


Neutrality can't be achieved because archivists are fallible human beings who make mistakes, apply their own biases, and revise their work as they go. If you're documenting a community, you can't expect that community to ignore your presence. If you're conducting an oral history, people will talk to you based on their level of comfort and trust. There's no hiding in the shadows, or behind the veil of alternate dimensions. You're front and center, an obvious stranger or anomaly, because people always notice what's new and what doesn't belong. You can try to shout "IGNORE ME!" all you want, but that won't stop people from turning their eyes on you and wondering why you're there in the first place.


Archivists are no more invisible than the Inquisitor, though hopefully we have a bit more decorum.


Maybe.



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