POP Archives Highlights: Accidentally Archival
Like a lot of people, I assume, I spend some of my downtime watching videos on YouTube because watching the news is depressing and I don't always have the bandwidth to commit to reading a book or watching a TV show or movie. What do I watch on YouTube, you ask? Video essays and documentaries that are as long if not longer than any of the other mediums I just said I don't bother engaging with - that and actual plays for video games and TTRPGs.
Look, I'm nothing if not wildly inconsistent and contradictory.
Anyway, like the many articles I've written about archives in video games as a result of watching actual plays, there often comes a video within the body of work of a YouTube essayist/documentarian that showcases an aspect of archiving and the archival profession as a byproduct of their pursuits. When the majority of your videos involve extensive research into a topic - and you actually cite your sources - archives and archives adjacent websites such as fandom wikis, online databases, and the Wayback Machine are going to feature heavily as more topics center around online culture, fandoms, and social media presence. The further away we get from the early years of the internet, the more relevant digital resources, and access to those resources, become, especially for creators on YouTube. Still, sometimes you have to physically enter a building and dive into some microfilm because digitization efforts are not universal and require more time, money, and labor than people think.
This is not a comprehensive list, just examples of videos I've watched in recent months that stuck out to me. Please feel free to suggest other YouTubers who've made videos in a similar vein or have a channel dedicated to archival topics because the more the merrier!
Quinton Reviews - "How I Rewrote the History of Garfield" - premiered June 5th, 2020
While the video first aired a few months into the Pandemic, the majority of the footage was shot prior to the country-wide lock down in the United States. That being said, a lot of people probably know Quinton Hoover from his extensive videos documenting and reviewing Nickelodeon teen sitcoms iCarly, Victorious, and Sam & Cat. Prior to these ruminations on the whirlwind that is kids and young adult media, Quinton created a series of videos chronicling the rise and fall of internet personalities, appropriately titled Fallen Titans. It's clear in all of his videos that Quinton values contextualizing his topics and subjects, rooting them in the time period in which they were created and charting why something that was so wildly popular could easily fall from grace.
A similar approach is brought to his Garfield related content and the video I'm highlighting. Quinton's love of Garfield is apparent in all of his videos, not just because there are several dedicated to the topic of the lasagna-loving cat who hates Mondays, but also the massive collection of Garfield memorabilia on display in the background when he's talking to the camera. The video itself is about how his love of Garfield originated with his father and the happy memories that came with reading supposedly all of Jim Davis' comic strips...until he found out there were others.
The majority of the video shows his level of dedication to Garfield and the not-so-secret origins of the character as Quinton, and his father, journey to Indiana to track down and compile the comic strips that preceded Garfield. Those comics, Gnorm Gnat and Jon, were the building blocks that led to Jim Davis' success with Garfield. They are a piece of the puzzle that is the publishing and creative history of Davis' work, showing his growth as both an artist and a writer. In order to find these comic strips, Quinton makes use of the Indiana public library system, specifically Pendleton, Indiana, which benefited from a 1980s archival program that allowed the city to archive their local newspapers going as far back as the early 1900s. With the help of a local librarian and a relatively reliable microfilm reader, Quinton was able to bring the hitherto unknown early comic strips together and make the collections accessible to other Garfield and Jim Davis fans.
This is all framed around not only chronicling Jim Davis' early career as a cartoonist but also Quinton's Garfield-oriented vacation around Indiana. There are cozy animated sections and readings from the older comic strips that serve to further contextualize how Garfield the character and the comic strip didn't emerge fully formed but was the evolution of ideas and characters Davis had been iterating on for most of his career. This is the work of an archivist and I'm fully confident in labeling Quinton as an honorary archival professional given the proof of his work and efforts in the video.
It's also just nice to see someone credit librarians and archivists while showing how long and painstaking the process of researching can be for not only the researchers but also the professionals tasked with making sure the materials are available.
hbomberguy - "ROBLOX_OOF.mp3" - premiered November 17th, 2022
Anyone who's watched a video by Harris Brewis knows that the content will likely be video game oriented and more than likely that video will stem from one place:
Actually, while spite serves as an amazing motivator, the bulk of an hbomberguy video is about his love of the subject matter filtered through the chaotic energy of a caffeinated spider monkey. There are also the videos in which he offers a "measured response" to topics like climate change deniers, toxic masculinity, and anti-vaxxers all while displaying a clear argument based on facts and documentation that he cites in the videos while showing his work!
It's this combination of video games, spite, and research that leads us to the most recent video uploaded to the channel. While researching a popular sound effect in the online game platform Roblox, the "Oof" in question, hbomberguy not only confirmed the origin of the sound in the 2000 game Messiah, he also found the audio engineer's name, Joey Kuras, in the sound file's metadata. And while that information might make for a short but sweet video about Roblox effectively stealing a sound effect that became wildly popular on their platform, it becomes apparent that the video's purpose has taken a sharp turn when hbomberguy starts talking about Tommy Tallarico.
Long story short: Tallarico has spent the last few years, and arguably most of his career, taking credit for the creation of sound effects made by Joey Kuras as a means of padding his credibility and overemphasizing his legacy in the video game industry in order to turn a profit. This penchant for exaggeration has spilled over into all aspects of Tallarico's life and career including his involvement with other popular franchises and the supposed success of the Video Games Live concert series. It's fantastic to watch hbomberguy go through every lie and exaggeration told by Tallarico and refute each claim with evidence compiled from previous interviews, a timeline of tweets, and Tallarico's own history as a game reviewer.
The video goes to great lengths to show how one man's ego and narcissism has overshadowed the work of other people and how a lack of curiosity or journalistic intent allows men like Tallarico to make wild claims about their careers without any pushback. The final section of the video is a beautifully delivered entreaty for artistic credit to be given back to people like Joey Kuras and the numerous, previously unknown creators who might be found in the metadata.
Defunctland - "Disney Channel's Theme: A History Mystery" - premiered November 20th, 2022
If you know Defunctland, then you know that Kevin Perjurer has a knack for finding the sublime in the abandoned or discontinued amusement parks and attractions he documents alongside children's and young adult programming from the 1980s and 1990s. I can't even quantify the many waves of nostalgia I've experienced watching videos on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Under the Umbrella Tree, or Adventures in Wonderland while also marveling at videos on the creation and failure of the handwich or the wild after party Disney threw in celebration of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Defunctland videos are all about walking that fine line between nostalgia and history, which is what brings us to the most recent video.
The Disney Channel's commercial breaks are unique amongst other cable channels in that they took those spaces for advertisements and turned them into their own unique pieces of programming. As Kevin points out, the interstitials and bumpers were just as significant to the programming block by creating internal promotions for other Disney shows and reinforcing the brand. One of the most popular, and enduring bumpers, a Disney Channel star drawing the mouse icon with a magic wand, is accompanied by a four-note theme that has been utilized for the last two decades. The theme is the primary subject of Kevin's quest as he asks: Who wrote the Disney Channel theme?
On the surface, it seems as though there's an easy answer to Kevin's question that a quick google search could solve. Unfortunately, as we learned with hbomberguy, the most innocuous and obvious answers can suffer from the forward march of time and a general lack of historical knowledge, records, and care. That Disney also employed house musicians under the brand name makes tracking down the individual musicians that much harder.
Fortunately, Kevin is persistent in his pursuit of finding the person behind the theme. In the process, he points out the level of work and effort from television archivists and wiki contributors who upload videos and capture data for this exact purpose. While archives are conceived as institutions that require your physical presence in order to gain anything of value, the internet is full of spaces where professional and amateur archivists can archive and preserve ephemeral materials like commercials and channel bumpers - disposable and interchangeable pieces that corporations don't see as profitable but are often the building blocks of nostalgia because children see more commercials in rapid succession than they do episodic television. So, chasing down the composer of a theme makes sense when you consider that they're more responsible for the popularity and nostalgia in relation to a show or brand. I still remember commercial jingles from my childhood and I'm getting dangerously close to 40.
In the end, spoilers, Kevin confirms the identity of the Disney theme's composer, the late Alexander Lasarenko, a man who was beloved by his peers and seemingly prolific in his ability to compose music commercially and artistically. The video then takes a melancholy turn as Kevin ruminates on artistic legacy, his own and that of Lasarenko. The Disney Channel theme might be Lasarenko's most well-known and enduring piece of work and, likely until the video aired, no one knew his identity. But should that be the only thing Lasarenko's known for? Does he deserve more credit? More exposure? Would Alexander Lasarenko have cared about the legacy of those four notes he put together before moving on to another project? Who gets to make the call about what we remember?
In the case of all three videos, the archival nature of their work isn't always front and center, but it persists. The final product is built on the previous work of archivists, librarians, and internet communities on top of interviews and evidence based practices. That archives are even part of the conversation is a flippin' Christmas miracle!