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The specter of…”snot-nosed archivists” and the value of archives in popular culture

Some time ago, I came across an old LISTSERV from June 2001. In it, David Miller of the Philadelphia Department of Records notes that Entertainment Weekly has an article about new summer shows in the U.S. including a character in The Chronicle named Pig Boy, voiced by Curtis “Booger” Armstrong, as a “snout-nosed archivist,” and says may have to “pass on this one.” In response, Russell P. Baker of the Arkansas History Commission and State Archives jokes that he happens to “know some other “snot – nosed” archivists in my time.” I looked it up and found, that yes, he literally has a pig nose! Oh no.

So much for a good representation of archivists! It brings me to a post by Cate Peebles in Issues & Advocacy back in January 2018. In the post, she notes the “omnipresence of records-related headlines” and the ongoing “relevance of archival work,” along with the proliferation of archives, archival documents, and “the archive” in popular culture, even as archivists are missing in these depictions. She specifically notes that the “true crime documentary” relies on archives, in films like The Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Jinx, Serial (podcast), OJ; Made in America, The Keepers, and Wormwood. She goes onto say that these series focus on the “visual power of records,” with archival footage and footage of those materials driving the action while providing the “viewer with access to potential answers and a satisfying resolution.” Peebles goes onto explain the use of records in three series. First is The Jinx, specifically in the form of crime scene photos, samples of handwriting, interview transcripts, and various paper media, along with oral history interviews. Second is Making a Murder, with the “importance of evidentiary records over time and the need for adequate stewardship of legal and public records” a major highlight of the series. Finally, there is The Keepers, which has the protagonists as “keepers of memory, truth-seekers and literal stewards.” Peebles, after noting how film can invigorate archival records, the value of those records in various series, the importance of ongoing stewardship and preservation of archival records, even when actual archives and archivists are absent from narratives concludes with some poignant lines about archives in popular culture which still ring true to this day:

“There is no “popular” image of an archivist and yet we are more present than ever, however unseen we may be. Without records and their keepers, there are no stories to tell.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! This also highlights two pieces that I added to the Bibliography page on this blog. One is a 1993 piece by James O’Toole which talks about the “symbolic” aspects of recordkeeping and record making, saying that archivists should understand these aspects as they try to preserve their collections, and another by Gabriel Palatz, in 2011, which talks about archival material front and center in many documentaries at the present.

What Peebles writes about makes me think about the archivists I’ve written about on this blog before, which makes clear her point. Some, like Abigail Chase in the National Treasure franchise, are glamorous. Others are spinsters, old and stubborn, like Madame Nu in Attack of the Clones and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. Then there are those who are strict, run basement newspaper archives (like Nathan’s grandfather in Stretch Armstrong), or the 80s-style archivists in Lore Olympus. This becomes even more diverse if we consider George and Lance in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (although they call themselves historians), along with Khensu in Cleopatra in Space, Dantalian in Mystic Archives of Dantalian, and the Librarian in Hilda to be archivists or at least engage in some archivy duties, then it becomes an even more diverse group! Hopefully, this list is expanded further if Recorded by Arizal gets a proper season, as the protagonist, Arizal, wants to be a keeper, which means that she is engaging in some archivist duties. Additionally, fan fiction itself serves as a place where people can write about archivists, as I’ve done, along with various archivists in Hollywood films, and in other parts of popular culture. I’m not sure if I will reach a moment again like what I wrote about in September 2020, stating that it is becoming hard to publish posts on the blog because “of the lack of archives or archivists in any of the media I’m watching now,” mostly talking about animation, but also feature films. That was supposed to be a way to cover me if I end up putting this blog on temporary hiatus. I doubt that will happen at this point.

Anyway, here are two favorite archivists from the above-named animations and comics: Nathan’s grandfather and Clotho in Lore Olympus. I love that Clotho is reeling up the magnetic tape here. That’s cool. I hope it stays in the upcoming animated series.

By histhermann

Marylander with MLIS who loves archives, libraries, genealogy, reviewing pop culture, and writing fictional stories. UMD '19 & SMCM '16 grad. I've been running various WordPress blogs for a while now, about genealogy, libraries, archives, and more.

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