As we sit under the Heritage Eucalyptus Tree amongst our non-destructively opened and carefully unpacked and documented acid-free gift boxes, beaming with joy over finally getting that relapped 4-track 1/4″ audio head, that PAL 3/4″ U-matic deck which just needs a little bit of soldering work, or that secreted away barrel of 1,1,1-Trichloroethane, I feel that we should take a moment to reflect a little bit.
Yes, World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is a magical time of year, full of treasures revealed and correctly presented aspect ratios…But, have we become so distracted by the materiality of archiving that we have lost touch with the true reason for the season, that we have forgotten the deeper meaning of this day?
There are many lessons to draw from this, such as the correct care and handling of audiovisual materials includes not putting them in your mouth. Aside from this, however, we should also understand that Heritage is not always the transcendant pinnacle of culture. Our heritage, the products of our existence, can just as often be drivel, pablum, doggerel, dogma, pedantry, cruel, ugly, ephemeral, temporal, banal, tiresome, empty, tedious, and unworthy of notice.
That being the case, those are the things that need an equal amount of our advocacy. As caretakers, archivists are responsible for preserving the full picture of a culture, everything on the continuum from depravity to beauty, from the sophomoric to the beatific, from the “Meh” to the “Oh, man!” There is power in the content, but, as important, there is power in the audiovisual medium that reaches or affects people in untold ways, which is why our audiovisual heritage matters, whether projected on 35mm nitrate or viewed online from an uploaded cell phone video.
So today, sit back, put a nice drink in your mouth (It’s okay! I said you could!), and enjoy the mess that is being human that we try so hard to capture and define in the frame.