Re-contextualizing Archives

Curator's Note

“A Message from Unilever,” posted to YouTube on October 19, 2007 responds to the Dove video “Onslaught” from the Dove real beauty campaign, posted on October 1, 2007. The comments for “A Message from Unilever” state that Rye Clifton is the creator, inspired by Chris Wodja, who blogged on Dove’s marketing prior to and after Clifton posted the response video to YouTube. Many commentaries and additional response videos are available online, but Clifton’s video is especially interesting not only because it features a remixing of existing content—a common and copyright-safe method of media creation, as noted by the Internet-famous video explaining copyright using clips from Disney—but also because it uses the corporate drive to inundate a market with materials, preserving and proliferating their marketing propaganda, against it. Clifton’s corporate archive remix, combining Unilever’s other images within “Onslaught’s” frame provides a powerful counterargument because it is delivered in the same form as the original and in the same venue, enabling it to ride the tide of popularity created by “Onslaught,” co-opting that momentum. Based on the YouTube rankings for both “A Message from Unilever” and “Onslaught,” it may seem as though Dove has easily won the viewing battle claiming over a million views as compared to over 100,000 for Clifton’s counterargument. However, the disparity between the actual numbers—1,333,628 to 114,924 views by March 18, 2008—shows the power of Clifton’s “Message” as it captures nearly ten percent of the audience share as Dove, a feat for any independent form in comparison to its corporate parallel. Of course, “Message” won’t be played regularly on television, even though it did make CNN (a clip of which is also archived and linked to the other videos). “Message” informs not only Dove’s marketing contradictions as part of Unilever, but also the changed state of satire in the age of the digital archive. Massive data storage, soon to teach popular media a new word in “petabytes,” promises to maintain accessible digital archives, providing the raw material for research and response. The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report already use clips from the present and the past together to show what happens to satire in the age of the archive. Yet, what happens to the archive when the controlling finding aids are reshaped through timely interpretation? Contemporaneous access to corporate, academic, governmental, non-profit, and personal archives change the nature of the archives themselves, but like all technologies the ends to which their new affordances lead are open to their users.


An interesting culture jamming example, Laurie. What I wonder, however, is how archivists develop search tools and categorization methods for these types of materials, which do not conform smoothly to either traditional finding aid searchability and do not follow a consistent tagging practice? How do archivists organize the digital archive when its very networked logics preclude drawing rigid boundaries?

That's a great question! Right now, unfortunately there's not a great answer, but there is a lot of promise. Many currently aren't designing tools that are outside of rigid boundaries and are instead building small sets of materials in silos. The magnitude of so many archives especially with correspondingly limited resources means that many are designing rigid materials with such defined boundaries that the materials exist in silos instead of within networked logics. Many of the existing tools are extremely rigid for archival work--like the EAD format that doesn't have an easy and free system for creating EADs that connects them to an organized database and creates an online component. This is such a simple need--a database with an easy user interface for entering information that connects to the EAD format, and that all goes into a database that then creates the online finding guides and easily connects to objects (via another standard, like a permanent URL or any persistent identifier) in a digital collection once online. ARCHON is the closest existing tool, but it's still relatively young and much more is needed. The current push seems to be to get items digital (or at least their existence) into the networked world and then to work on new ways of finding and organizing. While many archives may be behind at getting to the networked world, luckily the ever-so-defined nature of many of the records will be ready to take full advantage of semantic and contextual information (through MARC, MODS, and other forms with extensive and defined metadata). Hopefully, archives will be able to leap ahead or at least equal to already networked information through the extensive metadata. In the meantime there are always experiments to bridge the gap, as with university, museum, and other partner channels on YouTube--even the Queen has one--and other much smaller projects, like one of my own to load as many University of Florida archival videos to YouTube as possible while also loading them to the official UF Digital Collections. My experiment is still young and the rankings based on timeliness of current University-related events (like the taser incident) still seem to benefit most from the current networked logics. I'm not sure how to use or subvert the power of timeliness and popularity rankings, but authorities (established with Google's Knol and in traditional record-keeping methods) still seem to be of use.

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