The Promises and Challenges of Fan-Based On-Line Archives for Global Television

Curator's Note

Recently there has been a surge of new, extremely rare clips from old Israeli TV on youtube and similar local websites. The clip presented here – A song on punctuation performed by young Ofra Haza on the Israeli Educational Television is just one example.

These discoveries provide access to bits and pieces of what is largely non-available history of local broadcast. The example I was GOING to use is a sketch from the legendary satirical show Nikuy Rosh (1976-1977) extremely relevant for my work on the first Hebrew sitcom - Krovim-Krovim (1983-1986). The clip presented an early All in the Family spoof, written by the writing team that later developed the first full blown Israeli sitcom. Now, I have HEARD about this sketch before - my parents and in-laws REENACTED it for me, the writers discussed it with me, I knew it may or may not exist somewhere in the incredibly inaccessible dungeons of the Israeli Broadcast Authority. However here it was all of a sudden – right before my eyes on freaking youtube! Interestingly enough - when I was looking for the clip for this essay - it was gone! The account of whoever posted it - suspended for some reason.

This anecdote points out the obvious promises as well as the limitations of these emerging on-line archives as sources for historical research on TV. Beyond their ephemeral nature, the sources themselves are often fragmented, presented completely out of context, and in poor quality.

Relating this back to the debate in the Flow conference (and later on Flow) regarding the legitimacy of non traditional historical research methods in TV studies - I would like to argue that, especially in marginalized locations where archive are non-existing, in stages of extinction, or highly inaccessible - TV historians must deal with the challenges presented by these new found sources creatively, utilize them and, most importantly, fight for their acceptance as legitimate primary sources in TV studies.

Also - given the ephemeral nature of on-line fan-based websites I wish to use this opportunity to raise the question of preservation - what can/should we do to encourage the preservation of these sources?


Jason Mittell's picture

The ephemerality of YouTube

The ephemerality of YouTube & its kin is a definite challenge. The personal tactic is to use one of the Firefox plugins to download clips whenever you find something precious (I use Unplug, then convert the file with iSquint). The broader issue is more troublesome - how do you build a more permanent archive, especially when much of the material is not licensed or authorized, or effectively labeled and catalogued? For those reasons, building unofficial personal archives, like the VHS tape-traders of a previous generation, may be the best strategy for now.

Avi Santo's picture

interesting questions,

interesting questions, Sharon. having worked and conducted research in several academic, government, and public archives over the years, I can both appreciate the frustrations you identify over how to cataloge, search, and organize youtube materials and can also suggest that such problems abound within official spaces as well. most major archives have no idea what they have; their organizational schema are often arbitrary or unhelpful. for example, if you want to search the Selznick materials at the Harry Ransom Center for stuff on Rebecca, you will need to go through multiple finding aids and request hundreds of file folders from vastly different parts of the collection, ranging from publicity files to budget sheets to individual production personnel to general office memos 1942-1944, and even then you will only have stumbled upon a fraction of the material. while organizing correspondence according to dates or senders [and occasionally both] seems fairly rational, it could just as easily be cataloged according to mood, theme, subject matter, or type of writing utensil employed (actually this one is commonly listed [TLS Selznick to Garbo] and is a great titillator, but could easily turn out to be nothing more than a birthday card or a note about on going air conditioning problems in the cafeteria). Plus, lots of stuff gets junked. The NBC papers at Madison are vastly incomplete and paint a very limited, if contradictory picture of how early radio operated, based on what NBC deemed historically significant. I guess what I am trying to suggest is that while video hosting sites like youtube do pose important challenges for scholars (Jason’s point about copyright concerns and the “here today gone tomorrow” phenomenon you encountered are legitimate research constraints), we need to be careful and not assume that the organizational practices of existing official archives are any more valid or any less likely to shape the historical narratives we construct. Personally, I am fascinated with the semi-arbitrary tagging and naming practices DIY web video archivists employ because in both their seeming chaoticness and underlying logics, they shine a light on the ways official institutions have naturalized the ordering of knowledge.

Finally, why isn’t Ofra Haza wearing a punctuation cap? Gender discrimination!!

Sharon Shahaf's picture

You didn't pay attention to

You didn’t pay attention to the song Avi! But for non Hebrew speakers…Ofra is the period or stop sign -in Hebrew “Nekuda” literally “point” and also “beauty spot”. She thus points to the beauty mark on her face - indeed still highly gendered notion coming to think of it.


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