The Eternal Now: Digital Folk Art and Mass Culture

Trevor Blank said to kick off his interview,

Contrary to popular belief, folklore is just as much, if not more, of an agent of the present as it is of the past.

To extrapolate from Blank where folk-activities are self-defining factor for inclusion: where each may see him or herself in a bigger us. If the us is no longer defined easily along simple geographic terms, but through a broad digital landscape, then the larger “Us” requires a different kind of preservation, a different kind of museum, and builds a different kind of heritage.

Your tribe @micahannepark:

Examining the breakdown of Zombie-infested Flickr (outside of a half-formed argument about the prevalence of zombies on the site because they have fewer lighting concerns) let us consider the idea, as Blank described it, of folk activities as the agent of the present. Owens (or Original Trevor) describes the zombies in his Flickr sample as being “literal” and immediate. The crafts, costumes, and vigs displayed were all recent, the events all happening now. Like traditional folk arts and activities, the zombie aesthetic helps people to connect to a particular umwelt.


The fan art video sought to explain how the participatory element of the fan community takes something beloved and wants to be a part of it, highlighting Sherlock fan art as some of the most out there. A Pinterest pin I saw a few weeks brought up the claim that the first fan fictions were written by fans of the original Sherlock Holmes in the 1930s – the veracity of this claim completely unsupported –

Peer review or it didn't happen! #science:

what was instructive from the PBS video was hearing how the creators of Adventure Time, upon allowing one of their artists to engage with their fan base on a transformative project, subsequently creating their most watched episode with gender-bent characters. The video on viral videos last week, though never mentioning the Vlog Brothers, did show them repeatedly and I would take a moment to point out that one of the keys to the success of the Vlog Brothers has been their decision to go above and beyond general acceptance of fan interest – they share fan art on their videos regularly and their webstore commercializes and profit shares fan made art with their entire community and beyond. As new artists come to prominence, the material rotates, embracing the now and keeping people interested. 

Fraimow’s article addresses the now and then of fan video as an archival object requiring a different kind of preservation than the merch being sold or the crafts being so lovingly created. Falling outside the traditional accession methodologies and collecting remits of most institutions transformative media is heavily ingrained in the ideas of right now: what has captured our attention this second, what’s going on, what’s available? Which naturally puts the materials created in direct competition with their sources – hence, I suspect, of the source material owners demanding the transformative works be taken down whether or not they have a right to do so. However, the solution being worked on by key supporters of fan work that Fraimow relates at the end of her article is as problematic as the difficulties it is attempting to solve. The proposal is a Dark Archive where all the fan videos can go live and be safe from evil corporate takedown notices, but if the point is preservation for the sake of access, then perhaps I’m missing some hip new meaning of the phrase “dark archive.” If the archive was truly dark, then why bother submitting material to it if the point of creation is to share? Who would have access? Would it be account based? How would non-creators discover new content if all the content was restricted access? Who would be responsible for this work? What funding would support the project if the same companies with their take down notices demanded access to the archive?

Johnson’s discussion of the standardization of fanfiction sites brings up several interesting points, but the one most relevant to this post is how, as fan fiction becomes more and more standardized, more and more recognized and trafficked, more accessible and searchable, more accepted and acceptable, it also begins to self-censor. Johnson describes how, a top repository for all things Slash (and the one with the best metadata schema) self-imposed a maximum posting limit of M on all content. We can assume that the appetite for the NC-17 material has not evaporated as the overarching genre has become more socially acceptable, so shall we for the sake of argument also assume that the fringe content has once again shifted venues? And if it is not with its “mainstream” compatriots, where has it gone, how deeply ingrained in this particular subculture do you have to be to find the really fringe material?

To return to traditional art, Perkel states that,

creating knowledge of how the web works is not just an outcome of using the web or theorizing about it. It is a part of what is helping to produce the web in practice…

So according to Perkel, by using, we create; our now is the advent of our cultural heritage – to return to Blank, folklore is now.


Which brings us to Espenschied. Throughout his interview, nuggets of policy wisdom are scattered and two elements in particular highlight the problematic nature of now: the “flimsy” nature of digital culture and the changing story of history. The latter, as Espenschied discusses, is based on the problem faced by preservation frameworks built on the idea of a single creator (generally a white man) doing a thing that is succeeded by someone else (of similar phenotype and gender) doing a related thing. Digital culture is distinctly more diverse and decidedly more collaborative. The former, as was pointed out in class last week, needs only to look to fan-made content to see just how not forever the internet is. Moreover, the rapid development of internet culture, language, and trends compounds vulnerable materiality with quickly forgotten context.

3 Replies to “The Eternal Now: Digital Folk Art and Mass Culture”

  1. First off, here are some citations for the Sherlock Holmes statement, which may not have been verified on Pinterest but has been the subject of much discussion for decades, given the popularity of Doyle’s characters.

    Additionally, a couple points on fanvids — fanworks are very rarely in competition with their original subject matter. They often critique and converse with it, and deep knowledge of the subject matter is often a requirement for full enjoyment of the media, meaning that in many ways they actually boost the sales of media (gotta buy those DVDs to make those <a href=""high-quality vids) and generally increase awareness of and audience for the given fandom(s).

    Also, as far as the AO3’s Dark Archive goes, recall that it is supposed to work hand-in-hand with the AO3-hosted torrent service, acting as a backup. It is also acting as a repository for items that are currently only available for checkout once a year in a specific physical location. That sounds like the definition of dark archive that I’m aware of.

    As for and ‘fringe’ material, it’s pretty much all at the AO3. banned original fiction, fiction based on real people, and NC-17 fiction due to complaints, presumably from outside sources, similar to Livejournal’s mass banning. But basically each time does something that upsets fans, the AO3 gets another huge boots in user numbers. What may have been considered fringe on FFNet isn’t fringe elsewhere.

    1. When I read the bit about the Sherlock Holmes fan fiction origin, I started thinking to myself, how important is it that we know the genesis of a certain strain of fan fiction or folklore? I suspect this varies from person to person, but it does seem to matter to the SH community. How does the knowledge of ~90 year old fan fiction shape/change our interpretation of this kind of folklore? For me, it adds much deeper significance because it’s not just some passing fad. I also suspect “fan fiction” or reinterpretation/supplemental material to beloved tales in various format is a much older tradition than we realize. I’m curious to see what other folks think.

      Also- can either one of you explain dark archives more? I get the general concept, but I’m curious to know how these are formed and who actually controls them. I didn’t understand that. Also- “It is also acting as a repository for items that are currently only available for checkout once a year in a specific physical location.” –Does this mean only one user checks this out once a year? Apologies for being a little dense on this particular topic.

      1. The SAA definition is a little off the mark from what I’d use, but it’s okay. Basically it’s a locked archive – you put things in but don’t take them out, unless the other possible sources are definitively all gone.

        And what I meant by only able to check out once a year was a reference to the part of the article where Fraimow referred to the Dark Archive hosting/storing the videos from vividcon, which is currently only accessible at the con itself.

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