Retroactivism in Online New Media

New media, particularly in its digital forms, presents both innovative opportunities and fresh challenges for archivization work. Throughout her fourth chapter, “‘A History of Discontinuities’: On the Past and Future of Retroactivism,” Bessette made the following observations about retroactivist projects and rhetoric in online new media, particularly YouTube videos that treat individual queer pasts.

  • • Online new media makes archivization more accessible to everyone. More people can access the technology and medium needed to create archives, and other people can interact with those archives more easily.
  • • These kinds of archive require that archivists relinquish control of their space and medium by posting materials to a commercial platform, which could remove and destroy these records without notice if they seem to “violate” (i.e., subvert) commercial interests.
  • • Personal archivization projects do not always—or often—treat other queer pasts or the histories reclaimed by earlier queer archives. Oftentimes these digital archives also treat the individual past itself more as a time of trauma and something best acknowledged but left behind, rather than recovered and celebrated.
  • • Online new media also create opportunities for multiple archivist subgenres to exist within the same space. The It Gets Better Project, coming-out videos, and relationship documentations all exist as YouTube videos, but each has its own narrative and rhetorical conventions within that shared medium.

VIDEO: The It Gets Better Project (IGBP) hosted on YouTube

(Note: I have chosen not to link out to Bessette’s other examples from this chapter in order to preserve videographers’ privacy, since those individual users did not tie their videos to a larger project, and thus didn’t explicitly plan for larger publics to view them, unlike the IGBP videographers.)