Burkely is back this month with another guest post, this time about archivists of color in animated series. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out Burkely Hermann’s first guest post on this blog about librarians of color in animated series. Some background: I highlighted one of Burkely’s posts about librarians in animated series back in November, and he also contributed lots of insightful comments on the Twitter round-table thread about archivist/librarian depictions in pop culture from Students and New Archives Professionals Section (@SNAP_Section), which I highlighted in this post from January, a post that set out my goals for this year to research and focus more on POC librarians. Therefore, I asked Burkely to contribute a couple of guest posts for this blog, because I think readers of this blog will enjoy his different perspectives of archivists and animated series. For this guest post, Burkely is going to delve into depictions of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) archivists in animated series, including the characters of Arizal in Recorded by Arizal and Grampa Park in Stretch Armstrong & The Flex Fighters.
A bit about Burkely:
Burkely Hermann is an archivist and researcher living in the U.S. He graduated from University of Maryland with an MLIS degree with a concentration in Archives & Digital Curation in December 2019, and earned a B.A. in Political Science, minoring in history, in May 2016 from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He started three blogs in the summer of 2020 about libraries, archives, and genealogy in popular culture: Genealogy in Popular Culture, Libraries in Popular Culture, and Wading Through The Cultural Stacks. He currently writes pop culture reviews for Pop Culture Maniacs, runs several genealogy blogs where he writes about his family history roots, and occasionally writes pieces for I Love Libraries, an initiative of the American Library Association. He has also been published in the American Archivist Reviews Portal, the SNAP Roundtable, Issues & Advocacy, and Neurotastic. He is currently a writer for the Geekiary, an online pop culture review site, is exploring other sites to publish his work, and writes fictional works on the site Archive of Our Own about some of his favorite animated characters who travel to archives and libraries. Additionally, he volunteers as a judge for National History Day, likes hiking, reading webcomics, and swimming in his spare time.
*SPOILER ALERTS BELOW*
Archivists of color in animated series: Arizal and Grampa Park
~ Guest post by Burkely Hermann, MLIS
Archives are often portrayed stereotypically in popular media and confused with libraries, as is the case in the Star Wars franchise, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, and The Mystic Archives of Dantalian. Archivists themselves are often portrayed similarly to librarians and, as such, embody many of the same stereotypes. Archives are places where people can access, in person or online, first-hand accounts of events, including various original materials, whether paper documents, maps, photographs, and digital records, and are staffed by specially trained individuals called archivists. The records within these repositories are kept due to their continuing, and long-term, value to users and those creating the record. Archivists often attempt to make their collections publicly available, whether through outreach or digitization of existing records. While libraries also make their collections available, they include secondary sources, like books, non-print, and other print materials which are organized by author and subject, and can be checked out for home use. Archives, in contrast, are arranged according to the person, organization, or community which created them. Their records cannot be checked out by patrons because they include inactive, and unique, documents no longer needed for day-to-day operations, with specific guidelines in place for accessing those records.
Archivists are often shown negatively in popular culture, and when shown, they are mostly White women, with a lack of BIPOC archivists. This echoes the dynamics of the archival field, which is, as stated in the last census of archivists in 2004, and will be shown in the upcoming census of the field, majority White. Furthermore, Samantha Cross of POP Archives, a fellow archivist who has examined portrayals in popular culture, mostly points to White archivists and archives in her reviews. I have found the same when examining animated series with archives and archivists.
Two animated shows stand out in featuring BIPOC archivists: Stretch Armstrong & The Flex Fighters and Recorded by Arizal. Both series will be highlighted in this post.
When I came across the animated series Stretch Armstrong & The Flex Fighters, I was excited to see an archivist of color, voiced by Sab Shimono (a Japanese–American actor), which inspired me to watch all the episodes of the series. While he never gets a proper name — only called Grampa Park — this archivist is the grandfather of a Korean-American kid named Nathan, who helps his grandson and his friend, Ricardo, do research in his “newspaper archives,” when the internet goes down. Unfortunately, the archives is in his basement, perpetrating another common stereotype of archives which is repeated in fictional works. Even so, federal records were once stored in basements of government buildings, although this soon ended after the records were under the control of the National Archives. At the same time, there are questions as to how well the newspapers are preserved and the fact the archives itself is his personal hobby, with archivists having a professional job to preserve records, not because it is their hobby to do so. There are some hobbyists who archive documents, but they likely do not have the professional training to do such archival work. While the basement archives of Nathan’s grandfather are a bit messy, with some records which are melting, he, a former reporter, asks what they need (engaging in reference work). They look through the stacks, organized by newspapers which are either local or worldwide. The newspaper archives reappear several times in the series, and the characters use it to access information which the villains try to keep hidden. Even with the reservations about the series, as I’ve previously explained, I still chuckled at his joyful declaration in one episode: “some say I’m packrat, archivist I say!” A proud archivist indeed.
A much more positive portrayal of archives is embodied in the protagonist of Recorded by Arizal, a 16-year-old Filipina girl named Arizal (voiced by Christine Marie Cabanos, an American voice actress of Filipino descent). She is an aspiring recordkeeper, known as keeper for short, who will travel across the world, gathering materials along the way to add to the global archive, to preserve the history of humanity. Arizal lives in a futuristic city named Maktaba with her cousin, uncle, and aunt. She composes a series of vlogs during her summer vacation, as an extra credit assignment and part of a formal application to become a keeper. While she decides whether she wants to pursue this career path, and the episodes released so far are a coming-of-age story, a main driving theme is “the discussion of record keeping and learning” as confirmed by series creator Yssa Badiola. On other occasions, Badiola has stated that future record keeping and vlogging is archival in and of itself. As an aside, the word “maktaba” means library or place of study in Arabic, showing that the show paid close attention to cultural and historical notions.
Throughout the series, Arizal struggles to define why she wants to be a keeper. She begins the series by saying she became interested in becoming a keeper because of her friends Lia and Rizella. Afterward, a keeper tells her the harsh reality of gathering information, causing her to have a personal crisis, as she worries about leaving her prized possessions behind before making the journey. Later, she reflects on her dream when standing on a secretive overlook and how she got through it with the help of friends. In the final part of the series, it is shown that her application to become a record keeper is accepted by the athenaeum, a literary and scientific organization that advances learning. If the series is greenlighted for a full season, her role as a keeper will be explored as she “records her journey to adulthood” and tries to make the history of humanity all the more complete.
There is one character who gets honorable mention in this post: Hermes Conrad (voiced by Phil LaMarr, a Black American actor and writer) in the mature animation, Futurama. It is worth asking if he can even be considered an archivist since he is described and shown as the Planet Express company bureaucrat who has a deep love for filing and organization. He is able to quickly look through the Physical File Archive so effectively that he secretly takes out a file hiding his role as an inspector of Bender Rodriguez, a robot who is part of the company’s crew. In order to spare himself from Bender’s wrath, he later destroys the file. The so-called “archive” is a single file cabinet with three drawers in an out-of-the-way location, hidden deep in the Central Bureaucracy. Brad Houston, an archivist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, countered the notion, saying that this “physical file archive” is a records center because it contains semi-active records, rather than an archive.
I am optimistic there will be further BIPOC archivists in future animations, due to the hopeful premiere this year of shows like S.A.L.E.M.: The Secret Archive of Legends, Enchantments, and Monsters on YouTube, and the other shows on a growing number of streaming platforms. I say this because popular animated series such as Amphibia, Carmen Sandiego, Little Witch Academia, and Bloom Into You, all feature either archives or archivy settings. The same can be said about The Bravest Knight, Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure, Steven Universe, and Manaria Friends all of which feature archives. Even so, these shows are cases of archives that have absent archivists, with some of these archives literally being abandoned. Furthermore, this article could be expanded further if George and Lance, the self-declared historians of the archive-library-museum in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and the possible manager of the Ancient Egypt special collections room of the PYRAMID school library in Cleopatra in Space, Khensu, the mentor of the show’s protagonist, Cleopatra, are included. In the latter case, however, it is not known if Khensu is the one that organized the information or if it was someone else instead. In the end, I’ll keep writing about this subject to engender continued discussion while pushing for more, and better, representation of the archives profession in popular culture.
- “About Archives,” Society of American Archivists, 12 Sept. 2016.
- “Athenaeum,” Dictionary.com, 2021.
- Badiola, Yssa. “Hey gang, I’m Yssa [.] Creator & showrunner of Recorded By Arizal. And We have a panel for RTX!! That’s wild!,” Rooster Teeth, 29 Aug. 2020.
- Badiola, Yssa. “Recorded by Yssa: The Team – Vlog #1,” Reddit, 27 Sept. 2020.
- Badiola, Yssa, Christine Marie Cabanos, and Joshua Kazemi, “RTX – Recorded by Arizal,” interview by Kdin Jenzen, Rooster Teeth, 21 Sept. 2020, 41:54-42:56.
- Hermann, Burkely, “A ‘special library’ or a misnamed archives?: Little Witch Academia and archives stereotypes,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 26 Oct. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Abandoned scrolls and archivy themes in Tangled,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 13 Feb. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Amphibia’s folly and the stereotypical archives,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 30 July. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Archives in Carmen Sandiego,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 23 Jan. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Arizal, Recordkeeping, and the World of Maktaba,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 30 Sept. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Cedric, Grunt, and the dusty hall of records,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 19 Dec. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Examining a basement newspaper archives in ‘Stretch Armstrong’,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 9 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Futurama and the curious case of the Physical File Archive,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 1 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Missing records, love, and mystery in ‘Bloom Into You’,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 14 Nov. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Is it a ‘Jedi Archives’ or a ‘Jedi Library’ in Star Wars?,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 4 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Popular culture and the duties of archivists,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 27 Feb. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “The Mystic Archives of Dantalian confuses libraries and archives again,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 9 Sept. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “The specter of…”snot-nosed archivists” and the value of archives in popular culture,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 13 Feb. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “VCRs, virtual communications, and lost records: Archivy themes in Steven Universe,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 16 Jan. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Anne, the forbidden archives, romance, and research,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 13 Feb. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “So… where are the archivists, anyway?: Abandoned archives and absent archivists,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 20 Feb. 2021.
- Hermann, Burkely, “She-Ra, Bow, and the archives: An ‘archivy situation,’ indeed,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 13 Aug. 2020.
- Hermann, Burkely, “Cleo and the Ancient Egypt section of P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. library,” Wading Through The Cultural Stacks, 20 Aug. 2020.
- Houston, Brad. “A Records Center is not an Archives: Transfer Forms!,” The Schedule, 30 Apr. 2018.
- “Maktaba,” Wiktionary, 12 Aug. 2019.
- “SAA Receives IMLS Grant for A*CENSUS II,” Society of American Archivists, 24 July 2020.
- Shaw, Benjamin. “Just Stick It in the Basement: Before the Archives,” WETA, 18 Aug. 2015.
- “The Societal Role of Archives,” Council on Library and Information Resources, n.d.
- Walch, Victoria Irons. “Part 3. A* Census: A Closer Look Expanded version,” Society of American Archivists, 2006.
- “What’s an Archives?” National Archives and Records Administration, 15 Aug. 2016.
- “What’s an Archivist?” National Archives and Records Administration, 10 May 2017.
- “What Are Archives and How Do They Differ from Libraries?,” Society of American Archivists, n.d.
- “What are Archives,” National Museum of American History, n.d.
- “What are archives?,” International Council on Archives, n.d.
- “What are Archives,” National Archives of Fiji, 2012.
- “What are archives?,” University of Nottingham, n.d.
- “What are archives?,” Kings College at Cambridge, n.d.
- “What are archives?,” National Archives (UK), n.d.