Screen Cultures at Archaeologies of Media and Film

By Oliver Carter on October 28th, 2014

Oliver Carter and John Mercer recently presented papers at the Archeologies of Media and Film conference held at Bradford University, 3-5 September.

They were part of a panel titled ‘Current Research into Video Cultures’, which included associate Screen Cultures member Mark McKenna and Dr. Johnny Walker from Northumbria University (pictured above right).  The same panel also be presenting at the forthcoming MeCCSA conference, which is being held at Northumbria University. Abstracts from the panel are as follows:

Fans as archivists: Community Curation of VHS (Oliver Carter, Birmingham City University)

This paper explores how fans of cult film occupy the role of archivist in their capturing, preserving and sharing of VHS tapes. Often responding to the political and economic limitations of rights holders and other gatekeepers of cultural heritage, fan archivists are making materials available for access through online communities of practice. These communities are being formed to collectively seek out, capture, preserve and make accessible a range of popular cultural artefacts, with fans participating in what Andy Bennett (2009) describes as DIY preservationism”. Building on recent studies of fan archival practice, such as Abigail De Kosnik (2012), Ken Garner (2012) and my own research (Carter, 2013) I examine how fans of cult film assume the role of archivist as they digitise and share content taken from VHS tapes. Drawing on virtual ethnographic studies of fan constructed online archives and engagement with their participants. I demonstrate how such fan sites play a crucial role in the preserving the obsolete technology of VHS for future access and, in so doing, create rich and valuable archives that document the histories of the distribution and consumption of cult film.

Bennett, A. (2009) ‘Heritage rock’: Rock music, representation and heritage discourse. Poetics, 37(5–6), 474–489.
Carter, O. (2013) ‘Sharing All’Italiana. Riproduzione e distribuzione del genere I sui siti Torrent’ (English Title: Sharing All’Italiana – The Reproduction and Distribution of the giallo on Torrent File-Sharing Websites). In Braga, R. and Caruso,G. (Eds.) The Piracy Effect, Milan: Mimesis Cinergie, pp147-157.
De Kosnik, A. (2012) ‘The Collector is the Pirate’. International Journal of Communication, 6. Available at: [Accessed: 4 November 2012].
Garner, K. (2012) ‘Ripping the pith from the Peel: Institutional and Internet cultures of archiving pop music radio’. The Radio Journal – International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media, 10(2), pp89-111.

Reconfiguring the ‘Merchants of Menace’ (Mark McKenna, University of Sunderland)

In 1984 the introduction of Video Recordings Act (VRA) ushered in an era of state sanctioned censorship in Britain that continues to this day. The Act criminalized the sale and rental of those videos distributed without an official ‘certificate’—one that would henceforth be provided by British Board of Film Classification.

In the years since the introduction of the VRA much has been written about the ‘video nasties’, with the majority of this work favouring issues of censorship and discussions of moral panics and the media effects debates that have tended to accompany the introduction of any new technology. Early British video distributors have often been portrayed as comic book villains: ‘merchants of menace’ out to capitalize on ‘the rape of our children’s minds’. Thus far, little attention has been paid to the industrial processes of the independent video industry that began in the shadow of censorship and fulfilled a market need not being met by major distributors of period.

This paper will introduce elements of my research into one of the most successful of the ‘video nasty’ distributors, VIPCO. I will examine the processes involved in the marketing and distribution of controversial products in a British context, and discuss the market that has subsequently developed in the wake of the VRA.

What Gets Left Behind: VHS and Archives of Sexual Representations (John Mercer, Birmingham City University)

Oliver Carter and John Mercer from Birmingham City University and Sharif Mowlabocus from the University of Sussex have acquired the personal video and film archive of an important anti censorship activist who was the founder of a campaigning group during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. This is a very particular type of archive in that the texts are ostensibly gay male pornographic materials.

Plans are now in place to make the archive available for scholarly use. This is an extremely important resource for anyone interested in British attitudes and wider debates around sexual representation, the definition of obscenity and the anti-censorship campaigns of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It not only provides documentary evidence of some of the specific materials that anti-censorship activists were concerned with defending (especially as they relate to the status of homosexuality during the period) but also acts as a valuable historical document of the private practices of collecting and curating materials deemed obscene in wider culture and the restrictive and clandestine contexts in which such activities out of necessity were transacted.

The work of making this very private archive accessible as a resource for researchers presents a number of issues relating to censorship and self censorship, ethical conduct and the potentials and pitfalls of archives of sexual representations. In this paper, we will outline some of the issues that are at stake and explore the distinctions and contradictions of the public and the private when thinking about this kind of material.

Rewind and Playback: Re-examining the Video Boom in Britain (Johnny Walker, Northumbria University)

Following the ‘industrial turn’ in film and media studies, ‘Video Studies’ has emerged as a fresh line of academic inquiry, with scholars striving to look beyond ‘the text’ and ‘beyond the multiplex’ (Klinger 2007), to examine the ways that films have been distributed and consumed across a host of video platforms (Labato 2012). Other scholars have sought to historicise the emergence and longevity of the video industry (Wasser 2001; McDonald 2007) or have assessed the cultural experience that video has afforded its consumers from Betamax, to Blockbuster, and beyond (Greenburg 2007; Herbert 2014).

Britain’s place within such research has mostly been linked to the video nasties panic and its cultural legacy (Egan 2007; Petely 2011). Therefore, it is the purpose of this paper to introduce my next research project: an investigation into the impact that home video had on British society and popular culture during the 1970s and 1980s beyond the video nasties, considering those people who used and consumed the technology, as well as the video shop owners and independent distributors who made a living from it. This talk will focus primarily on the cultural specificities of early video shop culture and will also reflect on my methodological concerns moving forward.