Call for Comments: Disappearing Media

From Hannah: This summer, the cancelled Batgirl movie caused a lot of people on Twitter (and other places) to not only criticize the decision but talk about why it’s so depressing when films go unreleased. (Particularly, if you believe one of the dominant narratives, that it was solely thrown in the trash for accounting magic purposes.) And this isn’t the only piece of content that either didn’t make it to any screen recently or that was unceremoniously removed from a streaming service to go … nowhere (at least for the moment).

But even though these were pretty big stories at the time (and the Batgirl drama is still kind of ongoing), media disappearing isn’t new. There are a lot of novels, for example, that have gone out of print. Specific board games also aren’t always possible to get, even for a game that was successfully funded on Kickstarter. Sometimes, teams behind these games are able to run another campaign to fund a another edition or find another way … and sometimes what was printed is what was printed, and you’re going to have to buy a game that originally cost $60 plus shipping for way more on eBay if you really want it.

Apparently, the common term for this phenomenon is lost media or lost works. And if you browse Wikipedia for ten minutes, you’ll come across a lot of examples, including literal lost footage of films or television episodes that cannot be recovered. Which is a little different, I think, than the money-driven decision making that decides to repress films from being released to a streaming service.

(Also, there’s that whole thing where people have had media literally deleted from their devices by a company that has to fit in here somehow.)

This topic intersects with a lot of broad questions about the role of capital in driving the production of media, the importance (or not?) of archival work and preservation, and the value we place on access to media.

5 Comments and 13 Webmentions for “Call for Comments: Disappearing Media”

  1. Probably my worth noting that the BBC literally threw away the entire black and white era of Doctor Who. Through the efforts of dedicated fans (sometimes with BBC backing, sometimes not), a lot of it has been recovered, but a full 96 episodes of this iconic and beloved series are lost and will probably never be found, so this is not a new phenomenon. There’s a cool book about this called “Wiped” by Richard Molesworth if you’re interested.

  2. Also, not the same thing as what you’re talking about, but don’t forget the Universal Studios fire. It’s more often thought of in a context of audio recordings being lost but my understanding is that there was some film as well. So, films may not just be “lost” in that they aren’t available to be viewed, they may be lost completely when the masters are destroyed. Then as a counterpoint, there’s the Library of Congress’ NAVCC out in Culpeper which is of interest to me because a) I totally support the concept b) the family of a good friend used to live there so I’m familiar with the area and c) I actually did some work on the fire protection systems at the building used for storage/conservation when it was being converted from its previous use.

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