Making Future Memories

By | September 16, 2014

This week’s readings reminded me of one of the reasons I first became interested in the Media Studies program, while still a lowly college undergraduate. During the Republican primary debates in 2011, a lot of – to be technical – weird stuff was being said. Factually incorrect stuff, taking political spin to new levels, and stretching the truth as far as it would go, particularly in conversations about women’s health, rights, and bodies. What’s more is that the claims would be repeated, even amplified, by blogs, news programs, papers, etc.
While this was all going on, I happened to read a column in The New York Times called “Should the Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” in which Public Editor Arthur Brisbane posed the question of “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” So if the news is that something was said by a candidate, and that statement happened to be untrue or factually questionable, is it the responsibility of the reporter to insert words to that effect? Are they correcting the record? Or is the record only what was said at an event?
Considering Brisbane’s article in light of Ann Laura Stoler’s piece about what we get out of the archive when we look critically and intelligently at how it got there and why, and also browsing Terry Cook’s discussion of the tension between evidence and memory, I am left thinking about the creation of those records in the here and now. The Times is often considered the ‘paper of record,’ but they struggle with the creation of memory in the present, which I think shows an anxiety about the future. To be the paper of record, you must be concerned with how your truth claims will hold up to a future public. Brisbane’s question is as much about how people prefer to read their morning news as it is about what we will know about these events from a future archive. Will we want to know that claims by ‘newsmakers’ were viewed critically in the moment? Or will we prefer to read these claims without added commentary, viewed only in the context of the surrounding news and description? In short, do we want memory, or evidence?
The difficulty is that if we want memory, whose memory do we want? Supplying times readers with the collective memory of its editorial board serves one purpose, but also opens the door for others to provide information in the context of a different set of memories. And if we choose evidence alone – a straight reporting of he said, she said that relies on a simple account of the ‘facts’ – well, evidence can always be circumspect. There’s no possibility of taking it at face value, as there will always be a context in which evidence is given and in which evidence is read. (Also, as Cook points out, the ‘tension’ between evidence and memory is not a dichotomy, since evidence is contingent on time, place, etc. – “There is memory, then, of evidence itself.” [105])
In the few brief years since reading this article, I obviously have not come up with a satisfying answer (and I also doubt there’s a single answer to this question). Still, in the process of setting thoughts and events down in writing, it can be useful to consider yourself as participating in a kind of record keeping for the future. It’s not that we are all the ‘paper of record,’ but that as we record, we may always be including more of ourselves and our time than we think we are.

One thought on “Making Future Memories

  1. shannon Post author

    Great, Rachel. I’m glad you’ve highlighted this issue of the *self-consciousness* of the archive — or the state or archiving entity’s awareness that it’s essentially making “future history” at it constructs its archive today. This making-of-the-archive requires that we consider what we want to be known as archive-worthy events, for our tomorrow-publics, and how we want them to remember those events. We should recall Derrida’s claim that “archivization produces as much as it records the event.” And Foucault acknowledged that what ultimately makes its way into the archive shapes the “thinkable thoughts” and “utterable statements” of the future.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *