Essay

ONE National Archives Final (Copy of Document)

Rhetorical Insights: The ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives

History is a concept known to many, but sometimes only truly understood by a few. It is created and designed by the narratives, objects, and places of a historical moment. If any one of these pieces is lost – so too is part of the history. Archives seek to prevent such a tragedy from occurring. Archives also help to maintain the truth of these histories, a feat far more difficult than it may seem. History, as they say, is written by the victors. One group that has struggled to preserve the truth of its history is the lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, and queer communities. Jim Kepner and creators of the ONE Magazine both worked hard in the 1940s and 50s to document and collect material relating to the LGBTQ community (History). Eventually leading to the establishment of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in 1994. In doing so they have established the archive as a source of rhetoric: “the use of symbolic action by human beings to share ideas, enabling them to work together to make decisions about matters of common concern” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 6). Through this rhetoric, the archive has preserved the often-overlooked history of LGBTQ people; and they have created new programs and educational events to promote civic engagement, by which people participate to act and develop solutions to social, economic, and political challenges within their community and world (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 16).

The creation of this programming is known as a visual rhetorical strategy, “rhetoric that makes ideas present through visual display” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 72). Concepts of visual rhetoric regarding the ONE archive are enactment and presence. Enactment “occurs when the person engaging in symbolic action functions as proof of the argument they advance” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 77). This archive includes the viewpoints of many different rhetors – the artists who create new content and created past content. The ONE Archives actively creates educational programming with these rhetors to engage and promote understanding and acceptance of the national LGBTQ communities. One recent program, Futures of Abolition: Trans and Queer Resistance Against the Prison Industrial Complex, brought together a collection of transgender women of color, activists, former incarcerated artists, and members of the archive foundation to discuss and highlight strategies to “grow cultures of resistance where safety is built in struggle and not through state intervention” (Futures).

The archive also creates an online and offline presence. Presence is defined as visuals that have the distinctive features of real existence because of their immediacy, and lead to the “creation of something in the front of an audience’s consciousness” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 71). The archive not only includes images of the past, but often promotes and includes in its collections current art exhibitions, publications, comments on news regarding the collection and conferences, and is involved with creative art programs that engage directly with the LGBTQ community. This presence establishes a networked public – an interconnect public formed and strengthened as the result of communication practices enabled by social media and the internet (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 291). This networked public also creates an important function, a public screen for the LGBTQ community. This screen is comprised of the constant availability and circulation of actions enabled by the implementation of new media technologies such as the archive’s YouTube and Twitter pages (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 295). In doing so the archive expands upon the existing culture of the community. Culture being the way by which people develop and transmit meanings of symbols, social conceptions, and develop their knowledge and perspectives towards life (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 23).

These rhetorical methods have deep connotations and make use of specific public vocabulary and resignified symbols to connect to the public. For instance, in the Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects exhibit, includes archival materials that feature the original transgender pride flag, designed by the “Betsy Ross of the trans community Monica Helms”, and is displayed alongside a collaborative video interview (Motha). The flag has a rich emotional and cultural meaning to the community – or a connotation. Most of the language used in the archive and exhibits like the Hirstory, utilize public vocabulary, or “culturally established and sanctioned terms that compose people’s understanding of the world” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 49). Terms such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual are often more common in the publics vocabulary. Newer terms and resignified terms include transgender, tranny, and queer. One collection discusses the “‘Ts’ and ‘Qs’ often missing from historical records” (Transactivation). Resignified symbols and words – the attempt by a people to change somethings original connotation – is found throughout the LGBTQ community (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 56). From terms like queer and fag, to symbols like the pink triangle utilized during the Nazi regime to identify gay internment camp victims (Plant).

These terms and symbols help create a unique narrative. Narratives are traditionally seen as the representation of real or fictive events and situations (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 131). One such narrative found is the Pat Rocco collection of his notable gay erotic shorts and home movies which were widely embraced by the gay community, and received positive reviews from the mainstream press (Photographs). The archive uses artifacts like this to not only enhance the narrative, but to argue for a claim of value, or “a claim that advances that a statement about what is worthy” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 110). One project featured short films designed to highlight the importance of key LGBTQ historic places in Los Angeles. The films “aimed to bring together a diversity of stories, perspectives, and experiences that reveal the layered historic and cultural importance of LGBTQ places throughout L.A.” (Los Angeles). That in turn asserts the archives claim of value and helps create familiarity for the public to better understand the archive’s argument. An argument can take many forms in rhetoric, but at its’ core it is “reasoned discourse that seeks to persuade by presenting support for a position” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 101). The argued position for the ONE archive is that LGBTQ histories are not only valid and real, but worth preserving.

This argued position also represents an exigency, or an obstacle to be overcome (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 227). And to bring this exigency, the risk of losing LGBTQ histories, to the public’s attention, the archive must find a way to promote the discourse through much more than simple preservation. By including the programming offered and the special interactive exhibits, we find that the ONE archive expands its performance (all the activity of a given participant which serves to influence other participants), to include a sense of immediacy or presence in which their ideas come to life, otherwise known as vivacity (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 166, 139). For example, the Watermelon Woman Collection, includes not only clips from the film, but also some of memoirs and photographs from the film’s production and the actress’s life (Memoirs).  Archivists discuss the actress’s life as a performer, a black woman, and a lesbian in public tours. It allows the public to understand that her life is the result of a multifaceted experience. This is also a prime example of the archives reoccurring theme and relevance of intersectionality. Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations and discrimination faced by a group or individual, such as race, class, and gender (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 170).

Artifacts like this are important to the rhetoric of the archive as they also establish a strong connection to the public’s values and emotions. Public emotions are “collective expressions of feeling that are crucial elements of deliberation, judgment, and action that comprise a language for collective life” (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 206). The human voice can convey far more than words – it is often laced with tone and pitch that creates a strong sense of emotional attachment. The archive is aware of this fact and has a special collection that includes over 200 hours of audio recordings from LGBTQ individuals dating back as far as 1955. Poet Robert Peters can be heard in a 1978 recording talking about how homosexuality was often compared to schizophrenia and as a result young gay men often suffered greatly. “There was an overwhelming feeling of guilt, anticipation and fear of being abandoned” (200 Hours). These carefully constructed collections and exhibits are fitting responses, or responses that meet the expectations of the rhetorical situation (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 233). They also have value to the public. And values are used to orient people when they attempt to interpret the world around them and understand why something is important (Palczewski, Helen, Ice, Fritch 208). This is seen immediately in the site’s mission statement, “It is the mission of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries to collect, preserve, and make accessible LGBTQ historical materials while promoting new scholarship on and public awareness of queer histories” (About). They not only address the exigency and build a compelling argument, but they hope to preserve a fragile and emotional history that has the potential to honor those lost and educate others yet enlightened to the tremulous experiences of LGBTQ people.

 

 

Works Cited

“About Us.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/about/&gt;.

“Futures of Abolition: Trans and Queer Resistance Against the Prison Industrial Complex.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/futures-of-abolition/&gt;.

“History.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/about/history/&gt;.

“Los Angeles Conservancy: LGBTQ Historic Places in L.A. Screening and Panel Conversation.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/los-angeles-conservancy-lgbtq-historic-places-in-la/&gt;.

“Memoirs of a Watermelon Woman.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/memoirs-of-a-watermelon-woman/&gt;.

“Over 5,000 Photographs and Documents Now Online.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/over-5000-photographs-and-documents-now-online/&gt;.

Palczewski, Catherine Helen., Richard Ice, and John Fritch. Rhetoric in Civic Life. State College, PA: Strata Pub., 2016. Print.

Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals. New York: H. Holt, 1988. Print.

“Transactivation: Revealing Queer Histories in the Archive.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/transactivation-revealing-queer-histories-in-the-archive/&gt;.

“Transgender Hirstory in 99 Objects: Legends & Mythologies.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/motha/&gt;.

“200 Hours of Audio Recordings from ONE Now Accessible Online.” ONE National Gay Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries. USC Libraries, 2017. Web. 3 Apr. 2017. <http://one.usc.edu/200-hours-of-audio-recordings-from-one-now-accessible-online/&gt;.

 

 

 

(c) Dean Pratchett-Cooper 2017

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