Performing Archive

YouTube Comments Word Cloud; Curtis as Canvas

Beatrice Schuster, Scripps College

Another fascinating component of these comments is how rarely Curtis is mentioned, despite the fact that his photographs are the subject of the videos. Throughout hundreds of comments comprising 16,334 words, “Curtis” is mentioned a total of three times. In constructing this Scalar book on Curtis, my colleagues and I have been trying to figure out ways to de-center Curtis from the discussion. Funnily enough, these commenters managed to do just that. Unfortunately, once Curtis’ historical and biographical information becomes de-centered, “whiteness” becomes the center.

Now, I could pick apart these commenters’ arguments and explain why they’re problematic, but I think it’s more interesting to consider why these types of conversations take place. After all, YouTube comments are not well-planned papers, they’re an emotional response to these iconic images. It makes sense that the users’ instinctive response is to relate these issues to their own concerns and identities. Their responses are shaped by their own identities, education, upbringing, and media surrounding race in American history.

Ultimately, I’m left with more questions than conclusions. Some of them are: What can we do to move the center of discussions about Native Americans from the concept of “whiteness”? How do Curtis’ photographs encourage stereotyping Native Americans, simplifying their history, and viewing them as victims? Why do discussions of property eclipse other discussions of Native American history? How can emotional responses to Native American history be made to lead to more productive conversations? How do these Youtube conversations reproduce Curtis’ view that the Native American race is “vanishing”?

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