How Coyote VS Acme and Alicia Keys connect to my favorite corner of the internet


Now you see it, and now you don’t.

Last week, Warner Bros. announced that they would be shelving their Looney Tunes film, Coyote Vs Acme. Not only is the film complete, but it has had positive test screenings. Warner has determined, though, that they have more to gain by shelving it and writing it off rather than giving it any kind of release or even selling it to another studio.

A week ago, Alicia Keys joined Usher during his performance at the Super Bowl. As she began to sing, her voice cracked. When the video of the performance was posted online, though, that imperfection had been removed. Through this action, the NFL has effectively updated the public record of that performance. For now, you can see the comparison between the actual performance and the edited one here:

But what would happen if the footage of that original performance were to be wiped from the Internet through copyright notices and other means? Well, like Coyote Vs Acme, that would become what has come to be known as “lost media.”

These events both illustrate how media can become “lost.” Lost Media is a mass media artifact that is either hidden from public consumption, can not be found, or is just so inaccessible that it might as well not exist. An entire community has sprung up around lost media, and search interest in the US has been steadily climbing over the past 5 years, peaking just last week.

With all that attention, where does it get focused? Whole communities have sprung up around lost media. One popular locus is a site called The Lost Media Wiki, which has been around since 2012. There, people catalog lost media, collaborate on finding lost media, and share media that has been found. Beyond the wiki, there’s a subreddit, and YouTube has become a popular home for discussion of lost media. On YouTube, the content I’ve seen most frequently are videos that categorize and catalog lost media. A standout on YouTube, though, is creator Ray Mona, who makes documentaries about her quest to track down lost media and then posts the lost media to YouTube and Internet Archive to preserve the newfound media.

Expectations vs reality

I am fascinated by this community because I believe its existence is a manifestation of internet-era anxieties related to our expectations about the internet.

The first expectation is one of access. Thanks to the Internet, more media is accessible to more people today than at any time in history, creating an expectation that we should be able to find anything. In fact, Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible…” So let’s say that this first expectation is one of universal access.

The second expectation is one of permanence. Anyone who was around in the early 2010s, as social media was beginning to take off, might recall the warnings that once you put something online, it would be online forever. It’s reasonable to warn people to be circumspect when posting things online, but those warnings also created an expectation that wasn’t realistic, even back then. Information on the internet does not last forever. Anyone who has ever clicked on a link in an old blog has likely experienced link rot, which is the clearest indicator that the Internet erodes. Yet we persist with a belief that once something is online, it will always be online.

Let’s call these twin beliefs the dream of the Internet, and if you believe in the dream of the Internet, then the reality that things may blink out of existence at any moment could be unsettling. I think the quest to catalog and find lost media is a way of countering that anxiety, a way to demonstrate that we have more control than we actually do.

I think nostalgia is the main impetus behind this quest to restore lost media. It’s not just a nostalgia for any individual piece of media, but it’s a nostalgia for the internet, itself. All nostalgia is driven by a yearning for the past, but it isn’t just the past that is what’s desired. It’s the potential futures that existed1. Somewhere along the way, by deviating from a course, we end up in different futures than we’d imagined, and nostalgia becomes the desire to reclaim a potential future. By restoring lost media, these sleuths are righting two wrongs of the past — the loss of the media and the loss of the dream of the internet.

Interestingly, we’re at another inflection point in the Internet and its relation to mass media. On the one hand, Coyote vs Acme going into a vault is business as usual for the entertainment industry. On the other, the Alicia Keys’s performance being swiftly edited with original copies being removed from the Internet is not. It represents a new kind of obfuscation of original source material that likely will inspire a new category of lost media. I wonder whether it will also foster more interest in lost media as this obfuscation begins to create a real version of The Mandela Effect, where large groups of people believe that something occurred that didn’t.

Maybe this is why I’m so fascinated by this community. After all, I maintain a love for the Internet, but I am aware that much of that love is likely driven by a thirty-year-old dream of what the Internet could be. I’m also aware of the gap between that dream and how things have unfolded since, a gap exacerbated by the actions of massive corporations. I think I just admire the activism of this community and the optimism that fuels it.


About the author


Earnest has been working in viral web content curation, creation, and trends research for more than 15 years. When not trying to figure out if it is still possible to become a professional wrestler, Earnest leads trends research for YouTube's Culture and Trends team.

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