The fascinating rabbit hole of lost media
Ever fancied being an archaeologist?
Ever recall hearing a catchy song or watching a television show but never being able to find out anything about them? You might have stumbled upon what is now considered lost media. The term mainly encompasses either media that were once made for public broadcast but no longer exists or urban legends of media that may have existed at one point.
Media made a century ago aren’t the only ones to be lost either.
Between 2001 and 2004, Singaporeans could tune in to more than one English and Chinese television channels: Channel I and Channel U. Both channels had their own sets of locally-produced television series that are now either locked away in a vault or may, unfortunately, be lost forever.
One of these is Channel I’s Six Weeks, a television series starring Adrian Pang as a father looking to make amends to his family after finding out that he has only six weeks left to live. The end of the series also happened to coincide with the channel’s closure in 2004. Footage of Six Weeks can no longer be found anywhere, which is quite a shame since it does hold certain historical importance as the last English series broadcasted by Mediacorp’s rival.
While there are no communities dedicated to lost media in Singapore (yet), it is not uncommon for Internet communities to rally together in search of any leads regarding lost episodes from television series, or to validate urban legends.
These lost media can be innocuous and even prized amongst fandoms, such as the 97 lost episodes of the sci-fi series Doctor Who. One lesser-known fact is that the Doraemon anime series we might be all familiar with isn’t its first adaptation. Lost media can be a lot like modern-day archaeology, where you feel like you’re searching for a piece of buried history.
Other times, it can feel like you’re a paranormal investigator, looking for spine-tingling footage and snippets that will surely keep you up at night. Not all media is lost because of poor archival efforts, but perhaps because they were never made public again after realising how unnerving they are or are live transmissions gone wrong. They can be reminders that some things shouldn’t be found simply because they are lost.
However, most of these creepy lost media largely only exist as hearsay — from ‘banned’ episodes of children’s television shows to nightmare-inducing Japanese commercials. Urban legends can spread like wildfire, especially when combined with the excitement to want to believe that they can exist. And sometimes, no matter how ridiculous or insane they sound, they do turn out to be true.
We are often told that we can find just about everything on the Internet — but that really isn’t the case. Important pieces of history or even songs, television shows, and films we enjoy today may be lost in a few short years.
In conjunction with World Digital Preservation Day on 4 November, the Asian Film Archive released a brief guide on how to preserve files and data that might otherwise be considered lost media sooner than we think.