I first learned about this term in the work of Jack Halberstam, an academic and author specialized in comparative literature and queer theory. Halberstam borrows the term from literary theorist Lauren Berlant.
The silly archive is a rich, complex body of work produced in society, often for children and with humorous intent, without the apparent need to adhere to particular high-brow culture or philosophical standards. The silly archive, Halberstam argues, is a great place for cultural analysis: “(…) in my formulation they are open texts, in the sense that they do not come with a readymade theory already embedded within them.”
The silly archives help us seek knowledge in all the wrong places. Toy Story, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and South Park tell us many things about the cultures in which they were produced. They may, perhaps, say more accurate things about these cultures than works produced with the intent of speaking for these cultures.
My friend Ornella has said to me that the best way to understand a culture is by watching their television (and particularly their commercial) for 24 hours.