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Cassette Craze

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You'll be hearing a lot of this...

It started with logs and diaries, as an easy way for characters to monologue information that was too time-consuming to explain, or just happened off-screen. Then came the Cassette Craze, when characters would carry around portable recorders to record the adventures of guys who traveled a lot because writing is not cool, and diaries are for sissies. This would evolve into the Captain's Log later, but that's exty years into the future, and will probably never happen anyway. In the modern day, Technology Marches On and cassette recordings have been rendered obsolete by digital equivalents, but tapes persist in fiction due to a combination of The Coconut Effect and Rule of Cool; a hard-boiled reporter leaving his critical notes as audio files on a flash drive just doesn't evoke quite the same feeling.

Of course, this is a Justified Trope when the speaker is a writer, teacher, journalist, researcher, doctor, or scientist because it makes for better accuracy when there's a voice behind the words, and it's really used by said professionals in the field. It makes for more detailed information as the person works and better recordkeeping.

It also makes Apocalyptic Logs that end with the death of the speaker a lot more plausible. Who writes while they're being devoured? It's the in thing to beg for mercy and scream, and you just can't do that on paper.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Audio Drama 
  • 36 Questions is framed as if everything is being recorded on Judith's mobile phone, with it only being turned off when the battery is dying or nobody is talking.
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama Tales From The Vault is a Scrapbook Story based on UNIT audio recordings. We're told that Jo Grant started recording her reports on tape because she never got around to writing them up, and Steven left his message to the future on a wax cylinder because he thought it would be more durable.
  • The Made-For-Audiocassette Star Trek Captain Sulu adventure Cacophony is presented with the framing device of a Federation special investigator making a report on an suspected prime directive violation by Sulu and the Excelsior. Because the investigator is a bit of an eccentric (played by Simon Jones), he's had all of his source documents transferred to a twentieth-century audio cassette. (The implication is that his final report is the same physical cassette the audience is listening to.)

    Comic Strips 
  • Luann's titular character uses one of these as her diary.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 1408, Mike Enslin keeps records on a tape recorder, a little more justified since he writes books about hotels at which he stays, and it's all taking notes.
    • In the story the movie is based on, he found that when camping out in graveyards, the tape recorder is easier to use than paper.
  • Amélie: Gina's obsessive stalker Joseph is at the cafe where she works every day, using a dictating machine to take notes on her every movement. When he then moves on to Georgette, he demonstrates his stalking by playing back all the references to "camel hair" (belonging to a particular male) in quick succession.
  • Tom Ripley in Wim Wenders' Der Amerikanische Freund (The American Friend) tapes himself. Later he gives the dictaphone to his German stooge as an impromptu gift.
  • In Back to the Future, Doc Brown uses a tape recorder as a log on his experiments.
  • Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci) in The Core has a tendency to constantly and pretentiously narrate the journey for his upcoming biography, much to the annoyance of the other crew members. Subverted when he ends up trapped in a discarded compartment with the nuclear weapon about to detonate and "jump-start the planet". He tries narrating his final moments only to realize how pointless it would be to keep narrating when all the evidence would be vaporized as soon as the weapon detonates, so he asks himself "What the fuck am I doing?", drops the tape recorder to the ground and laughs until the bomb explodes.
  • Norm MacDonald's character in Dirty Work is constantly making notes-to-self on his dictaphone, which becomes an important plot device later when he accidentally leaves it on. Notably, the "note-to-self" thing was already an element of Norm Macdonald's comedy before the movie came out.
  • Flatliners: Randy Steckle (Oliver Platt) is constantly talking into his tape recorder, making notes about the experiments and situation and taping what the other characters are saying.
  • In Friend of the World, Gore uses cassette tape recordings to disclose important plot points about the setting before the film begins and again in a reveal toward the end.
  • Horror of Dracula: Van Helsing records notes on a nifty Edison wax-cylinder phonograph (probably a Shout-Out to Seward's phonograph diary in the novel). Alas, it only plays out as a joke when a servant wonders who the good doctor is talking to, and is somewhat taken aback when Van Helsing says he is talking to himself.
  • The Lost in Space movie has Dr. Robinson using his recorder gadget to remind himself of all sorts of things, like taping an apology for missing his son's Science Fair.
  • In Primer Aaron constantly records everything people are saying so he can play it back and cue himself during the next iteration of a time loop.
  • The Woman in Black: In the 1994 film, Arthur Kidd discovers the wax cylinder recordings of Mrs Drablow's notes, and learns about the history of the Woman in Black. He also uses the machine to make notes on his own movements, including testing it by whistling comically.

  • In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah Baker records several tapes, detailing the events she believes are the ones that ended in her suicide. Said tapes are then sent to the thirteen people she blames, or in the case of Clay Jensen, the people she wants to apologize to.
    • Hannah records the tapes with the help of Tony Padilla, who is one of the few people in the town who still uses cassette tapes. Later on, it's revealed that Tony is the person who has the second set of tapes, and is willing to release them to the public.
  • Probable Ur-Example in Dracula: Dr. Seward uses a phonograph to record his observations.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, the stories told by Offred are revealed to have been discovered recorded on cassettes at the end of the book.
  • Played with in the short story "The Only One" by David S. Garnett. It starts off as a Steampunk story, but the lead character is unaware that when he travels "back" in time, the tech level actually goes up, with his own equipment changing to match. So initially he's recording the story on a wax cylinder, then a phonograph record, vinyl, cassettes, microcassettes, and eventually a built-in hard drive.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Was Not: In "The Adventure of the Madman", author Nancy Holder claims the story is transcribed from phonograph cylinders found in the effects of one of her ancestors, Mary Holder, who is a major character in the story. This is a Shout-Out to Dracula, as the doctor in this story is Dr. John Seward.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alex in Ashes to Ashes (2008) records her experiences on a tape recorder, addressing her daughter in them.
  • Death in Paradise: One of D.I. Neville Parker's quirks is his constant dictating of his observations and case notes into his Dictaphone.
  • In Farscape, John Crichton uses a tape recorder to record messages to his dad.
  • In Heroes, Mohinder starts using a small handheld tape recorder after experimenting on himself and starting to become some sort of insect-like mutant. Plus his erratic behavior scared off everyone who could play The Watson for him (or, rather, every other character is occupied with better subplots than his), so he's got no one to explain his experiments to but his trusty tape recorder.
  • In the Pilot Movie The Invisible Woman (1983), Bob Denver's character used one of these devices.
  • Parodied on Scrubs: J.D. and Turk claim to carry a dictaphone around to take patient notes, but they actually use it to tape their singing when no one's about.
  • In the Famous Ancestor episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Shannon O'Donnell, Janeway's surprisingly identical ancestor, uses a tape player to record logs of her travels.
  • Diane, I've noticed that Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks constantly records his observations on his handheld cassette recorder, including personal opinions having nothing to do with his job. In fact, there are hints that 'Diane' may not be a person, but the name he gave the tape recorder. In the third season, we finally meet the real Diane, and the tulpa impersonating her.
  • The X-Files:
    • Scully practically abuses her recorder in order to tell the audience useful tidbits about the case, usually when she is performing an autopsy.
    • Many agents are shown to use cassettes to record their cases. In "Lazarus", Mulder listens to the cassettes of Jack Willis as he tracks down a Bonnie and Clyde couple.
    • Scotland Yard detective Phoebe Green used a cassette to relay the basics of the case she was working on and needed help with (upon it's finding, Mulder quips that "10 to 1 you can't dance to it."). She also leaves one at the end of that episode, but it is never listened to.
    • Mulder is seen to use a tape recorder; during "Little Green Men", he uses one to record his findings in the hopes that Scully would find them.
    • During "En Ami", Scully sends Mulder cassette tapes to alert him as to where she has gone with CSM.
    • Confessions of suspects are usually put on cassettes; Mulder listens to Duane Barry's confession repeatedly during Scully's abduction in season two.

  • The Magnus Archives: Part of the archivist's job is to record audio versions of the statements, and each episode of the podcast consists of one such recording. He uses an actual tape recorder for the more "bizarre" statements (i.e. all the ones we hear) because for some reason they don't record properly on computers. Later on, the tapes begin appearing on their own, and are later revealed to have been tied to the Web the whole time.

  • In Adventures in Odyssey, private eye Harlow Doyle uses a cassette recorder. The first time he did so was in "The Case of the Candid Camera"; he got confused and thought he was hearing a radio station when he rewound the tape and heard himself singing "Three Little Fishes".
  • Radio adaptations of Dracula and The War of the Worlds have appropriately replaced the character's diaries with recording machines. It's especially effective in Worlds, in a late scene the narrator is interrupted by the entrance of another refugee; their important conversation is recorded simply because he doesn't bother to turn off the machine.

  • The premise of Krapps Last Tape by Samuel Beckett. The main character takes a tape out and listens to it, then makes a new tape. The tape he listens to is always wound to the same part.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock, the citizens of Rapture kept their diaries, notes and messages to each other on personal voice recorders, all of which you find lying about the city. This allows you to listen to their Apocalyptic Logs while walking around. Its predecessors, System Shock and System Shock 2, also do this.
  • Dead Space sprinkles audiologs around like it's candy, with characters telling about how everything went bad. In one extreme example, a man record his monologue while he is sawing of his legs.
  • Though lacking any technical means of conveying the recordings to the player, Dear Esther is basically this trope in and of itself. The whole plot, whether you perceive it as a spiritual experience with internal monologue, or metaphorical journey with author's voiceover, is a series of disjointed thoughts narrated in a manner similar to a diary in an epistolary novel. Besides all sorts of musings and associations, it contains a log of a man who deteriorates and dies of his injuries on his way to the top of the mountain.
  • Doom³ has recordings that sometimes contain door access codes and computer passwords.
  • Frosty Nights: The horror story the boy listens to is on five cassette tapes.
  • Iji: Logs and messages from both invading alien races can be found all over the place, often with reams of subplot, and occasionally with hints about unlocking special skills.
  • Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent uses a tape recorder. He has a tendency to ramble on without remembering to turn it off.
  • The Radio Station: There are seven casette tapes to collect in the game. At least six of them are recordings of Masaki's radio show broadcasts.
  • Skyland 1976: One of the items Simon can pick up is a cassette tape.
  • Done in Tomb Raider: Underworld, to allow Lara to give hints without having to use her Voice with an Internet Connection, which annoyed a lot of people in Tomb Raider: Legend.
  • White Noise Online: The items the investigators have to find are eight discarded tape recorders.

  • GF Serendipity: The first page of the "Fiddleford's Log" arc shows that Fiddleford is recording his narration into a cassette.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In 101 Dalmatians: The Series, Cruella de Vil is often seen speaking into one: "Memo to myself:..."
  • Bojack Horseman has a more tragic example in "Out To Sea": Diane resorts to speaking all of her thoughts and ideas into a tape recorder while slumping around at Bojack's house. Unlike most examples, the situation makes the perspective bleaker: after suffering through all season and abandoning her husband to chase a bigger purpose, she has just given up. She's spewing nonsense to avoid actually doing something and facing failure again.
  • Parodied in King of the Hill, Crazy Survivalist Dale Gribble speaks into a tape recorder when he believes he's been fatally infected with rabies and proceeds to flee into the wilderness in delirium. He lists off various items to bring with him next time he flees into the wilderness, including batteries for the tape recorder. He then proceeds to toss the empty tape recorder into the forest, and finishes his diary by speaking into a pinecone about how he'll also need to bring a new tape recorder.
  • In Metalocalypse, Nathan Explosion carries a digital recording device at all times in the event that he has an idea for a song out of nowhere.
  • In ReBoot, AndrAIa blatantly Expospeaks into a cassette recorder about her and Matrix's journey through the games. Including covertly expressing concerns about Matrix's morale, even though he's standing right next to her. And then the cassette recorder is never seen again.
  • Entrapta from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power uses some kind of recording device to log her experiments and adventures. Also Played for Laughs. Entrapta tends to forget which day it is, and guess when she starts a new part of the log. Somehow, she doesn't lose the object daily and it doesn't ever seem to break.
  • The Simpsons: Bart Simpson uses one in "Radio Bart" to prank others, eventually leading to the entire town getting tricked when he pretends that a boy named Timmy fell down the well.
  • In Steven Universe After Peridot is caught by the Crystal Gems and they work together to stop the cluster, Steven gives Peridot one, which she uses constantly in the subsequent episodes. The majority of the episode Log Date 7 15 2 is told through flashbacks framed by her cassettes.
  • In The Venture Brothers episode "Ghosts of the Sargasso," Doctor Venture's pretentious narration gives way to panic and desperation as his underwater exploration doesn't go as planned.

     Real Life 
  • The "black box" from an airplane, often recovered when the plane crashes.
  • A more modern version can involve podcasts, YouTube channels, and the use of phones. Voice recorders are still used as well.
  • Modern iPods can record voice memos, if you have a set of earbuds with an attached microphone.