- a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
- an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.
- the object of such devotion.
- a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
Often times, when we think of a cult we envision bizarre, dangerous events involving sweat lodges or followers drinking tainted kool-aid. Or maybe you just think of Tom Cruise and that crazy You-Tube video. That's all well and good when we're talking about the spiritual realm, but when it comes to pop culture and literature, the idea of a cult takes on a whole different meaning. (See #2 above.)
|The current Dr. Who crew.|
I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly✝ dispelling some of the myth and magic behind the scenes of one of the longest running shows on British television (49 years!), Doctor Who. *and a loud roar goes up as the Who-obsessed fans shout their praise* I, myself, have a few fuzzy and warm memories when it comes to Doctor Who. We didn't have cable growing up (heck, we were lucky to have a TV at times!) so as children, we were left with a lot of daytime soaps, TGIF comedies and PBS on the weekends. My stepdad had a penchant for the Who-man, and occasionally I'd sit in on a time travel or two. My dislike for anything sci-fi must have started there, because I remember a lot of eye rolling on my part. The point I'm getting at here is that cult classics tend to have an amazing, and yet very loyal following. If it's still on PBS today (and I have no idea if it is) then I'm sure my stepdad is still cozying up to the tube all these years later, watching it.
|Original U.S. cover|
Cult classics aren't instantaneous and for the most part, the show, film, or book can fizzle overnight. One of the most fascinating stories translated to film is Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Although Dahl's fantastical story of a boy who enters into the secretive chocolate factory of Willy Wonka has always been considered a children's classic, the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder as the eccentric Wonka was released to very little fanfare and bland reviews alike. Dahl disowned the film and was very disappointed with the rewritten script. Not counting the 2005 remake of Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, the story and the first film went on a slow burn of collecting rabid followers. By the mid-80s, VHS was big and the film was rereleased and eventually repeated in regular broadcasts for television. This little children's classic of Dahl's went on to become one of the top 50 cult classics of all time.
But what does it take to become a devoted cult follower? I think EW's article, "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years"** says it best:
❝No, cult TV isn't for everyone, even when it wants to be . . . Yet the fan communities they inspire endure, their members known to one another by secret handshakes or catchphrases and unresolved debates, bonded by nostalgia and martyrdom, and sustained by a new media world where no show ever truly dies -- it just gets streamed in perpetuity on the Interwebs.❞
Cult classics don't die, because they can't. For some reason they seem to reach out to generation after generation. My belief is that it takes a very special individual to obsessively follow a piece of culture to the point of distraction. I've sat through Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and fan-obsessed series like Firefly. They're watchable, but nothing so special as to stop me in my tracks when I run across them on TV. But those who do connect fall wholeheartedly into the storylines and eventually show up at Comic-Con dressed as Mal Reynolds, the captain of the ramshackle Firefly crew. These fans know what they like and aren't afraid to express themselves.
Some more recent trends delve into the world of Fantasy *and a roar goes up as Game of Thrones-obsessed fans shout their praise* and Dystopia. While some classics last for a season and then die, there are those who have lasted longer than some of our times here on earth. (Hello, Doctor Who! I'm talking to you!) In the years since it debuted on television, Lost racked up a rather eclectic audience prepared to wait out the original creators' visionary take on the project. Those who couldn't take the mythological madness into which the show descended didn't return until the ending, wanting to know what all that complex storytelling was about in the first place. To this day, fans are split on that final episode, some enjoying the thought of purgatory while others think they wasted a perfectly good hour every Thursday night.
Sometimes this is why fan fiction and unauthorized sequels fail to pan out. (Although, don't tell E.L. James that -- she's laughing all the way to the bank.) Many of us are just itching to rewrite the ending on something, but we know if we did that it wouldn't read anything like what the author had in mind. If the original storytelling doesn't have the feel of the original author, like in the cases of Scarlett and Rhett Butler's People, then the audience isn't going to buy it. They're looking for that special "something" that just doesn't add up when another writer takes over the reins, especially if the original is already a classic and has a strong following.
Whatever floats your boat -- whether it be an underrated book, a long-ago film, or a recently pulled TV program -- do you consider your consumption of entertainment to border on, or maybe even fall into, the cult category?
*According to dictionary.com.
✝Collins, Clark. "The Doctor Is In." Entertainment Weekly 3 August 2012: 29-35. Print.
**Franich, Darren et al. "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years." Entertainment Weekly 3 August, 2012: 36-43. Print.