Cult Following


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A cult following is a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a specific area of pop culture. A film, book, band, or video game, among other things, will be said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fan base. A common component of cult followings is the emotional attachment fans have with the object of the cult following, often identifying themselves and other fans as members of a community.

Cult followings are also commonly associated with niche markets. Cult media are often associated with underground culture, and are considered too eccentric, bizarre, controversial or anti-establishment to be appreciated by the general public.

Many cult fans express a certain irony about their devotion. Sometimes, these cult followings cross the border to camp (deliberate ridiculousness for humor’s sake). Cult fans of director Ed Wood admire his films not because they consider them to be excellent, but because they are so bad that they become funny and curiously fascinating. The same phenomenon can be observed with things that are appreciated by a certain generation out of nostalgia or childhood memories. Fans may become involved in a subculture of fandom, either via conventions, online communities, or through activities such as writing series-related fiction, costume creation, replica prop and model building, or creating their own audio or video productions based around the formats and characters.

Actor Bruce Campbell calls himself the ‘King of B-Movies,’ and maintains a dedicated cult following for films such as ‘The Evil Dead.’ He once contrasted ‘mainstream films’ and ‘cult films’ by defining the former as ‘a film that 1,000 people watch 100 times’ and the latter as ‘a film that 100 people watch 1,000 times.’

There is not always a clear difference between cult and mainstream media. The film ‘Pink Flamingos’ is known for its disgusting scenes, and only a small number of people are drawn to this movie. Therefore it can be classified as a cult movie. Franchises such as ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Twilight,’ Batman, and Harry Potter have core groups of fanatical followers but still attract mass audiences, so there is debate as to whether they can be considered true cult films. Quentin Tarantino’s films borrow stylistically from classic cult movies, but are appreciated by a large audience, and therefore lie somewhere between cult and mainstream. Certain cult phenomena can grow to such proportions that they become mainstream.

Some cults are only popular within a certain subculture. The film Woodstock is especially loved within the hippie subculture. A Clockwork Orange has a cult following of punks, skinheads and other groups. Certain mainstream icons can become cult icons in a different context for certain people. Reefer Madness was originally intended to warn youth against the use of marijuana, but due to its ridiculous plot and cheap look, it is now often watched by audiences consisting of marijuana-smokers and has gained a cult following.

Many cancelled television shows (especially ones that had a short run life) see new life in a fan following. One notable example is ‘Invader Zim,’ an animated show that aired for 2 seasons on Nickelodeon before being cancelled. Long-running TV series such as ‘The X-Files,’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ and ‘Lost’ also develop cult followings.

Anime, manga, kung fu films, and kaiju (monster movies) are mainstream entertainment in Japan, but elsewhere are generally appreciated by a cult audience. ‘Doctor Who’ is a prime time family show in Great Britain, but during a 15-year period out of production, gained cult status among fans; it is also a cult series in the US. Also, the animated preschool show ‘Pocoyo’ has attracted a reasonably large cult following among viewers older than its target audience due to the show’s humor and its narrator, Stephen Fry.

‘My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic’ is a flash-based animated cartoon for young girls, that has gained a recent cult followings. Despite the target demographic being young girls, it also reaches a small following of older viewers, predominately male teenagers and adults, who call themselves ‘bronies.’

It often takes a few years before a cult starts to form around a particular film or band. Captain Beefheart’s album ‘Trout Mask Replica,’ Jim Carrey’s film ‘The Cable Guy’ and the TV series ‘The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’ were all originally not very successful, but as time went by built up a cult following. In some cases this cult status is unexpected, like the Disney film ‘Fantasia’ (1940), which was a flop at its release, but was re-appreciated by fans of psychedelica in the 1960s. Other phenomena are specifically created and aimed at a cult audience, like the TV series ‘The Young Ones’ or the drug oriented movie ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’

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