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Cult Media Is Defined By Leading Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 1699 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The term cult media is defined by leading cult media theorists, Sara Gwenllian-Jones and Roberta Pearson to mean any text that is considered off-beat or edgy, that draws a niche audience, that has a nostalgia appeal, that is considered emblematic of a particular subculture, or that is considered hip (ix). For over a century, cult media in the form of films have played an important role in our lives, entertaining us, often provoking conversation and debate. Joining films in the cult media stakes was the rise of television in the 1950’s which added to the spread of cult media. A pivotal moment in cult media was the release of the film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975. This film changed the public’s perception of cult media and how people related to it. Since then the internet and online social media have completely changed the way cult media has evolved and been received.

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My thesis statement is that eventhough there have been significant changes that have impacted on the production, distribution and reception of cult media since that pivotal moment of Rocky Horror it still remains extremely popular. This is because it often deviates from accepted societal norms. It touches on “religion, sex, politics, ethnic backgrounds and other topics that many people regard as controversial” (Hills 21). These themes are all still today what Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson term “off-beat” and “edgy”. They allow cult media to transcend significant changes and generations and are the reason why cult media continues to grow in popularity (Jancovich, et al; Mathijs and Mendik; Stadler and McWilliam).

Three significant changes that have impacted on the production, distribution and reception of films, television, and other new and emerging media was firstly the internet, secondly technological changes such as digitalisation (the shift to digital cinema) and thirdly, the rise of the cult media audience and the incredible rise in the fanatical devotion to cult media texts (FANDOM) and the user-revolution of alternative films and TV shows – “cult media attracts a particular kind of devotional investment and fetishisation” (Hills 511).

The first change was the internet which has certainly changed the way cult media is viewed. Especially since the introduction in 2006-2007 of higher download speeds on broadband internet. People can now view and download films and TV shows through peer to peer file sharing, streamed from video tape and DVD via sites like YouTube, bitTorrent and DixXCrawler. This has expanded the opportunities for potential audiences to gain access to films which already have a cult reputation, as well as to discover and create new cult reputations. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, for example, it tended to be the case that cult reputations were forged within major metropolitan areas: it was in such areas that repertory theaters, for example, could be found. For those who did not have easy access to such areas the chances of finding films outside of the mainstream was very difficult (Klinger; Telotte; Tryon).

Now, however, with abundant information freely available on the Web, as well as the huge number of films released on DVD and available over the Internet, many more people can gain access to a range of different cult titles wherever they are geographically located. This may make it increasingly likely that cult reputations are forged outside of a theatrical release. With the internet FANDOM and other devotees can more easily access the works of current leading independent filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Lynne Ramsay and Victor Nunez.

The second change was the introduction of different and multiple distribution streams which allow for more cult media to exist. Emerging technologies that facilitate the production, distribution and promotion of small, offbeat films. Traditional distribution models have been challenged by new media entrepreneurs and independent film makers, user-generated videos, film blogs, “mash-ups”, downloads, and other expanding social networks like Facebook (Klinger 13; Lavery). With a video or digital camera, a computer, editing software and an internet connection, anyone can make and upload a film of virtually any length to a personal Web site or a searchable public domain such as YouTube. There has been continuing convergence between film and TV because of the advances in digital technology. Image and sound quality and even viewing contexts and audience experiences are moving closer together in many instances with digitalisation having a significant impact on all screen media (Hartley; Klinger; Stadler and McWilliam). New distribution models – firstly video, then DVD, then high speed internet download have given an extra lease of life to old horror and cringe-worth B-films that might otherwise have languished in obscurity. It is Hollywood’s version of the “long tail” where the web fuels endless small cults that add up to a massive audience (Lavery, 20).

Thirdly, there has been a dramatic shift from viewing in a picture theatre to viewing in small, private groups in a hall or function room or at home alone. Devotees do not have to go to the cinema anymore. This shift has significant ramifications for cult viewership. There is the loss of sharing the particular cult media with others in a cinema. Now it has been replaced by online chat rooms and Facebook sites (Scone; Stadler and McWilliam). It’s hard to imagine the Rocky Horror cult developing the way it did with its outlandish costumes, spirited shout-outs and dancing in the aisles in the absence of communal showings in a theatre (Lavery; Telotte). Home consumption of the cult film or cult film-in-embryo may allow for the proliferation of interpretations in the absence of the disciplining presence of other cultists. What is diminished are possibilities for “engaged spectatorship – a kind of creative and communal participation in the life-world of the cult film” (Hills, 41).

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Now, with the rise of digital cinema, audiences often encounter films outside the theater and even outside the home on their way to work or at the beach. The cult media audience can now utilise all manner of ways to access films and TV shows. The FANDOM audience has become interactive as social media allows for “DIY” (do-it-yourself) film criticism and analysis. Film blogging is a very important aspect of the production, distribution and reception of cult media. Devoted fans are continuing in greater numbers to use DIY production activities such as uploading reviews and videos. This is spurring on participation in alternative cult media (Caldwell; Hills; Lavery).

Finally, there is the continuing convergence between cult film and cult television. Cult media experts Professors Ernest Matijs and Xavier Mendik argue that the fanatical devotion by fans to film franchises like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and, Pirates of the Caribbean have made them both mainstream and cult classics. As Doctor Jane Stadler and Kelly McWilliam contend “the label cult media covers such a broad territory that it cannot be distinguished as a clear category or genre” (274). To be a cult film, it must have a particular kind of audience who display a particular kind of behavior; behavior which is often ritualistic. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the archetypal example of a film which, regardless of any esthetic or formal filmic features it may display, developed a dedicated audience following, who would go to tremendous lengths to attend a screening of their worshipped film (Klinger; Mathijs and Sexton). It can be argued that Rocky Horror was the first cross-over film that spanned the gap between cult and mainstream. With Rocky Horror and a successful “shock” TV show such as Dexter there is not always a clear difference between cult media and mainstream media. Dexter has an extremely dark side to it and covers controversial topics such as incest and serial killers. In the same vein as Rocky Horror, Dexter can also be regarded as cult media. Going back to what Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson said it is “offbeat”and it is “edgy”. It may not have the call and response of Rocky Horror or its music and costumes and dancing in the aisles of the theatre. It is a different genre within cult media with Rocky Horror being a dark musical fantasy and Dexter being a horrific comedy. One of the main differences that distinguishes cult television like Dexter from cult film like Rocky Horror is seriality, where a show like Dexter can develop characters and story lines over many hours (Gwenllian-Jones and Pearson; Klinger). The show has now run for over 70 episodes and is into season 7 compared to the 100 minutes of Rocky Horror.

In summary, even though there have been significant changes to the production, distribution and reception of cult media and despite cultists’ perceptions that their “offbeat” and “edgy” object choices have become too accessible to mass-market audiences, cult media has grown in popularity. It has become more culturally diffuse, especially over the past decade, earning not only a place as a popular marketing term, but also blurring with mainstream entertainment like Hollywood’s “cult blockbusters” like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean (Klinger; Mathijs and Sexton; Peary; Stadler and McWilliam).

As leading media expert Professor Barbara Klinger has observed, the gradual transition of cult media as a result of constant, on-going changes from public, social rituals at cinemas to private, individualistic collectorship in the home viewing environment has popularised cultish activity such as repeated screenings, reciting dialogue, and other viewing rituals. This has all resulted in taking cult media beyond marginal subcultures and allowing it to become more connected to countless types of media and an ever-increasing world-wide fan base.


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