Monday, June 25, 2018

If I Only Had a Cult

Sacchi Green

Insofar as a cult is assumed to be something shared by a group of self-styled insiders, I’ve tended to be an outsider. I mean, you can’t have a cult with just one member, can you? Even if a fairly large number of people share your tastes, it’s not a cult unless you form a group, is it? Or maybe these days it is.

I think the closest I’ve come to feeling cultish about a TV show would be with The West Wing. There’s even a name used among aficionados, Wingnuts. I’ve been seeing some comments online lately about binge-watching The West Wing looking for comfort in these days of government gone bonkers, and evil bonkers at that. But for some, and I’ve decided that I’m one of them, even though I haven’t commented, re-watching the show would be too painful, knowing how different our reality has become.

But isn’t that sort of thing more fandom than cult? Don’t TV and movie cults need to be built around productions that didn’t have wide appeal, but intense appeal to a smallish in-group? Come to think of it, The West Wing may fit that description after all. Looking much farther back, If cult can be associated with addictive viewing, I may have been a lonely cultist of two different Sherlock Holmes productions many decades apart (and, of course, of the books most of all.) In my teens I had a ritual for watching Sherlock Holmes on TV that involved soda crackers and kosher dill pickles. Surely that ritual made it a cult! The recent modernized TV version of Sherlock Holmes became a more widespread cult, although more a cult of Benedict Cumberbatch than of Holmes. I was interested, too, but less so as time went on.

I can’t escape my knee-jerk impression, though, of a cult being a drink-the-kool-aide affair. I know that our topic here is supposed to deal with the world of entertainment, not politics, but these days entertainment and politics have become painfully entangled. Tweets get more attention than plays or books or even movies. Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh just a couple of days ago published a tour-de-force satire that wasn’t really a satire at all, titled, “Under Trump, the GOP Has Become a Cult.” What he goes on to say is written in a humorously snarky tone, but it’s also true beneath the witticisms. Cultism, in fact, is taking over the tribalism that was bad enough in itself.

So I don’t even want to think about cults, unless I can have back the innocent enjoyment of my Sherlock Holmes shows, or the kinds of movies that always nab me if I happen to glimpse them on TV, like The Lord of the Rings (no matter how classist I know it is) or Harry Potter, or Star Wars: the Force Awakens (ah, the moment when the light saber goes to her, not to him!)

I could use some warm, passionate, snarky, sometimes naughty, entertainment cults that take you out of this daily clash of cults bound for mutual destruction and into a group of like-minded people just enjoying themselves. But, mea culpa, I wouldn’t have time to pay attention to entertainment like that. I’m too busy keeping up with all the latest outrages and insanities. I guess I’m in the worst kind of cult after all.


  1. In my teens I had a ritual for watching Sherlock Holmes on TV that involved soda crackers and kosher dill pickles. Surely that ritual made it a cult!


  2. You are not a cult if you are part of the majority of folks in the country. THEY are a cult, the ones who deny reality in favor of a comfy, spoon-fed line of BS that tells them the future will be white and we will return to the halcyon days of yore, when white men ruled and everyone else knew their place.

    The rest of us recoil in horror. We just need to keep up the level of outrage and not get worn down by the 20,000 drops of insanity that fall on us every single day.

    Phew! Rant over. As for entertainment cults, I'm firmly in the "old Star Trek" camp. TOS, TNG, etc. (The Original Series, The Next Generation.) That's why I will never go to see one of the current crop of movies, that said they were "re-imagining" the show. No, they were messing big-time with the canon that I grew up with, since TOS was on TV during my formative years, and I loved it as a kid, since it fired my imagination. I loved Gene Rodenberry's image of humanity as being someday able to rise above our animal nature, and become compassionate, intelligent beings. Isn't that a dream worth reaching for? Plus the show always had such a variety of hot young actors to lust after! No need to choose. In my mind, they were all mine!

  3. I think that "Cult Classic" implies a certain level of agreement that the object of the cult has some sort of timeless value (however trivial).

    But maybe you're just to sensible and level-headed to get sucked into a cult.

  4. Any kind of in-group could be loosely referred to as a cult. (Are we a little cult here at the Grip?) One of my colleagues in the English Department posted on Facebook just before going to someone else's house for Easter supper that she planned to "bath every veyne in swich liquor," which is a line from the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, circa 1380s. The line just means that it rains a lot in April, and that makes the flowers grow, but I think my colleague was stating her intention to get drunk. Quoting from works of literature in Middle english or Anglo-Saxon definitely seems to be a literary-scholar cult thing.


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