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.