What Makes a Cult Media Text (Continued)

A range of factors are built into the media texts to invoke a response from the audience. What defines a “cult” media text is both the text itself and also how the audience then responds. It could be argued that the term “cult” describes an “act” not a “thing” (Smith, 2010: p.6), supporting the argument that fan behaviour is the key to defining “cult” texts. “Cult” behaviours could be seen as the critical reaction to social changes (Stuart Hall, 2013: p.11), meaning that the text is not a “cult” text until the audience responds. They respond not just to the text itself but the wider social context of the time or, on a smaller scale, what is happening in an individual’s personal life. Cult status is generated by audience activity due to the fact “cult” programmes can be seen as “objects of special devotion” (Stempel and McGoohan, 1993: p.32). The audience act towards, and in response to, the programme in a way which then correlates with cult behaviour and creates the label of a “cult” text. One example is the popular merchandise product of Funko Pop Vinyls; which are small figurines from “cult” games, programmes and films. The 23 different designs for Supernatural show how fans invest in the programme and the range of different styles reflect the popularity of the show and the fans’ response. “Cult” status can be defined by the ways in which texts are classified in consumption,” (Jancovich et al, 2003: p.509) which further supports the idea that it is partially about how consumers interact with a text but also how other media products, such as reviews, label the text.

This can be shown obviously through the many fan sites created such as “thewinchesterfamilybusiness.com” and “supernaturalfanwiki.com/page/Supernatural+official+website”.

These illustrate fan devotion and connection to the “family” aspect of the show and how involved the fans feel in those relationships. This demonstrates how the construction of the programme itself then has a knock on effect to how the audience will respond depending on how it connects with them.

Some argue that “cult” status “depends on fans’ relationships with, participation in, and representation through academic, journalistic and marketing resources” (Smith, 2010: p.15). It is therefore a combination of many things including secondary sources (Hills, 2004:p.514) that define whether a text is “cult”. It is difficult to use the term “cult” to classify a programme because it does not relate to any one aspect but rather depends on its popularity, longevity or the content itself. The recent Netflix series Stranger Things was created from observing “cult” sci-fi films and programmes and designed with the intention of gaining a cult following. The mass audience and fan base created could justify a claim for “cult” status but as yet it is unable to fulfil the criteria of longevity which may mean it cannot yet gain cult status.

In conclusion, there are several main features I have examined of the text Supernatural that potentially qualify it to be a “cult” media text. There is the relationship of the brothers, the complex fantasy world constructed, and fans’ reaction. However, whilst there are many combined factors that can create a “cult” I am arguing that it is only through the fans’ reaction to the text that we are able to confirm conclusively if a text is considered “cult”. If a programme does not build a relationship with its fans it cannot claim “cult” status.


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