Cult TV or Fad TV?

Alex J Geairns refines a concept to help better define Cult TV to all and sundry ...

 

Ever since 1983 when the legend that is Cult TV began, as part of the Wolverhampton Polytechnic Students Union, the hottest debate has always been "What exactly IS Cult TV?"

As Cult TV became the largest Society in the Union, clocking up more than 300 members (incidentally, larger than ALL the political societies combined), the debate grew and grew. You’ve seen the various definitions across the internet for what Cult TV actually is, many written with an agenda to serve rather than being entirely objective. Generally, we all seem to agree that something happens with a Cult show that urges you to do more than just sit and watch it. You want to find out more about it, you want merchandise that ties in with it, some being of the like of T-shirts and badges that you can wear, so other like-minded people can seek you out. And that’s a big clue - fans aren’t commonplace, most folks will never watch the show in question, and such things as conventions exist so that people can go along and meet like-minded people, all interested in the same things.

Only, in the last few years, in fact probably since Cult TV began organising annual Appreciation Weekends, we’ve seen the climate in such fandoms change. Thanks to new satellite and digital technologies, we now have “TV on demand”. Internet chat rooms, featuring fellow fans and special appearances by stars of various shows have removed the need to fork out on attending conventions. But indeed, it would seem the shows which can sustain a whole convention to themselves haven't really grown in number.

Star Trek and Doctor Who have always been the major players, but now not all the events dedicated to these shows still do good business. Blake's 7 and the Anderson shows have a keen and loyal following. But others have come and gone.

Cult TV, for instance, was instrumental in bringing The X-Files guests to their own fandom here in the UK. There were a couple of other events after us in 1996 and 1997 that focused on The X-Files, too. Now, there’s nothing. In fact, a second volume of The Science of The X Files even while the show was in production was renamed, as market research told the publisher that such a title on the shelves now would adversely affect sales - so the name got amended. The bubble had burst for Mulder and Scully merchandise even before the series finished.

Babylon 5 took its place. The show’s long over now, and for a time it looked like Crusade might have stepped in - but it suffered the same fate as every new show that emerged in the rival Star Trek universe - the fans of what went previously being dubious about taking a new series to their hearts. Will we ever see another convention dedicated to B5 alone, one wonders? I would venture perhaps not. Highlander has had its own events, but they are no more.

We've had dedicated Buffy and Angel events in the UK. The Buffy ones are no more, and soon the Angel ones will be gone, too. Stargate SG-1 and its spin-off Atlantis remain popular as themes for conventions, but now that SG-1 is on its final season, how long until this situation changes?

Alias has secured a short run of appreciation conventions, but the likes of Hercules and Xena never really took off in the UK as subjects for single-show or theme conventions. Smallville has struggled to get people to attend gatherings with it in the spotlight. The new Battlestar Galactica is mobilising supporters to join together at events, and it would seem Supernatural may well be the next big thing.

So, here’s a couple of definitions to consider:
FAD: any unimportant belief or practice intemperately urged.
CULT: a great, excessive admiration for a person or idea.

So, in the beginning, shows with a fan following, while they’re being made, are Fads. When they have established themselves and worship continues when production has ceased, well they have then earned the status of being a Cult.

It’s almost like a show serves an apprenticeship before it gets Cult status. By their very nature, they will only remain popular with a small and devoted audience. In fact, it’s just like the T Shirts we’ll see dotted around the Cult TV Festival. This year, there’ll be plenty of Doctor Who and Trek, as usual, some Buffy, and a couple of the new shows. This will no doubt be reflected in the Traders Hall too, in terms of what’s available. Market trends, they say - oh, yes, definitely those are at work.

It’s easy to support a show when new episodes are still being churned out. But, if when the supply runs out, the fascination fades, we’re just dealing with the television equivalent of a Yo-Yo, or a Tamogoshi, or Space Dust candy. In fact, a lot of these are cause for embarassment years later.

Fad or Cult? You decide!


AJG

 

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