What is Cult Films? (1)

Salam Damai,

Pertanyaan ini muncul ketika saya mereview beberapa literature tentang film semiotic, inspirasi utamanya datang dari artikel Umberto Eco, Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage. Sebagai bagian dari tugas kelas film semiotic yang saya ikuti di Baltic Film and Media School, student di beri tugas untuk meriset topic yang berkaitan dengan film semiotic dan pertanyaan ini yang muncul di benak saya sebagai topic yang hendak saya riset.

Discussion among critics and film theorists about definition on term ‘Cult’ in ‘Cult Film’ have already take place for decades. One of important works, in my sense, can be ‘Cult’ by itself was an article by Umberto Eco; Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage (1985). Eco’s work inspired me to quest more understanding on what film represented and how human perception interpreted that representation and actualized it into their part of existence in society. Nevertheless, I found that questions also have relation within film semiotics, thus, I guess, I am not the only one who doing this.

In my opinion, so to speak, the term ‘Cult Film’ as one of aspects in entire Cult Media, gain influenced from cultivation theory which developed by Prof. George Gerbner and Prof. Larry Gross, and has been studied among communication scientists since 1960’s. This theory emphasized on effect of television program through perception of viewer. It assumed, exposure that viewer received, subtly “cultivates” viewers’ perceptions of reality. The term ‘cultivation’ derived from term ‘cult’, thus if we refers to its terminology came from the Latin ‘cultus’ which means care, or adoration, or in addition, veneration.Despite the meanings, through some literatures, the word ‘cult’ in ‘cult film’ itself was vague and dispute, and in my sense, usage of the words more underpins its justification as a label rather as a reference.

Phillipe Le Guern refers term usage ‘cult’ on television series, films, novels, and music which been praised in such a way, have groups of fan, and in some aspect symbolized values, social status and subculture of themselves. Nonetheless, he also mentioned contemporary usage of the word on more religious practice which brings ambiguity and makes any attempt at definition and delimitation of the concept and its usage more difficult. However, difficulties’ that Le Guern mentioned were derived from two causes; first, subordinate disposition by sociology approach in social environment and an inability to reflect the meanings of its own practice. Second, it was concerned on analogy of media cults and religious cults. He noted Walter Benjamin thoughts about the idea of an art such as cinema can only exist on level of reproduction (as opposed to unique reproduction) in which reproducibility invalidates the ‘cult value’ of art.

Therefore, Le Guern proposed a question whether the concept of ‘Cult’ should be reduced from a nominalist perspective to the product of linguistic game, to one of those classification schemes created by the observer but devoid of reality. He argue this sublimation of film, in generally speaking, functioning as unifier that produces groups and spectators by its expression of attributed values, thus maintain their enthusiasm for the cult text. In spite of cult film as reducibility text, le Guern emphasized the role of, in his term, ‘participatory culture’ of fans, communities, and by rituals as a social construction of cults. This niche distinguished the authentic/original cults and inauthentic/planned cults based on historical concept whose point of transitions is the rationalization and exploitation of tastes. These tastes however, must be relativized in order to be understood and taken place in the procession of successive generations, their cultural practices, and the conditions and context of these practices.

This fandomness, however, has attracted Matthew Hills to bear the relation between fandom and cult culture from academic perspective. He argues that actually it is not an easy task to define fandom itself because of ‘everydayness’ of term. Nowadays everyone knows what a ‘fan’ is, of course, Hills took Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) attempted by linked the concept of ‘fan’, cultist, and ‘enthusiast’. He also mentioned Tulloch and Jenkins (1995) less contradictory definition, despite the term ‘cult’, of ‘fan and ‘followers. In addition, Hills noted Brooker and Brooker (1996: 141) preposition “Tarantino’s admirers might not all be fans……and not all fans will be cult fans’. Hills proposed that this thought makes a clear separation between the committed fan and the presumably even more knowledgeable and fan-community-oriented.

Nonetheless, he realized that the concept of ‘fandom’ and ‘cult fandom’ sometime overlapping. ‘Cult fandom’ more likely implied cultural identity which is partially from the concept of ‘fan’ in general. Thus, he suggested that this duality relates not to the intensity, social organization or semiotic/material productivity of the fandom concerned, but rather to its duration, especially in the absence of ‘new’ or official material in the originating medium. He showed delicately some instances of how Star Trek and The X-Files been adored by their fans and become ‘cult fandom’. Hence, Hills stated that cult fandom can be made up from three dimensions, which can, in specific cases, contradict one another. These dimensions, first, is tautological definitions which is the use of ‘cult’ discourses within fandoms. Second, temporal definitions which are usage of cult endured. Third, affective definitions, ‘cult’ fandom as an intensely felt fan experience.


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