Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #4

Cult Media and Cult Fandom

“There can be no final and absolute classification of the media cult, for just as different generations within the ‘family’ may recombine qualities and attributes, then so too may new ‘media cults’ produce further recombinations of family attributes.” – Matt Hills, 2002

In spite of this suggestion that a media cult is impossible to define due to the wide range of fan practices and engagements caused by the generational mixture in many ‘families,’ Hills has also identified three typical traits of cult media texts:

  • Endlessly Deferred Narrative
  • Hyperdiegisis
  • Audience Participation

I am going to relate these characteristics to a text that I am a dedicated fan of and would consider to have a cult following; Harry Potter. The extensive global media coverage of this series may make this seem like an unlikely example of a cult text. After all, anyone who is willing to pay for an overpriced cinema ticket to one of the films would most likely identify as a fan, and as with a box office total of $1.3billion for the final film alone would suggest, this encompasses millions more fans than is usual for a cult.

potter

However, does everyone who went to see the films participate in the online community Pottermore, buy wand collections the Platform 9 ¾ shop and partake in extensive debates on whether Harry and Hermione would make a better couple than her and Ron? Did they queue up outside Waterstones at midnight dressed in cloaks and hats each time a new book came out? Or have they even read the books?! In my opinion the, Harry Potter fandom, like many other cult fandoms, is split into two sets: those who enjoy the films and books and appreciate J.K Rowling’s modern work of genius, and those who truly immersed themselves the wizarding world, and continue to do so years after the final releases.

In regards to Hills’ three traits, I am going to start with Endlessly Deferred Narrative. This refers to a question which remains unanswered throughout the series, and the resolution of which often occurs as the finale. It relates to Barthes’ ‘Hermeneutic Code’ (1974) which to him can ‘constitute an enigma and lead to its solution.’ Throughout the Harry Potter series, each book adds more to the ongoing battle between Harry and Voldemort. From the start of The Philosopher’s Stone, the reader knows that the series will end with one of them killing the other.

Hills uses the term Hyperdiegesis to describe the creation of narrative space by a text which is ‘stimulating creative speculation’ for those in the fandom. The Wizarding World created through the Harry Potter books certainly conforms to this description. As well as the shops and theme parks based on the books, Pottermore allows J.K. Rowling to release more content to fans. The interactive nature of the site also gives the fans more opportunity to connect with one another as well as the series. Following the release of the final film, Rowling also released information about many of the main and secondary characters and their lives following the events of The Deathly Hallows. This, and much more information given by the books and author over the years have allowed fans to create Wikis of each character, displaying much more information one could gather from just the films.

Although the audience’s participation in the universe created by these books is an example of Hills’ final point, more conventional fan practices also take place, largely online. This includes fan fiction and artwork, and fan made trailers and short films.

Although this series is obviously incredibly mainstream, with a total worldwide box office of $7.7billion and 450 million books sold, I still believe that the intricately detailed magical world they create has resulted in a cult following who still appreciate reading the books for the seventh time, as well as the companion books. This suggests that amongst the masses of cinema goers who watch just because of the hype surrounding it, there is still a dedicated cult following.

Bibliography

Hills, M. (2002), Fan Cultures, New York & London, Routledge.

Fandoms, Subcultures and Cult Media #6

Gender in Subcultures and Fandom

Although being a female fan of rock music is in no way surprising or unusual, it still takes me longer than it should when searching the shelves of magazines in supermarkets for Kerrang or Rocksound. This is because I cannot get used to the fact that a magazine that I, and many of my female friends, have read for years is categorized as ‘male interest.’ According to the categories laid out by Sainsbury’s I should be exclusively interested in magazines featuring celebrities revealing their shocking weight loss secrets or if I am to read about music, I would only concern myself with news of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift.

1d

Generally, these ‘female’ magazines are targeted at young girls and teenagers, with nothing suitable for adult females. This is demonstrated by the playful, pink text that results in the magazine lacking any credibility of music journalism and acting more as a means for 12-year-olds to certify which member of One Direction they’re most likely to marry. In contrast, the images, colour schemes and text on the cover of ‘male’ music magazines create a much more serious image, with more well established bands whose interviews often cover real-life topics such as drug use and mental health, rather than focusing on each member’s favourite colour, relationship status and equally the important facts that pop music magazines fixate on.

This reflects Andreas Huyssen’s view in 1986, and shows that very little has changed since then in the gender association within media industries. He states ‘mass culture is somehow associated with women while real, authentic culture remains the prerogative of men.’ This idea is now taken even further to create the illusion that women are incapable of participating in a fandom that is labelled as a male interest. As rock and metal music is generally regarded to have a predominantly male fan base, excuses are made on the behalf of women in the fandom.

An example of this is given in “Anyone who Calls Muse a Twilight Band will be Shot on Sight’: Music, Distinction, and the ‘Interloping Fan’ in the Twilight Franchise’ by Rebecca Williams which discusses bands, such as Muse who were heavily featured in The Twilight Saga films. This has led to the assumption that every female fan, whether loyal since the start or not, is only interested in the band because of their association with Twilight. Despite the fact they formed in 1994 and released their debut album, Showbiz in 1999, it is a far too accepted assumption that they would have had no female fans until the first Twilight film was released in 2008. Williams discusses ‘issues which force seemingly arbitrary fandoms into opposition to each other, causing them to operate on axes of distinction and to engage in forms of ‘accidental anti-fandom.”

Both Williams and Huyssen’s research shows how infuriating it can be as a female member of fandoms typically seen as ‘male’. ‘Female’ fandoms are often seen as worthless due to their mass-produced nature and women cannot be part of a ‘male’ fandom without being accused of having an ulterior motive for their interest. Identifying yourself as a member of any fandom should not require justifying your interests so as not to be seen as a ‘fake.’

Bibliography

Huyssen, A. (1988) After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism, Basingstoke, Macmillan.

Williams, R. (2013) ”Anyone Who Calls Muse a Twilight Band Will Be Shot on Sight’: Music, Distinction, and the ‘Interloping Fan’ in the Twilight Franchise”, Popular Music and Society, vol. 36, no. 3, p. 327.