Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cult of Popularity

This post of part of the Absolute Write blog chain. Thanks to all for letting me play. Please check out the fellow bloggers linked below.

The theme is Fire and Ice. I could go hot (it is 106F outside). I could go cold. But I'm going cult. In case you're not familiar with it, Fire and Ice is an animated movie from the 80's. It's cool, in an 80's barbarians/maidens in bikinis sort of way. But more importantly, it's achieved cult status. Cult status is that special, undefinable thing that means a work of art is incredibly popular among a very small group of people. It means that something is regarded as brilliant in some category, perhaps one that the creator never intended. And it means that it didn't make much money. (Fire and Ice made less than $1million). By definition, a cult success cannot be a popular success. For the other part of the equation for cult status is that it cannot be appreciated by the masses.

So is cult status a good thing? Is it something we should be striving for? Or is it a sign of commercial failure and the inability to connect with the larger audience? Well, that all depends on what you want to get out of your art and what, specifically, that your art possesses to attract the cult following. So let's examine how to go about creating a cult masterpiece.

The first thing is, you can't try to create a cult masterpiece. This is going to be a hard one to overcome, but let's forge ahead. One thing that connects cult works, regardless of medium, is the undeniable belief of the creator that they are creating something special. Not something cult, but something of true genius. There's an honesty and sincerity in that belief. You have to sacrifice thoughts of broad appeal, but also thoughts of any type of appeal. You need to create for the sake of creation and let that be enough.

And with that thought, you have to create something new. Cult classics appeal to people because of something particular, something that sets them apart from others. Fire and Ice is no Disney movie. You can use a familiar medium, even a familiar story, but there has to be something unique to really get people to fall in love with it. And that's what cult is all about: people loving it. Not just liking it, not appreciating it, but loving it with a passion.

But you have to be careful. If everyone loves it, it's not a cult hit. Not that that's a bad thing. I think of the Matrix as a great example. Everyone loved the first movie. It was original and breathtaking. But it's not really a cult hit because it's so well known and popular. Part of what people love about a cult movie is that loving it separates them from the masses and they can share something special with a small group of people. It's human nature to divide ourselves, it helps us feel we belong and somehow see something that others cannot. The second two Matrix movies could have been cult hits - they certainly weren't loved by everyone - but they were overexposed because of the popularity of the first. You just can't be cult if everyone know about you.

Finally some good news: you don't have make something good to have it be cult. It can be downright awful. Plan 9 From Outer Space, Foxy Brown, these are not good movies. But they are great examples of particular types of movie. And their creators believed in them completely. They weren't trying to make quality, they were going for something more specific. And the ones that achieve cult status are the ones that succeed in this. So really, it's no easier to make specifically bad art than it is to create great art. The proof is the fact that there is tons of bad art out there and almost none if it makes cult status.

So, yeah, I guess it wouldn't really work to try to create a cult hit. But if you just believe in what you do, and do it to the best of your ability, you might just achieve it. But if you're lucky, too many people will like it and you'll have to settle for commercial success.

Participants and posts:
orion_mk3 - (link to this month's post)
Ralph Pines - (link to this month's post)
areteus - (link to this month's post)
Catherine Hall - (link to this month's post)
bmadsen - (link to this month's post)
pyrosama - (link to this month's post)
meowzbark - (link to this month's post)
BBBurke - (You are here)
writingismypassion - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
wonderactivist - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
SuzanneSeese - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
randi.lee - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
Proach - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
BigWords - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
magicmint - (link to this month's post - coming soon)
tomspy77 - (link to this month's post - coming soon)


  1. I used to go to midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Always packed. So much fun from a ridiculously bad movie.

  2. I would rather create something cult than something great. Great things sell and then fade away, but cult stays with you forever.

  3. Hmmm...I might be willing to settle for commercial success. :)

  4. Cult followings are so strange, yet so devoted. Star Trek survived for years on a cult following until the movies were made. Of course, a lot of people will claim to be cult followers of whatever is trendy or hip (way before the term hipster came back into vogue by the way ;) ) so telling the fakers from the true followers is hard.

    Also things can swing back and forth between having a large fan base and a cult following. Just ask anyone in the comic book industry.

  5. Greetings!

    I'm hopping over from GUTGAA and wanted to start visiting some blogs early! Nice to meet have a lovely blog!

    Donna L Martin

    1. I'm totally new to GUTGAA (Gearing Up to Get an Agent) and have no idea what to expect. But looking forward to it.

  6. I'd be scared to have a cult following. If Robert Patterson had some chick ask him to suck her blood and Twilight was commercial success, I imagine that a cultist might have shipped bags of O positive blood to Mr. Patterson...just to prove how serious she was.

  7. There is definitely something strange and powerful about cult followings. Fun to be a part of, scary to be the subject of, ridiculous from the outside. Lots of mojo in there.

  8. Hey, great article! I really liked your pov. I think there's something frustrating about a cult following. I mean, was that what you wanted? No. It's reduced itself to a small group of devoted followers. But then again, there IS a group of small followers.

    Oh! What a dilemma!

  9. I love the way you used the prompt. A good read and great job.