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Cult Television

Sara Gwenllian-Jones
Roberta E. Pearson
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsjh8
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  • Book Info
    Cult Television
    Book Description:

    Leading scholars examine such shows as The X-Files; Star Trek; Xena, Warrior Princess; and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to determine the defining characteristics of cult television and map the contours of this phenomenon within the scope of popular culture. Contributors: Karen Backstein, David A. Black, Mary Hammond, Nathan Hunt, Mark Jancovich, Petra Kuppers, Philippe Le Guern, Alan McKee, Toby Miller, Jeffrey Sconce, Eva Vieth._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9298-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Sara Gwenllian-Jones and Roberta E. Pearson

    Series as diverse asStar Trek(1966–1969),Moonlighting(1985–1989), andGilligan’s Island(1965–1967) might all be described as “cult television.” One of the reviewers of the original proposal for this volume suggested rather forcibly that we include an essay on World Federation Wrestling, while colleagues questioned our exclusion ofThe Simpsons(1989–present) and other of their favorite shows. In the media, in common usage, and sometimes even in academia, “cult” is often loosely applied to any television program that is considered offbeat or edgy, that draws a niche audience, that has a nostalgic appeal, that is...

  4. Part I Cult
    • 1 Toward a Constructivist Approach to Media Cults
      (pp. 3-26)
      Philippe Le Guern

      Today, the term “cult” is widely applied in relation to television series(The Prisoner, The X-Files, Friends),films(The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pink Flamingo, Titanic, Casablanca),novels (John Kennedy Toole’sA Confederacy of Dunces,David Lodge’sSmall World),¹ and the world of music (Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Velvet Underground,² Joy Division).

      The term is just as readily applied to “classic” texts as it is to creations in the lower reaches of the cultural hierarchy (1970s children’s television programs such asGoldorakor Christophe Izard’sL’île aux enfants,gore or psychotronic films, second features or B movies). It can...

    • 2 The Mainstream, Distinction, and Cult TV
      (pp. 27-44)
      Mark Jancovich and Nathan Hunt

      The British magazineCult Timesdescribes itself as “The Best Guide to This Month’s Cult TV” and presents its readers with a format composed of news, features, reviews, and a guide to “programmes on the UK’s terrestrial, satellite and cable channels.”¹ However, it does not simply provide a schedule ofallprograms on these channels; it lists shows that it defines as “cult TV.” The precise criteria for this selection are not specified, but the magazine does refer to itself as a “telefantasy guide” for “science fiction, fantasy and horror.” Unfortunately, such generic categories do not define “cult TV.” Not...

    • 3 Quality Science Fiction: Babylon 5’s Metatextual Universe
      (pp. 45-60)
      Petra Kuppers

      The formats of contemporary fan culture series such asBabylon 5 (B5),which spin their yarns over years, do not bear out Marshall McLuhan’s predictions of a short but intensive attention span for the television (and computer) generation. A predetermined story arc spanning five seasons forced viewers ofB5’s weekly episodes to wait years in order to unravel plot elements hinted at in the early episodes.¹ So-called arc episodes, in which the overall narrative is developed, are interspersed with more traditional episodes that develop shorter narratives in a familiar soap opera format. As this chapter will show, within its diegetic...

    • 4 “Bright Particular Star”: Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard, and Cult Television
      (pp. 61-80)
      Roberta E. Pearson

      In December 1999 Patrick Stewart appeared as Ebeneezer Scrooge in Hallmark Entertainment’s version of Dickens’sA Christmas Carol,which aired several times over the holidays on satellite superstation TNT in the United States.Varietycommented that Stewart was such “a perfect piece of casting that it will be hard to imagine anyone else as the sour ol’ tightwad in years to come.”¹ But other critics wondered whether the man who had portrayed starship captain Jean-Luc Picard for seven years could persuade audiences to accept him as Dickens’s (in)famous miser. Critic Michael E. Hill, writing in theWashington Post,said that...

  5. Part II Fictions
    • 5 Virtual Reality and Cult Television
      (pp. 83-98)
      Sara Gwenllian-Jones

      The desire to enter another reality is an old one. It has precedents in certain kinds of religious experience; in narcotic-induced hallucination; in our long fascination with dreams, visions, and madness; and in the experience of fiction in general—the notion of being lost in a book or movie. In the fantastic genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and speculative fiction, elaborate constructions of emphatically alternate realities are central narrative devices, meticulously imagined and described. In literature, the fantastic cosmologies of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hain universe, Gene Wolfe’s Urth, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth...

    • 6 Charactor; or, The Strange Case of Uma Peel
      (pp. 99-114)
      David A. Black

      In theAvengersepisode “Epic,” crazed film director Z. Z. von Schnerk and his accomplices, quondam movie stars Damita Syn and Stewart Kirby (unwilling victims of contractual fine print, they would have us believe), kidnap Mrs. Peel and force her to star in a movie—a snuff film, yet—titledThe Destruction of Mrs. Emma Peel.Thus Uma Thurman, star of the 1998 filmThe Avengers,cannot claim the distinction of having been the first woman cast in the role of Mrs. Peel in a feature film. That honor goes to Mrs. Peel herself.

      Still (as interesting as “Epic” is,...

    • 7 Flexing Those Anthropological Muscles: X-Files, Cult TV, and the Representation of Race and Ethnicity
      (pp. 115-146)
      Karen Backstein

      WhenThe X-Filesbegan in 1991, it was widely considered by network executives—and even by star David Duchovny—a sure-fire failure in the making. Fox honchos focused all their energy onThe Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,another new series for which they had higher hopes.¹ Although its first year’s ratings appeared to bear out those negative expectations, an unexpected Golden Globe win for best dramatic series, critical kudos, and a fiercely passionate audience gave the show a buzz that ultimately made it, at least in the annals of the then fledgling Fox network, golden. Eventually,The X-Filesregularly...

    • 8 Monsters and Metaphors: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Old World
      (pp. 147-164)
      Mary Hammond

      Ken Gelder has described Fran Rubel Kazui’s 1992 filmBuffy the Vampire Slayeras standing alone among late twentieth-century vampire narratives in several important respects. For him, the film remains in every way “resolutely local,” while

      we have seen other vampire narratives use local scenarios for their action—Stephen King’sSalem’s Lot,for example . . .Buffyrefuses to enlarge itself in the ways already noted in relation to King: [that is] to mythologise its community as American . . . or to monumentalise itself as part of a “classical” literary tradition (as Coppola’s film [also 1992] monumentalises itself...

  6. Part III Fans
    • 9 How to Tell the Difference between Production and Consumption: A Case Study in Doctor Who Fandom
      (pp. 167-186)
      Alan McKee

      Deciding what work counts as “production” and what as “consumption” is a difficult task for cultural theory. This essay emerges from a sense that this binary category is proving remarkably intractable in cultural analysis. Particularly—and surprisingly—it seems to me that research on the “active audiences” of science fiction programs continues to employ this conceptual binary—even as it apparently challenges it. I attempt to demonstrate that this is the case—and to suggest other ways in which distinctions might be made between different kinds of cultural production. Janice Radway, well known for her work arguing that audiences are...

    • 10 Trainspotting The Avengers
      (pp. 187-198)
      Toby Miller

      Gutzbehal’s “Emma Pale” comes complete with brewing instructions, down to ingredients, mash and sparge specifics, boiling details, and fermentation.¹ The beer testifies to the enduring significance of a forty-year-old TV series that dates from the days when film was rarely used to record British television because the medium was not deemed worthy of archiving, let alone commemoration. But it lives on.

      The Avengersran on British TV from 1961 to 1969 and was exported to scores of other nations—in fact it was the first UK show during prime-time sweeps on the U.S. networks. A hybrid of espionage and thriller,...

    • 11 Star Trek, Heaven’s Gate, and Textual Transcendence
      (pp. 199-222)
      Jeffrey Sconce

      On 27 March 1997, police in San Diego discovered thirty-nine people dead in an upscale home on the city’s north side. The bodies were identical in every detail: a purple shroud covering each corpse—heads shaved, black pants, black Nike shoes, and black shirts. Detectives originally believed all of the victims to be male, but subsequent investigation revealed the majority of the bodies were those of women. In preparation for this “final exit,” many of the bodies had overnight bags filled with toiletries and clothing at their side, money and passports in their pockets. Confirming police suspicions, autopsies revealed that...

    • 12 A Kind of German Star Trek: Raumpatrouille Orion and the Life of a Cult TV Series
      (pp. 223-240)
      Eva Vieth

      Imagine thatStar Trekconsists of just seven episodes. Imagine it had all stopped back in 1967: a first glimpse of the crew and the Klingons, a hazy outline of a different world and time, and nothing more. No films, no second-generation spin-off series, no merchandise. How many fans would there be? How many people would turn up for conventions? How many people would even remember that there had been a science fiction series calledStar Trekon television back in the sixties? How many people would have incorporated Trek lore into their daily lives? How many scholarly studies would...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 241-242)