Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cult, the Occult, and the Cult Classic

My first experience with the term cult was in youth group Bible studies during my junior high aged years. Then there is the term occult, another youth group Bible study word, the two of which although significantly different in meaning, I often confused.

Introduce years later, the term cult classic when referring to pop culture, or a movie or book with a cult following, and I was really confused. I mean, did people who love The Quest for the Holy Grail get together and drink poisoned Kool-aid? Or do people who have watched Better Off Dead fifteen times sacrifice their cats? I suppose if you're a Joe Versus the Volcano groupie, you might drink orange soda and throw your cat into the belching cone of a tropical island.

Eventually I got that all sorted out, that definition stuff. But still, I wonder sometimes what makes a movie a cult classic? What determines which movies get watched 100s of times by an eclectic group of followers who, when they meet, can recite a random line and elicit an appropriate response?

In a given family or among a certain set of people who spend enough time together, it is natural for one or another title to become a favorite. My daughters and I are like that with A&Es, Pride and Prejudice.

I have to insert a little family story here. Earlier today, because there are several of us recovering from illness, we decided to watch a movie for quiet time. Generally, movies are a privilege saved for Friday night with an occasional midweek movie stuck in. After I asked the kids if they wanted to watch a movie, there ensued a bit of bickering about which title to choose. I gave a few suggestions and warned that if they couldn't come to a peaceable decision, I would choose for them. John's response, "Oh, no, please not Pride and Prejudice."

Getting back to the idea of cult followers of a movie, I understand how those who spend time together can become very familiar with a certain favorite movie. But it always makes me curious when a title gets a wide-spread eclectic following. How does it get started? What makes some movies more prone to gathering people in this way?

And when you're a member of such a group, do you ever notice those sitting on the sidelines with a confused expression on their faces? A good friend or loved one may end up feeling like a stranger, while you engage in a recitation episode with a near total stranger. Or if you happen to be that person not in the know, have you ever been in a mixed crowd when suddenly, some movie or book comes up and several people animatedly attack the subject, tossing out favorite scenes or chapters.

Since I'm somewhat famous for being out of the loop with regard to pop culture, I'm usually the one on the sideline. My husband on the other hand, is in the thick of things. Somehow, even though I've often considered our lifestyle as sheltered from the ebb and flow of pop culture, Joe always knows about everything.

Nowadays, this cult following phenomenon is happening with youTube videos.

I was feeling very culturally illiterate because everyone but me, wherever we went and among whatever group of people we found ourselves, everyone knew about "the Charlie video". At the littlest provocation, people would ready their British accent and start in with, "Ah. Ooh. Ouch! OUCH! OW, CHARLIE! AAAGGHH!" or, "Charlie, that really hurt."

I sincerely doubt any of my readers are as unaware as I, myself, was. But to ensure that you never need to experience that same lost and lonely feeling at some point in the future, here for your viewing pleasure, is the Charlie-bit-my-finger video.

What is it about this movie? I mean, what makes this movie stand out. There are hundreds of videos on youTube of kids, whose parents think they are just the cutest ever. What makes this one so beloved? Is it the British accent? Is it the infant younger brother who looks almost bigger than his older brother? Is it the priceless smile and chuckle with which Charlie responds?

Tell me about your favorite youTube video or cult classic book or movie.

Joe and I amused ourselves with this one the other night.

Don't ask...

But were I to name a favorite, I'd have to choose this one. I love the expressions on everyone's faces as they come out the door.

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