This is Cultism

I have not seen Natural Born Killers.

Or A Clockwork Orange, Revolver or Blade Runner. I have not read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 or Adlous Huxley’s Doors of Perception and I hated The Fountainhead so much that the very sight of the Centennial Edition spine on my bookshelf causes my lip to curl (“Howard Roark,” I snigger, practically cuss, and if one more person tells me to read Atlas Shrugged I will personally Dagny Taggart their ass).

This weekend I confessed these apparent cultural sins to a Tarantino devotee and Natural Born Killers fan, and it was tantamount to putting up my hand and saying “Pick me: I’m a cultural degenerate!” The funny thing is, I was practically born to love all things cult. No, not of the Heaven’s Gate, Nike-sneakers-in-bunk-beds, here-comes-The-Rapture variety… the traditional, small and aggressively devoted kind, those of us that will defend books and albums and art to the death as though we had created them ourselves; the small pools of people that count themselves lovers of minority crackers such as Spaceballs, The B-52’s, Husker Du and John Fowles’ The Magus.

The degree to which I love and hate things is so potent and polarised, that I am the ideal candidate for cultish arts, including film, literature, music and of course, fashion. It’s all a bit cliché, isn’t it? I vehemently and genuinely hate things while they are popular, and the second they fall out of favour with the masses I see their beauty and become obsessed. A second revival, if you will. One more time – with enthusiasm! Sometimes I will dislike something merely out of principle (because someone told me to like it, or that I would like it…) and later have to retract said dislike. Usually this is begrudgingly accompanied by a sheepish ‘sorry’, some halfhearted attempt at an alibi, and immense self-congratulation on the part of the other person (the dictator).

“Cult” is defined by its audience. Things that are cult generally acquire a highly devoted and specific group of fans, often later achieving broader success, as with films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Others, like The Shawshank Redemption, later become classics and others, still, are of the “so-bad-it’s-good” discipline, where their obscurity merely adds to their appeal. If you’ve ever sat in on a theatre performance of Rocky Horror, you would have witnessed this fandom in action. The audience chimes in and answers to the narrative and uses specific props at specific times in the story (there’s even a scene in 80’s classic, Fame, where this happens). Cult films and music also often spawn elaborate and obsessive subcultures, as is the case with franchises like Star Trek and its Trekkie conventions. Films and music are also dubbed “cult” for their eccentric, atypical approach to their art; the ways in which it is not mainstream. This is the case with films like A Clockwork Orange and novels like Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, where controversial content dictates their delineation as “cult”. Other artists, like singer songwriter Elliott Smith, achieved cult status post humously, a fact markedly affected by his unexplained, controversial death.

Most ‘best of’ cult classic lists are dominated by books, music and movies that were not conceived in my or your lifetime, apart from a few, stand out examples. Films like Pulp Fiction, Donnie Darko and Mullholland Drive and bands like Aphex Twin are good examples. I would jump to add Interpol to the list of cult bands, because I truly believe they have cult appeal – a small (by mainstream standards) but dedicated fan base that will travel transcontinentally just to catch a glimpse of them live. As with many things, though, (like vintage and style) distance and time is often required before true greatness is recognised (as is often the case with sleeper hits and successful revivals).

Cult appeal has the same effect in the fashion world. Just look at brands like Halston, whose legacy lives on in the oohs and aahs elicited by the uttering of three simple words: “It’s. Vintage. Halston”. Brands that have already achieved a level of notoriety and a disciple-like following in a short space of time include 3.1 Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang and Rodarte (fans include Keira Knightley, Natalie Portman and Kate Bosworth), all most deservedly. However, during my research on cult fashion labels, I stumbled upon the following and had a good chortle:

“Cult fashion label Ed Hardy collapses.”

I don’t mean to snort at someone else’s misfortune, but, Ed Hardy, cult? Only in the sense that very few people like it (I hope). Or perhaps it’s in the so-bad-it’s-good sense. If so, then it’s certainly best left to slink gaudily into that glorious obscurity we spoke of earlier.

Because of my general attraction to all things cult (now, there’s a paradox for you), I hereby pledge to take on three examples of cult art (even though they all come highly recommended!)

  1. Natural Born Killers – Tiller up, baby. Let the bloodshed begin.
  2. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band – Extremely obscure band that Alison Mosshart of The Kills and The Dead Weather cites as a primary influence.
  3. The (effing) Fountainhead – Because I own a sodding copy thereof and because I am tentatively willing to admit I may be wrong on this one. For. Fuck. Sakes.

I vow to have taken on all three by 1 December. Wish me luck!

May the cult be with you.


3 responses to “This is Cultism

  1. Hear, hear!!!

  2. Your post is hilarious. I totally agree that Ed Hardy cannot be seen as a cult label! Cult labels are those loved by a very dedicated group of fans yet have the ability to still be relevant or interesting to people after decades. The mere fact that it’s doing so bad shows that’s it’s NOT a cult label.

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