What role does Hills (2004) suggest fans play in the construction of cult TV? How is new media now central to this? Discuss with examples.
According to Hills (2004) a series can be established as cult TV by analysing the shows fan following. The fans play a vital role of constructing cult TV through their engagement with the text beyond just viewing it. This includes a wide variety of interactions including fan clubs, plot speculation as well as fan fiction. Conversely, the connectivity of new media and technology has also allowed fan defined cult TV to flourish.
The fan centred approach to defining cult TV is what Hills (2004) calls a “grassroots phenomenon” (p. 510). This indicates the status of cult TV as the result of fans rather than the influence of the production company. This is because fans of cult TV are not passive consumers. They interact and engage with a show in a variety of ways, so much so that the show pervades other aspects of their life. Besides watching the show, cult TV fans will organize themselves into appreciation clubs, gather at conventions as well as create commentaries, fan fiction and episode guides (Hills, 2004). The Six of One appreciation society for The Prisoner (1967-1968) was one of the earliest examples of fan organizing themselves. Six of One, was established in 1977 as a non-commercial and official appreciation society for the series (Six of One, n.d.). Despite forming over a decade after The Prisoner first aired, Six of One demonstrates the role fans have in constructing cult TV. Their willing participation to expand a tv shows’ universe by analyzing it and using it as a framework is vital to cult TVs construction by fans.
Fan activity occurs in real life as well as online. Hills (2004) states that, the development of new media has intensified fan interaction and engagement. As soon as a show is released fans start visibly sharing opinions and thoughts online bringing fans together almost instantly. Small and dispersed pockets of fans are able to connect more easily, allowing for more diverse and smaller series to become cult TV. New media has also allowed cult TV status to be applied more rapidly and frequently than in the past (Larsen, 2012). New media streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have played a role in not only a wider variety of shows becoming cult TV, but how fast their fan base is established. Series such as Rick and Morty (2013-present), and Stranger Things (2016-present) are examples of rapidly established fan bases. These shows have their entire season released at once, rather than weekly episodic releases. This allows viewers to consume content very quickly, become fans and establish a cult TV series much faster than in the past. However, cult TV shows with weekly episodes still exist, such as Game of Thrones (2011-2019). In this instance, new media has fuelled fan interaction especially in terms of spoilers and speculation. It was vital for fans to consume the latest Game of Thrones episode as soon as possible. If they failed to do this, there was a high chance they unintentionally see spoilers about the latest episode. This is pervasive nature of new media in modern society. It is so fast paced and interconnected that it forces fans to become more dedicated to shows leading to more and more cult TV series.
Hills, M. (2004). Defining cult TV; Texts, inter-texts and fan audiences, in R. C. Allen & A. Hill (eds) The Television Studies Reader. London and New York: Routledge.
Larsen, K. (2012). Fan Culture: Theory/Practice. Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Six of One. (n.d.). The Official Prisoner Appreciation Society. Retrieved August 24, 2019 from http://www.sixofone.co/