Week 5-6

4. Discuss how Hill’s three characteristics of Cult TV can be applied to a recent TV series (including those on Netflix, etc)

Cult TV is a term used to describe movies or television programs that have dedicated or fan following. The audience for such programs is so committed to watching them that they would not want to miss even a single episode. According to Hills (2004), Cult TV has three characteristics, the first being that their definition may be based on textual analysis. The second is that the programs can be defined inter-textually by analysing secondary texts. The third is that the definition of Cult TV can emanate from an analysis of the practices and activities of its audiences. A recent TV series upon which these characteristics can be applicable is Stranger Things.

The first characteristic, as stated above, implies that Cult TV programs share certain qualities. They can thus be considered a group of texts coming from such genres as horror, fantasy, and science fiction and can, therefore, be referred to as cult texts (Jenner, 2015). Stranger Things fits into this description as it as it is based on supernatural horror as a boy goes missing mysteriously. Those watching the series can easily develop a feeling of nostalgia just like they would do while watching any other horror film. The series is thus a cult text hailing from the genre of horror. It, therefore, deserves to be considered a Cult TV program.

The aspect of intertextuality, on its part, essentially means that a program passes as a Cult TV if it is labelled so by publicity or journalistic coverage. The implication is that the program has to be discussed and analysed as a Cult TV by commercial fan magazines and other popular press (Hills, 2004). These media texts discuss the programs as primary texts. Journalistic coverage has portrayed Stranger Things as a Cult TV by analysing and comparing it with other past series of the same genre, including Stand by Me, Predator, and Commando. The secondary texts consider how the series “borrows” from these past movies in terms of costuming and such other production elements.

In the third characteristic, how fans treat or receive a television program determines whether or not it may be considered a Cult TV. This has to do with fan passion, views, and reactions towards the program. One way or another, the show has to appeal to the passion of an audience (Hills, 2004). Stranger Things is one such television program. Its fans have developed so much passion for it to the extent of thinking that they can guess who particular characters in the series refer to in real life. For instance, as pointed out by Michallon (2019), they think they know “the American” in season 3.

Overall, as seen, Stranger Things fits well into what may be deemed Cult TV. The three Cult TV characteristics, as described by Hills, are easily applicable to it. It can be defined by subjecting it to textual analysis. It has also been analysed through inter-texts, or secondary texts, which have gone ahead to classify it as a Cult TV. Finally, it has a dedicated and passionate fandom, a characteristic expected of any Cult TV program. 

Reference:

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.

Jenner, M. (2015). Binge-watching: Video-on-demand, quality TV and mainstreaming fandom. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 20(3), 304-320.

Michallon, C. (2019). “Stranger Things fan thinks they have guessed who ‘the American’ is in season three”. Independent. Retrieved August 25, 2019 from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/news/stranger-things-three-the-american-who-hopper-billy-death-watch-a9063026.html

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