Popular Genres Week 6: Characteristics of Cult TV

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

What makes a TV show a ‘cult’ show? There are three characteristics a show must have, according to Hills (2004), of which are that cult TV can be defined as being seen through “the primary text, inter-texts and fan practices.”

The example I will be using is “The Walking Dead.” Now, quality aside (which is subjective anyway), The Walking Dead has a cult status among fans for sure. If we will look at the primary text, which is the show itself, we will see that it pertains to a particular genre, horror. A cult show is most evident when it features a world that is far different from our own. The world of The Walking Dead is, for the most part, detailed, expansive and consistent. This is a world that viewers can never encounter. Going back to detailed, expansive and consistent, The Walking Dead has it’s own spin off show, Fear The Walking Dead, much like more well known cult show Star Trek and its various spin offs. Like Star Trek, the world of The Walking Dead is inaccessible to us and features different shows with different casts of characters. However, with the main series, the characters move across an expansive world. They do not stay in one place (for the most part). As for the expansiveness of this world, according to Wikipedia (n.d), there are several projects in the works to expand on the world, such as “webisodes, films, Fear the Walking Dead and a Second Spin-off.” This second spin-off will be about “the first generation of children that have grown up during the zombie apocalypse, and are aware of how to survive if confronted by them, but have otherwise been raised behind walls and have never actually experienced survival,” (Wikipedia, n.d). As we can see, the world is constantly progressing and expanding in a thought out way. The Walking Dead has always been about a close knit group of survivors and how they progress over an extended period of time, and so with this familiarity, cult status is achieved. These new development fits the world and the themes established by The Walking Dead, and so The Walking Dead fits the criteria of cult TV.

Secondly, The Walking Dead functions as a cult TV show through it’s intertext. This can be achieved through theoretical texts, books and essays. This is essentially anything that is not the show, but is devoted to the show. If people can study something that is fictional, then that thing is likely of cult status. According to the website Academia (n.d) various entries for essays have been submitted by people regarding the show, such as “Motherhood, domesticity and nurture in the post-apocalyptic world, negotiating femininity in ‘The Walking Dead’, Hope and Kinship in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ and The Politics of Race, Gender and Sexuality in The Walking Dead: Essays on the Television Series and the Comics.” Valerie Gallagher (2012) writes for MTV, saying “Let’s face it: “The Walking Dead” is just about the hottest property out there … Whether it’s the AMC TV series, the comics, the toys, and other ancillary merch — zombies are where it’s at.” The Walking Dead, being as popular as it is now, makes people want to discuss and analyse it for various reasons.

Thirdly, The Walking Dead is a cult TV show because of the way that fans interact with it. The show and its spin offs do not exist merely on it’s own with zero interaction. Fans, since its debut, have taken to writing fan fiction, making episode guides and building wikis about their favourite characters. On top of this, fan conventions and comic-cons are always popular. These fan practices make The Walking Dead a cult show. Susie Graham (2015), of Fansided, writes “I’ve heard the expression cult following to describe small, passionate group of fans … Walking Dead fans are passionate about their fan status. There don’t seem to be many casual Walking Dead fans … For most of us, it’s an all or nothing proposition … We make separate Twitter accounts for Walking Dead tweets… We create our own memes. We buy t-shirts. We do Google searches for the songs and for any bits of information we can find.” Graham is describing the passion that inspires some fans to go further with their love of the series. Another essential example is the ‘Walking Dead Wiki.’ On the home page itself, it states “The Walking Dead Wiki that anyone can edit. Please be sure to check out our policies and editing guidelines before you start contributing!” (Walking Dead Wiki, n.d) The above statement implies that the average fan can get involved with this appreciation society. Indeed, this wiki website is tagged as what is known as a ‘Fandom’, a ‘fan’ being someone who appreciates a particular thing. The average fans involvement doesn’t have to be through conventions and cosplay (although with The Walking Dead, conventions and cosplay still happens), involvement can merely be through editing a wiki or partaking in an appreciation society.

With these points in mind, The Walking Dead’s cult status is undeniable.

References:

Wikipedia. (n.d). The Walking Dead (TV series). Retrieved September 4, 2019, from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Walking_Dead_(TV_series)

Academia. (n.d). The Walking Dead. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from
http://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/The_Walking_Dead

Gallagher, V. (2012). ‘Walking Dead’ Culture: Why Are We So Fascinated With Zombies? [web article]. Retrieved from
http://www.mtv.com/news/2627034/walking-dead-analysis/

Graham, S. (2015. The Cult and Culture of The Walking Dead. [Web Article]. Retrieved from

The Cult and Culture of The Walking Dead

Walking Dead Wiki. (n.d). Home. Retrieved September 4, 2019, from
https://walkingdead.fandom.com/wiki/The_Walking_Dead_Wiki

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