Fans by any other name:
A study of “normal” movie fans and “cult” movie fans
Timothy E. Craig
July 2, 2007
Many fans of what has been considered “cult” movies have been marginalized and looked upon as the “other” when compared to “normal” fans. In order to advance the understanding of how people who view movies understand themselves within the culture, a pilot study was conducted. Using quantitative methods, a survey was distributed to three groups of participants, which included: those who identified themselves as fans of movies in general (n=117), those who identified themselves as fans of the movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show (n=27), and those who identified themselves as fans of the movie The Big Lebowski (n=68). The instrument measured levels of identification and feelings of community among members within each group. Results of the study suggest no significant differences among the three groups regarding levels of identification and community. These results indicate that “normal” people who like movies exhibit the same levels of identification and community as “cult” people. Discussions of prior fan work, notably by Jenkins, Hills, and others, suggest that the differences may not be as large as previously held.
“We’re not Trekkies, man. We want to just hang out and get limber.”
“Dragon,” on the Lebowskifest forum
The apparent frustration is obvious in the post printed above, left by “Dragon” on a forum page devoted to “Lebowskifest,” a weekend “festival” dedicated to the movie The Big Lebowski. Discussing how his online community is being targeted for study, Dragon distinguishes his community from another community, one devoted to Star Trek. Dragon seems to imply, “At least we’re not as bad as those Trekkies.” Dragon’s frustration is nothing new. Fan portrayals haven’t always been positive. His reference to “Trekkies,” or fans of the science fiction franchise Star Trek, echoes an old Saturday Night Live sketch used as an introductory anecdote in Henry Jenkins’ (1992) Textual Poachers. In the sketch William Shatner, who played Capt. James T. Kirk in the long-running series, is at a Star Trek convention. After being bombarded by questions from convention attendees, portrayed as “nerds,” or outcasts, Shatner tells the gathering to stop spending so much time on Star Trek and to “get a life.”
It has not always been easy to be a fan, particularly that brand of fan sometimes called “cult” fan. This pilot study examines attitudes toward cult movie fans as well as levels of identification and community that fans of a particular text feel towards each other. It seems accepted that devout fans of particular texts would feel high levels of identification with that text and with other, like-minded fans. However, what about people who merely like particular texts, namely movies? Should these “general” fans feel similar levels of community and identity? What is the difference, if any, between a “normal” movie fan, and a “cult” movie fan? A discussion of fandom, identification, and community research may help define this difference.