When a work of art, most notably film, acquires a dedicated (cult) following it is often referred to as a ‘cult classic’; however, being loved is not enough to truly qualify. Umbert Eco explains that a work “must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan’s private sectarian world” (462). A cult object affords occasions for fan exploration and mastery. Such an object must be able to ‘unhinge’ itself. Its textual features must be capable of being considered not only in their entirety, but also in segments, which Eco refers to as ‘stereotyped intertextual frames’. Intertextual frames are those that are not only “recognizable by the audience as belonging to a sort of ancestral intertextual tradition but that also display a particular fascination” (Eco 464).
On top of this, to become a cult classic, they must convey a sense of ‘magic’, which put simply, refers to frames that can be successfully separated from the whole. For this reason, some of the most definitive cult classics are television shows; the king of cult TV undoubtedly being Joss Whedon. His shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly have both achieved a cult status. In fact, the creator himself has a cult following, the Whedonites.
Henry Jenkin’s Convergence Culture deals primarily with media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence. These three concepts are heavily intertwined with the world of cult fandoms. Whedon’s Firefly, though initially unsuccessfully (we’ll blame Fox for that), acquired an incredible post-airing fan base. Fan’s were avid enough to spur a film based on the series, Serenity. The content of the show has since been extended past the realm of film to many other media such has comic books and a role-playing game.
Though Buffy ran for only seven seasons, the series has continued to season nine through comic books. This ‘transmedia storytelling’ may be employed in effort to increase the wealth of the Buffy franchise, but it is also a prime example of the media convergence surrounding the series. (There’s a board game too. I know because I own it.)
Participants in the New Orleans Media Experience determined that convergence is unavoidable, more difficult to achieve than is expected, and requires collaboration (which unfortunately seems to be against human nature). However difficult it may have been, Joss Whedon has become a master of this culture. He himself, began as a screenwriter, became a director, and has since created comic books and delved into musical productions (Buffy’s “Once More with Feeling” and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). In order for this type of transmedia success to be possible, Joss Whedon had to maintain a very interactive relationship with the Whedonites. He maintains a Twitter account, with which he actively responds to fans. Whedon would visit Buffy forums during the series’ earlier seasons and not only interact with his fans, but also would feature fan references within the show itself. These forums were not the only space on the Web for Whedon fans to gather. Whedonites (Browncoats and Slayerettes alike) have continued to live in the Whedonverse long after the actual shows end through forums, fansites, fanfiction, fanvids, and more. In many of these creations Whedon fans have exhibited collective intelligence. There are wiki communities (through Wikia.com) for both Buffy and Firefly.
In recent years, Joss Whedon has become even more popular. His latest projects, The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., both achieved commercial success. His beginnings in cult fandom supplied him with a work ethic that is compatible with Jenkins’ ‘convergence culture’. He has created franchises by sharing content across a variety of mediums. He understands the value of fan participation and in turn has incredible fan support.
Adam B. Vary. “Joss Whedon: Master of Cult TV.” Entertainment Weekly, September 2, 2009.
Aja Romano. “17 Reasons Geeks Worship Joss Whedon (and 3 Reasons Not To).” The Daily Dot, March 3, 2013.
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
Umberto Eco. “Casablanca.” SubStance , Vol. 14, No. 2, Issue 47: In Search of Eco’s Roses (1985), pp. 3-12