Episode 89: Wang-Free Zone

The Overthinkers tackle cult entertainment and Chat roulette.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Natalie Baseman, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Josh McNeil to overthink cult entertainment, what makes a cult, Chat Roulette, and this totally weird Bar Mitzvah Natalie went to this one time.

→ Download Episode 89 (MP3)

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7 Comments on “Episode 89: Wang-Free Zone”

  1. Maddy #

    It was nice to hear Fenzel say that he didn’t understand the appeal of Mad Men, because I felt much the same way about it, and from what I can tell I’m the only person I know who feels that way. Hooray for not feeling so alone anymore! And now, a Man Men rant:

    I managed to stumble through all of season one and most of season two before finally throwing in the towel. Don spends his life behaving deplorably towards women (some of whom seem like perfectly nice people, some of whom seem like idiots — but either way, he treats them awfully, and occasionally treats other men awfully as well). Meanwhile, Peggy is supposed to be some sort of feminist heroine, but I found her to be disengaging, even boring — and the only time she’s not boring is when she’s behaving in a completely nonsensical fashion. I can’t connect to her character or motivations at all; I’m not sure if it’s bad acting, bad writing, or both. I don’t understand why she does anything that she does! I don’t have a PROBLEM with what she does, I just don’t GET it.
    Same goes for Don’s wife, who initially I rather liked but then decided I didn’t understand whatsoever. Around when she *UNINTERESTING SPOILER* slapped her neighbor in the grocery store, I was just like, “OK, that’s it, I’m completely removed from the narrative.” /SPOILER.

    Overall, the whole thing seems like props moving around a history merry-go-round. I get it: women used to live horribly depressing lives, and the patriarchy is hurtful to everyone. I feel like the show is only a novelty for people who HAVEN’T figured that out yet.
    A show that deals with this idea much more effectively is The Tudors: also a historical show (from a MUCH earlier time period, of course), also a fittingly horrible depiction of a deplorable dude in power fucking up women’s lives (and some of these women are deplorable themselves, and others not so much) — so, pretty similar to Mad Men. Except The Tudors does this story WELL. Characters’ actions seem realistic and their personalities seem well-formed. There’s a ridiculous amount of overdramatic sex and violence on the show (which I could take or leave) — the truly interesting bits are the quieter dealings with what it’s really like to be a pre-feminist woman. I think that’s what Man Men is trying to do, but I just. Didn’t. Like it.

    And YET! Everyone I know is so freaking obsessed with Man Men that I keep feeling like I should go back and continue to torture myself by watching it, hoping it will hook me eventually, feeling like I MUST have MISSED something. I hate feeling like I’m Too Stupid to understand something, but any time I try to talk to someone about this, that (or some less offensive variant) is the main answer that I get back. Sigh.


  2. Bob #

    When listening to the podcast, I always answer the opening question (In my own head – lol). Today’s question about favorite ‘pop CULTure entertainment’, my answer would have been Star Wars. But by Matt’s definition, cult entertainment has to be small or obscure/hard to find. I respectfully disagree with your narrow interpretation of a cult following.

    I’m just bringing up the fact that in my opinion, cult followings are something that have a feverous devotion to that may seem odd to the outsiders (After writing that I looked it up in Webster which does mention devotion but does not limit the size). People could be fans of something without falling into the cult following stereotype – heck, everyone who liked Jim Jones didn’t move to Jonestown. Just because there is a large following of something doesn’t mean it can’t also have a cult following.

    By defining a cult in the popular culture, I think by saying it has to be something hard to find is very short sighted. I’m sure that everyone at OverthinkingIt has at least seen Star Wars and many are fans, but they don’t fall into ‘Cult Following’ status. Even I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I’ve waited in line to see the movies, have read several of the books, know the difference between Zuckuss and 4-LOM, listen to about a dozen Star Wars podcast and many other items that would make me nerdy. But I’ve never cos-played, wouldn’t consider it my religion and am not as bad as a lot of people that documentaries have been made. So because I can go to the book store, look on my ‘SW Books’ app to see which books I don’t have and pick them up, I can’t be part of a Cult because I can go to a bookstore and find it?

    I’m not trying to be argumentative – I’m just trying to civilly debate about this in a conversational manner (I’ve written and edited this several times – I even hate writing ‘Narrow interpretation’ and ‘Short sighted’ as it seems to mean, but I can’t think of how else to write it). I loved listening to everyone debating whether Twilight is considered a cult following but I was hoping you overthought the definition more. Also – I wrote the whole Jonestown thing before I heard the final line “Join us and drink the Kool-aid”. AWESOME final line!


  3. Edvamp #

    Hey, this is Edvamp from the chatroom (not a Twilight reference). I’d been thinking about this since the recording of the podcast. Some of the elements being brought up to determine if something was cult or not were:

    Obscurity of the material
    Popularity of the material
    Devotion of the fan base

    I agree obscurity alone does not warrant something being labeled cult, it could be just bad, thus obscure because no one wants to watch it.

    Meet the Feebles was an excellent example from the blog post of cult as that was a movie that used to be very very hard to find pre-internet. However, just because it is easier to find doesn’t mean it is easier to discover. Meet the Feebles is one of those things you pretty much have to have referred to you. So yes, it is easier to find…if you know you want to look for it in the first place.

    I think an important element of cult is us vs them. People part of a cult fan base, for lack of a better term, get it. And you want to associate with other people that also get it. Anyone that has been to a Star Trek convention back in the 80’s would understand that feeling.

    If I see someone wearing a t-shirt referencing a particular band or movie or piece of cult culture, it forms a connection with the other person. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a girl at the library when I was returning some books with a cell phone that had a Invader Zim “Doom Song” ring tone. I smiled to acknowledge that I got it. I left it that, as the 20 year age difference would probably make any further communication ‘creepy’.

    So, is Twilight cult? I, too, would like to find a definition that excludes Twilight. While obscurity shouldn’t be the main emphasis, it should be a factor. Twilight isn’t so much cult, as divisive, you either love it or you hate it.

    I will also partially retract my statement from the chatroom that Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t cult. The movie itself is no longer cult, but the experience of watching it in a theater with the players and props definitely is.


  4. cat #

    Going along with the music selections some of the podcasters suggested, would “She&Him” and other folk-inspired/alternative/singer-songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson or Regina Spektor be considered as having a cult following? They do have very loyal fanbases and similar to the Star Wars example have fans who are much more fervent in their devotion.

    I guess what I’m saying is, can you partition off a section of a fanbase as the cultish part of the following similar to religious schisms and branches that fit within the main group.

    The Disney Renaissance would definitely be my area of cult following. For others, Monty Python or Nietzsche. I think there’s a certain degree of pride you possess in your chosen area of obsession. You should know more about that subject than other people. For instance, the name of voice actors or specific movie quotes that aren’t well known.

    @Maddy I always wanted to get into Mad Men but aside from the costumes, I could never see the appeal and reading about it, I found the plot too complex for me to get into after the first season. I think you definitely aren’t alone in your opinions of Mad Men among people who have given it a shot, though.

    The Tudors seems wonderful for the costumes, but I actually worry more about the historical accuracy of that show than Mad Men, especially because it’s a period I happen to know well and have frequently seen corrupted because people seem to feel they have the license to do so with the far distant past.


  5. Maddy #

    The person who introduced me to The Tudors is a total history buff who has particular interest in that period, and she finds the show to be great fun (occasionally stupid fun, and occasionally smart fun). It’s generally not so much inaccurate as exaggerated for dramatic effect — the event (or some similar variant) will have happened, but not as dramatically as it’s being presented in the show. And other times the show seems entirely accurate; when the events actually WERE dramatic there’s no need to exaggerate them. If that sounds like something that would annoy you, though, then it’s probably not going to be your thing.
    Generally I keep a wikipedia page open (specifically, this one: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Tudors_characters) while watching, and if anything really insane happens, I pause the episode and go see how it actually happened out of curiosity. So, it’s been edutainment for me. But possibly ONLY for me.
    Probably the main “inaccuracy” is that almost everyone on the show is incredibly physically attractive (the gorgeous costumes help, but they’re all hot without them — and, yes, there are plenty of scenes to show you exactly how hot they are without them).

    Lastly, maybe I should have written something about cult followings. Hmmmmmmm.


  6. Gab #

    My knee-jerk reaction to the (original) opening question was _Pushing Daisies_, since it had such a small, passionate following that campaigned- and failed- to keep it alive and I’m a total devotee, even post-mortem. I’ll push it a little further and submit the supporting evidence that the only people I know in person that have seen it are people I have shown it to.

    If that doesn’t count, would DnD? There is also the movie _Ice Pirates_.

    Lee, would Harry Potter fans be cultists, too, if going by *your* standards? Or heck, even Terminator fans?

    I’d say the Twihards are cultists when they take it to the extreme and make it part of their everyday lifestyle. The women and girls that sincerely compare the males in their lives to Edward and Jacob, that shout, “Oh my Edward!” instead of, “Oh my God/gosh!” and that experience sincere romantic attachments to the characters. The ones that actually and often cry over them. So Natalie, I don’t really think the age-difference has to do with it in this case as opposed to the Jonas Brothers fans, since grown women do it just as much as teens and tweens. Twihards are cultists (imo) because it takes over their lives in ways more invasive than even a passionate hobby. (Speaking of mock-_Twilight_ shirts, there’s a shirt somewhere that says “Team Edward” but has a picture of Edward James Almos in his BSG getup on the front.)

    And I think that’s something *I* include in my definition of “cult” fandom. If it becomes incorporated into your life in such a way as to alter your life’s course and your everyday interactions with others.

    I’VE READ AND LOVE THE ILIAD!!! Studied it really intensely in college (in conjunction with _The Ramayana_- awesome class). I even have had some rather heated discussions over which translator is better… (::uber nerd::) And I think _The Odyssey_ gets read a lot more in school than _The Iliad_ because the latter is a “heavier” text, meaning in order to “understand,” it takes more explanation from professors and teachers. I’ve never seen _The Iliad_ assigned to anybody below the collegiate level, but I know _The Odyssey_ gets assigned to highschoolers all the time, and I assume this is why. This isn’t to say I don’t realize some highschoolers may indeed have been assigned _The Iliad_, either, I’m just saying it seems to *me* to happen a lot less frequently because it’s a denser read.


  7. RiderIon #

    I’d like to respond to Mr. Fenzel’s claim of anime and manga as cult. His assertion presents the problem with modern pop culture is the micro-cultures of media. Anime in the US is a very, very small percentage of media consumption in the US (the figure I always hear Greg Ayers throw around is 1%) and the general public is ignorant of it. However, you go into the micro-culture of anime and manga and the definition of cult changes. Something like Bleach, Naruto or Fullmetal Alchemist loses its cult status within that micro-culture and something more cult becomes the definition of cult (Genocyber and Demon City Shinjuku jump to mind if you’re seeking examples). You can go even further than that and sub-divide by genre and time period.

    Then you can go to the other side of the Pacific to Japan and ask what is cult and the answer changes. Kamen Rider is something that every boy has been exposed to since the 1970s and there’s frequent homages and parodies of it in their pop culture. Among American anime and manga fans, it’s cult despite the massive influence it has on the media they consume.

    As for my answer to the question of the week, it would have to be a 3 volume manga series called Heroes Are Extinct!!. It’s an affectionate parody of Toei’s Super Sentai series, which we know as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in the States.


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