As an archaeologist, I have wondered more than once how I would assess the fandom of Richard Armitage if it were presented to me as an artifact, separated from its context. What do I have?
- People from all over the world who dedicate an enormous amount of time and energy to the appreciation, in some cases the adulation, of a remote source of inspiration.
- The source of inspiration is a person who most never have nor ever will meet in person.
- He speaks they (we) listen (or read).
- Writings and images are dedicated to him.
- Offerings are made in his name.
If I were looking at the sum of these activities without any other context, it has all the trappings of what scholars of the ancient world define as ritual or cult practice and you know who is playing the starring role. I think that many people may well be troubled by any connection of cult with fandom – and I understand the sentiment. This is a concept that often causes new students of the ancient world confusion too, but it all boils down to word usage.
The word cult acquired a bad rap in the late 20th century. Groups like the People’s Temple (Jim Jones), The Manson Family (Charles Manson), and the Branch Davidians (David Koresh), to name only a few, led many to utilize cult to describe the concept of charismatic leaders who inspire slavish devotion in their followers leading to bizarre behaviors up to and including mass murder and/or mass suicide. This contemporary co-option of the word has very little to do with its actual meaning over centuries of usage.
In fact, the origin of the word lies in the Latin word cultus which is connected to the tending and care (by extension honor and cherishing) of the land…think culitvate. There is nothing inherently sinister or negative about the word in its origin or usage over time. It is only very recently that it has taken on meanings 6-8 below, which are largely antithetical to the basic meaning of the word.
Looking at the original meaning of the cult, it seems quite applicable to fan activity in a number of ways. It is a really thought provoking concept. I am definitely not arguing that most fans “worship” Richard Armitage as a god, although I suppose it is possible that some do. An important point to make clear is that the references to “religion” in the definition of cult almost exclusively refer to pagan religion. Even when Christian writers use cultus (writing in Latin) they are almost always talking about classical myths, NOT referring to Judaeo-Christian practice. Since practitioners of classical paganism, with all of its “rites and ceremonies” are few and far between these days, I think we can look past notion of “religion” and focus on the more general definitions. In that sense, the most common (2.-4.) definitions of cult don’t seem particularly problematic to me in the context of Armitage World, or any other fandom.
Let’s see, a body of admirers who venerate or hold a certain person in great respect? Check. A group bound together by admiration and veneration of said person? Yep. These are the definitions that have corresponded to the word cult for centuries. I’m very happy to have found such a caring and nurturing cult of people who celebrate and appreciate this remarkable man, and also (maybe more importantly) do the same for each other. I think it is a very good thing for all the best reasons. Not the least of which is this awesome “cult statue“! (Thanks to JasRangoon for the artwork 🙂 ).