Things We Learned from Cult TV: A Call for Submissions

Fox Spirit Books secret origin story begins with music…

“Fortune favours the bold.”

It’s typical that what I learned from cult TV is a little wrong. I never get quotes right. I gave that quality to the main character in one of my novels (Owl Stretching) because it amused me. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may recognise this mangling of the line from the chilling episode Hush, “Fortune favours the brave.” I like the Latin version which has been attributed to Virgil, Audaces fortuna iuvat. I say it to my students all the time.

They think it’s one of my ‘very intellectual things’ I try to cram into their heads.

The smarter ones soon realise that I am as likely to quote from Buffy as I am from Beowulf. In the end they’re similar narratives (hmmm, new course idea…): Heroes coping with monsters, calling on friends, fighting evil to make a better world. While the Anglo-Saxon poem may have more gravitas in our shared culture, more people are likely to have been inspired by the television series — partly because Beowulf is often so badly taught, but hey, tv+DVDs+streaming=a whole lot of fans.

Even in academia, the study of popular culture has a long history. It used to be primarily a way of feeling the pulse of the populace, but now as scholars embrace their own geekiness, they delve into the depths and breadth of popular culture across the world. But it’s the personal effect that matters most to me: all the times I have muttered to myself, “Fortune favours the bold,” when I hesitated from taking a step or putting myself out there. I wasn’t thinking of Virgil, I was thinking of Buffy. And I did it — I was bold. I dared. Thank you, Buffy (and Joss and Sarah Michelle and everyone).

Fox Spirit Books was founded on the power of cult TV: we suspect you know its power, too. So we had this idea to crowdsource a little guide from the skulk, THINGS WE LEARNED FROM CULT TV.

Have you got a little story or anecdote for us? Have you felt the power of cult tv? Share it here. Don’t be shy. After all, fortune favours the brave. Just add something short in the comments below (be sure we have a way to contact you) and we will be in touch.


Note from Aunty Fox.. We will be running blogs under the ‘Things we learned from Cult TV throughout 2014 with a view to collecting them in an ebook in 2015.

16 Replies to “Things We Learned from Cult TV: A Call for Submissions”

  1. Firefly, Buffy, Angel, Avenger’s, Dollhouse all taught me several valuable lessons:

    Good characters make for great drama.
    Being badass is not anathema to being funny, and vice versa.
    Nothing says “We’re not taking ourselves too seriously,” like mocking trope-laden character points.
    When all else fails, or for no reason in particular, turn you lead into a puppet.

  2. Hi – long time geek lass here. Raised on ST:TOS, big fan of TNG and DS9 up until they kill off Jadzia Dax. Also huge Whedon fan – Buffy, Angel (but only the seasons that Lindsey McDonald is in, for reasons), Firefly, Dollhouse – Agents of Shield/ Dr Horrible not so much – plus Avengers, Cabin In The Woods, Much Ado etc. 4 and 9 are my favourite Doctors and I’m a recent convert to the BSG reboot. Let me get through the festive season and, as well as putting something together for Drag Noir, I’ll work on this xxx

  3. The funny thing is that I never got into TV shows like Buffy that had a continous plot line because I couldn’t stand the idea of having to wait for a new season to have one plot line end only to have another begin. I like self-contained shows that were overinnw, to be honest, I was too busy trying to become “cultured.” Having emigrated from another country,

    1. Sorry my Android went crazy on me… as I was saying “that were over in an hour. I watched a lot of channel 13 and loved any shows that seemed cultured like Masterpiece Theatre and the like. Since I wanted to write, and felt inadequate as a writer since I emigrated from another country, I was trying to better myself by watching quality television etc. And trying to read as much as possible. I watch series now but only because I know I could tape or easily access them. I’m also one of those that likes to read the ending of a book before continuing!

  4. Edge of Darkness taught me that fiction can and should react to the world around it. The combination of bleak and hopeful, apocalyptic and compassionate that closes that series haunts me to this day.

    Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,War of the Worlds: The Resurrection (Yes, I know:)) and Doctor Who taught me that being clever and being brave were co depedent rather than mutually exclusive. Who taught me about nineteen other things too. The 7th Doctor showed me the burden of being too perceptive and the 10th reminded me that the best possible thing we can always do is keep talking. But you want a seminal moment from Who? Eccleston’s ‘Just this once, Rose, EVERYONE LIVES!’ speech has me in pieces every time. That desperate, feral happiness that this time he gets to win is something I’ve experienced and I didn’t realize that until I saw it on someone else.

    Buffy, Babylon 5 and Supernatural, and, weirdly, Friends, helped me realize that being a lot of people’s spiritual older brother was actually a really good thing. That plugged neatly into making my peace with perception and helped me accept not only who I am but why I am like this. Supernatural also taught me a deep abiding love of Bon Jovi of course:)

    The West wing, which I’m rewatching at the moment, has turned out to be a small minefield of character revelations. On second watch through, I understand completely why I identify with Josh so much. We both have crippling survivor’s guilt, occasional massive self esteem issues and a pathological inability to both leave people behind and accept we’re any good at what we do. Given the changes in my career in 2013, Josh’s transition in the last couple of seasons is especially affecting right now.

    All these shows act as mirrors, or salves. Community’s the same (There’s a strong case for saying Community is essentially a psychological toolkit for the postmodernist era. ‘This is why you are you like you are. It’s okay to be like you are. Here’s a Breakfast Club reference.’) and weirdly, Stargate: Universe. They’ve all either given me archetypes I resonate with or quiet personal revelations. They’re escapist undoubtedly, but in a very specific way. In fact, to quote the West Wing, they’ve been down here before and they know the way out.

  5. This really interests me and I’m excited to see what goodies everyone comes up with. I’ve been playing around with an essay or journal article about Buffy and the Bible for a few years now. The comparisons to “the chosen one” and the Christian’s Christ are interesting, as well as trying to map out Spike as a Magdalene character. I’d be excited to seriously put some work into this if I knew it had an audience. Around here, in little ville Ohio, I’m the only Buffy audience I know.

  6. Off the top of my head–or at least the most recent cult tv learning I have done has been watching the creative and educational process in Project Runway (the regular season ones with Tim Gunn). It’s fascinating to me to watch people learning when to trust themselves and when to step back and abandon something no matter how painful it is. While Tim Gunn’s “make it work” has become a catchphrase and risks meaninglessness, it does capture something about creation: working with what you have; tenacity; knowing when to rid a work of something that inspired you; knowing how to abandon the ideal in favor of making something good now and the way that the ideal can actually interfere with making something as good as it can be.

    And it’s particularly interesting to me to see young creators working with more experienced ones.

    Also, almost anyone who says, “I’m going to stay true to my vision” is doomed.

    I’m sure there’s something about Justified, Buffy and Justice League International in me.

  7. An Exercise in Disappointment

    As I sit here wearing my Jayne bobble hat I’m still pissed off that Firefly didn’t even get a full first season. It was awesome. Everybody I know that watched it was a fan (or at least they say so until they can back away slowly). I see some of the science fiction dross they show now and I just don’t get it. I could go on and on about why it is was so good but I’ll spare you.

    What I learned from this is that people are stupid. No. Sorry, still venting. That isn’t what I wanted to say. Disappointment is a part of life. We learn it early but always try to pretend we haven’t. Every new disappointment or setback is an unjust setback. How dare the sandwich shop not be open two days before the holidays when I didn’t bring any food to eat. That kind of thing. We’ve all done it. I like to call them Daily Mail moments. Or childish piques as my wife would call them. I should be used to disappointment now. I should be able to cope and move on. I still have my Jayne hat on. I still think Star Trek should have stopped after DS9. We live and learn. Except we don’t. I’ll be disappointed by something equally unimportant soon.


  8. From Dr. Who I first learned that being out of place and time can be used to one’s advantage. My pre-teen consolation turned into a way to vet the people I meet and find a community that suits me. Our daughter’s favorite teacher loved the knitted Dalek at Christmas. Our eldest son chose his girlfriend based on her Pokemon acumen. I only spoke to my husband the first time I met him because he was wearing a Richard Brautigan shirt. What are these references other than the secret handshakes for us to recognize others outside of their spaces and times?

  9. Edge of Darkness taught me a lot. For a start, it showed that just because the the others are probably going to win, that’s not in itself not to oppose what they’re up to. The series (they may have shows in America, but we in the UK make series) showed me that for great drama you need motivated characters. Not good guys and bad guys in and of themselves, but people with motivations that are logically consistent to themselves. Ronnie Craven (Bob Peck) isn’t a good guy. He’s a former professional police interrogator, a union beater, he harbours incestuous fantasies about his daughter. Plus he’s experiencing a breakdown, suffering visions of his dead child. But he’s our lead. and he’s motivated.

    Edge of Darkness taught me the power of casting in TV. You want to capture the edgy bluster of a doomed CIA operative? You hire Joe Don Baker. You want governmental sneakiness? You ring Ian MacNeice. You need a Marxist double agent honeytrap? Zoe Wanamaker. Great characters require precise casting, and that’s what Edge of Darkness exemplifies.

    If you’re going to steal, steal big. And go deep. And don’t be afraid to be both topical and eternal. Edge of Darkness juggles 1980s nuclear conspiracy paranoia, left-wing politics and its discontents, the ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland, the commercialisation of the military, Reaganite ‘Star Wars’ missile technology, the Miners’ Strike, cancer survival guilt, computer thriller, James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis (that the planet Earth is a self-regulating organism and will defend its own interests), aspects of Knights Templar / Teutonic Knights legend, characters being described as being (“freeze-dried from some earlier epoch”), as well as detective story, action drama and political thriller.

    Edge of Darkness showed me that you can be entertaining and instructive. That drama can have points and opinions, yet use the trappings of genre (aspects of police procedural, ghost story, spy thriller, science fiction, eco horror) to do this. Plus it’s funny and scary and bleak and life-affirming all at the same time. And that’s just for starters.

  10. I’ve got a post pitch for you for this series – I’ve written an article on how heroes in cult tv are nothing without their Geek Support – the scientist, researcher or techie who gives them what they need to save the day. Email me if you are interested and let me know where to send it to you? Many thanks, Kate

  11. I learned from cult TV that the outsiders and outcasts have the ability to save the day just as much as the hero can. (i.e. the Zeppo ep of Buffy). Being the outsider gives you a unique perspective and I think it sends a powerful message to the outsiders in life. You don’t have to be one of the ‘cool’ kids to make a difference in the world. That is a very powerful statement to make. So thank you to Joss Whedon:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *