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In the footsteps of 'The Wicker Man': personal mythopoesis and the processes of cult film fandom

Ashurst, Gail (2009) In the footsteps of 'The Wicker Man': personal mythopoesis and the processes of cult film fandom. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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In contemporary cult film scholarship, the experiences of cult fans are too often subject to scholarly speculation rather than empirical observation, and tend to be limited to certain kinds of audience responses - deviant, rebellious, subversive. Even in instances where actual cult fans have been considered at all, scholars have largely produced synchronic snapshots rather than insights derived from sustained programmes of audience research. This study focuses on a faction of the increasingly visible cult following which has emerged in recent years around the British film The Wicker Man. Drawing on the personal testimonies of eight enduring fans of the film, I explicate and explore the range of experiences and complex processes involved in becoming and remaining a fan of The Wicker Man. I develop an approach to cult film fandom which aims to provide an account of the origins and evolution of a specific cult film formation. Combining textual analysis with a rich body of ethnographic research I collected over eight years, I tease out the complexities of the film's initial import for these fans and proceed to examine how their relationships with the film develop over time. In the meantime, I engage with a number of under-explored and uncharted concepts of cult which include issues relating to personal resonance, aesthetic experiences, affects, as well as the quasireligious dimension. The main argument of the study is that the cult film experience can be perceived as a form of personal mythopoesis -a process which engages the individual in modes of personal and collective mythmaking, and within which the integrity and coherence of the self is at stake. Drawing on theories in cognitive psychology and concepts originating from within personal mythology, I develop an original model of cult fan subjectivity which foregrounds the self's preconscious and experiential dimensions. Demonstrating the significance of generational factors and cultural location, I propose to show how the respondents in my study share a preconscious disposition to The Wicker Man. My study explicates and explores the relationship between cult film fandom and the mythmaking process by focusing on three specific trajectories through which the fan-text relationships analysed here develop. The first explores the formative experiences of these fans, emphasising early cultural investments which share aesthetic and thematic links with The Wicker Man and which predispose them to the film in a number of complex and fascinating ways. The second trajectory centres on the fans' initial encounters with the film, paying close attention to the aesthetic experiences they undergo and proceeding to observe the trace manifestations of these experiences in subsequent fan practices beyond the viewing context. The final trajectory examines the ways in which the fans continue to interact with the film over time, and discusses elements of their identities and experiences which uniquely position them in relation to The Wicker Man's dialectical treatment of myth. The conclusion draws together the main findings of the study and considers the relationship between personal mythopoesis, cult fandom and the processes of individuation to argue for ways of understanding cult mythopocsis in terms of a religious process.

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