Cults are cool?
November 23, 2021 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Long shot but I’m trying to find an article I read in the last few weeks claiming that cults are all the rage now in pop culture. Also interested in any other recent pieces making the same claim.

The reason I’m asking: My friend who grew up in a cult doesn’t believe me…
posted by johngoren to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Although I don't think cults have ever really left the American cultural consciousness, especially since the 60s, I agree that cults are seeing a renewed boom in pop culture. I think it tracks alongside the general interest in true crime and conspiracy theories. I've noticed it going on for a couple of years now, with regular mainstream TV and Netflix miniseries and documentaries, podcasts, Youtube videos, etc.

Perhaps you read this Teen Vogue article, "Why Are Young People So Obsessed With Cults?"
posted by wakannai at 3:04 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

I took a graduate Psychology class recently about cults and I would agree that they have become more "popular" over the last 5 years. They were extremely popular in America (in both media and membership) from the 70s to the late 90s, and started losing prominence after very public disasters and exposes. The more public groups like the Unification church and Scientology have been relatively quiet recently, but with the rise of QAnon a variety of smaller internet-based cults like Love Has Won have filled the hole. I think it's also tied to the general rise in popularity of "true crime" content. Also, cults/new religious movements never lost popularity in many parts of the world, especially India and China where they are a very big deal and have started expanding internationally.
posted by JZig at 6:12 AM on November 23

The more public groups like the Unification church and Scientology have been relatively quiet recently, but with the rise of QAnon a variety of smaller internet-based cults like Love Has Won have filled the hole

Falun Gong has been firing on all cylinders recently - see 'Epoch Times'.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:56 AM on November 23

Anything else you remember about the article? Here are a few recent articles that seem kind of close:

The New Yorker - What Makes a Cult a Cult?
Reason - Cult Country
posted by enigmango at 7:28 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

As a heavy consumer of this genre of media, I think the tv show Big Love is what really kicked the cult trend into mainstream pop culture. Prior to Big Love, most of your cult-focused media was in the form of niche one-off specials, like Louis Theroux' Weird Weekends or the occasional short doc on a family or religion (e.g. Tom Green). These were often British, so didn't have much of an audience outside of the UK.

After Big Love you saw a cottage industry of weird religion reality tv start to crop up on trash cable like TLC and Lifetime, starting I think with the Duggar family but quickly ballooning into stuff like Sister Wives and Breaking Amish. Then, once a solid watch base had been established, you started to see streaming channels make specials and drama content on recent history cult situations, like Jonestown and Waco. And it just ballooned from there. Millennials who grew up with the South Park episodes on Mormons and Scientologists have become decision-making adults who are happy to keep feeding at the tell me about the weird cult pump.

So you're not wrong. I don't know what article you read but you are definitely not making this up.
posted by phunniemee at 7:37 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

There’s also a new-ish book out called Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism that addresses this. I liked it a lot.
(On preview—the book author is also the author of the Teen Vogue article)
posted by bookmammal at 7:47 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

This is purely anecdotal, but I've noticed that my media consumption (especially documentary television and podcasts) has been skewing very cult-heavy over the past two years. Everything from Scientology:Fair Game to Let's Talk About Sects (with plenty of Herbalife, NXIVM, and Est/Landmark Forum in between).

I think it has to do with the cult-like political environment in the US around our twice-impeached former president. I've been trying to understand how and why people surrender their own agency to lies and liars. When more than a third of the country seems primed for classic cult manipulation, it's no wonder it's been percolating in the background.

At least for me, I think this is behind a good proportion of my personal interest.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:10 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]

About to air (8pm GMT) on BBC Radio 4
Am I in a Cult? File on 4
How do you know if you’ve been recruited by a cult? Rachel Stonehouse investigates claims there are up to 2,000 cults currently operating in the UK. We talk to young people who say they were recruited on campus and a father who went to court to free his daughter from the influence of a harmful cult.
posted by boudicca at 11:25 AM on November 23

I just happened to watch this YouTube video recently.

It's about a cult that arose and then died out over a number of years, so this is a retrospective by some of the previous participants. The title is: "Holy Sh*t, We’re in a Cult!"
posted by forthright at 3:56 PM on November 23

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