I’m reading Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins, which is a fascinating book that examines fan culture during the late 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s. I’m reading it as part of my research for Pop Culture Magic 2.0 and while it might seem dated to read a book that focuses on fan activities from the last century, I actually find it to be relevant even to current fan activities. While the technology has changed to some degree, the fan activities and what makes a person fan really hasn’t changed. What the author describes are people who genuinely engage with the characters of a given pop culture and getting some kind of meaningful interaction out of that engagement as it applies to their own lives and to the sense of fellowship and community they establish with other people that share similar interests. Its clear that for these fans, their interactions with each and pop culture creates a shared sense of empowerment and community.
I titled this post pop culture magic fan cults for a couple reasons. I don’t feel that fan culture is really a cult, but I do think that for some fans what the particular pop culture of their choice embodies is a spiritual and perhaps even religious connection under the right circumstances. The connection that a fan feels with a character isn’t something to take lightly or to dismiss because the character is “fictional”. The very fact that a connection can be made signifies that there is something deeper there and that it isn’t just in the head of the pop culture practitioner. This especially becomes evident by the fact that other people feel a similar connection with a pop culture character, building on the investment felt by each person in the reality of that character.
For some Pagans and for Polytheists, there is a knee jerk reaction to the idea that a person can meaningfully interact with a pop culture character in a spiritual sense. On the one hand, I think this is due to the fact that there is concern that people will appropriate practices from polytheistic practice in particular and apply those practices to working with pop culture spirits. I understand that concern and can appreciate why that would be a problem. I think that for pop culture magicians, there is a lot to draw on that isn’t rooted in more traditional practices and can still be useful for connecting with pop culture spirits.
On the other hand, I also think some of the reaction is to the idea that a person could establish a meaningful spiritual relationship with a pop culture entity. There’s a sense of disbelief and disagreement because a person chooses to invest their spiritual sense of connection toward a pop culture entity. Yet for the people who do make a connection with Batman or some other character, what matters is that what they’re connecting to makes sense and resonates on a deep level that speaks to who they are and what they need. If I identity more with Batman and feel there is a genuine connection with him and what he embodies, I don’t think its unreasonable to explore that connection and see how it manifests in my life. If, to some people, that makes seem weird or crazy, well it’s no crazier than practicing magic.
The way I figure it is that what makes any deity viable is what people invest in that deity. The deity may have an objective existence, but even an objective existence is a symbiotic one. We all objectively exist and yet to continue exist we need to have a relationship of some type with everything else around us. The same applies to any deity. The belief that a person provides a deity is part of that symbiotic relationship and if that belief is placed toward a pop culture entity, why should that entity be less viable than some Deity? If the only determinant of that is tradition for tradition’s sake, because people argue it hasn’t been done before, well I’d say that it’s happening now and has been happening longer than those people think. The human experience is about connecting with what’s meaningful to a given person and if we can acknowledge that what is meaningful can differ from person to person, then perhaps we can also accept that you can’t force a person to accept your version of spirituality. I don’t expect, for example, that people reading this who don’t agree with what I’m writing will suddenly change their minds. they won’t change their minds, but to expect that their rhetoric will change my mind is a futile exercise on their part as well. I accept that they believe what they believe and I even respect that they want the boundaries of their practices to be honored because it defines who they are (I can’t speak for other people, but I’m certainly willing to do that). But I also feel that what I believe and what I practice are just as valid for me…that if I make a genuine spiritual connection (which I have) that this connection is what matters and that their censure is futile, because what is happening with pop culture magic isn’t going to go away. It’s here to say. We’re here to stay. This isn’t just a fad or something that’s transitory. It’s something that speaks to some people and recognizing that is essential to understanding that pop culture magic isn’t superficial or something that its in our heads. It means more than just that…and when I connect with an entity that’s a pop culture entity and it helps me understand my spiritual work in a more profound way, it’s real…as real as anything else a person chooses to believe in.