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You’re Tearing Us Apart, Lisa!: Subculture, Hierarchy and Authenticity in Midnight Movies

You’re Tearing Us Apart, Lisa!: Subculture, Hierarchy and Authenticity in Midnight Movies

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Published by Lance Conzett
A sociological take on the subcultural structure that develops within cult midnight movie audiences.
A sociological take on the subcultural structure that develops within cult midnight movie audiences.

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Published by: Lance Conzett on Sep 29, 2011
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05/12/2014

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 You’re Tearing Us Apart, Lisa!Subculture, Hierarchy and Authenticity in Midnight MoviesLance ConzettIndependent Study in CultureMay 7, 2010Dr. Ken Spring
 
Since its premiere on the midnight screening circuit in 1976,
TheRocky Horror Picture Show
has cultivated an underground fan-basethat has caught the attention of academics and popular culture criticsalike. Dozens of articles have been written about the film in its 30 yearhistory, largely analyzing the hypersexual rock opera in terms of sexuality, gender politics, identity and post-modernity—among otheraspects typical for sociological analysis of “deviant” alternative scenes.Queer theory (Seymour; Hixon; Lamm), feminism (Studlar) and sexualdeviance (Robbins & Myrick) have all been particularly popular topicsof study in relation to
Rocky Horror 
. Relatively few theorists, however,have treated the midnight movie audience as more than an outsideforce engaging with the cultural product – participants in a culturalexperience who are being acted upon by the film. What these previousstudies have not acknowledged is the fact that the midnight movieaudience is a subculture in and of itself with its own hierarchy andstructure. To take this point further, the structure that becomesevident over time in
Rocky Horror 
audiences can be applied to similarcult films that followed it in the midnight circuit at art house andindependent movie theaters. The dynamic of the “midnight movie” offers audience membersan opportunity to act opposite of the socially accepted behaviors insidea movie theater. The members, in defiance of the social norms
 
surrounding a movie theater screening, embrace an active,participatory pattern of consumption. The audience and otherparticipants—often including (but not limited to) live casts performingalongside the film—fundamentally change the experience of the moviefor the individual viewer. As Pulitzer Prize winning film critic RogerEbert once said, “I can’t think of anything less interesting than seeing
Rocky Horror 
by yourself” (Samuels). A film with a participatory aspectis a fundamentally different cultural product from the film on its own ina home theater, laptop or mobile device.A hierarchy of viewers develops through experience, acquisitionof cultural capital and certain rituals performed in the theater. Thissame hierarchy, with some variation, is also apparent in more recentcult films that have found an audience on the midnight movie circuitincluding
Troll 2
,
Repo! The Genetic Opera
and
The Room
, which hasbeen considered the most promising
Rocky Horror 
successor by somein pop culture media (Tobias). Even successful films from years pastlike
Point Break 
have found a degree of repossession and “liveremixing” by audiences. This paper seeks to describe the stratification of the averagemidnight movie screening audience, beginning with
Rocky Horror 
as afoundation and then applying it to other films, specifically
The Room
. Ialso consider how authenticity plays into both the audience experience

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