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5 Cults We Feel OK With

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Maybe it's all the news of "Anonymous" protests against Scientology that have been dominating the blogs lately, but it seems the word "cult" is on a lot of people's minds. Which makes me think about just how many cults there are out there -- and not just the religious kind, either. Merriam-Webster has not one but five definitions for "cult," the most expansive of which is "a great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work ... usually by a small group of people." We're gonna take that pony and run with it.

Cult Movies: Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!

Produced by Troma Studios, cultiest of cult film producers, notorious for birthing films like Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD and Trey Parker and Matt Stone's freshman effort, Cannibal! The Musical. Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid!, however, holds the dubious distinction of being one of Troma's strangest films, and probably my first "cult" favorite (my friend Laurie had the tape in her massive video library; to her utter frustration, every time I came over, I would pull it down and insist we watch it). The "plot" revolves around two brothers who befriend an escaped mental patient (the titular "fat guy") and accompany him on his misadventures in the big city. What follows is barely comprehensible but highly entertaining, depending on your sense of irony; "fat guy" screams at a lot of people, busts up a funeral, there are a lot of jokes stemming from the brothers being high on 'ludes ... you get the idea. Variety actually reviewed it, dubbing it "A steady source of cheap, vulgar gags," a blurb which appears prominently on the back of the video box. That's Troma for you.

Cult Cars: the Subaru BRAT

brat.JPGThere are plenty of cars out there that people call cult, like the Lamborghini Countach or the Volkswagen Beetle, but if car was on every teenage boy's wall in poster form in the 80s (the former) or is one of the best-selling cars in history (the latter), we say it doesn't count. Cult means rare, and cult means a small, devoted following. That pretty much defines the devotion of BRAT owners. One of the ugliest cars in history (with the possible exception of the El Camino), devotees call its looks "quirky" and extol it as ahead of its time. Its name is actually an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter, and it was essentially a four-wheel-drive station wagon with the wagon-top cut off. Other quirky features included a jumpseat welded into the back, which allowed Subaru to classify BRAT as a passenger car rather than a truck, and skip out on some otherwise pricey import duties; it also explains much of the cult appeal of this weird vehicle. I had a BRAT-owner friend, and his favorite feature was that the Subaru logo in the middle of the steering wheel could be pried off, revealing a tiny empty space. "That's where you keep your weed," he explained. (I think that pretty much says it all.) BRATs haven't been made since the 90s, but there's a healthy used-BRAT trade -- apparently they just won't die. (Sounds like Troma should make a movie: Drug-addled BRATs Must Die!!!, or something.)

Cult Whiskies: Port Ellen

portellen.jpgOld, increasingly rare and made in small quantities, Scotch is the perfect cult item. For you non-whisky-geeks out there, one of the most popular styles of Scotch whisky comes from the Scottish island of Islay (pronounced ee-luh), known for its strong peaty flavor. This is one of those love-it-or-hate-it whiskys (even for lovers of whisky), with tasting notes that usually go something like "iodine, tar, explosive salt, hospital gauze, like standing downwind from a fire on the beach." A special sub-strata of whiskys are those that come from distilleries that have been mothballed, and Port Ellen was one of many that didn't make it through the whisky slump of the 1980s -- but happened to make really excellent whisky. Supplies of Port Ellen are still being released, incrementally, but as they become rarer and rarer, Port Ellen becomes cultier and cultier. It's not uncommon to find bottles selling for well over $1,000.

Cult Computers: the Apple Lisa

lisa.jpgThis is a cult that the Floss' own Chris Higgins belongs to -- I know he's been keeping his eye out for a used Lisa for years. Here's what he had to say about it: "For Mac geeks and computer people in general, it's a fascinating look into a very special time in computer history — after the success of the Apple II, Steve Jobs and crew at Apple were attempting to create the next big thing. After releasing the Apple Lisa, which was a flop primarily due to its $9,995 price tag, Apple needed a hit." That's $20,000 in today's money, which Apple felt was justified because the Lisa included such cutting-edge (for 1983) features as a graphical user interface (GUI), a mouse, a built-in screensaver and a then-blistering 5Mhz clock speed. (By the way, if anyone knows where Higgins can get ahold of an original Lisa, let us know.)

Cult Fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces

200px-Confederacy_of_dunces_cover.jpgDunces is cult for a few reasons -- one because it's rare; the author, John Kennedy Toole, killed himself 11 years before the book was published in 1980, so there are no more Toole novels in the ol' pipeline. It was plucked from obscurity by a giant of Southern literature, Walker Percy, and was awarded the Pulitzer in 1981. Hollywood has been trying to turn it into a movie for years -- Steven Soderbergh was recently attached to the project -- but so far, nothing doing. It's also considered cult for its quirky subject matter, namely its protagonist, Ignatus J. Reilly, a brilliant but slothful slob finally forced out of the house to seek a job by his mother at age 30. Eccentric and deluded, Reilly's inner monologue is one of the funniest we've read.

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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