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
There 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
Old, 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
This 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
Dunces 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.