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JMS - Cult of Personality?

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  • #46
    So, how many cultists does it take to make a cult? This discussion has talked about the characteristics of a cult of personality, and I think itÆs safe to say that there are jms fans out there that fit into these definitions. Likewise, there are Star Trek fans, or Rodenberry fans, or Asimov fans, or Lost fans, etc. It seems almost inevitable that some fans will cross the line into that domain. If you have a source that is very rich and detailed, you have a focal point. Quite often, these creative endeavors are led by very intelligent people who are passionate about many things, especially there work. Add in an audience large enough, and youÆll surely attract some obsessive personalities. If you have a wide-spread medium in which the audience can interact, you will become aware of the obsessive fans that have focused on the source material. That leads me to the question at the top. If there is one cultist out there, is there a cult? Two? We can probably all agree that there are cultists out there. My initial reaction to all the discussion was that it was easily dismissed. Every B5 fan I personally know has at least some things about the work that they didnÆt like. Certainly no blind following there. So my experience wants to make me say that accusations of a cult of personality are completely bogus. Still, as I read through the definitions people suggested and some of the examples of behavior mentioned, I had to rethink that and say that the cultists exist. Still, is there a cult? Of course, another question that comes to mind is, how do you identify a cultist in order to count? The current method seems to be to point to anyone that defends an unpopular position with regard to the material. When someone says that the Zarg in ôGrey 17 is Missingö was brilliant, are they a cultist? When someone agrees with a political observation made by jms, are they a cultist? There was a comedy routine that talked about giving everyone those suction cup dart guns with little flags that said ôStupidö and when some driver did something stupid, you could shoot the car with the dart. Then the police could pull over someone for being too stupid. On the internet we are all armed with those darts, and we all try to stick our labels on other people. Does it really do any good? How accurately do we identify cultists? And upon accurately identifying a cultist does that mean there is a cult? I think the discussion is very interesting, but I fear we rely too much on labels on the internet and use them as the easy way to dismiss thoughts we donÆt agree with or donÆt want to hear. So IÆll end with this final question: Is the bigger danger that such cults of personality exist or that we believe they exist?
    "That was the law, as set down by Valen. Three castes: worker, religious, warrior."


    • #47
      Originally posted by JoeD80 View Post
      jms did oversee all editing sessions, all scoring sessions, all casting sessions, wrote 91 out of 110 scripts and outlined most of the rest of the stories -- that is way more involvement than any other producer of a show that I am aware of.
      You might want to talk to John Copeland

      Besides, did I say he didn’t’? It’s interesting that your first response is to quote a bit of his résumé to me, while not actually making any comment about what I said in the quote you highlighted that's focusing on all the other stuff.

      Originally posted by JoeD80 View Post
      He didn't come online because of the show. He was online well before Babylon 5 around 1985 or so. Why should he change his online personality because of the show? If he wants to join in arguments that's his prerogative
      Really. On a moderated forum which was set up, and often quoted, as being part of his experiment to highlight, in never before explained detail, how a show like Babylon 5 was created (as well as plug the program a bit – remember he was going up against trek and needed every angle he could find). It is moderated in order to protect him from various legal stuff surrounding story ideas. I KNOW this you KNOW this. But to someone looking on it does appear like there is a guard at the gate preventing some people from getting involved.

      It looks even more like a restricted club (dare I say meeting place for the cult) when you consider how the range of topics discussed (never mind some of the opinions expressed) have deviated (quite a bit) from the original intention of the forum. It looks even more like one when you consider, as Jan has pointed out, how fans can be seen to be pretty heavy handed with those that they do not agree with who make negative comments to or about jms. So, if he wants to be treated (and more importantly seen) as a fan getting involved in arguments he should join an open fan club . . . . . . or forum with it's more even playing field like everyone else.

      IMPORTANT: like the previous post I’m highlighting how some people can (understandably) view things. It does not necessarily mean I believe or agree with the likes of the above.

      @ Workercast
      Good points. Very good points in fact. I think why this cultist thing sticks with B5 so much is basically down to three things. The innovative use of the internet by jms - no bad thing in itself. The way that it is a niche program (not as popular as others based on viewing figures) so some fans make a bit deal about introducing and converting people into liking it - read some posts on various forums for that one (their words not mine). Plus the way even jms (see previous post) points out it is a more intellegent sort of television program when compared to others. Though like I said, there are some very sound real world reasons for doing that little naughty.

      I think, on the whole the label is unwarrented, but I can see where (some) of those that use it are coming from. Though I suspect most that use it are just following the crowd as it where and don't fully get the origins.
      Last edited by Triple F; 04-24-2008, 08:27 AM.


      • #48
        Originally posted by colonyearth View Post
        I must confess I have left the CoJ at times to visit the Extranormal Wittified Church of the Whedonverse. I admit it freely! But it's not because my psuedo-fan-faith is waning, it''s because....I'm ecclectic...that's it!

        I've also been to the Filmic Congregational Church of Spielbergian Cosmologies and the Moore Is Less Fellowship of the Lost Tribes, which can be a bit dark-side at times, but it's still extremely enlightening.

        (NOTE: I will be visiting the FCCoSC on May 22nd for what will hopefully be a very fulfilling time!)

        Ok...I'm not just ecclectic....I just love everyone! That's it! I AM the universe! And I'm still trying to figure this shit out.

        haha,'s cool that you appreciate all the good art that's out there Speaking of cults of personality..I wonder what happened with Chris Carter...He just kinda went away.
        Flying Sparks Web Comic - A Hero and Villain In Love. Updates on Wednesdays
        True Believer Reviews: Comic Reviews and Interviews on Wednesdays and Fridays - Or Your Money Back!


        • #49
          Originally posted by Talwyn View Post
          I'd also add that I get the impression that JMS would be a bit appalled if there was this cult that idolised him and saw that he was capable of no wrong.
          I had to laugh as I read this thinking of Sheridan's reaction to the Sheridan dolls being sold on the Zocalo..

          I am glad I bought my JMS action figure before they were taken off of the market!


          • #50
            Originally posted by Triple F View Post
            Besides, did I say he didnÆtÆ? ItÆs interesting that your first response is to quote a bit of his rÚsumÚ to me, while not actually making any comment about what I said in the quote you highlighted that's focusing on all the other stuff.
            Was I supposed to make a comment on a particular part of your message? I was merely making a comment on what I wanted to, which was to point out that his job was more than "nodding at things the great team around him created"

            Originally posted by Triple F View Post
            a fan getting involved in arguments he should join an open fan club . . . . . . or forum with it's more even playing field like everyone else.
            jms didn't just post to the moderated forum. He posted to GENIE and CIS a lot too. He ended up pulling back from those because of netstalking issues. It's up to the moderaters of the forum to accept or reject his messages anyway; he shouldn't have to censor himself. If he joined an open fan forum, he would have been exposed to story ideas left and right.


            • #51
              A little background on me -- I was a die-hard Star Trek fan (still am pretty much; I own all the DVDs, have all the original series on VHS (!) and I have a Shatner autographed Wrath of Khan, and tons of the books). I discovered Babylon 5 through THIS web-site later. So for these jms quotes, I am talking as a Trek fan:

              Originally posted by Triple F View Post
              Did he raise the questions – no, of course not. The interviewer knows that a little shit stirring makes good copy, ( as does jms ; ). But in the larger context of how the B5/jms fandom can be viewed by those looking in, and their perceived relationship with jms, his choice of replies can be seen to encourage the separation of B5 fans from those of Trek.
              PLUME: Which is the type of audience needed to mesh with the storytelling style of B5...
              JMS: It's not a jingoistic show. If you really want to, I suppose you could just watch it for the space battles and stuff, but to really see what's going on, you've got to pay attention. There's stuff happening all the time in the corner of the eye and small little references. Some folks say they can watch the Trek shows while knitting or making dinner or whatever else, but with B5 you gotta stop, sit down, and watch the program – and you have to bring something to the table... Bring intelligence to it. Which is why it will never be a huge, popular show. It will always be a cult show, because it requires a lot of the viewer.
              Originally posted by Triple F View Post
              Do you see it the inference. How about if I swap the shows names round.
              I had read this as a comment on the fact that Babylon 5 weaves a lot more threads into each show that build up over time. Compare to Star Trek: Voyager and I would agree -- you don't really need to pay attention. Deep Space Nine is more like B5 -- gotta pay more attention. But even then, DS9 made stuff up (like Bashir sudenly having been a Changeling for the past 4 episodes. Pretty neat plot twist. Did it actually matter for those previous 4 episodes though? No.) Also, it had its share of episodes that didn't have much to do with the plot, but were entertaining ("Take Me Out to the Holosuite" -- one of my all-time favorites -- but did it require my full attention? not really.)

              PLUME: It's ironic, considering the message behind Trek, that they would be so militant...
              JMS: Yeah... IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Once the show entered into syndication and it became less of an obvious threat to some of the Trek shows, I've heard more and more from fans that we're getting more of the Trek crossover audience. There isn't a week that goes by where I don't get two or three pieces of e-mail from someone saying, "I didn't watch the show when it was first on – I was a Trek fan and I thought it would be disloyal to watch it. I just started watching the show and I realize I missed one of the most important science fiction shows of the last several years, and I think it's a great show." So that audience – now that it's safe to watch the show since it's over – are now coming to the show as well.
              This is true. I know because I was one of those Trek fans. I was anti-Babylon 5 for no reason when it was on back in the day because I was obsessed with Trek. Guess what, I did come over to Babylon 5 later. Just like he said. I still have friends that refuse to watch Babylon 5 and stick to Trek and call me "traitor" for watching B5! As a Trek fan, comments from jms like these actually made me want to watch Babylon 5 more, and I never felt my intelligence as a Trek fan was being questioned.


              • #52
                Well . . . . . .totally and completely 100% unequivocally and genuinely fair enough.

                But the discussion is not about you is it. WeÆre (or at least I and a couple of others are) talking about how others can potentially view and interpret things, why they may do it and what they might be basing the Cult thing on.


                • #53
                  You made the contention that "some might view the likes of this interview as jms separating the B5 fans from Star Trek fans on the basis of intellect and maturity" and I was answering specifically to your quotes as a Trek fan that didn't see it that way. Sorry I didn't talk about exactly what you wanted me to talk about, but that's how discussions go. Someone brings something up, and someone else answers. Sometimes it's not in a direct line. That's how many other interesting topics come up.
                  Last edited by JoeD80; 04-24-2008, 12:37 PM.


                  • #54
                    Jan, the interpretation of the term "cult" may be a cultural (no pun intended) matter - it may be that Americans or generally native speakers interpret the term "cult" different from non-natives. For me, "cult" implies some degree of, how shall I put it, "deification" of the object or person in question, which, to me, is never a good thing. I saw the expression of a "cult following a person", as the interviewer put it, versus "a cult of personality" as a difference in degree. But as I said, that may have been a misinterpretation on my part.

                    A fandom, as heterogenuous as it may be, is a group of people who have one thing in common: they are fans of a writer, producer, artist, or whatever. That's how they are identified and perceived as a group. All groups consist of very different people, starting from the local sports club to the global informal group of active Rolling Stones fans. And each such group, whether they like it or not, gradually is attributed an image. That image is influenced by the experiences people make when observing the members of the group, or getting into contact with them, and of course more visible fans have more impact on that image. And sometimes that image may reflect back and affect the image of the creator and/or the work. These things simply happen, whether the group likes it or not, and whether its members feel responsible for it or not.

                    Triple F: I think that the personality cult thing is always a danger with a product, be it book, movie or TV show, that has one specific person who's "in the driver seat" (which is most evident for book authors, but it's also true for TV producers who are the sole creators and are perceived as having the greatest share in the execution - whether that perception is correct or not). It's also clear that the more visible such a person is in public, the more likely it is that the personality cult reproach will at some point emerge.

                    Something that clearly doesn't help to keep people from thinking a personality cult thing is going on is when fans post in forums, blogs or on message boards that a creator is "a hero", a "god" or "demi-god", the best writer ever or in the last 100 years, no inferior work will ever come out of their pen, or that no-one will ever be able to surpass their work. I've seen many posts like that, not only referring to JMS, of course, but also to other creators - and unfortunately, like I said, there's not much the subject of that reverence can do about that. The more posts and comments of that sort show up, the more suspicious people reading them grow, and the more wary they get when reading other comments containing unconditional reverence or enthusiasm. The more these things show up with reference to a specific creator, the more likely people will think there's a cult of personality.
                    Last edited by mandragora; 04-24-2008, 02:06 PM.


                    • #55
                      A Historical Perspective

                      More a collection of thoughts related to this subject as opposed to specific replies, having known Joe online since the early days.

                      Joe has really tried his best to discourage worshipping type behavior, usually responding with a joke or something or making references to "my people" when more fans showed up for a panel or presentation than the organizers expected. The "Great Maker" references came primarily as joking, just as Roddenberry was called the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" at times.
                      At the height of Babylon 5's popularity, Joe was very much worshipped and idolized as any fans of a current show would do, but his accessibility also drew some of the negative people (just do a search on Ford Thaxton) and Joe, at times, maybe responded a bit too harshly to things (see "the Straczynski OUT Kricfalusi IN!" post by Woody Harper - which was a good April Fools joke, unfortunately posted in November) at times.

                      In regards to the Trek vs B5 issue, remember that at the time when B5 debuted, what existed of filmed Trek was the original series, the movies at that point and around five seasons of Next Generation. Babylon 5 was able to be sold in large part due to the success of TNG and how it opened up the syndication market. Joe was vocal about what he saw as the flaws in Trek and how it was being done and when Paramount announced their own space station series on the heels of the Babylon 5 announcement, most people still thought B5 was a knockoff of Trek. Joe and the early fans were always having to defend the show against Trek fans who weren't willing to give it a try. Joe made it clear that he was trying to make a series that drew inspiratoin from classic SF literature, which did get it labeled as "smart" while Trek was looked down upon as something lesser. I came to the show from being a Trek fan and Doctor Who fan and a reader of SF/F but also had liked what I'd seen Joe do on things like Captain Power and the Twilight Zone. I also started up and did the distribution of the early Babylon 5 Frequently Asked Questions List, which got me lots of flack when I cross posted it to the Trek Groups before there was any Babylon 5 specific groups.

                      Prior to B5, Joe was very active online, especially Compuserve and GEnie, joining in the discussions about Next Generation and other shows both new and old. He came into this as a fan and has held onto that mantle in spite of becoming the hot new hollywood screenwriter.

                      Joe has definitely kept the focus on his work, only occasionally talking about personal things or his own life experiences (which he has done a bit more in the script books, in the process of giving some background to what has gone into the script). What he's talked about online personally has been fairly minimal. His wife hasn't been mentioned much at all, aside from her specific involvment with B5, and probably the biggest personal thing that he's talked about a length was his rescue of Buddy, which probably did more to getting him idolized on the net than anything else. So, now in addition to being the Great Maker, he's also the Saviour of Kittens!

                      There probably is a small cult of personality, but its pretty much in check and pretty civilized for the most part and hangs out together in places like this.

                      But, a lot of the rabid Babylon 5 fans have moved on to other things with the lack of new B5 stuff to feed their habit. It hasn't really spawned much in the way of long term fan groups like some shows have. The advent and popularity of the DVDs definitely has helped make it available (especially since it hasn't been airing anywhere for a few years) and, as JoeD80 has shown, bring more fans to the show.

                      Trying to look back at all the online history can be a bit duanting. Having been there as it happened, I'm glad I experienced it that way as sort of an ongoing side story to the show. I still keep in touch with some of the fans that hung out in the message boards during the show's heyday, but a lot of my time now is spent in other areas (running conventions and such). I've seen how fans of other shows and writers act and they can be a lot more rabid and cultish that I've seen any Babylon 5/Straczynski fan act.

                      This has definitely gone on too long, though. I should get back to work...

                      Lee Whiteside
                      B520 ( )


                      • #56
                        Follow-up to Lee's post, not really answering anything either.

                        Originally posted by sftv View Post
                        At the height of Babylon 5's popularity, Joe was very much worshipped and idolized as any fans of a current show would do, but his accessibility also drew some of the negative people (just do a search on Ford Thaxton) and Joe, at times, maybe responded a bit too harshly to things (see "the Straczynski OUT Kricfalusi IN!" post by Woody Harper - which was a good April Fools joke, unfortunately posted in November) at times.
                        Ford Thaxton, Woody Harper, some person (and I use the term loosely) with 'vixen as part of hir screenname, Cronan, another Harper, Theron Fuller...and any number of drive-by posts saying how much JMS, his show, the actors, the effects, his comics, his novels etc., etc. all stunk, should be spaced or weren't suitable as toilet paper, claiming he'd had a heart attack, been fired from his show...and don't forget the one who impersonated him and went out posting on porn sites. Reacted a bit too harshly? How much of that should anybody take without ripping the miscreant several new orifices? Granted, with JMS's writing talent it was sometimes like shooting fish in a barrel but I don't think I ever saw him react all that disproportionately or inappropriately.

                        I've never *ever* seen him go after somebody who simply disagreed with him about something and who stated it as an adult to an adult. I've never seen him dispute somebody's taste, either, assuming that it was stated reasonably politely. But the stuff I've seen posted sure explains why the moderated newsgroup became necessary and why so few of the other creatives on the show ever stuck around online for long.

                        "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization we're seeing now.


                        • #57
                          I like to think of the fandom here as a cult of personalities rather than personality. Yes we are drawn back to JMS for his insight and commentary, but for me it is only because in many cases he has the definitive answers. He created the personalties of the characters I love. He brought them to life and in that respect he is the "Great Maker"*

                          With the aid of some excellent casting he brought us G'kar and Londo, Delenn and all the other wonderful, flawed characters that came from his mind and into our hearts.

                          Do I think he is infallible? No. He is a man who brought a lot of joy to my life, and I like to see his opinions but I do not always agree with him. I have too seen many of the regular posters here question JMS opinion or action in some way at some time.

                          I enjoy the access he has given to the inner workings of B5 and l appreciate the time he has committed to do that.

                          Plus having Jan online is like having a B5 encyclopaedia to hand Very useful when you just can't remember if something has been referenced before!

                          *Tongue firmly in cheek


                          • #58
                            Originally posted by Susitcha View Post
                            Plus having Jan online is like having a B5 encyclopaedia to hand Very useful when you just can't remember if something has been referenced before!
                            ::bows to Susitcha:: Why, thank'ee!

                            "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization we're seeing now.


                            • #59
                              Online jerks

                              I agree Ford, Theron, Cronan and their ilk were definitely mean-spirited jerks and such. In the case of the "Straczynski OUT Kricfalusi IN", though, it was definitely an over-reaction by fans to that "announcement" the led to Joe going overboard (tracking down Woody's (what turned out to be old) phone number and leaving a message on Woody's ex-wife's answering machine.

                              That was right after Nickleodeon removed John Kricfalusi from Ren and Stimpy and anyone who thought that there was any truth to that report really should have known better. I was really surprised at how many people believed it. At the time, Woody had just done that as a joke, but Joe's response to it is what cause him to occasionally post things. In the case of Woody, he was just having fun at Joe's expense, not anything like the bitter stuff coming from Ford and Theron.

                              B520 ( )


                              • #60
                                Looks like IÆve arrived a bit late to this one, but hereÆs my take...

                                Where someoneÆs work is successful, I think there will always be some deification of the creator in question. That æcult of personalityÆ will emerge regardless of whether the creator in question wants it or not. Any show that develops a devoted following like B5, will inspire a bit of fan worship. Of course how you propagate it, or negate it, speaks volume about the creator in question. That JMS makes light of it all is definitely a positive! To go back to JanÆs original post, which focused on the suggestion that it was tantamount to forum suicide to post anything negative regarding JMS. I definitely donÆt feel that way, and I think scouring the forums here will turn up as much debate and criticism as it will praise for JMSÆ work. Sure people will fervently defend those things they love and cherish, but IÆve never felt that the inhabitants of JMS news were disproportionate or over the top about it.

                                If examples are needed, IÆve voiced criticism of certain B5 episodes and some of the spin off shows. I havenÆt yet met with a tirade of negativity or irrational fandom. Sure, people have asked me to quantify my opinions, asked me why I dislike certain things. Thankfully I have not encountered any æJMS is GODÆ style fandom here. Sure, those who post here are clearly BIG fans, who take their fandom seriously, but thatÆs all. ItÆs been very interesting to share in the wealth of knowledge here regarding B5. Personally, I post here because I enjoy B5 and quality SF in general. I would hope we can all participate in quality debate regardless of how our opinions differ.

                                Do I think JMSÆ creative output is flawless? Nope. Is B5 perfect? Absolutely not. (Although, I do find that those flaws give it a great deal of charm).

                                Another pertinent example: I was dead set against the entire Before Watchmen series, and really didnÆt agree with some of the justifications given by JMS regarding his involvement with a project that, morally speaking, I found objectionable. This, of course, says nothing about the quality of his output on the project, but just that I sided with Moore as I too felt he was swindled out of the rights to Watchmen by DC.

                                So, clearly I enjoy much of JMS work, and I consider myself a fan. However, hopefully the above will illustrate IÆm very far from being a mindless acolyte of the Church of JMS.
                                Last edited by Ubik; 01-22-2013, 06:48 AM.
                                Captain John Sheridan: I really *hate* it when you do that.

                                Kosh: Good!