Transgression in Cult Cinema

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Transgression involves an apparent violation of accepted or imposed boundaries, especially those of social acceptability. The concept itself has a critical history within the arts whereby orthodox cultural, moral, and artistic boundaries are challenged by the representation of unconventional behaviour and the use of experimental forms. I think it is here that we face one of the critical problems when attempting to define transgression in relation to cult cinema; namely that both the terms 'subversion' and 'transgression' have been confused in the discourse surrounding cult cinema and used interchangeably when they do not mean the same thing.

If cult cinema is something that resists a fixed definition (or rather, has attained several attempts at such a definition when the parameters of cult are indeed fluid), transgression, by extension, is also a slippery concept to define. In describing a text(s) as transgressive in the first instance, you immediately identify those elements that transgress. Such identification therefore frames transgression and normalizes it (an action I am aware that this present chapter is implicated in). The term itself is stretched to the extent that it becomes meaningless. If everything is defined as transgressive, either in terms of representation or form, transgression can no longer be oppositional. This can either be productive in the sense that it presents the opportunity for further transgression to occur, although it is also limiting to the extent that 'transgression' becomes normative. How oppositional can cult cinema be if transgression is applied to all cult films, when transgression then becomes the norm? The following unpicks the semantic nuances between these terms to explore such a question.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema
EditorsErnest Mathijs, Jamie Sexton
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781315668819
ISBN (Print)9781138950276
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2019


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