Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lights ... Camera ... Obsession!

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lights ... Camera ... Obsession!

Article excerpt

Three years ago, Julie Wright spotted a bumper sticker with a quote from one of her favorite movies, "The Big Lebowski." On it was a Web address for LebowskiFest.com.

"I went and checked it out and I saw that there was this whole culture about this movie," says Ms. Wright, who wore an official festival bowling shirt to this year's Lebowski Fest - the third she's attended.

Wright, like thousands of other fans, has stumbled upon one of Louisville's most unlikely events - a gathering that celebrates the 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic. In the offbeat comedy, "The Dude" (Jeff Bridges), a Los Angeles slacker whose only passion in life is bowling, gets sucked into a bizarre kidnapping mystery.

In Louisville, that mystery has been translated into a festival that includes concerts, costume contests, trivia challenges - and, most important, bowling.

Some might argue that a festival for "The Big Lebowski" is decidedly more cool than, say, a "Star Trek" convention, but it's still a public expression of deep involvement in a fan community. In the past, openly admitting such fandom - especially if one is serious enough to attend conventions - would have been akin to pinning a scarlet F on your chest. But these days, experts say fan culture for television and movies is more pervasive than ever. Thanks to the Internet, previously closeted fans can network with their counterparts around the world, building strong communities unafraid to celebrate their shared loves.

"[Twenty years ago] the cliche was that fans lived in their parents' basement," says Dr. Jenkins, a leading authority on fan cultures and the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Comparative Media Studies Program. Now, he argues, "fandom has become so pervasive in our culture that there are relatively few people who at one time or another in the course of their lives don't engage in fandom community practices."

All around the world, fans aren't just watching movies or TV - they're building complex social networks centered around films, television shows, and books.

For instance, the town of Preston, Idaho, plays host to the Napoleon Dynamite Festival every year. In fact, organizers estimate that the film was responsible for 500 new families moving to the city. The fan club for the 1980 Christopher Reeve time travel love story, "Somewhere in Time," organizes an annual October gathering in Michigan at the film's setting: Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel. In Australia, a touring "Blues Brothers" band performs music from the 1980 John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd film.

Jenkins attributes the boom in fan culture largely to the Web, which empowers aficionados to network and exchange ideas. Indeed, untold numbers of cult-movie discussion boards or MySpace tribute pages span cyberspace and allow fans to connect in unprecedented ways.

The Lebowski convention, however, started off-line. Six years ago, two friends selling posters at an extreme tattoo and piercing convention in Kentucky began quoting lines from "The Big Lebowski" to pass the time. Other vendors joined in and began to bond.

At that point, Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt had a revelation. "If they can have this tattoo convention, why can't we have a Lebowski convention?" says Mr. Russell, who peppers his speech with phrases and the lingo of "The Big Lebowski."

So Russell and Mr. Shuffitt decided to organize a Lebowski Fest in their hometown of Louisville, a locale that has nothing to do with the film. The duo expected 20 friends at the first fest in 2002. They were thrilled when 150 people showed up.

Compelled to make the event a tradition, the two created a website for the festival and unbeknownst to them, Spin, a popular music magazine, listed the event in their annual calendar. Attendance at the next festival jumped to 1,200 people from over 35 states, says Russell. …

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