Will you bless a little child?
For I love you,
Tell Heaven I'm doing my best,
I'm praying for you,
Even though you're already blessed."
A cult of personality refers to the massive adulation of a political or historical figure. The Other Wiki defines it as "when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise." Often the subjects of cults of personality are treated as gods, held responsible for the good things affecting a country, policies are tied to a certain figure and epoch. The cult may often claim outlandish accomplishments for the subject in order to bolster their popularity. On the other hand, heroic stories about the subject's life may be endlessly repeated in order to reinforce the cult.
Cults as frequently represented in fiction are self-created but in practise, cults can also be developed independently of the subject's active will and desire. After a person's death, the new cult is hijacked by parties or other factions so as to claim a certain tradition, which otherwise does not really exist in the present for them to claim, and so give their new and fresh ideas an aura of legitimacy and continuity in the eyes of the people, who otherwise would see the new team as merely a political outsider and new upstart. Cults often derive from new regimes and revolutions. It is also present in the kingdom and The Empire where a new regime, if he is an Unexpected Successor, The Conqueror, The Usurper, or *gasp* a woman, would need to go out of their way to make their ideas presentable and acceptable to the people with memories of the Ye Goode Olde Days before this upstart with their fancy new ways arrived. In this manner, a cult of personality is merely a highly cunning PR stunt.
The word "cult" is usually used to refer to a small religious group, but it can also mean "devotion to a saint" in Christianity and this is where the phrase comes from. It was first used in a political sense by Karl Marx, but was popularised by Nikita Khrushchev when he denounced Stalin in 1956. It is also distinct from state-sponsored cults and government enforced religious policies and reforms. A Cult of Personality is distinctly political in character and is usually identified as a common feature of 20th Century dictatorships such as Nazi Germany, North Korea, Peoples Republic of China and Stalinist Russia.
- In DARLING in the FRANXX, Papa, the leader of APE, is seen as an almost god-like figure by the plantations. This devotion gets to the point of the plantations' parasites saying prayers to him prior to meals.
- Universal Century gives us several Zeonic personality cults, modeled on Zeon Zum Deikun (after his death), the Zabi family (especially Gihren), Lady of War Haman Kahn, and Ace Pilot Char Aznable (who is also Zeon Zum Deikun's son and heir).
- Mobile Suit Victory Gundam's Zanscare Empire gives us Queen Maria's cult, which is secretly organised and controlled by Fonse Kagatie.
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing's OZ has Treize Khushrenada, who is so charismatic and revered that when the Romefeller Foundation attempts to demote him OZ splits into two factions, one of which calls itself the Treize Faction and seems to have no goal other than to restore Treize to power.
- In Overlord (2012), the denizens of Nazarick treat Ainz as an infallible God-Emperor, due to being programmed during their origins as NPCs to be loyal to the player members of the guild, of whom Ainz is the only one left. To his credit, Ainz is uncomfortable with the worship and keeps trying to encourage them to think more for themselves beyond automatically deferring to his will.
- Doctor Doom has built one around himself: the people of Latveria revere him. Or else.
- Similar to Dr. Doom above, Magneto has built one of these around himself in the mutant community, to the point where even after multiple failures he is still seen by a good portion of mutants as their best hope for survival. He even led a group for a time, the Acolytes of Magneto, that worshiped him as a mutant messiah.
- Nemesis the Warlock: Tomas de Torquemada builds the Termight death cult entirely around his person and forces everyone to worship him as the immortal god-dictator of mankind. Sometimes this is Played for Laughs by combining this with The Merch — Terrans can buy Torquemada's memoirs, Torquemada posters, Torquemada action movies, Torquemada busts, and Torquemada pillows and pyjamas!
- In Peanuts, Schroeder is a near-obsessive fan of Ludwig van Beethoven.
- The dystopia in Equilibrium centers around the mythical figure of "Father." The movie was heavily influenced by the work of George Orwell.
- A Clockwork Orange: Alex adores Ludwig van Beethoven.
- X-Men: Apocalypse: En Sabah Nur emphasizes his god-like qualities to draw in potential followers. Bryan Singer highlights the character's role as a cult leader.
"He's also a false god, which makes him kind of like a cult leader. So Oscar Isaac and Simon Kinberg not only studied religion but also studied the nature of cults and how they function."
- An unintentional example appears in Joker (2019), after Arthur kills three violent drunks on a train in self-defence (because they were beating him up). The lower class public rallies behind the murders, since they were of wealthy WayneTech employees, and it is believed mistakingly that the killer was a vigilante that targets the rich. Arthur finds that his clown persona is idolized as a symbol of economic and social inequality in Gotham, and once he completes his transformation into the Joker, comes to revel with his violent followers and the destruction they cause.
- George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four created "Big Brother," who was always watching. Citizens were brainwashed to love him as a father figure and devote their lives to his glory.
- A Clockwork Orange: Alex adores Ludwig van Beethoven.
- The Belgariad: has two examples; Zandramas and Urvon who both rally up the Angarak race to their personal cult by claiming to be the prophesied Child of Dark and therefore candidates for godhood.
- Frank Herbert intended Dune to be a deconstruction of this (and in the process invoking another trope), with Paul Muad'dib becoming trapped by the popular perceptions of him, leading to his Fallen Hero status and his son Leto becoming a literally inhuman tyrant for thousands of years.
- Ironically, the book itself has almost become one, some fans call it the "sci-fi bible." The book has gone on to be considered an absolute masterpiece.
- "Heroic" (or perhaps rather anti-heroic) example in Victoria, if somewhat downplayed. While he is never seen overtly encouraging it himself, William Kraft's followers gradually come to consider him a demigod of sorts, and build up a veritable cult around him. Toward the end of the story, he is all but literally worshiped by the masses much like FDR once was—or Hitler, to use a less favorably tinged example—and the mere public statement of his views is enough to significantly impact popular opinion on major national issues.
- Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment presents a Britain 20 Minutes into the Future where one forms around a cartoon bear running in a by-election as a joke. The animator and voice actor for Waldo quickly finds himself being subsumed by his alter-ego, and then things go From Bad to Worse. The story ends with Waldo losing the by-election, but his influence over the public is such that he can incite violence against politicians and he eventually becomes a figurehead for new world order. Waldo's creator ends up a homeless alcoholic who gets tasered and beaten by police for throwing a bottle at a Waldo poster. The Fridge Horror of this is that Stalin was a mortal man and his cult died with him; Waldo is a cartoon character who can live forever as long as the people behind him keep bringing in new voice actors to play him.
- Game of Thrones: Season 5 introduces the High Sparrow, a rare anti-hero/ambiguously villainous version of this type of normally malevolent group leader. He leads the Sparrows, a group of hardline religious fanatics that are not above beating up prostitutes or forcing people to walk naked through the streets as 'atonement' but are also a humble medicating order helping the poor and downtrodden in King's Landing.
- The Following has a cult centered around James Carroll, who is himself cultishly devoted to Edgar Allen Poe.
- British satirical magazine Private Eye skewered excitable people in the ruling Conservative Party who, during The '80s, were explicitly saying that any criticism of Margaret Thatcher, however slight, was tantamount to treason. They ran a spoof of Commando war comics where Thatcher was elevated to The Fuhrer, mighty beloved leader and guardian of the Thousand Year Right, where Tory Party conferences became uniformed affairs held at Nuremberg. This was to make the point that a cult of personality focused on an infallible strong Leader is not a healthy thing for any country to have, least of all a notional democracy.
- The early Imperium in Warhammer 40,000 managed one of the more ironic ones. The Emperor of Mankind was explicitly anti-religious and rejected any claims about his own divinity...but had no problem being treated with an excess of awestruck respect. Characters in the early Horus Heresy books constantly refer to him as "the Emperor, beloved by all", if that helps contextualise the obsessive devotion he instilled into the early Imperium. It's really not surprising that, despite his avowed rejection of godhood, the underground cult that deified him became the state religion following his confinement on the Golden Throne; the general culture was already primed to treat him like a god, even if he rejected the specific title of "god".
- The Horatio race in Endless Space is a race made entirely of billions of clones of one insane rich man, Horatio. He's essentially worshipped by them, to the point that one available hero is a Horatio that escaped being destroyed for being "aberrant" due to having similar qualities to him.
- Final Fantasy Tactics features Saint Ajora, a man who made miracles and helped the people before a Corrupt Church silenced him. As he died, a lightning bolt struck the church and the city was washed away in a great flood. Then again, this may have been Bloody Angel Ultima's disguise as a Dark Messiah to lead the public in a Path of Inspiration.
- The BioShock series uses this, somewhat with Rapture's Andrew Ryan, but most prominently with Columbia's Zachary Comstock, who uses giant posters, statues, buildings, and audio messages to spread his message and paint himself as an all-knowing Holy man except his opposes group Vox Popuil and Protagonist Booker Dewitt.
- Borderlands 2: Handsome Jack is the Joker CEO version of Comstock; the only thing he does more thoroughly than inflicting pain on the "bandit" citizens of Pandora is plastering his masked face persona across everything Hyperion. EVERYTHING.
- Half-Life 2 have Dr. Wallace Breen who was the hero's former boss from Black Mesa, tries to making this and real followers of him are getting love the Combine, But came out pretty strongly subverted, However the real hero Gordan Freeman and really have strong of this trope itself as Heroic example and even have title by his followers, like "Savior" and "Messiah", even he mortally responsibly let Combine taking Earth in first place and rest of all events of series.
- In Super Danganronpa 2, it is revealed that the students, save for Nanami, were members of Ultimate Despair, a personality cult devoted to the original Ultimate Despair herself, Junko Enoshima. Such was their devotion that when Junko died, the surviving Ultimate Despair members chopped up her body and replaced their own body parts with hers. One member (thought to be Kuzuryuu) took one of her eyes in order to 'see her despair', while Nagito Komaeda chopped off his hand and attached one of her hands to the stump. By far the most disturbing is one member (heavily implied to be Mikan) trying to bear children using Junko's corpse.
- A key part of the Forsaken in World of Warcraft is their blind obedience to Sylvanas which was second only to revenge on the Lich King. Her face is the dominating feature of the forsaken icon, their Elite Mooks are to a man Expys of her, a female Elf, in a primarily human organization. Actually enforced by Sylvanas herself, who pushes the narrative that she's the only one who cares about them and all the livings want them dead(er), to the point that, in Before the storm, she killed anyone who had even a non-negative interaction with their living relatives, because letting them be would undermine her power.
- Fallout: New Vegas: Caesar's Legion is a cult following Caesar himself. Legionnaires are brought up (or brainwashed, if they're not born into it) being taught that Caesar is the Son of Mars, charged with conquering the entire world to bring civilization and purpose to land otherwise concerned with nothing but meaningless survival. Caesar himself realizes that this model will almost certainly result in the Legion collapsing with his death, and so is attempting to conquer New Vegas so that he can transfer the cult to the city and have his legacy survive him.
- Phantasy Star III has mankind being split into two factions: Orakians and Layans, named for the two legendary heroes, Orakio and Laya. They've been at war for a thousand years, with Orakians using androids and raw hardy strength to combat the Layans' tamed monsters and magical techniques.
- Cult of Personality focuses on oWn (Our World Now) started by a rebel Medic waging war on both RED and BLU.
- The Isle of Rangoon: The Rangoons revere Jim Henson as something between a universal father figure and a creator god and Kermit The Frog is his first, favored son. His birthday is basically Christmas for them and is a national holiday on the isle.
- Implemented by Timmy's Dad in The Fairly Oddparents episode "Father Time". Timmy destroys his father's childhood trophy with heat vision so he goes back in time to stop his dad from winning the race that got him the trophy in the first place. Timmy succeeds but his father is sent to Dictator School as punishment for losing the race and Timmy returns to his time to find that his dad now rules the world, and forces everyone to only think happy thoughts, always smile, and call him "father", reinforcing this with video surveillance and billboards claiming that "Dad is always watching!"
Dad: "Aaaaand here's where I'd put my trophy... IF I HAD ONE!"
- In The Simpsons episode "Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore", Homer travels to India after the Nuclear Plant is outsourced, where he becomes corrupted and takes over, establishing himself as a God. The rest of the family travel to India where they meet Mr. Burns, who takes them in his boat to the plant. When they reach the plant, they find all of the workers chanting to Homer and that they have painted his face on a large silo. Homer is dressed like Mola Ram from Temple of Doom and the workers are bowing to him as he sits on a throne. Turns out they just liked Homer's American Labor benefits of personal days, coffee breaks, and "mylar balloons on your birthday."
- Twilight Sparkle of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has had to endure some of this since her ascension to princess-hood in the Season 3 finale "Magical Mystery Cure". Particularly in the Season 4 episode "Twilight Time" where a group of schoolchildren begins giving the Cutie Mark Crusaders attention because they have a private study session with the Princess of Friendship and all of the kids really just want to rub shoulders with Twilight.
- The Helenists in Neo Yokio are obsessive fan girls that revolve their fashion and lifestyle around Helena. They eventually transform into an actual cult when they attempt to sacrifice Kaz in a ceremony to summon demons so they could be possessed just like Helena was.
- In Steven Universe, all of the Homeworld Gems literally live to serve the Diamond Authority. Peridot expresses confidence that they're literally perfect, and she's probably not alone. This is seen a bit more frighteningly at the end of Season 3, where several Gems show the detrimental effects on someone's sanity this can have, and how fanatical they are to their Diamonds despite the Diamonds clearly not returning their devotion.
- Many religions create a cult of personality around their gods and especially the human founder of their belief system: Christians have Jesus Christ, Jews have Moses and Abraham, Muslims have the Prophet Muhammed, Buddhists have Siddhartha Gautama, Scientologists have L. Ron Hubbard and Majority of Raelians have Raël (Claude Vorilhon).
- The concept of the Cult of Personality has classical origins. In Ancient Egypt and Rome, Pharaohs and Emperors were deified and made into Godlike figures for the people to worship. There were taboos in Roman society against deification while the person was alive but Emperors worked around it to their advantage.
- In the case of Rome, the man who started a cult that in many ways anticipates the 20th Century model is Pompey the Great. As general in Judea and military governor in the Eastern Mediterranean, Pompey had coins printed with his image on it, despite being a general and not authorized to do that. He also encouraged his entourage to compare him to Alexander, and even called himself "the Great" and imitated Alexander by founding towns named after him like Pompeiia and Magnopolis. Pompey even encouraged cults worshiping him as a God. He then invested heavily in promoted infrastructure and theaters with his name attached to it. Others like Julius Caesar and especially Augustus took it even further, with Augustus being closer to an Orwellian despot than anyone after him. Incidentally, Stalin, an avid reader of classical history, was a major fan of Augustus.
Mary Beard: One of his most significant and lasting innovations was to flood the Roman world with his portrait: heads stamped on the small change in people's pockets, life-size or larger statues in marble and bronze standing in public squares and temples...This was on a vastly bigger scale than anything of the sort before...about 250 statues, not to mention images on jewels and gems, found right across Roman territories and beyond, from Spain to Turkey and Sudan, show Augustus in many different guises, from heroic conqueror to pious priest.
- The Soviet Union elevated their founder, Lenin, to almost divine stature. Countless statues, paintings, streets, cities were named after him. His corpse was mummified and put on permanent display in Moscow.
Stalin's Son: But I am a Stalin too.
- Initially, Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not want to build such a cult, and Lenin repeatedly insisted that he be buried in Petrograd (ci-devant Saint Petersburg) without fuss, and the party initially wanted to honor his wishes. However when they kept his body for public display, there was a huge mass of people coming from the countryside to pay a visit, and the Bolsheviks hesitantly started constructing a makeshift mausoleum of wood before finally building a permanent structure in Russian Constructivism style (albeit one modeled on Egyptian and Babylonian tombs). Contrary to general belief, Stalin wasn't involved in the counsel which was overseen by the very powerful head of Cheka Felix Dzherzinsky, which finally decided to mummify Lenin and put him on display. The cult of Lenin which came after his death led to the renaming of Petrograd into Leningrad (which lasted till the end of the Cold War). Later observers noted, that this cult was rooted in Russia's traditions of venerating Orthodox saints, who were often put on display and indeed internally many Communists opposed it on these same grounds.
- Stalin's Cult was more deliberately created and something which Stalin took great interest in promoting and preserving. Ships, cities, buildings, and a prize (the Order of Stalin, which was later renamed Order of Lenin) were named after him. After his death, Nikita Khrushchev made a process to de-stalinize the Soviet Union, so statues and cities were destroyed and renamed and only the cult of Lenin survived. Stalin privately expressed irritation with his own cult, and as per a well-known anecdote, mocked it in an exchange with his son:
Josef Stalin: No you're not. You're not Stalin and I'm not Stalin. (Indicates Portrait of himself) That is Stalin. Stalin is Soviet power. Stalin is what he is in the newspapers and portraits, not you, no, not even me.
- Unsurprisingly, Hitler made one for him. Squares, ships and the like would be named after him, although in his case, it was often driven by the attempts of various low-level Nazis attempting to flatter him or attract his attention.
- In North Korea dictators Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-Il are worshipped as gods. Literally! There are giant statues of them everywhere and almost every activity is done in celebration of the "Great Leaders". Of course, their corpses are also mummified and put on display.
- Even the flowers are named after them.
- No pre-20th Century dictator took as much of an active interest in building and promoting a Cult than Napoleon Bonaparte. From very early in his career as Revolutionary General, Bonaparte used his considerable skills as a writer and published regular bulletins to his army building a particular style of address and relationship with his soldier. He also befriended Jacques-Louis David the famous Revolutionary painter who had fallen into political disrepute over his association with Maximilien Robespierre to paint several portraits of him, many of which became iconic and were widely distributed across Europe. As dictator, he had near total control over the press and his propagandists greatly enhanced and added to his already considerable military prowess by inventing whole battles, while sliding over some of his mistakes and near misses. He continued to build his cult even after his defeat at Waterloo, where he dictated memoirs in Saint Helena to an admirer that self-consciously painted him as a reflective tragic figure, courting himself a lot of sympathy in the process.
- During The French Revolution, the government often tried to promote a series of new cults of personalities to create new symbols of legitimacy but kept failing:
- The revolutionary regime promoted the Pantheon, which was an attempt to make a cult of several intellectual figures like Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. When Mirabeau, the great statesman and leader of the early years of the Revolution, died, he was interred into the Pantheon. Then it was revealed that he had secretly corresponded with the King and indulged in corruption and this tarnished his reputation and eventually, they disinterred his body and threw him out of the Pantheon and even years later despite being rehabilitated, his remains are lost.
- Jean-Paul Marat was the most vocal and controversial political pamphleteer of the Revolution and the voice of the militant radical Paris. When he was assassinated, the Jacobin Club (which was formerly quite critical of Marat and tried to keep him at arm's length) promoted a cult of personality around him, with busts of Marat taking the place of Jesus Christ in many churches across France, street names and ships renamed after him, and a famous painting by revolutionary propagandist Jacques-Louis David that was widely printed across France. When Mirabeau was chucked out of the Pantheon, Marat was interred in his place, but a few months later, the new regime phased out the Marat cult and kicked Marat out of the Pantheon as well.
- Robespierre, ironically enough, was quite critical of cults of personality and personally affected a highly self-conscious modesty that avoided excessive flattery and personal displays. When he did promote cults, he ensured that they revolved around values rather than people and featured common people (such as the runaway Child Soldier Viola and Bara, who were included in "Le chant du depart"). He also promoted the Deist-Nationalist Festival of the Supreme Being, the biggest and most widely attended revolutionary festival, that he personally presided leading many around him to suspect he was installing a cult around himself, leading to his downfall.
- In China, Mao Zedong used to be the center of a Cult Of Personality. Though still held in high regard and also mummified and put on display, the worship is not as fanatical as during his lifetime.
- More recently, Xi Jinping has been increasingly seen as attempting to foster this, under the guise of fighting corruption.
- In the United States, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are certainly eligible for being featured on this page. They are highly regarded by many Americans as the most perfect presidents they ever had, to the point that Washington is believed to have "never told a lie" and Lincoln is nicknamed "Honest Abe".
- In general, mass media-age American presidential campaigns (over the last sixty or so years) involve promoting a cult of personality around a particular candidate. Those elected have this endure in cultural memory even after their candidacy, years in office, and oblivion in the form of ads, memes, and catch-phrases. John F. Kennedy is a well-known example, but Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump are not far behind in terms of promoting campaigns that revolved around images, posters, logos, and appeals to personality and image to get people to vote for them.
- Michael Jackson is a notable non-political example. Quite a few pop stars have been elevated to legendary proportions by their fans, especially if they died relatively young — Elvis Presley was the most prominent example for decades, followed closely by John Lennon. But Jackson actively cultivated this trope in his lifetime, pushing the Forced Meme of "The King of Pop" and casting himself as a great humanitarian and Friend to All Children. (Consider this.) Moreover, he encouraged fans to regard anything negative reported about him as nothing more than persecution by the sinister mass media. This worked; after his death they went publicly berserk, and the mythologizing around him only continues to grow — as do Conspiracy Theories and harassment/demonization of those perceived as his enemies (in particular, multiple people who have accused him of sexually abusing them when they were young boys).
- As generations of British schoolchildren will tell you: British teachers have created a cult of personality around William Shakespeare. Every pupil has been forced to appreciate Shakespeare's genius over the centuries.
- In the Philippines, a segment of Rodrigo Duterte's supporters adore him so much that they are sometimes considered eligible to this trope, due to said segment justifying everything he does. As one of the most polarizing figures the nation has ever seen, let's leave it at that.
- Timur the Lame was an Islamic warlord from Central Asia that created an image of legend and myth around himself to justify his conquests as he could not declare himself caliph, the supreme and spiritual leader of Islam, since the post was already taken by the Abbasids, nor he could consider himself a khan since he wasn't descended from Genghis Khan. He claimed he wanted to reunite Genghis Khan's conquests that were taken by usurpers such as the Ottomans, Mamluks, and Persians, and that he was favored by God due to his successful campaign as conqueror, and he amassed one of the largest armies of that time period for these very reasons.