Before we dive into the A to Z Challenge, I wanted to get in another Geek 501 post. So it’s time to take on one of the bigger things in all of geek culture. Something that crops up in basically all fandoms. Gatekeeping.
I could define Gatekeeping. Or, I could let comic writers and artist Noelle Stevenson do it for me.
As I’ve talked about previously, much of the joy and point of being a geek is finding others like us, finding those who share our loves and joining together. However, in group forming, in identity forming, in self-defining, one of the problems is that we inherently exclude others.
For instance, I am a Doctor Who fan – I share a lot with other Doctor Who fans (Whovians) but not this with those who have never watched the show. That’s one form of Gatekeeping, and, with an open mind (and a bit of sharing) I can easily induct others into this fandom. Get them hooked, get them watching it all!
The further level of Gatekeeping, however, is when we define internal limits within a fandom, amongst fans. So with the Doctor Who example, it would be the divide between the fans of “new Who,” since it got going again with Series 1 in 2005, and those who were fans before, who have seen older episodes. The show is 50 years old, after all.
However, is the one fan a better type of fan than the other? Do they have anything in common? Can they even be friends?
While these questions seem facetious, they’re really not. Because there are people and situations for which every single one of those questions ends up being a divide between people. Where fans become “not real fans.” Or somehow “not fan enough.”
And the Doctor Who example is a tame sort of example, since there is at least something measurable there. Like someone who likes a movie based on a book, but never read the book. There’s a case to be made that they’re missing something – but again, the door (gate) should be opened for them, not shut on them.
It gets much worse when the divide is based on prejudice and stereotype. When you get into a situation like Noelle’s. Oh by the way, we just read the recent Wonder Woman comics by Noelle, absolutely amazing. And yet, the experiences she had, being considered not an authentic fan of comics. Because she’s a woman? Because maybe she likes something different from someone else?
Or is it because she’s young? Because she hasn’t been reading the 50+ years of Big Comics (Marvel and DC) continuity? Or in the Doctor Who example, being younger and not having grown up with the whole history of the show? Or the Star Trek fan, like myself, who prefers The Next Generation because I grew up with it. Am I less of a fan because of it? Or the Star Wars fan who (shudder) grew up on episodes 1-3 rather than the original trilogy, because they’re the first ones they saw, or the ones they saw in theaters?
Oh, and then there are going to be kids for whom this is their first exposure to Star Wars.
I could go on, but the point is there. Age and sex seem like two of the biggest Gates that are created in fandoms that separate people. For reasons that are generally silly, and which are outside of the control of the fan.
But these two elements also represent change – fandoms growing with young and new fans finding, or with a new gender or sex or group of people finding them. And those who represented the fandom before, some of them don’t like change. This is inherent in any situation with change – I have dealt with enough change at work to know this is true. Some people lash out. Some people can’t handle it.
Then there are activities that are themselves changing – like gaming. What once was a world for patient, elite, hardcore gamers – people who push themselves to beat brutal games like the Mario games – has grown to include anyone with a mobile device. The growth of mobile gaming, browser-based gaming, and all sorts of other avenues, have changed gaming.
Now, all sorts of people who weren’t gamers before are gaming. Women – who, by the way, were already gaming before despite the opinions of Gatekeepers. And not just the younger – the older as well. Gaming is now something that everyone can and is doing.
So the “hardcore” gamers are circling the wagons, are trying to define what “gaming” means, what being a “gamer” means. Just like with more female superhero characters, female comic creators, we’re seeing the gatekeepers circling the wagons there.
Gatekeeping is, I think, going to be a fact of fandom. And as more and more intellectual properties are rebooted or redone (didn’t a new Cinderella come out the other day?), we’re especially going to get more and more young fans coming to the fandoms, new fans who never had a chance to be a fan before. And being a gatekeeper against them, showing them hate or ridicule, is going to turn them away instead.
And if we let that happen, either the fandom is going to end, or the fandom is going to develop without the gatekeepers included. And if you’re a fan, do you really want to see either scenario play out?
Or would it be so much easier to invite others in, to share with them, to show them what you mean when you say the book is better, or the original series, or PVP instead of raiding, or the previous comic author or artist… to grow the fandom, rather than restrict it? To have it include more, not less?