If you’re currently using our website, chances are you’re a fan of some kind of movie, TV show, comic book, or a similar form of entertainment. A decade ago, there weren’t as many people involved in fandoms and partaking in what some now call “geek culture.” Although debatable on when it actually started, many would agree that milestones like The Avengers movie in 2012 helped make superheroes cool and accessible for everyone. The new Star Wars trilogy revived a fresh enthusiasm for the franchise that booms all over the world. Things that were specific hobbies for people labeled “geeks” have now become a mainstream consumption that everyone is familiar with.
All of this sounds really good, but why are there still people unhappy about it? Now that geek culture is rising to popularity, there are people who feel like telling others they aren’t “geeky enough” or they “don’t deserve” to be in a fandom. This is what we know as gatekeeping in geek culture.
There are plenty of examples. Right now I’m into an odd combination of fandoms – I like DC Comics and Sherlock Holmes among others. When I was a kid I adored the Justice League animated series, but it was difficult to buy merchandise because it was a “boy’s thing” and I didn’t want to look weird. I admit I was only into Sherlock Holmes since the Sherlock series in 2010 – as a result, I was doubted because I was younger than those who grew up with the books. I am also a female, which apparently meant I’m not in for Sherlock Holmes, but for Benedict Cumberbatch’s sexy looks. It was exhausting to hear.
I’m not the only one. As geek culture rises, so does its gatekeeping. This year, some people in the Star Trek fandom are feeling pretty entitled, going against fans of the new series Star Trek: Discovery, a show that’s doing a pretty damn good job representing women and people of color. Last year, my favorite Sherlock Holmes pastiche writer Lyndsay Faye from the famous Baker Street Babes podcast was signing books and someone remarked, “after she signs a copy of her book, you can ask to sign her breasts”. What’s worse is that gatekeeping isn’t only directed to fans, but creators as well. Remember #MakeMineMilkshake, the movement that came after a female editor at Marvel Comics, Heather Antos, was attacked for being… a female? Those are only a few.
Gatekeeping also comes in more moderate forms that are less dirty but just as condescending. This is when people decide others’ worthiness based on scholarly knowledge of the decades-old fandom and exclude others’ opinions. If you’ve seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi and kept up with social media, then you know all about the polarized reactions (spoilers there) and comments of being “not a real fan” if you liked/disliked it. This trend seems to flourish in revivals of classic franchises. If they haven’t loved superheroes before 2012 or if they only got into Star Wars from liking Kylo Ren then clearly they know nothing. If you can’t spell Mxyzptlk then you’re not a Superman fan and if you mistakenly refer to The Doctor as “Dr. Who” then you’re just a fake Whovian.
Unsurprisingly, some are being defensive about this. These are the people who feel that geek culture was part of their unique, stereotypical identity that has now transformed into a widely marketable brand. Remember that in the past, being a geek subjected you to mockery and social stigma. Now that it’s everyone’s thing, the pride coming from “I was a fan before it was cool” is understandable, as well as the urge to give in to elitism.
But why would you do that when you can go on enjoying what you’ve been enjoying all your life? Holding your geek pride up high doesn’t mean you need to tear other people down. We all enjoy things in varying degrees and different ways – none of which will compromise your own fun. Besides, gatekeeping isn’t anybody’s job. There is no gate to be kept because approvals aren’t supposed to be a requirement here. Both fans and creators can only benefit tangibly from more inclusion. Without gatekeeping, the worst thing that can happen is that the ego of a geek elitist gets hurt and the only way to fix that is to not have the ego of an elitist at all. As writer Greg Rucka said in 2014, “You don’t own it. You partake in it. It’s called community.”
The phenomenon of geek culture celebration holds more significance to those who weren’t able to enjoy it before. For one, the demography for all kinds of fandoms has expanded. More adults and seniors are into superheroes because it isn’t just cartoons and kid stuff anymore. Likewise, more youngsters are into older classic franchises thanks to their new movie and TV adaptations. Though still in progress, we are on the way to include more women and people of color in entertainment – we now dare to hope that Hollywood can become inclusive for all. Gatekeeping will only worsen this accessibility, especially to people who have been deprived of it in the past.
One more thing that we all need to take note of is that big franchises will always find ways to grow and challenge itself. This may mean going out of its way to tell fresh stories required to maintain it through generations, blowing off your expectations, and fitting itself into much more relevant values and ideas in the current time. For some, this will be radical. Your favorite classics may not be the same. But in the bigger picture, this is what it takes for a brand to sustain. It’s important for fans between generations to acknowledge and accept each other’s existence, if not their opinions. Disagree, but never invalidate.
In 2018, geek culture is only going to get bigger and better. So if you’ve been a fan before it was cool, respect the old and embrace the new. Let’s make it a resolution to stop gatekeeping in geek culture. Don’t forget to welcome new friends, share the love of geek culture with those who haven’t enjoyed it before, and share this article if you agree!