Gatekeeping Isn't Evil; It's Necessary

On a community level, the most dangerous mentality to internalize is one that wholeheartedly vilifies “gatekeeping.”

It’s a counterintuitive point, but it makes sense when explained fully.

In geek, nerd, and niche culture, “gatekeeping” refers to fans within a community (usually older, more experienced fans) imposing standards upon others (usually newcomers), that must be met before being accepted into the community.

In the past several years, this behaviour has come under attack, and rightfully so. Bitter, spiteful nerds, still sour from years of ostracism from mainstream social conventions, chose to use the gatekeeping paradigm abusively, to try and enforce homogeneity within their communities.

They had the opportunity to enforce on others the same arbitrary social standards that they had failed to navigate, and not only took that opportunity, but reveled in it.

Suddenly, every female trying to enter a geek community became subject to a litany of quiz questions, trying to gauge her level of random trivia knowledge, and earning the label of “fake geek girl” should she fail to match up to their level of arbitrary obscure fact retention.

It’s a well-known narrative. The “old guard” had internalized social ostracism as an intrinsic part of the experience of being a “geek,” and so were primed to reject certain groups (women, for example) from their spaces right off the bat.

As a result, once this behaviour was beaten back, geek culture as a whole took up a hardline stance against any instance of gatekeeping, and became all about “inclusion.” The thought process being that being ostracized feels bad, and all geeks know how it feels to be ostracized, so geeks have no right to ostracize others.

The problem is that they extended this to all levels.

There are two kinds of gatekeeping:

There are people who gatekeep to maintain the core elements of a fandom or community, and there are people who gatekeep to try and force everyone in a fandom or community to be like them.

The problem is: Both kinds think they’re the first kind.

Fandom spaces play host to a number of incredibly insecure people who see the presence of people different from them as an affront. And there’s a wide range of people like this.

  • The jaded male fan, quick to level accusations of “fake nerd girl” at any female in a fandom space

  • The internet forum troll who insists anyone who’s lost their virginity or is in a relationship must be a “normie” and therefore not a real anime fan

  • The political junkie who jumps at the opportunity to remind anime fans of different political leaning what bad people they are

  • The meme lord who tweets “go to jail” pictures at Japanese artists who draw teenage characters

It’s all the same brand of malignant gatekeeping based around people wanting to make fandom super-comfortable for themselves and super-uncomfortable for anyone who’s not exactly like them.

And not everyone can agree that all of these people are a problem, because the root of the issue behind all of these types of people, these “gatekeepers of the second kind,” lies more in fandom’s fundamental opposition to gatekeeping than in a proliferation of it.

The idea that fandom spaces should be inclusive sounds good, and is good, on a certain level. Excluding people based on race, gender, politics, sexuality, or how one chooses to interact with media can only result in a deteriorating trend that splits the fandom into small, mutually hostile enclaves. Kind of like what we have now.

In the rush to defeat “gatekeeping,” and promote “inclusivity,” the fandom went too far and made inclusion the only virtue in fandom.

This paradigm destroys subcultures.

When the only virtue is inclusivity, everything else must be sacrificed. Eventually, not even the existing subculture, its history, or the very core elements the subculture was built around are safe from the chopping block. Everything gets pared down until the subculture just looks like the same mainstream culture people left behind.

And then everyone wonders why nobody’s having fun.

The common thread amongst “gatekeepers of the second kind” is that the value of fandom for them is first and foremost as an extension of themselves and their identities, as opposed to a collection of otherwise very disparate people brought together by a common appreciation of a niche culture.

Indeed, some seek to invalidate crucial parts of the subculture’s history to serve their personal agendas. Political types might denounce certain anime outright for containing story elements they disagree with ideologically. Those with more puritanical leanings might ignore the context behind more sexual elements of the medium, in favor of decrying them as evil. Bitter moe fans with a misogynist bent might cry foul when certain anime studios make anime aimed at female yaoi fans.

The vilification of gatekeeping has created a myth that the “anime community” is this big collective of like-minded people with plenty in common (A lot of marketing in the Western industry plays a role in this, too). Not only is that not true, it creates situations where people come looking for a teeming crowd of people just like them, only to find that existing in this community means co-existing with many people of different backgrounds, preferences, and ideologies.

For those to whom fandom exists primarily as a way of seeking personal validation, this level of diversity is a threat, and many are prepared to use social engineering to drive away people who jeopardize that personal validation, all the while eroding the core elements of the subculture.

This is where gatekeeping is needed most: To screen for narcissists who are willing to throw out the culture’s most fundamental building blocks to make the fandom a little bit more comfortable for themselves. To weed out people whose interest in the fandom only extends as far as how they can use it to directly benefit them. To filter out the opportunists who are willing to do damage to the community if they stand to gain from it.

If you value fandom enough to want to share it with as many people as possible, you should value it enough to close off avenues for abusive, narcissistic people to take advantage of the fandom and the people in it.

Screen for narcissism. Screen for bullying. Be wary of those with an ideological approach, and those who seem to only have criticisms for the subculture and its community.

It’s important to draw a line. Otherwise we get to a point where people feel justified harassing others for liking the wrong cartoons, or physically assaulting others over character shipping differences.

Kind of like what we have now.