Geeks and gatekeeping: Discussing our favorite franchises without shutting out other fans

The Internet — and the rise of social media — has benefited geek culture in a number of ways. It’s now easier than ever to meet fellow geeks and discuss your favorite franchises, share podcasts/article links, stay up-to-date on the latest movie/TV announcements, and more. Thanks to social media, I’ve made some new friends that I might never have met in person if it wasn’t for geek Facebook discussion groups, podcasting, blogging, etc. I appreciate the connections that are made possible by technology.

However, we also can’t ignore the fact that the Internet and social media have provided a platform for toxic behavior from a small but vocal group of fans. Although they certainly don’t represent the majority, this group’s negativity is capable of doing real harm, such as the recent bullying of Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran. We also don’t know how much this negativity is driving away potential new fans of our favorite franchises.

Unfortunately, social media can facilitate discussion “echo chambers” that shut out certain opinions. I don’t know that I have a solution to some of these issues, but I think it’s important that as geeks we start talking about this and help to keep each other accountable, especially as geek culture continues to grow in popularity. Here are some thoughts on why gatekeeping is happening, and how we can work together to stop it.

‘You shall not pass!’

You’ve probably heard the buzzword “gatekeeping” by now; I see gatekeeping as fans engaging in behavior that seeks to limit or restrict who is a “real fan” and to unfairly define how a “true member” of a fandom should think/feel.

It’s never usually as direct as, say, “Anyone who disagrees that David Tennant is the best ‘Doctor Who’ actor should leave the fandom right now and never come back.” 😉 It’s usually more along the lines of, “True ‘Doctor Who’ fans appreciate the David Tennant seasons as the pinnacle of the franchise.”

On the surface, that last sentence doesn’t seem as damaging. In my own personal opinion, I do think the David Tennant seasons represent the best of the franchise. The problem is the qualifier “true ‘Doctor Who’ fans.” Anyone who likes “Doctor Who” has the right to call themselves a “true fan”; it doesn’t matter whether you prefer David Tennant, Peter Capaldi, Tom Baker, or any other Doctor. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and you should be welcomed in the community.

What is driving gatekeeping?

Although there are some mean-spirited fans out there who derive a twisted sense of enjoyment from bullying, many gatekeepers probably don’t even realize they are doing it. It’s easy to become attached to/passionate about our favorite franchises, and to feel some ownership in those franchises. However, it’s important for all of us (myself included) to remember that we don’t own those franchises, and we don’t get to define another fan’s experience with that franchise.

I think sometimes fans feel “protective” of their favorite franchises, especially when they get expanded/rebooted. I’ve seen comments online putting down fans of, for example, the rebooted J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe and the new Disney Star Wars films. I have spotted comments saying “as a true fan, I can’t stand where Disney is taking the Star Wars franchise,” etc.

It’s perfectly okay to like or dislike a film or TV show. People should be allowed to have a respectful discussion where they air their criticisms, and this can become a deep and meaningful conversation. Yet at the end of the day, an opinion is just an opinion, and there are a huge variety of thoughts out there regarding entertainment and what a franchise should or shouldn’t be.

Maybe there are fans out there who only like the Disney Star Wars films, and they’ve connected with these new movies in a way they never connected with Star Wars before. That is okay. If you like the Star Wars prequels, that’s still okay! As long as you are respectful to other fans, you should be free to enjoy what you enjoy. Or, if a franchise just isn’t speaking to you anymore, it’s okay to walk away, and you shouldn’t be pressured to stay in the fandom.

Keeping fandom fun

Something I’ve been trying to work on is just really listening to other fans and letting them share their passion. Like, even though I personally was disappointed by “Justice League,” I loved hearing from other fans about why they liked it and what that film meant to them. Then, hopefully this can lead to a back-and-forth discussion about our differing thoughts on the film. We may not agree in the end, but both of us can feel equally respected as superhero fans.

I’ve also been trying to avoid using the word “objectively,” even though it’s hard to do. 😉 I really want to say that the prequels are “objectively” the worst Star Wars movies, but at the end of the day, entertainment is really just subjective. Instead, I can maybe say that critical and fan consensus seems to indicate that the prequels are the lowest-quality Star Wars films, but if you liked them, you shouldn’t be kicked out of the fandom for that.

I think the best cure for gatekeeping is just keeping in mind that geekdom is this incredibly diverse, fun place, and it’s important to make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome. Geek culture has experienced this awesome explosion in popularity the past few years, with more and more people getting into sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes. I hope this influx continues! 😊 Some of these new fans may become hardcore devotees; others may just remain casual fans. Both perspectives are okay, and the more casual fans shouldn’t feel as though they are less welcome.

So, what are your thoughts on this issue? Have you ever experienced gatekeeping? What do you think is the best way to address it?

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