Gatekeepers and Snobs: A discussion about Fandoms and their protectors

Or, How To Ruin Enthusiasm For A Community

Gatekeepers ruin everything; they will always be there, waiting in the shadows to tell you how you aren’t really that into something—or letting you know that what you like isn’t respectable enough to be a fan.

We have all experienced it, no matter what community it is, no matter what kind of fandom. You will always have someone trying to gatekeep what it means to be a fan—telling you the barrier you have to meet in order to “really” appreciate something.

“Oh, you’re a fan of Nirvana? name 3 songs right now.”

- Pretentious Hipsters

“You aren’t a gamer if you just play Animal Crossing and The Sims.”

- Any Guy in the Comments Section of a TikTok

If you follow me on @Threads, you may have seen one of my posts get a bit more attention than normal. In it, I discussed an interaction I had a few years ago with a coworker at an old job.

This seems to have resonated with a few people, and it’s easy to see why. Well, actually, it’s not because I don’t understand why people pay attention to me, but still—people have experienced this in a variety of situations. Hell, there is even a Simpsons character based specifically on this type of person:

It’s also not a coincidence that the show often used him to make fun of their more, critical, fans.

“I’m not going to correct you, you should just read more comics and find out for yourself”

That sentence in particular is really what has allowed the interaction to remain in my mind for so long. The idea that I was either so wrong it would be too much work to correct me, or that I was such a “fake fan” I wasn’t worth correcting. In either scenario, it’s the wrong way this situation could have been handled, regardless of your vitriol for my admittedly bad opinion.

Geez Did They Miss the Point

Something that struck me quite odd, though, was how much of my comments section for that post was stuck debating whether or not Watchmen was a good movie or faithful. Perhaps it wasn't clear enough, but the point wasn’t about Watchmen at all; it was about the behavior.

I don’t care if you liked the movie or not. If you took my post about gatekeeping based on opinion and decided to be condescending about the opinion that was being gatekept? Guess what? you are a gatekeeper! Congrats!

It truly can’t be stressed enough that you are telling on yourself if you couldn’t move past the offhanded take. It was bait, and you fell for it. Just like Zack Snyder supposedly couldn’t understand the social commentary being told in the Comic Book when he made his adaptation, you too couldn’t pick up on the overall theme of the post. Stuck on the proverbial artwork in the background rather than the story on display.

The point of the post, and thankfully what was picked up on by plenty of folks, was the behavior on display. I was conveying an experience that ultimately hurt my enthusiasm for the medium while simultaneously discussing gatekeeping in general.

Enthusiasm, Not Disdain

When someone reveals to you that they are either not as well versed or just starting their journey into a specific fandom or piece of media, the correct course of action, if you think they are missing some crucial piece, is to respond enthusiastically.

Someone in the comments of my Threads post, who has since deleted their comment, so I am heavily paraphrasing based on bad memory, said something along the lines of “the barrier for fandom is too low. Too many people who have no idea about the material claiming to be fans. I’ve met Star Trek “fans” who didn’t even recognize the Original Series theme song.”

That mentality is so bewildering to me. If I were faced with someone who did not know about something I really liked, I would be overjoyed to show them something new. Do you know how often I wish I could experience something for the first time again? How lucky that hypothetical person is to watch classic episodes of Star Trek for the first time. Maybe they won’t like it, and that would be totally fine! Because, at the end of the day, Art is subjective.

Everything in art is subjective; whether or not it feels right to you doesn’t matter. Because that’s the only objective rule when it comes to art, everyone will take something different from it and their enjoyment or disdain for it is just as valid as yours, whether you like it or not. So if someone says they are a fan of the Transformer Movies and you can’t help yourself from telling them how “objectively terrible” those movies are, you are just an asshole.

It doesn’t matter how many people agree or disagree with you, you can’t change someone else’s perspective and it doesn’t do them any “favor” to agree with you. If anything, you have taken something from them if you are able to get them to agree with your opinion. They were finding enjoyment from this media; you have instead taken that from them. You could have conveyed your opinion without taking it away, “yeah, for me I didn’t really like those movies all that much, I couldn’t take them seriously. I’m glad you liked it, though! ”. In this scenario, you still get to wave your cultured superiority like a flag, but you didn’t take away from their enjoyment. Maybe even use it as an opportunity to recommend one of those “better” films you are dying to compare them to. But don’t belittle their enthusiasm for something you don’t enjoy; no one asked you to enjoy it.

Misogyny in Fandoms

Often in these fandoms, there is always an extremely strong undercurrent of misogyny. Comic books in particular had enjoyed, for a long time, a degree of gender separation. Despite numerous comics existing placating stereotypical feminine interests, women were often not welcomed by men in the space. Even if you shared similar opinions to those men you will likely experience some degree of rejection due to the belief that you couldn’t have done all of the same “homework” they have done in order to be a “real fan”. In these cases men are gatekeeping fandom from women using misogyny.

Various friends and partners of mine have shared with me nearly scene-for-scene identical scenarios where they went to a comic book shop and experienced someone showing strong disdain at them for enjoying a comic book or character that was deemed not worthy of serious consideration. Often by the very people working at the shop! They would rather be condescending than provide good customer service to a potential new regular customer. Imagine asking for a recommendation on where to start with Wonder Woman because you really like that character, you watched the movie and Gal Godot was incredible so you want to read more before the other movies came out. And instead of receiving a know-it-all retort about how garbage those movies were, of course, you would like that, and how the dedicated run for Wonder Woman hasn’t been good in years so it’s not worth getting into. You’ve killed the customer’s enthusiasm and made them feel less than for even enjoying it.

The misogyny is always more prevalent on the internet though. Often writing off incredibly compelling media simply because there were women in the lead role, or the perceived intended audience was female men will write it off as “pandering”.

Take, for example, the 2016 “Ghostbusters”; this movie was despised by dwellers online. Countless YouTube videos, articles, and reviews, all talking about how the choice to make all of the Ghostbusters women was a joke and just “pandering”. Once the dust settled and they tried to hide behind real criticism it was too late, the water in the well was poisoned. No matter what real criticism you could have had for that movie, it was always going to be tainted with misogynistic disdain. I remember walking out of the theatre, liking the movie a lot, then going online and seeing the fervorous hate for the movie. Like somehow the existence of women in their media was actually taking away from the original content they held so near and dear to their hearts. Some of the hatred went beyond just regular displeasure and outright terrorized Leslie Jones, someone who was not even credited as a writer/producer or had any serious creative influence on the movie.

“Of all the women in Paul’s remake of the movie, I was the one who got taken through the ringer. I wonder why . . . Oh, right, because I was a Black girl. I was being sent films of being hanged, of white guys jacking off on my picture, saying, “You fucking n****r. We going to kill you.” Why are people being so evil to each other? How can you sit and type “I want to kill you.” Who does that?”

- Leslie F*cking Jones: A Memoir by Leslie Jones. Copyright © 2023

When it was announced in 2019 that there wasn’t going to be a follow-up with the female cast, Leslie indicated that if this new one had all men and did well, it would reaffirm the vile response from folks online.

Fortunately, the main focus for the 2021 “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was actually a mix of children and arguably led by Mckenna Grace. It still leaned very heavily on the original Ghostbusters Men to tie the narrative together. It did pretend the 2016 movie never happened, opting to be a direct continuation of the original 2 movies.

Now, this is coming from someone who has been in love with The Ghostbusters since I was a kid—The 2016 movie was just okay. It wasn’t nearly as bad as some people made it out to be. None of its issues could be traced back to its casting. In fact, I found the characters fun and refreshing. The story was clearly targeting a slightly younger demographic. They went with comedy over thriller for the direction, and that’s ultimately what changes the tone of the film to me in comparison with the originals.

This isn’t the only example, you can’t escape a near-constant barrage of hatred and disdain for anything to do with women in what might be a traditionally male-attributed space.

Don’t Worry I Suck Too

Something else Misogyny has ruined was Twilight. A series that was marketed to, consumed, and enjoyed primarily by women. Men couldn’t let you even have a single thought about these movies and books when they were at their height. I was certainly among them. I was in high school when the first movie dropped. I was no slouch in letting anyone in my direct vicinity know how stupid the movie was, how annoying I found Kristen Stewart’s lip-chewing-based acting, or how toxic the book was. Embarrassing.

So many dudes in my grade were the exact same way; some of my friends even made a point to go to the theatre for the second movie with the full intent to be disruptive. I commented how “hilarious” I found the idea, encouraging their behavior to rob people of both their time and joy because we simply couldn’t get over ourselves long enough to mind our own business.

Certainly wasn’t contained solely in my small high school either. It was everywhere. A common “meme” of those early days was the infamous:

“Still a better love story than Twilight”

- Reddit

This phrase was so prominent online that it didn’t matter the context, everywhere. If anything was even remotely romantic, even if it wasn’t, that phrase was bound to follow.

The earliest use of the phrase in describing the relationship between two inanimate objects can be traced to a Reddit[8] image post submitted on December 2nd, 2011, showing a plug about to be inserted into a socket.

Two days later, on December 4th, 2011, the comment was posted on a fan video of Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic shared on My Little Brony.[9] The following month, the Facebook fan page "Still a better love story than Twilight"[10] was created, which has accrued 1134 likes as of July 2012. The phrase began appearing in comments on FunnyJunk[11] that March.

All of this, because women liked something. It wasn’t hurting any of us. While we were belittling women for liking this on the one hand, with the other, we were shepherding them to go see the latest car-based action film or “Man punching for 2 hours” movie. None of them ever enacted an internet-wide campaign to belittle us for liking it.

Now, thankfully, Twilight is getting a bit of a resurgence in pop culture. Resulting in renewed interest and more “deserved” and playful mocking together as a community instead of bullying. Those movies were flawed, sure, but they were never as bad as anyone made them out to be. I recently rewatched them with my wife. I realized how much I would have actually enjoyed them had I ever gotten off my high horse for a moment. I could have been enjoying some truly hilariously bizarre moments and their resulting memes.


Live laugh love twilight #Meme #MemeCut #twilight #twilightsaga #edwardcullen #fyp #viral

Twilight was always a perfectly fine series of books and movies. We just couldn’t let women enjoy something in peace. I severely regret my part in this moment in Internet History or in real life. It’s not good enough of an excuse to say it was just being a teenager; I would have reacted so poorly to someone doing the same thing to me about what I liked. I doubt anyone from my high school reads my newsletter, but if you do and I made you feel bad for liking something, I am very sorry.

Shipping and FanFic Writing is Fandom

Now let’s take a second to talk about when people belittle you for being a fan “the wrong way,” nothing embodies that more than what the folks in the Fan Fiction or Shipping communities experience. For the uninitiated among you, “Shipping” is when you want 2 characters to become romantically involved with each other. Whether or not it makes narrative sense is often not the point. This isn’t by any means a new concept either; people were shipping as early (or earlier) as 1913 when a Novel titled “Old Friends and New Fancies” was published. This novel was a published fan fiction pitting characters from 3 different Jane Austen stories together, having the characters engage in relationships with each other.

Often you will hear a lot of anger thrown the shipping communities way for a variety of reasons, paramount among them is their disregard for “canon” relationships or characterizations. Sometimes, character traits are thrown out in order to fit the new custom narrative or relationship dynamic dreamed up by the author. They are harmless (for the most part) fictional narratives that engage the fandom in a niche way that suits their fancy.

Another longer function of shipping is as a part of Fan Fiction stories. These stories are completely original narratives written by fans around existing characters, locations, or universes. Fan fiction writers are incredibly important parts of any fandom’s ecosystem.

I talked about Twilight before this, well that series spawned a fan fiction which famously went on to be its own successful series of books and movies, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Sometimes, even keeping an entire show alive while it is off the air, like in the case of Star Trek and Spockanalia. Spockanalia was a fan “zine” (self-published, small circulation magazines/booklets of fan content); it was so important in the Star Trek fandom that it was officially recognized by Show Runner and Creator Gene Roddenberry. Fans would publish fan theories, stories, different character shipping stories, and even content from show writers. Gene Roddenberry would buy and provide copies of the Zine to the various production members of Star Trek during its original run. The Zine and others in the space were an important cog in the fandom machine when the show was first cancelled, its popularity was one of the reasons the show was eventually made into movies and a new series, “Star Trek: Next Generation”.

“After the third season, Paramount, NBC, and industry experts felt Star Trek was past. But the fans did not. They started clubs, organized conventions, published newsletters, and kept writing to Paramount to ask that Star Trek be revived. Through these actions, they kept interest in the show alive and flourishing. At last, fan efforts resulted in the Star Trek movies, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

These aspects of fandom are often brushed aside as outliers or, often, women are just horny for a particular character. Except in most cases, these are considered some of the purest examples of fandom. No one is forcing you to engage with these communities; they certainly aren’t asking you for your input.

Closing Up

Now, back to my retelling of the scenario where I dared to call Watchmen “good.” You’ll note I intentionally left the gender of the person who said it vague. Generally, in these situations, it is a man who is telling you that your opinion sucks. Doubly so if you are a woman and they catch a whiff of an opportunity to stink up the room with their unwashed cultured superiority.

However, in that scenario, it was a woman telling me to “read more”. They were likely implying I needed to understand better Alan Moore’s commentary on Super Hero Fascism and the modern comic industry as a whole. She wouldn’t have been wrong; the movie isn’t a good adaptation from the perspective of its narrative purpose. However she never expanded on why she thought I was wrong, had she I would have likely agreed with her. My loose opinion of Watchmen being one of the most accurate depictions of a comic book in movies was based entirely around visuals. There are countless scenes where the movie is in panel-for-panel parity with the comic. The tone is missing, the story was adjusted, and meaning was outright stripped away, but the film's visual aspect accurately depicts the color on the page.

The reason I didn’t include that information in my original post was that I was afraid of attracting those same misogynistic miscreants. I knew that if I painted this as some opportunity to instead gender-bash someone for their shitty behavior, those same comic book fans, who would have behaved the exact same way, would have come out of the woodwork to suck all of the air out of the room. And, in earnest, this was an outlier situation; in most other times where I have witnessed, experienced, or been told about situations where this behavior was on display, the perpetrator was a man. She likely could have had a myriad of reasons for not correcting me or refusing to expand on her point. I can only imagine the violent reaction she has gotten in the past for trying to correct men about comic book lore or provide a competing argument since she worked at one of the local comic book shops. Perhaps she didn’t mean to come off the way she did, wanting to disagree with my off-handed opinion non-committal and when I addressed it she didn’t actually want to participate. She is entitled to that; she doesn't owe me anything.

Another reason I left her gender out of the original post is that I tend to leave most of my posts void of gender/identity unless it is crucial to the point. You can see that in many of my memes or posts. Opting for “partner” instead of “wife” or “they” instead of he or she. I try to ensure that I am not inherently limiting the relatability of my posts to just one portion of the possible audience. Because you know what’s not cool? Excluding people from the conversation.

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