Being part of a fandom should be a positive experience for everyone. Unfortunately, gatekeeping can turn an otherwise friendly fandom into a toxic place very quickly.
Fandoms are communities of people who share a common interest in a particular TV show, movie, book or any other form of entertainment. These communities provide a space for fans to express their love for their favorite works and connect with others who feel the same way.
However, some members of fandoms engage in gatekeeping, which is the practice of limiting access to a fandom by setting arbitrary rules or standards for who can be considered a “true” fan. This behavior harms both the individuals who are excluded and the fandom community as a whole.
One example of gatekeeping in fandoms is the belief that you must have consumed all content related to a particular work in order to be considered a true fan. This requirement excludes individuals who may not have had access to all the content or who may not have had the time to consume it all.
This type of gatekeeping is common in fandoms with deep lore such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, Fallout, Skyrim, etc.
Another example is the belief that individuals who do not express their love for a work in a certain way or to a certain level are not true fans. This excludes individuals who may not have the same level of emotional attachment to the work or who may express their love in different ways. This frequently comes in the form of gatekeeping by bandwagon.
In Star Wars, some gatekeepers insist that true fans would never like newer editions of the franchise.
Imagine if the Star Wars prequels never existed. Star Wars would have continued to exist as a trilogy beloved to a generation of fans that have kids and grandkids of their own. There is nothing about Star Wars that newer generations could call their own.
Star Wars’ popularity would eventually fade, and there would be little reason to continue producing content, creating theme parks, or memorabilia to collect and enjoy.
Finally, we have perhaps the most egregious form of gatekeeping. The unnecessary quizzing and comparing of knowledge based on someone’s gender, background, etc. Women often encounter this type of gatekeeping within the gaming community, being treated as though they are visiting the gaming world rather than participating in it as an equal.
The harms of gatekeeping in fandoms are numerous, and they only serve to damage the franchise the fandom is about.
Firstly, it creates an unwelcoming environment for new fans or those who do not fit into the narrow definition of a “true” fan. This can discourage individuals from participating in the fandom community, which ultimately limits the diversity of perspectives and experiences within the community.
Secondly, it reinforces the idea that there is a right or wrong way to be a fan, which can lead to bullying and harassment of individuals who do not fit the mold. This behavior is not only hurtful but can also contribute to toxic fan culture.
Ultimately, this toxic environment drives away new fans and prevents the fandom from growing. Fandoms that can’t attract new members are doomed as fans eventually age out of the fandom.
So, what can we do to prevent gatekeeping in fandoms?
Firstly, we need to recognize that there is no one way to be a fan. Everyone has their own unique experiences and connections to the works they love, and these experiences should be celebrated, not policed.
Secondly, we need to actively work to create welcoming and inclusive spaces for all fans, regardless of their level of knowledge or emotional attachment to a work. This can be done by establishing community guidelines that explicitly prohibit gatekeeping behavior and by actively calling out individuals who engage in this behavior.
Gatekeeping in fandoms is harmful and can have a negative impact on both individuals and the community as a whole. By recognizing the harm that gatekeeping causes and actively working to prevent it, we can create a more welcoming and inclusive fandom community for everyone to enjoy.