If the first thought you had after reading the title of the article was who is we, I apologize immediately for invoking the collective. But it had to be said.

Gatekeeping is a term that certainly feels like it was directly spawned from some dark corner of the internet. As it turns out, the concept has a surprisingly more academic origin. The theory was first instituted by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1943, before expanding from there. He proposed that we as a society instinctively limit the access or roles of others- a boss possessing more information about the company than a lower-ranked employee, for example, or an editor deciding which stories are printed or covered.  These are the less insidious cases. Gatekeeping in a modern context, however, is a different story. As we progress, so do our human social constructs, and the term has become more concentrated in a single, area-wide usage instance; specifically in the split between “real” fans and fake ones.

I think it’s safe to say- albeit another example of me risking collective statements- that we as a society all enjoy something. Sometimes it’s eclectic, like rock-collecting or something along the lines of a My Strange Addiction three-time star. Other times it’s something mainstream like [Insert something you believe is mainstream here so I don’t become a hypocrite in my own opinion piece.]  Nonetheless, there’s surely nothing wrong with enjoying things with other people- that isn’t the issue. The issue is when people see themselves as in a position to reject others, the aforementioned ‘proud gatekeepers’, over arbitrary details. They see themselves as holding the kingdom keys to a piece of media and ultimately assert this authority by putting down others.

Here’s the open secret; we’re all complicit.

 Ever had a sibling like a piece of media you had, and felt blinding, Barbie-snapping rage? Or a friend who ‘copied’ all of your favorite things? As Lewin asserts, it’s easy to see ‘fake’ fans as people not worthy of sharing your interests- someone tangentially aware of a movie then calling themselves interested in it is irritating, insulting even. We’re primed to take it personally.

The problem is that gatekeeping reinforces societal roles that we should not be giving heed to. Men who believe women can’t play video games or be interested in comics, turn to gatekeeping to bar us out. People of color are reduced by claims of “diversity” hires, tokenized by consumers. Here, we can see the truth crystal clear; the seemingly irrelevant symptom of “fake fans” stems from the root of an unfair hierarchy with similarly unfair power dynamics. By barring the gate to others, we become that system's accomplices. 

For clarification, this is not a villainization of all people who gatekeep. Sometimes practices are closed, traditions are sacred, and that is the way the world should be because they are exactly what the system was intentioned to suppress. No this call for an apology comes from, at its heart, the fans who enjoy something having no right over each other’s levels of enjoyment. Why do we laugh at people who, in the end, are just trying to join in?

To anybody who’s been called a fake fan, this is my apology. [You still need to actually watch the prequels though.]