Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Gatekeeper Mentality

It's interesting how things can come at you suddenly from different directions.  You discover something exists and then suddenly everyone is talking about it as if it's been around forever.

Fandom (Geekdom?) Gatekeepers just appeared on my radar.  Apparently there are people out there who feel it is their duty to decide who is, and is not a fan.  Or perhaps even who may be and may not be a fan.  In the course of the last couple of weeks my webward wanderings have taken me to a number of different articles on the topic ( is a good example, as is

Now don't get me wrong.  I've known people like this, in many many areas.  Growing up in the Christian church is amazingly instructive on Gatekeepers.  I'm quite damned to hell because I believe in infant baptism, am not a pacifist, think dancing is ok (although God should grant me points for not inflicting my dancing on the world).  I don't believe what these Christian Gatekeepers believe, so I'm not one of them.

I've met similar types in fandom, but I simply wasn't really aware of the impact they've had on others.  Of course I'm not a 'True Fan' of anything.  I've been to one SF convention as an attendee.  David Weber was the Guest of Honor and I'm closest to being a 'True Fan' there than anywhere else.  I've helped with a couple of gaming conventions, and of course I've been to a few conventions as part of Castle Games.  So while I'm not a big convention goer, I do circulate in the community.

In addition to all that, I spent a few years running a team of young gentlemen and one or two ladies who provided technical support.  While they weren't all geeks, there was a disproportionate representation (Sorry guys... and Sally).

Which means I have a fair bit of contact with fandom.  I consider myself part of it.  I certainly have run into some 'True Fans' in my time.  But I guess always dismissed them in the same way I dismissed someone ranting about how the hymnbook had to be blue, not red.  They were passionate in their beliefs, but it wasn't something that truly concerned me.  I never realized how much they might drive others away.  Reading stories of the kind of harassment people face from them stunned me (see the comments in for some rather egregious examples (note that Mr. Scalzi's article makes more colourful use of language than is my wont)).

So why am I stunned.  Why does this surprise me?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are 'True Fans' out there trying to build walls around their fandom. It's actually a very natural human trait.  We've been defining ourselves as 'we' and 'they' since Paleolithic times (oops, damned again because I don't believe that Genesis is a literal history).  Human beings form groups and discriminate against all who are not part of that group (Look at the work of Henri Tajfel if you doubt that).

Yet, when I think of fandom in the area of speculative fiction, I've always had a fairly optimistic view regarding tolerance and inclusion.  Sure, some fans can be a bit exclusionary when it comes to soap and water, and overly inclusionary when recounting how their half-elf wizard/assassin slew the dragon single handed.  But I've always thought that embracing the breadth of thought inherent in speculative fiction should drive people to accept rather than reject.

The true triumph of humanity has been our ability to live above our base instincts.  We have achieved works in the physical, social and spiritual realms that transcend our Paleolithic roots.  We are far more than the near primates huddling together in fear of the dark 'other'.

If anyone should see that, if there are any people who should be driving that ascension of humanity, it is those who embrace the expansiveness of speculative fiction.  I suspect (hope?) these 'True Fans' would be aghast if someone was denied entrance to their clique for being a Christian.  They would never dare say "You're not a true fan, you're Japanese!"  I suspect they'd vehemently oppose such discrimination.  But then I also suspected they'd embrace any hint of curiousity about their interests rather than pushing people away.

Maybe my suspicion is more of that optimism.

I hope not.

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