Sometimes it happens. You walk into the local GameStop, or a comic book store, or you’re even at the movies watching the latest superhero flick that’s released, and there’s someone who gives you a look. That kind of look that growls: you do not belong here.
It might just be your paranoid imagination when the guy at the cashier looks you over and then asks, incredulous: “You know this is a horror game right?” Or when after the credits roll and you’re eagerly waiting for the extra features at the end but then the couple in front of you mutters about “mainstreamers” stinking up the theater. I’m talking about geekdom gatekeepers—and how they are, sadly, an expected hurdle, but one that doesn’t have to ruin the fandom experience.
Okay, to be fair, geekdom elitism isn’t anything new. Or well, elitism in any subculture isn’t a new thing, really. With interest in a Thing and the formation of a community around that Thing, it’s not so farfetched that walls are built. Sometimes, people get hurt and ridiculed when they express their love for a Thing—believe me, I was still into Pokemon and Disney films way long after my peers deemed it incredibly “uncool” and was teased about it to no end. Therefore, people who are hurt turn towards selectivity and exclusivity as a way to validate their love of a Thing.
The “us” versus “them” mantra can happily rally forces to drown out the haters.
Believe me, I get that.
And thus, I am personally saddened, but unsurprised when rallying cries against “fake geek girls”, “fake geek boys”, or “fakes” in general are taken up. I mean just consider it: after all those years of liking this Thing, now all of a sudden it’s grown into a multi-million industry that has (like it or not) successfully penetrated pop culture! Jerk guys who once tore apart my sketchbooks and berated my interest in anime and weekday cartoons can’t get enough of Batman and the Avengers. And girls who snickered at my uber lame interest in books beyond the reading requirements claim Jennifer Lawrence as their spirit animal, Katniss their hero.
No, the irony is not lost on me that those interests that labeled me as “outsider” are now something that just about anyone can gush over—and it certainly isn’t lost on those vocal members of fandom who create materials, such as this WonderCon t-shirt that recently got a bit of fire:
Just about everyone had something to say about it—my favorite being Greg Rucka’s commentary, and how sentiments like this are hurting geek culture. And honestly? I agree whole heartedly—I mean let’s be real here, why do we turn to geekdom and actively start to participate in it?
Because geekdom, geekery, fandom, whatever you want to call it is an escape. It’s where people can come together over an agreed upon Thing and find a community that loves and creates more content for this very special Thing that we—for many various and sundry reasons—set our hearts on.
Fandom, for me, was a much-needed escape. It was comforting to find that there are people out there—a whole world full of them in fact—who liked this Thing well enough to want to talk about it and who wanted to love it. It’s a pretty wonderful, empowering experience when you realize that you have an outlet for this Thing that you happen to like—that you can discuss, criticize, critique, and speculate to your heart’s content in a community that wants to hear about it. You know, instead of having a friend who politely kind of nods along.
However, in a surprising way, geekdom is both welcoming — bringing enough people into its fandom flocks that have spawned conventions, meet-ups, and other creative and even social endeavors — while also maintaining this weird sort of us-versus-them mentality. Instead of welcoming everyone with an interest in the Thing, we set parameters to measure someone’s worth, we need them to prove that they like this Thing just as much.
You can’t be a true fan of you only got into the Thing because of the movies. You can’t be a true fan if you want to question the Thing and open discussion to critique the Thing. You can’t be a true fan and want something more—like, oh I don’t know, more representation.
Otherwise, you’re fake, so stay out; you obviously don’t love the Thing enough to be worthy of it.
Fortunately, this “gatekeeper” mentality does not stand unopposed. In light of the recent policing of what makes a “true” fan, there have cropped up some pretty powerful campaigns to promote the real face of geekdom, or at least, recognizes the fact that geekdom is a pretty big melting pot of all sorts of people looking for escape, and looking for a community.
Projects, such as #WeAreComics, celebrate the comic as a medium and the fact that its audience isn’t a narrow sampling. Site-owner and contributor to ComicsAlliance, Rachel Edidin, created the project after another ComicsAlliance writer, Jennifer Asselin, was harassed for her critique of a comic book cover. In the true spirit of “geekdom gatekeepers”, Asselin received asinine comments and even violent threats that disparaged her for daring to critique the art. As one commentator claimed: Women in comics are the deviation, the invading body, the cancer. We are the cure, the norm, the natural order. (Ugh)
Called to action to speak out against this gatekeeping nonsense, Edidin and her team thus moderate the WeAreComics tumblr, dedicated to showing how diverse the comic community really is. From children to adult veterans of the penny-arcades and 70s-80s comic book eras, there’s been a big push for exposing exactly who consumes comics and why. For those of us who have to deal with, or have felt as if they do not “belong” at some point in time, it’s been a much-needed balm to bite the sting of exclusion by not only reading about similar stories, but the visual impact of seeing the fans rally together.
So what do you do when you walk in to grab something from the local store and happen to hear someone scoff or sigh?
Honestly, let them wallow in their narrow view of what it means to be a “geek.” Let them maintain whatever invisible gate they’ve got on lock to keep “fakes” out. But take comfort in the fact that you are not alone, and that the community at large is so diverse that there is space for you.
So rock on with your bad self, love that Thing you love, and take comfort in the fact that fandom is more diverse, and more welcoming, than a few naysayers may lead you to believe.