Gatekeeping in Pop Culture
We live in a time where everything old is becoming new again. Remakes and re-imaginings of properties are more abundant than ever before. Television shows have helped introduce a whole new generation to music artists that they may have never heard otherwise. However, this influx of new fans doesn’t seem to excite veteran fans; many worrying that their fanbase will become tainted or changed to accommodate a new audience. Certain veteran fans have taken it upon themselves to decide who is and is not allowed to join their fanbase, sometimes even excluding entire generations from their communities. These veteran fans also tend to draw a line in the sand between old or ‘original’ content and content that was made more recently; claiming that only a ‘fake’ fan would favor the newer content over that of the older.
This specific type of fan who excludes new fans is known as a gatekeeper. A gatekeeper, by definition, is someone who actively controls and usually limits general access to something. Urban dictionary defines it as “someone who takes it upon themselves to decide who does and does not have access or rights to a community or identity.” Gatekeeping is, by no means, a new phenomenon. However, with advancements in communication on a global scale, it has become increasingly more present in modern day society as fans can find and talk to each other from thousands of miles apart. Increase in accessibility and communication globally has led, also, to properties being remade and reintroduced to broader and younger audiences. All this combined has caused many fans of ‘original’ content to become territorial regarding their beloved property and the community it fostered.
One of the most recent and mainstream examples of gatekeeping comes from season four of Netflix’s Stranger things. The show introduced a whole new generation to the band Metallica; specifically, to their 1986 song “Master of Puppets”, which was played by fan favorite Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) during the dramatic climax of the season.
The Stranger Things fanbase, which tends to be on the younger side, rushed to stream the Metallica song, landing “Master of Puppets” back on the Billboard Hot 100 almost forty-years after its initial release. Although Metallica band members were ecstatic to see their fanbase growing, some fans who had followed the band for years were less enthusiastic. These veteran fans ran to Twitter to defend their titles as ‘real’ fans.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a few new incarnations, including a new comic and cartoon series. The Ninja Turtles have been in the public eye for over 30 years and has seen dozens of adaptations and remakes over that time. The franchise is a prime example of gatekeeping and gatekeepers of the franchise started to appear from the woodwork way back in 1987 with the release of the franchise’s first TV show. The readers of the original comic hate this cartoon for changing the characters and making the overall theme of the show more kid friendly than the original comics. Those that love the cartoon tend to dislike the 2003 series, claiming that it made the characters too serious. Those that loved the 2003 series then went on to criticize the 2012 remake due to the use of CGI. The most recent series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is hated by all these aforementioned groups, who claim that the changes made in the show are too drastic to even be included in the TMNT franchise.
Another example is from The Netflix series The Sandman, which is based on a comic book by Neil Gaiman. Like a lot of shows that are adapted from books, certain things were changed- either for dramatic effect or due to logistic impossibility. The objective with any adaptation is to attract both new and current fans to the series. New fans of the series are more than likely to check out the book now that they are aware of the franchise, and old fans can experience a long-loved property. Gaiman has warned hardcore fans that they are not allowed to gatekeep The Sandman saying, “It was made for the fans of the book as well as new fans to draw them into the world.” So, these “hardcore fans” were prepared to gatekeep the series from its actual creator.
The problem with gatekeeping is that, while trying to protect their versions of a property, gatekeepers fail to realize that new fans can increase the longevity of said property. Metallica has been touring for over 40 years, and those fans who grew up listening to their music can introduce and experience the band with a whole new generation. The Turtles have been around for over 30 years and have had numerous incarnations, and the franchise continues to thrive because of this. Sandman has been a successful comic book series for 35 years, and an adaptation on a popular streaming platform like Netflix will only help the book retain its notoriety.
By denying the newcomers into their fanbase, gatekeepers risk losing the very property they have worked so hard to protect. Gatekeepers have been around for as long as popular culture has existed, and they show no signs of stopping. As long as a property gets remade or discovered by a new generation, you can bet that gatekeepers will be there to prevent newcomers from entering their fanbase. What they fail to realize is, just because the new is coming in, the old is still there. The sooner they realize that the better off we all will be.