Here we go again: about two weeks from now, I will be incessantly bouncing off the walls because of the impending new series of Doctor Who… Actually, I’m doing that already. Oh dear. It’s going to be a long couple of weeks. Anyway, since I started this blog, there’s been a recurring pattern of “exciting Doctor Who thing happens —> I see loads of fandom gatekeeping —> I rant about it on here” and, as I ended up reading Facebook comments this morning, this is no exception. So, let’s get rid of a few elitist myths about fandoms so we can all get back to, you know, enjoying them.
1.) You’re not obliged to toe a party line. Love a series, episode, character, film, scene, album, song… aspect of the fandom that everyone else hates? Or vice versa? Fine. Fandoms don’t have to be hive minds. (We have Daleks for that.) It doesn’t mean you’re not a real fan, or that you’re somehow less intelligent as many fandom elitists like to imply, or that you’re wrong. Basically, you’re allowed to enjoy things, or not.
2a.) You’re entitled to your opinion – and others are entitled to criticise it. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not the only one entitled to an opinion. More generally, this line of thinking is often used to defend bigotry; for example, someone may justify their homophobic view with “free speech, I’m entitled to my opinion”, then when it’s called out dismiss the criticism as an attack because “free speech, I’m entitled to my opinion”. This happens pretty much everywhere, including within fandoms. Also, see point 1, we’re not Daleks, etc. 2b.) Some opinions are more potentially harmful than others. Basically, there’s a difference between “actually, I thought that album was okay” and “actually, I thought that sexist joke was okay”; only one of those may contribute to the perpetuation of an existing oppression.
3a.) You’re allowed to like problematic media. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be allowed to like anything. The “fans vs feminists” divide isn’t real – you can be both! 3b.) You’re allowed to NOT like problematic media. This doesn’t make you humourless, or a spoilsport, or a killjoy, it just means you don’t want to put up with kyriarchy – and, of course, you shouldn’t have to.
4.) You’re allowed to criticise the media you love. To give a personal example, there have been several occasions when I’ve discussed sexism within Doctor Who and/or the fandom on Twitter, only to be met with the response that I’m picking on it. Apparently, I should be focusing on all of media all at once, but anyway: I talk more about Doctor Who because it’s where I actually know what I’m talking about. I talk more about Doctor Who because, well, I bloody love Doctor Who. That’s why I’m bothering to discuss it. That’s why (for instance) sexist tropes and fandom gatekeeping sadden me. If anything, criticising the media you love is a compliment; it means you believe it could be even better.
5.) You’re allowed to be late to the party. If you’re a fan now, you’re not less of one for not being there from the start. Going back to Doctor Who again (sorry…), us under-50s were all late to the party, many new Who fans haven’t seen any classic Who, and (while I’d thoroughly recommend classic Who) that’s okay.
6.) Mainstream isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Older fans of long-running fandoms such as… you can see where this is going, will remember a time when fandom and geekery were shameful and secretive. Nowadays, this isn’t really the case at all. As a younger fan who doesn’t really remember otherwise, I find it really interesting to hear about all that stuff, but sometimes it does inadvertently veer into “these darn kids are getting something for nothing” and, well, surely that’s only a good thing?
7.) (heavy sarcasm in this one) HUGE REVELATION – You’re allowed to be attracted to characters/actors. Yes, even if you’re *GASP* a woman. Furthermore – and this may sound astonishing to some – it is entirely possible to be attracted to characters without it being the central reason you are a fan. And even if that was the reason you got into the fandom in the first place – does it really matter? Shockingly, you don’t actually have to choose between being attracted to people and appreciating what they do, being attracted to characters and also liking other characters, etc, etc. You can still be a fan. Note how it’s only ever female sexuality which is ridiculed as shallow and used to dismiss women within the fandom (no change there, then). And for the record, you’re also allowed to not bother with any of that.
8.) If you like the thing, you can call yourself a real fan. Seriously. That’s all it entails. You don’t have to buy X pieces of merch, or go to X number of events, or know absolutely everything there is to know about it, or have seen/read/listened to/consumed every last bit of related media that exists, or cosplay, or write fanfic, or read it, or anything else. You’re allowed to get things wrong. You’re even allowed to call the Doctor “Doctor Who” or even “Dr Who” – I mean, the original credits did. It doesn’t matter. You just need to like the thing.
9.) You’re allowed to be a casual fan! You’re allowed to just dip into an episode every so often and not care about missing out. You’re even allowed to just wear the T-shirts without knowing all that much about the band. Yes, really. Doing so doesn’t hurt anybody.
10.) Be wary of false panic about other fans. Again, I’ll stick with what I know for this one. I’ve seen so much OUTRAGE about fans thinking Peter Capaldi is too old… but I haven’t actually seen one person say Peter Capaldi is too old. I’ve seen so much fangirls (and it is always girls, see point 11) for apparently referring to Matt Smith as “the third Doctor”… but I haven’t actually seen a single person do that. I’ve seen several posts angry at fans trying to change the fandom name… but I haven’t seen anyone outside those posts actually doing so. There’s a lot of faux-outrage out there.
11.) Question who benefits from this gatekeeping/elitism and how. Even if “fake fans” existed, they wouldn’t be hurting anyone, so why is there all this fuss? Note how quite a bit of this gatekeeping specifically references “girls”, “teenage girls”, “fangirls”, but note also that even when it doesn’t, it’s often coded as being aimed at women (teenage girls in particular) through references to fandoms seen as female-dominated (One Direction being a popular one) and mocked accordingly. Look into the “fake geek girl” trope, and pay attention to double standards.
12.) I’M SORRY, DID SOMEBODY SAY TWELVE