Feminist Aspie

Unpacking The Fandom Police

on August 8, 2014

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.



13 responses to “Unpacking The Fandom Police

  1. alexforshaw says:

    So many good points put across so well! Gatekeeping is horribly negative and it puts some fans (myself included) off interacting with organized fandom in any shape or form. I totally agree that if you like something *a lot* then you’re a real fan. Period. There’s no test you have to pass.

    Twelve? That rings a bell… I read an article on BBC News earlier about the launch of the new series and I’m getting more and more excited about it. Two weeks tomorrow and I can’t wait! 🙂

    • Thank you! 🙂 *continues waiting not-so-patiently*

    • notesoncrazy says:

      Alex, I remember recently you posted on your blog about how 9 was your favorite Doctor, and my first thought was “Go Alex! Way to have an unpopular opinion and not be afraid of professing your fandom!” Nine is not my favorite I admit (although who doesn’t love those ears?), but it is really crushing to me when someone talks about their love for Eccleston and the meanies of the Whoniverse call heresy for some reason. How does one person loving one aspect of a culture destroy the culture itself? Answer: it absolutely doesn’t.

      • I feel like with favourite Doctors and gatekeeping you can’t really win; unpopular choices do, of course, prove to be unpopular, but popular choices get you dismissed as “fake” and “too mainstream”. If you’re interested here are mine, chronologically: Two, Four, Nine, Ten. Please don’t make me actually sort out a preferential order!! 😛

  2. notesoncrazy says:

    Twelve twelve twelve! Wait…thirteen? Thirteen! Nope, not policing! I couldn’t call less whether he’s called “Twelve” or “Thirteen”, but I think it’s super fun to think about how he’s kinda BOTH! I’m so psyched. Clara is my favorite companion (an unpopular opinion among these gatekeepers you speak of) and I am SO EXCITED to see her interact with Capaldi, because I think it could actually be a lot richer than her interactions with Matt Smith, since he was very obviously a little stuck on Amy (because duh).


    • Yeah – I felt sorry for Clara watching the Doctor regenerate ignoring her in favour of an imagined image of somebody else!! I hadn’t really given the Twelve vs Thirteen thing much thought – now that you mention it, Thirteen makes more sense (and he was pretty much referred to as such in The Day Of The Doctor) but most people (myself included) seem to have gone with Twelve – I suppose it makes sense in a way for him to discount the War Doctor as he’s always done, but actually maybe he’d be less inclined to do that after the events of DotD?

      (I would much much MUCH rather talk about this than fandom gatekeeping, so thanks :P)

      • notesoncrazy says:

        It’s a really interesting discussion! There are a ton of reasons why he just FEELS like 12, but then with DotD stuff there are a lot of reasons why both the Doctor himself and Doctor Who fans would want to stop discounting the War Doctor. It’s fun to think about.

      • I get the feeling that officially the Wa Doctor will always be credited as such, making Capaldi Twelve, but now I’m not sure they’ve made the right decision on that count! The only other issue is that Nine, Ten and Eleven have always been numbered as such and it might be too confusing to change them now. Nine -> Ten -> Eleven -> Thirteen works though (and could open up the number twelve for John Hurt in terms of chronological order, even if he wouldn’t be Twelve officially)

      • *War Doctor, even!!

  3. David Howell says:

    Though not a Whovian myself, I have a corollary with my own (now essentially former) fandom – Deal or No Deal. (And it was in that fandom that I met someone who would eventually become my partner, and who is himself a Whovian…) Allow me to ramble on about this one a little, but… SO MUCH THIS!

    Scene-setting: I loved the first few months of Deal or No Deal almost unequivocally – there were still a few things I complained about, but they were broadly uncontroversial, even if I sometimes went too far in being cynical about the irregularities in the bank offers (probably because they were slow to develop, so I’d just settled into there being some sort of pattern then WHOOMPF there it goes and the “typical” offer generosity basically kept gradually changing throughout the show’s history).

    However, I couldn’t let one thing slide. A few months into the show, it became clear that the host, Noel Edmonds, was gaslighting contestants into taking risks – where once he talked up “timing” as the key to success, he now talked of “courage,” and contestants who played safe and missed out on a big win were criticised far more than those who took risks and failed, even though the former group almost always won a *lot* more than the latter. At first, everyone who noticed it presumed it was temporary until a jackpot win, and I was oddly relieved when the first one was spoiled, hoping it’d soon get better.

    It didn’t. It got worse.

    I get why it happened – British contestants are more risk-averse than most, judging from other shows, so it made televisual sense to tweak the sliders a bit in favour of fewer early Deals. But not this much, and not like this. And because the show started in the gap year I had because my mother gaslighted me into believing I wasn’t ready for university yet, I got *really* upset – I’d just made a life-changing decision under the influence of someone else claiming to be helpful but actually being selfish, I had *no* desire to watch that same process as daytime entertainment. So I stopped watching.

    I drew *quite* the arguments about this! I think people actually said “Why are you still watching?” (for most of that time I wasn’t, I was following games via fandom live text commentaries – I used to write a lot of those, later I used them as a way to separate the game I still loved from the show I now *so* didn’t). But I didn’t toe the party line (1), I think a lot of the fandom agreed with me but either felt I went too far or thought it was a price worth paying for the numerous dramatic games at the time (2a), my point was made partly out of concern over the impacts of inadvertently advertising gambling to children (2b, and notably most of the fandom’s youngest members were VERY in favour of big risks!), and I both liked and didn’t like the show as a whole, eventually settling into realising I most enjoyed it in text commentary form (both parts of 3).

    So yes, SO MUCH of this applicable to my fandom!

    (Incidentally, my mother *did* complain about Capaldi on the basis of age :p)

    • Thank you! I haven’t really been following Deal recently but I’ve seen quite a bit by chance and the coercive aspect is definitely something I’ve noticed, although maybe not that it was actually getting worse. It seems to happen to varying extents on a lot of gameshows, to be honest.

      • David Howell says:

        DoND got a lot better a few years ago, actually – coincidentally*, people take fewer risks now. Every so often it still does that, but it’s much more infrequent now. Sometimes the gaslighting even goes the other way…

        There are other shows that do it, yes. For me, The Chase is the absolute worst these days, although it still defeats me how a lottery show with a risk-reward element can be called “Who Dares Wins” – IT’S NOT EVEN THE FORMAT’S ORIGINAL TITLE, it was initially sold as “The Rich List” and aired a single disastrous episode in the US by that name. Aaaagh this annoys me!

        There’s not actually that many risk-reward shows now – I can only think of The Cube (where I definitely recall one episode where a decision to not take the money and run was made to look *really* coercive in the edit… Game shows get edited too!) and Million Pound Drop besides the shows I’ve already mentioned.

        The greatest ever game show for risk-reward element hilarity was 2011 ITV flop High Stakes. In each round, you had to avoid a number (from a list of seven consecutive, eg 5-11) that was randomly assigned, and you could either pick one blindly or get a “clue” the answer to which was the number to avoid (eg “what number Doctor was Christopher Eccleston?” would mean that 9 was the number to AVOID and you’d have to pick any of the others). The first round had just one number, but the second would have two (with the previous “avoid” number removed, meaning one fewer safe square) and so it would continue for up to six rounds. If you survived the round, you’d go up the money ladder – £1,000, £2,500, £10,000, £25,000, £100,000, £500,000. If you got it wrong, you’d go two steps down from where you were – so someone who played on past £10,000 and lost would go down to £1,000 (and anyone losing earlier would get nothing).

        Of course, clues were limited, so you would have to pick blindly (a blind pick was actually called “a risk” as a noun!) in order to get to the end. Guess how many clues you got at the start?


        Look up at the rules again, and work out what that meant.

        People could just take ten clues, get £25,000, and walk away. AND THEY DID. On some episodes, the host would lampshade the flaw in his own format and almost mockingly ask if the contestant would take another clue, knowing the answer. Then one contestant took their ten clues, got £25,000… And then got talked into risking it. On, essentially, a 2/7 chance of £100,000.

        (She lost.)

        I’ve saved the best for last here. That host? Jeremy Kyle. A former gambling addict.

        * not coincidentally

  4. Alex says:

    I suspect the reason some people are afraid of “fake” fans is that a) They are part of a group with low social skills (“nerds”) [nb: yes, I realise this applies to aspies too…but that is yet another discussion] and are used to seeing it as a way of meeting other people like them, hence they are afraid that if their thing becomes mainstream they worry they will once again be criticized for the same things (ie their social ineptitude, not their interests) but no longer have a shared interest or “safe space” they can turn to and b) People who invest energy into things for a long time may be wary that people who share only a superficial interest in something will suddenly abandon them if what they are a fan of goes out of fashion (eg pokemon, beyblades, S Club, myspace etc). The fake geek girl thing reminds of the thing about how girls are supposed to be better at hiding autism (if a girl looks popular or not nerdy enough, people assume her geekiness is a fad).

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