If you have been following us for any length of time, you have likely caught on that we here at Heavy Blog are an opinionated bunch. Yes, we obviously have many many feelings when it comes to all sorts of music-related topics, but unsurprisingly this also carries itself well over into the realms of other forms of art, media, culture, sports, and, yes, politics. Hence how we have wound up with this, The Void Screameth, where on the internet, nobody can hear you scream, but we can at least pound the keyboard until something legible comes out and hope that one or two other people read it!
Note: it’s just me, Eden, this month but by Jove, I will run just this one rant because it pisses me off so much. Your complaints can be sent to [email protected], thank you.
Will you please learn how to not like a thing?
Listen, I hate gatekeeping just like the rest of you; people should be allowed to enjoy things and there’s no good reason to demand that people have a certain amount of familiarity with the thing before enjoying it. Likewise, there’s not a lot of sense in checking the credentials of someone when they don’t like a thing; they just don’t like it and, regardless of who they are, why they don’t like it could be grounds for interesting discussion. However, just like all other fallacies, gatekeeping is something that actually has some truth to it but is taken to an unhealthy and harmful extreme.
Look at the Internet’s favorite fallacy, ad hominem. Attacking the character of a person is not always a bad argument: for example, if the discussion is over whether you should trust a certain person, showing that their character is bad rather than their reasoning is the whole point of arguing you shouldn’t. This is the same kind of dynamic as with gatekeeping; there should be a bare minimum for contextualizing, articulating, and expressing your enjoyment or unenjoyment of a thing. This doesn’t mean that your opinion is any less valid or “real” if you don’t meet that bare minimum; it only means that when you voice that opinion in a conversation about a thing, it’s harder to comment on, discuss with, and understand that opinion because it lacks context. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the thing you’re not enjoying, and you don’t take the time to understand why you don’t enjoy it, what parts of it don’t work for you, how they work with each other, etc. your comment will often not create fruitful discussion.
But here’s where the gatekeeping comes in: this shouldn’t mean that people who are outside a scene are those who most often lack context or lack desire to make thoughtful, meaningful comments. On the contrary, it’s those most within a certain scene (i.e, those doing the gatekeeping) that make the most asinine, worthless, and annoying comments. They don’t actually need to think about the thing they’re talking about; they are so ingrained within the scene/fandom/context/group that the thing is a part of that all they feel the need to do is wave some references around and call it a day. “This just sounds like shittier Metallica!”, “this is just discount Avengers :P”, “Good job, you made Thing but bad!”. These are all actual comments I’ve encountered, tweaked a bit so no one feels personally assaulted.
The ironic, annoying thing then is that those who do the most gatekeeping are those who should most be chucked out of the gates of any given community. Their lazy, reference-based way of speaking, the jargon they have assimilated through every one of their prevaricating pores, turns discussions into lazy comparison slinging contests. It’s often those that come from outside a certain genre or scene, that don’t have the immediate access to insider language, who put in an effort to look at things in fresh, interesting ways, especially when they don’t like that thing. Exactly because they’re not from within the scene/genre wherein the thing was made, they need to try more to articulate how they feel and what they think about the thing. It doesn’t always happen, of course; many drive-by criticisms come from outside a scene. But, more often than not, so-called “experts” are those who are flippantly quick to dismiss something without offering any sort of considered or interesting explanations for why they do so.
All of which to say, next time you’re talking about metal with metalheads (or comics with comic book fans or movies with film buffs, whatever), try to notice how many shortcuts you take when you express your dislike of a thing. Are those shortcuts useful or just bad habits you’ve learned over time? Do they enrich the conversation or are they just an easy way for you to quickly gather clout from not liking the agreed upon bad thing? Does your disagreement, your criticism, your dislike, deepen your relationship with the fandom at hand or just reinforces it as an in-group? Sadly, you’ll find that the latter is often the answer and that makes scenes, discussions, and disagreements boring, safe, and pointless. Instead, try to write your dislike of something without using buzzwords. If you’re comparing it to some other article within the same scene, try to explain what the differences and comparison points are. In short, try to explain yourself rather than just drive-by and score your cultural capital. Of course we all do that from time to time (I’m definitely guilty of it as well) but we should try to do our best to minimize that habit, for better, saner, more inclusive, and more interesting communties and discussions.