Examining Fandoms: Gatekeeping & Labeling

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If we all just listened to the Doctor…

Whenever I dip my toe (and inevitable fall face first into) a fandom, I enjoy seeing how they work from the inside and how people work together. Do people write fanfiction? Real-person fanfiction? Do they make fan-vids or other fanworks? What are the popular hashtags, inside jokes and memes? Do Big Name Fans (BNF) exist? Are people generally good to each other or has the fandom divided itself and started labelling based on ‘ships, and opinions?  Do ‘right and wrong’ fans exist? As an example: blink-182 used to have Tom Delonge on guitar and now has Matt Skiba. There are fans that believe it is no longer blink-182 without Tom.

The first question that comes up inevitably, is how do these fandoms treat newcomers? It varies of course, no two fandoms are the same and some fandoms are exceedingly welcoming. One trend I have seen throughout my travels is that the longer a media exists the more opportunities for gatekeeping. There are of course exceptions to prove the rule.  

This post was brought about by my recent slide into the Queen fandom after seeing Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie side of the fandom is still quite new, but they like their gifs.

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It’s interesting how deeply the “I’m a real fan” complex goes. At the moment mine goes  to the point where it’s internalized gatekeeping. Even as I write this I feel the need to clarify to you that I was a fan of the band BEFORE the movie. Not a huge fan but I’ve heard a lot of their songs. That fact doesn’t matter, but I have to write it. It’s like a reflex that I think others will think less of me if this movie is what made me interested in such a great band. The movie is fantastic by the way, in case you were wondering.

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This fandom (the movie and the over-arching Queen fandom) surprised me, I was expecting something completely different. On tumblr, youtube comments, and twitter there are a lot of people making general posts reminding the “old school” fans of the band that there are going to be a lot of new Queen fans thanks to the movie and that this should be seen as a great thing. After all they love the band too, they’re excited to hear new music so they should be welcomed. I’ve seen more of this than of the negative to be honest and it’s refreshing to see. Of course, it helps that two members of the band are executive producers on the project and have given their blessing and I’m not looking in all the dark recesses. There could be plenty of people spilling vitriol, for now all I’m seeing are the positives.

If we get down to the obvious facts: Gatekeeping is wrong, and it’s such a weird thing to do. It’s actively trying to keep people away from the thing you love (that they also love) that you share with many other people based on made up criteria.

Gatekeeping: an Urbandictionary Definition – When someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity. This is also known in fandoms as someone saying, “Oh, sure you’re a fan, but you’re not a proper fan.”

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Why does anyone want fewer people enjoying the thing they love? That’s fewer people contributing to the fanworks and fewer people to talk to about the love you have for the media. Oh, and I’m going to use the term ‘media’ and ‘property’ to avoid repeating movie/book/band etc. to which a fandom belongs. 

In my experiences finding and entering a new-to-you fandom can be distilled down in three different ways. Each way is treated differently by different groups and all are perfectly acceptable. Hopefully all end up with you enjoying all the wealth a fandom and its community can offer. I won’t speak for everyone, that would be rude of me but the problem as I see it is, two of the ways involve the fan and active effort and one, while it does require the fan to act, is more passive. The passive example may also be seen by others as “less” or “not proper” because an outside source that is benefiting from the new fan is brought into the picture.  

To better illustrate, let’s relate getting into a fandom with getting over a high fence.

  1. One person climbing a fence – ACTIVE:The “Old School fans”. You find a property yourself * often when it’s just starting and “suffer” through the early days when it is not popular and doesn’t seem to have much of a following. You may be teased for liking it. Every change to the fandom AFTER you join may lend you a sort of reputation as you were a fan BEFORE. *Being introduced to a show as a child is seen as finding it yourself.
    Examples are: Classic Doctor Who, 1st run comics, bands before they “got big”.
    Essay 2 (2)
  2. Help from a friend – ACTIVE:A friend who is currently an established fan belonging to category 1 or 2 in the fandom shares the foundation knowledge of the media with you. Perhaps you have a marathon watch together or they talk about it so much you have practically watched it yourself and decide to check it out. Even if the fandom has evolved and changed due to a remake/reboot, people who areEssay 1 (1)brought in by established fans are generally regarded positively if they know the beginning stuff. They’ve seen some classic Doctor Who, they know facts from early in the property’s history. The person bringing them in will surely have schooled them with the basics. Newer properties may have less of these and more Category 1 people. Although a friend brought them to the fandom there’s a good chance they discovered the show on their own.
    New property examples might be: Brooklyn 99, The Good Place etc.

    Important to remember that: Female fans are often assumed to be in this category even if they fall into number 1. These fans are sometimes quizzed/assessed and regarded with suspicion.

 

3. “The Hollywood Effect” – Considered PASSIVE:

We are in a time of reboots, biopics, and remakes. With the Marvel and DC movies making comics more accessible, Doctor Who rebooting in 2005 and bands like Queen having biopics Hollywood is acting like the friend does in category 2. Except they’re taking money for it.essay-3-1.pngThese movies, books, and TV shows are making the introductions to the people who may have no previous relationship to the property. The “problem” is these introductions are thought of as lesser and not as “proper” as finding the show yourself or having a friend bring you in. Hollywood has a wide reach, they may summarize or making artistic choices. They bring a certain amount of authority, and may show only the “good” parts of a property.

Examples include: Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, long running bands, the Simpsons and anything else that was remade or additional properties licensed.

Hollywood gets you over the fence by “official” means and they just hand you the history of a property without all the digging, saving and spending other fans might do. 

That being said, you may ask: why is not being a part of a fandom such a big deal? After all that doesn’t stop you from consuming the media.

True. I can still watch Doctor Who even if I only started watching last week and someone online upon hearing this says I’m not a “proper fan”. In the internet age almost anyone can reach out and consume a media property, but it does make it less than palatable, or less rude if you want to make connections to other fans but can’t because someone is in your way. 

Gatekeeping often keeps people from fully enjoying a fandom, even if it doesn’t really keep people out/away from the property they enjoy. People naturally want to belong and make connections. (Of course there are exceptions) We want community, we want relationships, but we also want those relationships to be with people that enjoy the same things. If I write fanfiction I may want to be around people who also like to write and read fanfiction, or ditto for fanvids or graphic makers.

 

In a smaller fandom that may be the same people for all those things and everyone participates in different fanworks. Large fandoms may lean towards subcategorization to make these relationships easier to find. A great example comes from Doctor Who with labels like “Classic Who fans” vs “New Who Fans”. Labels can be wonderful and horrible things at the same time, use them with care and only if the person being labelled is OK with it. 

How someone enters into a fandom is a perfect way to subcategorize, I’ve just done it in this post. Identifying as a new fan is great as long as we remember that less time with a property doesn’t make them any LESS of a fan. Yes, they’re new, but before they came here they listened to every album in the span of a week. Yes, they’re new and… nothing, they’re just new. How much of a fan can only be quantified by that person if they even choose to quantify it. 

I haven’t been around any one fandom for a super long time with the exception of maybe Doctor Who, so I can’t say be more like one fandom over another. I do think that being aware of the gatekeeping/labelling can open a dialogue between fans and that’s a dialogue every good community should have.

What experiences have you had with gatekeeping and labeling in fandom? Were any fandoms particularly kind to you when you became interested in the associated property? Leave a comment. Dialogue people, dialogue!

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Reasons to Be a Frank Turner Fan

Because the only thing
That punk-rock should never really mean
Is not sitting round
And waiting for the lights to turn green
And not thinking that you’re better
’cause you’re stood up on a stage
If you’re oh, so fucking different
Then who cares what you have to say?

—– Frank Turner – Try This At Home

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I’ve just been to my sixth Frank Turner show. To some people I’m sure that seems like a lot and to others it’s a drop in the bucket when you consider that Frank has played 2331 shows as of his Edmonton show. (He keeps count) Sometimes I stop to wonder how I went from my friend Mick suggesting I might like Frank’s stuff (since I like punk and folk) to knowing all his songs and attending every show I could, but I’ve not come to one definitive answer. What is it about his music and the performances that has me going back time after time? Is it entirely the music? My first solo show was a Frank show, my first show in Vancouver and Calgary were Frank Turner shows. This show was another first, as I sat at a table interacting with strangers rather than awkwardly by myself.

I manned a table for Mable Syndrome giving out buttons & stickers and explaining what Mable Syndrome was from doors until the start of Frank’s set at just after 9 pm. At one point I was talking to two men who had stopped to ask what my table was all about. One of the men said he was a huge fan and the other said he had never even heard Frank Turner before; that he had been dragged to the show by his friend. He joked that old or new songs it would all be new for him. Talk turned from Mable Syndrome to the upcoming set.

“Are you a big fan? Haha, you probably are if you’re here! Tape Deck Heart is the best, it’s a perfect album, right? He probably won’t play it though, he’ll play all the new stuff.” The first man said in a hurried blur of words and I nodded. I said that I was a big fan, that I didn’t think he’d play JUST the new album and that while Tape Deck Heart was brilliant, I was rather partial to another album. I showed him the tattoo on my arm featuring the artwork for FT’s album Poetry of the Deed. The other man, the newcomer to the music seemed slightly shocked I had a tattoo. This was just a band, right? Hell, this was just a SINGER with a band. I was rather surprised but for a different reason, he was wearing a three piece suit to a show… Yet the fan and I shared a second of “of course she has a tattoo! Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are amazing!”

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The Swag Table

It would be easy to judge this enthusiastic fast talking fanboy based on the way he looked and spoke. Thankfully music can bridge the gaps of perception in society. Yes, it was possible to have a great conversation even if the guy had a rather dude bro fashion sense and struggled with talking AT people instead of talking to them. He was really nice though and took Mable Syndrome business cards for his girlfriend and himself. There was a brief connection there that was memorable enough that I remembered it and I’m writing about it now.

It was nice to see the other people at the show from a distance rather than from within the crowd. Smiles were exchanged between people passing each other. Nods between strangers who unbeknownst to either of them share a favourite song. When the set started there were little looks of knowing and the excitement that it’s starting right now and oh my gods he hasn’t played this song live in forever (or ever). That realization that you’re about to hear a song live for the first time is a wonderful, beautiful thing.

So, that’s one reason I keep going back to Frank’s shows. The music, performance and entertainment value are important, but they take a backseat to the connection you feel. The energy that thrums through the crowd as they sing along with someone who is on stage, but doesn’t appear to be BETTER than anyone else. He creates and knows the words, sure and he leads the singing, but you get the impression that if he just stopped singing the crowd would continue without him. The words mean something to each person there.

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Because there’s no such thing as rock stars,
There’s just people who play music,
And some of them are just like us,
And some of them are dicks.

I know I’ve quoted the song Try This At Home (which is quoted throughout this) before, but that’s because it encompasses what I think being punk is all about in a few lines. I know for the brief time that I’m at the show, surrounded by complete strangers that I can be myself.

For me these gigs are one of the few times that my anxiety melts away. The nervous energy that I usually have to channel into podcasting or writing gets exorcised by the music. I leave a show tired, sweaty and full of life. It brings out the best in people. Afterward the gig compliments seem to run like electricity through the merch line about both of the show and the people around them. “Oh wow, I love your hat/bag/hair/skirt!” “Wasn’t that show great?” “Did you see when Frank/Nigel/Tarrant/Ben/Matt did that thing that everyone laughed/loved?” Often it’s between people who seemed to have just met, or in a seated venue like the Winspear someone who you spent that time standing/sitting next to.

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Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls at the Winspear Centre on September 11, 2018. ©Eric Kozakiewicz Photography / Vue Weekly

It’s not like other shows. I can hear you rolling your eyes, but it’s true! At other punk shows I struggle with feeling that I’m not cool enough. I worry that I’m not tough enough, and that I don’t rebel enough. Here I feel punk enough, I feel like I deserve to be there. I feel included. I hear my favourite musician talking about how important it is to include others and to treat each other kindly and more importantly to keep doing it after the show ends. He encourages groups like Safe Gigs for Women, Ally Coalition and Mable Syndrome to have tables at his shows because their message is important.

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#bemorekind #frankturner

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Listen, I know bad things still happen, I’m not that naive. However, it’s still important to me and nice to hear that someone on a stage that people look up to, is saying important things about acceptance and kindness. The inclusion didn’t just stop at talk. There were people of all genders there with mohawks, pin & patch covered vests, high heels, club wear, and children wearing bunny onesies with Frank Turner hoodies overtop. The kids held the hands of parents with Frank Turner shirts that are older than the child. Yes there are still problems, but there is EFFORT to make that environment welcoming.

As an example, one of his songs had a lyric change from woman to person and that still boggles my mind. It made me so happy to hear it. I even mentioned it on Verity! which is a Doctor Who podcast, not my music podcast.

Because I’ve said I love you so many times that the words kinda die in my mouth.
And I meant it each time with each beautiful woman person but somehow it never works out.
You stood apart in my calloused heart, and you taught me & here’s what I learned:
That love is about the changes you make and not just three small words.
—– Frank Turner – The Way I Tend to Be

Who am I kidding? I knew this would devolve into a love letter for the music and the community Frank Turner has inspired and also for the Be More Kind message that his latest album is spreading. Maybe that’s the reason I’ll be there buying tickets every time he comes to town (or close by town), or maybe there are just too many reasons to count. I’m okay with that.

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So, quick turn off your stereo
Pick up that pen and paper
Yeah, you can do much better
Than some skinny half-arsed English country singer

‘Cause we write love songs in C and we do politics in G
We sing songs about our friends in E minor
So tear down the stars now and take up your guitars
And come on folks and try this at home.

Edmonton Setlist 

For more excellent pictures from the Edmonton 2018 show: Vue Weekly Live

Anxiety & What (Imaginary) People Think

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That’s me wearing the vest I tailored from a thrift store denim jacket, & most of the patches are made from an old shirt and paint.

I’ll level with you, I hate pictures of myself.

I take a selfie or someone takes a picture of me and I look at it and say, “that’s not me.” It’s not that I necessarily dislike the picture, it just looks wrong. What I see is not what I picture when I think of myself. A tiny part of it is stuff like my weight, but the bigger part of it is self-esteem laced with anxiety. My smile doesn’t look sincere, or I look completely uncomfortable despite feeling fine.

I know my self-esteem needs work, but I also know I’ve come a LONG way from the meek, scared, don’t rock the boat girl from small town Nova Scotia. Attitude wise I’m better, yet every picture I still see that side of myself and I haven’t been able to fix it. How can I make the outside look like the inside?

I’ve tried different things. Dressing more formally? Weird. Less feminine? I hit a combination masculine and feminine that I liked, but I worried that others thought it too masculine or too immature. Then, was I punk enough? Just like when I was scared to admit I was fangirling over Blink-182, these imaginary people (fueled mostly by my anxiety, the media and people criticizing new fans) whose opinions apparently mean so much to me, were holding me back.

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Start the Music! Podcast – Overdue Intro & Liner Notes

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Hey! Did you know I do a biweekly music podcast called Start the Music! that plays music from all different genres as well as interviews?

One of my reasons for starting a music podcast was to have the opportunity to talk to different people in different aspects of the music industry. Plenty of podcasts interview the musical acts, but I wanted to also talk to the people in the industry who support and help to create the music and who are often overlooked. (I interview bands, too!)

With twenty-four episodes already released (March ’18) and it’s 1st birthday rapidly approaching, there’s something for everyone. Consider this part of the liner notes for the podcast.

Where do I start?

  • Doctor Who fan? I talked to Doctor Who composer Dominic Glynn on episode 12.
  • Fancy yourself a photographer? You need to hear episode 8 about tour photography.
  • What does a sound engineer do? Check out episode 10.
  • Maybe you’re curious what it was like spending time with Green Day & filming while they created their album American Idiot, then listen to episode 18.
  • An interview with the first openly gay rock band? That’s episode 20.

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Product Review: BASKETCASE Eyeliner

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Some people asked me to let them know how the Basketcase eyeliner was. I started writing this as a facebook post and then it got away from me and became a full-on blog post. I tried the eyeliner out Saturday just for fun since I knew I didn’t have to be anywhere and then wore it to work today. No pictures because I’m still awful at applying makeup, even anti-precision black eye makeup.

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Good & Less Than Good Review

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Representation & My Search For the 13th Doctor of Bass Players

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I keep talking about music, in life and in this blog, because it’s what’s on my mind. I podcast about music, listen to as much music as I can (for the podcast and because I feel like I have 20 years’ worth to catch up on) and I love the fact that I’m practicing my bass at least every second day to stay sane not just because I “should”. So, with that in mind I wasn’t expecting thoughts about representation relating to Doctor Who and the new, upcoming female Doctor to necessarily enter into the equation because of music. I thought I had made up my mind and come to a fair point of neutrality even if I couldn’t quite understand why the gender of the Doctor was that important to these people. Wasn’t the most important concern whether she was the best actress for the job? (Spoiler: yes, and…)

The word representation was brought to me time and time again in response to this question. I thought I had a good idea of what representation meant.  I thought I was savvy on this kinda thing. I actively try to listen to bands and surround myself in people that promote positive messages, whether that’s fighting sexism, racism, homophobia, fascism and/or just making sure their fans know that treating others badly isn’t cool. It’s punk to call people out on that nonsense. I may have understood the definition of representation, but I didn’t understand the meaning.

So, I wasn’t expecting the frustration I would encounter when I was trying to find representation. I just wanted a band to watch & listen to that had a member that was like me. Could I not become a bassist as part of a band? Logically I knew that my gender shouldn’t stop me,  I can do anything. Still, there is a kind of magic of imagining yourself on a big stage playing perfectly while you struggle through the same song for the umpteenth time. I wanted to read about someone else’s struggles, give myself inspiration to keep practicing and eventually find a group. I knew picking up the instrument that bassists need bands; it’s not a solo instrument, so where were they?

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In the End, it Does Matter.

If what follows helps someone, anyone, even a tiny bit then it’ll be worth it. ‘Cause in the end, it does matter. You matter.

Warning: mentions of past thoughts of suicide & Chester Bennington’s death

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You almost never know how you will react when you learn about someone’s death. We like to think that we have a good idea, about whether we would cry or sob or just feel sad when we hear the news. Yet here I am wiping away tears, feeling like someone sucker punched me in the gut at work after hearing Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park had committed suicide this morning. Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park confirmed it on twitter as well as numerous trusted news sources.

Please understand, Linkin Park is a strange band for me.

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