Fandoms and Cultural Gatekeeping

An often underexplored and poorly considered aspect of society is information transfer. Fundamentally it is what distinguishes us from other species. The ability to transfer concepts, information and skills horizontally from person to person rather than relying on evolutionary development to hard code them into our DNA. It is often that you think about how exactly you know something or get access to particular information. Maybe a friend told you, or you read it in the newspaper, or it was discussed on daytime television or potentially an article appeared on your Facebook newsfeed. But where did that information come from, and then where did that information come from. Eventually the information had to start somewhere, but there are so many steps in between that it can become almost impossible to determine.

The people in charge of this process are referred to as “Gatekeepers” it is their job to analyse the multitude of information and decided what is important enough that it warrants the population’s attention and what should be relegated to the back page. This gatekeeping exists in almost every form of media and communication from newspapers, to television to the internet. The only exceptions are forums intended to preserve free speech in which nothing is silence or removed; although this too has its own issues. Fundamentally gatekeeping is a necessary part of society, there is too much information to be readily consumed and it makes sense that journalists and governments would prioritise particular content. However, it is also particularly easy to (if a person is so inclined) to withhold particular information.  

Interestingly, the advent of the internet has made it much harder to gate keep information effectively. The internet gives people access to such a large amount of information it becomes almost impossible to filter it effectively. Certain countries, such as China, attempt to do this by banning certain sites entirely. But outside of those extreme scenarios there are too many options for people to gather information to effectively gate keep. This has led to advantages and problems. It has become harder to silence information, and people such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have the opportunity to leak documents that companies and governments would rather be kept private. Alternatively, there is no arguably too much information and no real way to trust what you’re reading to be true. This is why there has been an increasing market for people such as Youtube science communicators, as it provides a source of reliable information. The point must be made however that whilst censorship is a form of gatekeeping, not all gatekeeping is censorship.

As an extension from this, due to the internet allowing for increased spread of information, cultural boundaries have started to blend as well. People now have access to multiple forms of entertainment that they didn’t know existed before; and consequently, some of the cultures have pushed back. Not all cultures are willing to share their enjoyment and have doubled down on gatekeeping. A big example of this is “Nerd Culture/Fandom”, the idea that if you didn’t read comics before the Marvel Cinematic Universe became mainstream, then you can’t start now. A minority of this culture attempts to withhold information in an attempt to keep their enjoyment to themselves. This cannot last, and it really should exist in the first place. There does exist the potential for cultural appropriation due to the difficulties of modern gatekeeping, but outside of religious and ceremonial beliefs, this isn’t an issue. And as much as some fandoms and cultures would like to stops new people joining them, they really can’t.


Shoemaker, P. J., & Vos, T. P. (2009). Gatekeeping theory. New York: Routledge.

Singer, J. (2006). Stepping back from the gate: Online newspaper editors and the co-production of content in campaign 2004. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 83(2), pp. 265-280. doi: 10.1177/107769900608300203

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