What’s So Bad About Gatekeeping Anyway?

Quite often I find myself involved in concerns over gatekeeping.  Sometimes this is a literal task.  For a considerable portion of the time I spent in Thailand, for example, it was my daily task to wake up before breakfast and unlock the gate so that people and traffic could move into the school where I taught, and in the evening at lights out it was my task to lock the gates for the night.  Students out past lights out got in significant amounts of trouble, and so on and so forth.  While perhaps few people have been literal gatekeepers [1], issues of gatekeeping are very common in our world, and it is a subject that I find myself dealing with repeatedly in one sense or another.  By and large, I have considered gatekeeping to be an important task, if not necessarily a very exciting or glamorous one, whether it was done literally or figuratively.

There are some people, though, who find matters of gatekeeping something to prompt a violent response.  Yesterday while I was on social media talking about what is considered to be pop music and what is not considered to be pop music, someone else involved in the conversation commented that he had felt angry enough to kill someone who argued over the legitimacy of a certain cajun dish as to whether it was or was not authentic.  As someone who gets my cajun food fix by going somewhat frequently to Popeye’s to eat, I am perhaps not the best judge of what is and is not authentic cajun food.  My maternal grandfather was fond of okra, a food I loathe, but which I understand to be rather integral to the cuisine as a whole.  Much of the rest of the cuisine consists of food–like bacon for collard greens or crawdaddies, that are not fit to eat by the standards of God’s laws–which again means I do not concern myself greatly with the authenticity of such cuisine.  Even so, I am not offended by the existence of gatekeepers who wish to preserve authenticity within a given area, even if it happens to be an area that I do not particularly care about.

I hate stated previously that I am someone who regularly praises cultural appropriation.  The fact that someone wants to steal/borrow/adapt something of a culture means that the culture being appropriated has something that other people want to share in despite being others and outsiders.  So long as proper credit, in honor and money, goes to those who are providing the culture, I do not think culture is something to be hoarded and protected but something to be widely shared.  Yet it is true that those who appropriate a given cultural artifact will seldom do so in exactly the same way that it is made by others.  Perhaps tastes and the availability of resources will dictate a change, similar to the way that chili tastes very different in Texas as in Cincinnati (see, for example, Gold Star Chili).  If Ohioan chili tried to market itself as exactly the same as Texan chili (it is not the same), there would be a problem, but so long as both of them recognize a distinction between them, then I and other people who eat chili can enjoy the type of chili that we most want at a particular time, not considering either of them undeserving, but appreciating the ability to distinguish among the various varieties.

The same principle manifests itself when one is looking at genres of music or literature as well as one’s favorite cuisines.  Polenta is as authentically Italian as pasta, for example.  Chicago blues is as authentically blues as the delta blues of Memphis or New Orleans.  Amish romance is as authentically romance as Harlequin romance or Regency romance, although all three are very different sorts of romances.  There are likely to be separate gatekeepers for different genres or different regional cuisines.  The same person is unlikely to have the sort of insider status or depth of knowledge to be a gatekeeper for very many things simultaneously.  And it should be noted that gatekeeping is something that people take very seriously–one cannot make Champagne outside of the Champagne region of France, no matter how close a bottle of bubbly wine may appear to the genuine article.  It may be inconvenient for people to have to deal with the fact that they do not like authentic Tex-Mex cuisine or nerdcore music, but those within a community are well-equipped to tell everyone else what does and what does not accept their own standards, just as everyone is well-equipped to pick and choose among what elements of an authentic culture are suitable for appropriation and popularization elsewhere.

That is the joy of gatekeeping, in that the gate is open both ways.  If you desire authenticity in your cultural experiences, whatever they may be, the gatekeeper informs you of the standards that are required to pass muster on the inside.  If you do not desire to meet those standards, you are not obligated to do so.  You are simply obligated to remain outside.  The price of insider status in a community is accepting the norms and standards of the community and being accepted by that community.  Perhaps it may hurt our feelings not to be accepted by those we want to be a part of, but that sort of rejection is all too common in this life.  The gate, however, also allows what is inside the culture to be shared with and appreciated by the outside world, and one can certainly be inspired or influenced by other communities without being beholden to the way they do things–and so long as you recognize the influence and do not pretend to be anything other than an appreciative outsider, no one else has the right to complain about how you have transformed what you have found according to your own tastes and preferences, as long as you recognize that it is something else than what you found to begin with.

[1] But see, for example:





About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to What’s So Bad About Gatekeeping Anyway?

  1. Pingback: Book Review: A Student’s Guide To Literature | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: On The Unseriousness Of Human Affairs | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Still The Best Hope | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Is That Country Enough For You: Old Town Road And The Gatekeeper Problem | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: On The Ubiquity Of Gatekeeping | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s