Gatekeeping is Bullshit: On the Survival of the Genre
The horror fandom is just like any other, in that it is filled with people who at least superficially love the genre and are always interested in learning more about the world to which they have pledged their attention. It's a world filled with fans and filmmakers, critics and casuals. It's a world of massive stars and microbudget movies, one in which sometimes a lack of critical or mainstream success can set you up for life because of the diehard fanbase that will spend their hard-earned money coming to see you at conventions and film festivals. It is also, unfortunately, a community rife with gatekeeping and toxic fans, people who try to do everything within their power to hoard the wonders of the genre amongst only the most diehard parishioners at the Church of Terror. However, I have something that I think that all fans of the genre, from the newest convert to the most hardened gorehound, needs to hear. Are you ready?
You are not special because you like horror.
Phew. That was hard to hear, right? Let me put it another way for those who didn't get it the first time.
YOU are not SPECIAL because you like horror.
Now I know what you're thinking. You're sitting there, staring at your computer screen, wondering who the FUCK this guy is to come in here talking shit about the genre upon which you've based your entire life. But here's the thing: horror is a genre of entertainment. Were you aware of this? That's right, folks. Horror is a form of entertainment, whether you partake of it through the written word or whether it is flashed frame by frame upon the silver screen. Now don't get me wrong, for my money, it's certainly the best form of entertainment, and one that I've dedicated thousands of hours of my time to promote and defend. But it is that last part, the defend part, that causes me to beseech any who would come across my words to consider the genre you hold most dear from a different perspective. In order to do so, I'm going to ask you one question. And I have to warn you, more than likely, no two answers will be exactly alike.
What is it that makes horror so effective?
Think long and hard about that question. Here, since we're all about repeating ourselves, let's try it one more time.
What is it that makes horror so effective?
Now for me, horror is effective because I have an absolute blast watching it. It's not about fear for me, and it hasn't been for a long time. Sure, there are things that still scare me, though the list becomes shorter and shorter the more I'm inundated with fresh ideas that are done to death or bloodthirsty killings that up the shock value beyond taste or reason. Hell, I'm a huge fan of jumpscares, that oft-derided genre staple that makes you roll your eyes after you're done reclaiming the edge of your seat. I'm scared of stalking slashers, disturbing psychological horror, and nihilistic worldviews that provide a distorted mirror image of my own. I'm scared of bees, tornados, and the credit bureaus. Ok, maybe that last part doesn't particularly apply to horror, but it's true nonetheless. I'm sure that my answer will be similar to a lot of yours.
For others, the answer will be wildly different. Maybe you're scared of survival horror, and there's nothing that gets your blood pumping like campers being pursued by the dangers of nature. Maybe you're terrified by ghosts, goblins, or ghouls that go bump in the night. Whatever your horror taste, be it vampires, zombies, or any other variation of undead creature that lurks in the shadows, it's different from any other horror fan on Earth. And that's the beauty of horror. What scares me doesn't scare you. In fact, it can't. Not exactly, anyway. Our backgrounds are different, our psychological conditioning skewed from anyone else's in a way that make each encounter different. Horror is an incredibly personal experience, a deep dive into your own inner psyche from the comfort of your couch or behind the screen of your cellphone.
What, then, gives you the right to demand that others have the same experience that you have? What makes you feel like you should be the only one on top of this holy mountain that we call horror?
The simple answer, of course, is that you don't. You don't have the right to say that someone else isn't a real horror fan because they've only seen a few movies and can't shut up about them. You don't have the right to insist that you are some magical keeper of knowledge because you've seen Mandy fifteen times in the last month. You don't have the right to say that someone is unworthy of being a horror fan because they don't want to listen to Ice Nine Kills, or watch professional wrestling, or decorate their house in black satin and Halloween decor, or or or or or.
Is it great that you do want to do those things? Sure! Entire industries have been built around these infatuations, and horror conventions are some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on. The Halloween aisle at TJ Maxx is always the busiest one, and god knows Spotify has every Type O Negative album you could ever want. These are wonderful things in a wonderful time for the genre we hold most dear. Every movie imaginable is streaming somewhere, and even old television shows are becoming available to the masses who weren't even alive when they were showing on the tube. This is a time for more togetherness, not less. This is a time where we should be celebrating these differences, appreciating that horror as a genre supports and encourages a wide variety of fans into this big melting pot of freaks that we have cultivated for ourselves.
You see, the horror community is built on this obsession, this need to find that one film that no one around you has ever heard of but is just so scary, you guys. It's the pursuit of new excitement, the dedication to finding something that is somehow different from anything you've seen before. Hell, sometimes it's watching the same film over and over, maintaining the same routine wherein you just have to be watching John Carpenter's Halloween as the clock strikes twelve on that very day. And it's amazing. My experience with horror is amazing! Your experience with horror is amazing! The fact that any of us, in a world filled with real horror, can sit back and explore our darkest fears and impulses without being thrown into a Soviet-era gulag is an outstanding exercise of free speech and thought! To think that some of us, some people who have made horror their lives, feel that they have the ability to denigrate and denounce those who would first dip their toes into the genre is absurd and it's harmful. And to be quite honest, it has to stop, and it has to stop now.
There are times when gatekeeping is absolutely acceptable. Like, for instance, if you're in charge of a very large gate. If you're not, keep your fucking mouth shut and let people enjoy what they enjoy. Be thankful that people want to partake in your hobby. Be appreciative when one of your romantic comedy-loving friends decides to give Saw a try. Recommend some new movies if they liked it! If they don't, recommend, uh... different ones! Horror is such an all-encompassing smorgasbord of variety that if you can't find a movie your friend will appreciate, send them to one of the thousands of message boards and websites (ahem) that can point them in the right direction. We need more horror fans, not less. And if you're one of the ones I'm talking about, one of the people who feel this need to stockpile your own reservoir of horror away from someone else? Well then, perhaps it's you who should go. Or not. Perhaps you should take off your silly mask, remove the stuffed raven from your mantle, and go watch a chick flick. Maybe it'll do you some good.