There are things worse than gatekeeping…


I have been very bad at writing any reviews of any of the genre series, movies, or books I’ve read in the last year. For instance, the last review I posted was for episode 4 of season 2 of Star Trek: Picard back at the end of March. Since then I’ve seen the rest of that series, watched the entirety of season one of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and the entirety of Obi Wan Kenobi, and season one of Ms Marvel… not to mention five novels nominated for the Hugo Award this year (this was the first time in a while that only one of the books that made the short list was one I nominated and therefore had already read!).

In other words, there have been a lot of things that I ought to have written reviews of in the last five-six months that I haven’t.

Most recently, I binge-watched season 1 of the Netflix adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. This isn’t going to be a full review. The series adapts the first two graphic novels in the comic series, Preludes and Nocturnes (issues 1-8), and The Doll’s House (issues 9-16; unless you have the first edition, which included issue #8 even though it had been in the previous graphic novel for various reasons). There was at least one stand-alone story in those two volumes which isn’t included in the series, but that’s a detail for a real review.

If I ever get around to writing one.

I think the series is very well done. I think the casting of the characters is brilliant. As a fan who read much of the original series in individual comic books back in the day, I have quite loved it.

There are people who don’t. There are people who claim to be fans of the original series posting angry reviews of the series–reviews that make it fairly clear that they didn’t actually read the original series. Because the recurring theme in all of the angry reviews I’ve seen so far is: why are there so many gay people in the story?

The original comics had every single one of the queer, gay, lesbian, trans, and even nonbinary characters that are in the TV series. They haven’t been added for modern day "wokeness." Mr Gaiman didn’t always use modern terminology to refer to some of the characters’ orientations and gender identities back in 1989 when he started the comic series. And yes, in the original comics there were elements around some of the queer characters that many view as problematic. But, for instance, Dream’s younger sibling, Desire, was very explicitly referred to by other characters and the narration of the original comics as "they" and explictly referred to as being neither male nor female but both and more from the beginning (which makes sense, as the Endless are anthropomorphic manifestations of mortal concepts, and Desire specifically represents/ embodies/incarnates the desires of all mortal creatures in the universe–not just straight white neck-bearded fanboys who spend their free time arguing about comic history minutia in the backroom of comic book stores).

There is a temptation to put these hot takes in the same category as the idiots who ask when Star Trek became political (that would have been September 8, 1966, when the very first episode of the original series aired). People who watched the original Star Trek series as episodes being syndicated on television during the 70s and 80s (and who were children at the time) didn’t understand the politics that were being referenced. It went over their heads. To the extent they did notice they probably just absorbed it as platitudes. So it’s sort of understandable (if not excusable) that some Trek fans can be surprised when they notice similar moralizing or critiquing in more modern incarnations of the Star Trek.

But I don’t know how anyone could have read the original Sandman and not noticed that the Corinthian was gay. Or that Hal was a drag queen who mentioned an ex-boyfriend. Or that Alex Burgess (son of the Magus) was very gay and even explicitly talked about his sexual awakening when he gave in to a crush on a gardener. I could keep going.

It’s okay if they don’t like the series. It’s even okay if they read some of the comics when they were younger and didn’t remember these details. I mean, to me it tells me they are either extremely stupid or intensely deep in denial–but denial is a powerful thing, so it isn’t inconceivable.

The issue is that a number of these folks appear to be review bombing the show with all their anti-gay vitriol. Which one can only interpret as a conscious attempt to keep anything more like this current series from being made, and to discourage similar endeavors by others.

Which gets us to the title of this post, and the sentiment expressed in the image I attached above. There are things worse than gatekeeping. One of those is trying to prevent other people from seeing/reading the kinds of stories that they want simply because those stories aren’t to your liking. There is a strong feeling among certain types of so-called fans that anything they don’t like shouldn’t exist, and if it does exist, it should not be praised or lauded and so forth.

Which is sort of ironically funny. Because while I’m willing to believe that a tiny percentage of these upset people really did read at least a few of the comics/graphic novels some years back and just didn’t understand what was going on–I’m quite certain that most of these guys claiming to be fans of the original are simply lying–and they are lying about being fans of the original because the original series is a much-lauded and award-wining comic series.

I mean, yeah, some of them are lying because they are the kinds of fanboys who don’t want any sci fi/fantasy that caters to queer people, or that doesn’t agree with their extreme rightwing politics, et al. But a lot of the others fall into this ironic category. The Sandman has been referred to as a classic. One issue of the comic series even won a World Fantasy Award (and some folks were so upset about a comic book winning the award that they changed the rules so it couldn’t happen again). The comic series won literally more than two dozen Eisner Awards. It’s won a Bram Stoker Award. Individual issues and graphic novels have been nominated for (and at least once won) Hugo awards. It has been declared by more than one authority the best comic series, ever.

So I am quite certain that there exist a bunch of fanboys out there who have never cracked a single cover of the original comics (oh, maybe they read some of the spin-offs and such written by people other than Gaiman in the years since, or they watch the Fox TV series Lucifer which was very, very, very loosely based on a couple of characters out of the original comics) but who have claimed for years to be Sandman fans, because so many other people say the series was so good.

And it was. And still is.

I realize that there is a way you could look at my rant here as a form of gatekeeping, because I am mocking these guys who are claiming to have read the original series when it is crystal clear that they haven’t. But gatekeeping isn’t about fact-checking, it’s about misusing the concept of fact-checking to tell people who are enthusing about a book or movie or series that they are are liking these things incorrectly–they are the wrong kinds of fans.

I am not pointing at people who are clamoring to get into the Sandman fandom and saying that they aren’t welcome. I am pointing to people who are screaming about how much they hate The Sandman and insisting that anyone who does like this thing they don’t like is the wrong kind of fan. Which is a different thing all together.

They are free to dislike it. That are free to say they dislike it. They are free to go watch something else.

What they shouldn’t do is try to stop other people from liking it. And they shouldn’t be lying about their past experience with the story in order to try to add fake gravitas to their hateful, homophobic screaming.

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