Gatekeepers at the Holidays

A few words of warning, in advance. This one’s a bit of a long walk, but please, do give it a shot. I hope you might find something in my rambling worth carrying with you.


Maybe I have not been paying as close attention this year as I usually do so I just missed it, but it seems the whole “War on Christmas” thing has run out of steam a bit. Based on that, part of where I take this post might seem a bit like beating a dead horse or pushing around someone much smaller than me, but, so be it. The sooner we can put the “War on Christmas” into the ground for good, the better.

I was thinking about that today because I was contemplating what a big year it has been for gatekeeping in nerdom (geektropolis, pop culture obsessed-ville, whatever you want to call it). Most of the year, of course, it has been video games and the stewards of Gamer Gate for dared, for instance, proclaim that they were not, in fact, dead. And to prove it, they leaked women’s home addresses, phone numbers, and so on onto the internet. It was, supposedly, about (say it with me now) “ethics in video game journalism” but mostly seemed about keeping video games safe for the people they had always been safe for.

Comics was much quieter than usual on this front, but then, a week or so ago, there was a bit of a dustup about cosplayers (that is, individuals who dress as their favorite characters for conventions, comic book store events, or just to take pictures) and whether or not they were “real” fans.

Gatekeepers, of course, say no. Just as they say newcomers are “noobs,” women are “fake geek girls,” and computer games like Candy Crush are not real games and also a threat to real games because, well, you know.

Which brings us back to Christmas. Honestly, I promise it does.

When the “Keep the Christ in Christmas” thing first began, I remember thinking it was a bit of self-policing. That is, it was a message from some Christians to other Christian to remember that the holiday we were celebrating should be less about Black Friday sales and more about, say, Advent. Less about beating the snot out of your fellow parent-types for a Tickle Me Elmo and more about “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Perhaps I was just fooling myself.

Either way, somewhere along the way it became a cudgel, a thing intended to push out the unworthy. Keeping Christ in meant keeping some out seemed to be the message. The gatekeepers were here to make sure only the faithful were trimming the tree.

Simultaneously, of course, we were demanding that anyone who dared say something besides “Merry Christmas” was an enemy of freedom. Thus, we were creating a situation in which only Christians should get to enjoy Christmas but damn well everybody better wish one another a Merry one. It was…confusing.

The point I am dawdling to get to is this: in all these cases, people confused other people liking what you like, embracing what you embrace, but for different reasons, with taking that thing away from you. If someone dresses as Spider-Man but cannot tell you who Peter Parker’s girlfriends were, in order, Marvel does not stop making comics. If your brother loves Peter Jackson’s movies but never read the source material, the Lord of the Rings books will not turn to dust on your bookshelves. If your sister adores Gone Home but cannot stand the latest Call of Duty, you still get to play it. And if your neighbor does not believe in Christ divinity or God at all, or is a Mormon or a Witness or a Unitarian, when they celebrate Christmas your celebration of Christmas does not have to change. No one can change the way you experience the things you love except for you. If you decide you cannot tolerate an atheist having a tree or a woman who only knows the Avengers through a movie going to a convention, then yes, your enjoyment of that thing has been impacted. But you did that to yourself. The person you are so mad at? They just showed up to have fun, to enjoy, to find happiness. Just like you. Until you decided there was only your way to enjoy a thing and got so caught up in ferreting out those people “doing it wrong.”

The fact is the majority of video game fans are boys and men. The majority of people reading comics have been doing it a long time and know their trivia down pat. (Some might argue this is a problem for both hobbies, but we’ll leave that be for now.) The majority of people celebrating Christmas are Christian. None of these things are in any danger of being taken away. None of them cannot withstand some people enjoying them in different ways with different ideas about what it means to be a gamer or a fan or a reveler. They are not that fragile. And, might I suggest, we should not be either.

Video games are great. Comics are great. Christmas is great. They are too great to be kept behind gates, to be guarded by men with clipboards saying, “You can’t get in here if you think Christmas is just about the transformative experience of a population giving itself over to the idea that for a brief period of time we should all try harder to be better for one another. This is only for those who believe in Christ the King. We have no room for your brand of profoundly moving thought.” These are things, experiences, beliefs, traditions, that were made up of and fueled by the outcasts, the lonely, the scared, the lost, who came together to proclaim the wonder of something more than themselves. It is unseemly to keep out others now that we are in the VIP room. Especially given how long we all were stuck on the other side of the rope.

Like I said at the start, this one is a long walk to get here: Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Seasons Greetings. Enjoy the video games. Love that costume. Welcome. Just…be good to one another, ok? Maybe leave the gates unlocked? There are still plenty of people waiting to get in.