If the term “gatekeeping” once served a purpose it has certainly been all but lost in the aether by now. Where once it was a disparagement thrown at self-appointed policers of culture, today its common usage has become a canary in the coalmine for our decaying relationship with art. A term that has mutated culture into an act of vapid consumption. We have an inaliable right to consume culture totally free of friction, free from gatekeepers. “Gatekeeping”, a catchall justification for a vacuum sustained by capitalism’s relentless demands for marketable content. “Gatekeeping”, a term used to cloak the slow erosion of meaning we are able to glean from creative pursuits.
Eclecticism reigns, memes celebrating it as an end in itself are an industry standard for social media pages, nothing is dwelt upon, reflected on, nothing is learned and nothing is gained, lest we be “gatekept” from the next fleeting consumable of the culture industry. “Gatekeeping”, a catchall defence for our total lack of engagement with the culture we interact with. A loadbearing poster where a solid pillar of hearty artistic discourse should sit.
Why do standards matter? Why engage with culture at all? We can high five each other over the next meme that celebrates listening to Bulgarian choir music in the morning, Vengaboys at lunch, and Blasphemy for dinner, but without further curation, a diverse artistic palate signifies little more than a banal mood swing, as if we were choosing flavours of ice cream. Whilst this may seem innocuous enough, without encountering and engaging with views that contradict our own, we find ourselves unable to generate and apply any substantial meaning to artistic works. Culture is negotiated, contested, challenged, strived for, not simply a lightning rod for our basest desires that we may claim a fundemental right over.
Equally if we find ourselves in discussion with someone who takes umbrage at our tastes, why not discuss it? Why not seek greater understanding of any artistic merits and demerits in spirited debate? Why not inhabit the views of another, if only for a time, in the hope of gaining new perspectives on shared symbols? Why not have the confidence in the culture you consume and your reasons for consuming it to form a communicable intellectual position over and above mere feeling? We can boil our choices down to atomised experiences if we like, but seeking to explore the deeper meaning and communal potential within art could be rewarding and enlightening, even if neither party is any more disposed to the other’s opinions at the close. Better this than cry “gatekeeper” again and again at the very mention of views contrary to your own.
“Don’t listen to gatekeepers” we hear over and over, “don’t let them discourage you from enjoying things”. Well certainly, but to truly enjoy a thing surely inoculates us from gatekeeping. The capacity to understand why we enjoy something and make a case for it when challenged should be baked within the very concept of enjoyment. Gatekeepers only exist if they are listened to. To say otherwise is to imply that our very ability to enjoy things is congingent on the unconditional blessing of others.
The anti-gatekeeper rallying cry is just as easily turned on the act of music criticism itself. To even hold an opinion on art becomes an act of aggression. An unwanted intrusion on mindless consumption. As if lacking even a modicum of confidence in one’s own taste, encountering an opinion that begs to differ is to be “gatekept” away from an experience.
Why not gatekeep it all? Why should you be granted free and unrestrained access to every avenue of cultural experience without fear of conflict? Why should cultural consumption be an exercise in live and let live eggshell treading? Why not ask people to formulate arguments, ideas, hypotheses and theories on art? How telling is it of one’s motivations and degree of engagement in art when no such discourse is forthcoming?
To be challenged on the art we relate to encourages persistance, it fosters intellectual architecture, justifications and readjustments, the reformulation of ideas, it hones our relationship with culture, and as a consequence our sense of the world and our place within it. Our tastes are refined, our thoughts, views, and appreciation for certain artistic endeavours are bettered in the process.
Without gatekeeping standards ebb away. And without standards the meaning of culture dissolves, consigned to a meaningless cacophony of expression without context, values declared with no evaluation, serving no other purpose than to stroke the egos of those who would use culture and art as a stand in for identity. A feast of the vapid, where the vulgar is indistinguishable from the crass, all art becomes as naught, mere patterns, an inoffensive sequence of digestible sounds, pleasing to the ear yet devoid of friction.
Seen in this light art loses any world changing potential it once had. If everything has value then nothing has value, beyond that which submits to the whims of capital. Art that is unearned, where access is granted unchallenged – without even the fear of challenge – is not art but a pastime. Gatekeep it all. Make people pay for their communion with sonic, visual, and material echoes of the human condition, and in doing so make art vie for our attention, make it strive to be heard, let it be assigned its proper place in the hierarchical canon of collective self-reflection. Let it be granted significance based on the rigorous, free, and spirited negotiation of communities that form around artworks. Let culture be culture.