Open the gate

By Julia Lankisch, Staff Writer

Let people enjoy things.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of learning how to distinguish between what is “good” and “bad” media or art and to project that newfound understanding onto other people’s opinions. Whether that be telling them in uncompromising terms what that art should mean or implying they do not understand the full scope of that art, it is unfair to gatekeep something with which every person interacts differently.

There exists a whole host of views about how art is supposed to be interpreted — some people say  the artist’s intent is absolute; some believe the consumer’s reaction is the true meaning. 

Personally, I think the issue is too ambiguous and heavy to assign full responsibility to either party. What I do know, however, is that once a piece of media is released out into the world, there is very little that can be done to influence how it is received. You cannot approach each person who has interacted with it and explain to them what you meant or what it should mean to them.

In the same vein, it is unreasonable for anyone, regardless of how important something is to them and how much time they have spent with it, to tell others how they must see that art. We can try to explain our interpretation or the artist’s intention, but we cannot dictate their final opinions and associations with that media. 

Sometimes it will not be well received because people are dead set  on what they know to be true about this art. Sometimes it doesn’t serve any purpose other than to prove some sort of superiority and intelligence or even to ostracize.

I’m guilty of gatekeeping too, as much as I wish I wasn’t. When I hear someone talking about a movie I’ve watched way too many times, one of my favorite books or a musician to whom I listen very often, my first instinct is to jump into that conversation and give every opinion I have on the matter. Sharing outlooks on mutually loved media is one of my favorite things to do, but it is unbelievably easy to slip into a subconscious contest of who knows more and what the ultimate takeaway should be for everyone. I am trying to unlearn that behavior.

Gatekeeping creates a sort of rift between us — even if oftentimes it comes from a place of love for the art and a desire to make its impact known. It separates those who “understand” and those who don’t in discrete terms. The way I see it, it is not worth diminishing a person’s knowledge of something, no matter how limited, to prove your own. It also has the potential to decrease people’s positive associations with that media, and if your objective is to show others the effect that art can have, you are not helping.

Instead, we can do our best to help each other love it. Try to understand why people love the media they love, and they will try to understand yours. That is one of the greatest parts of art: even if the artist’s intention wasn’t explicitly to bring people together and create human connection, it happens anyway. I think you’ll find you have a lot better time trying to love things, even if they’re objectively bad, than you will telling other people they don’t love something the way you do.

So next time you’re tempted to ask the person wearing a Nirvana t-shirt to name five songs and Kurt Cobain’s favorite breakfast food, I encourage you to think twice. I know it’s hard; I’ve been there way more than I would like to admit. But just consider the good you can do by holding back on that and even asking what others have gotten out of it. Maybe you’ll learn something new about how to see something you love.