We Need Gatekeepers

by Corey Malley

Subcultures are not for everyone. That's the point.

It may sound elitist in the social-driven world of inclusivity, but I'm of the firm belief that subcultures need gatekeepers. We do not need the homogeny that comes with infinite access and non-existent context. Culture should be driven by collectives of dedicated individuals working day in and day out to preserve the thing they love. Somewhere along the way, this was lost. Our culture can no longer afford it.

Gatekeeping has always been present, from Greasers to Punks to DJ's to Goths. In the age of "snackable content", they have become costumes. Trends used to be slow movements of proportion, color, and inspiration. They are now pre-organized personalities via product, ready to slip in and out of on a day's whim. They mean something to someone, but are disposable to most.

The gates are wide open.

The niches we've grown to love weren't created based upon commercial potential, usually quite the opposite. They were affronts to the masses. Cocooned worlds where passion was earned through community maintenance. You could buy the most expensive sneakers, have the rarest vinyl, and drive the nicest car - didn't matter. Were you a CONTRIBUTOR? Did you know why you bought the thing you did? Wrong answer, move along kid. 

But inevitably, where there's passion, there's profit. Companies aren't dumb.

It felt organic at first. Cool people endowed even cooler people with opportunity. Hiroshi and Nigo and James and Shawn were the ultimate gatekeepers. Not a bouncer at the door, but a regulator of the pack. If they stamped it, it was valid.

And slowly, subcultures were mined and exploited for profit. Satanic Panic became Top 40. We went from "Your Sneakers or Your Life" to "Teenage Side Hustle" in about 20 years.

Given, the millions of decks it's been mentioned in this year alone, "exclusivity" doesn't pay the bills. It used to be intimidating to walk into Supreme - that's what made the brand what it is. But tell that to a VF CEO and they'll laugh you off the 36th floor. The industry traded brand magic for revenue targets. And that means lowering the gates to show off the lawn.

My brain tells me social content had the effect of an automatic rifle on a battlefield of bows and arrows. The culture wasn't ready for this. You could regulate who came in your store, who got that last pair of dunks in the back - infamously, the original Supreme dunk's release system was "ask and see" - but no one can stop someone from recording a video from their bedroom with dubious "facts" and algorithmically driven opinions.

Suddenly an army of YouTubers and "Content Creators" emerged in the wake - never living in the same city as the stores they discussed, much less being a member of the scene. Investors and founders saw the incremental revenue this brought, and the the motto shifted from "just for us" to "anyone is welcome". While I'm all for equal inclusivity in most parts of life, subcultures are not one. You have to earn your membership, or you don't have a culture at all. Pair that with the original gatekeepers aging or earning out with no heirs, and here we are.

The fox is in the hen house.

But that's what happens when a subculture becomes a profit center. People don't start brands because they have something to say or to represent their group of friends; they do it because it's a job now. It's a way to make money. Who cares what it looks like as long as it sells. A million repetitions of the same trend, all vying for a piece of a pie that has suddenly gone unguarded on the windowsill. But they are the scorpion. It is their nature.

The most visible new "leaders of the culture" became political shills for a dollar and some media impressions. You have to wonder if the recent articles declaring the sneaker resale market to be dead have anything to do with this. Suddenly the sneaker media - once legacy gatekeepers and king makers themselves - started jumping on the trend, platforming this embarrassment to get their own impressions and clicks, for they serve their own masters, and they demand profits. Where did that get them? Sold for pennies on the dollar, soon to be a streetwear QVC if they're lucky.

The people in the photo see the last drops in the well, and they want to make sure they get it all before finding a new well. They do not care about you or your sneakers, just your wallet. There will be watches, or NFTs, or trading cards, or some other new speculative asset class with a manufactured narrative to simulate demand and legitimacy. The bag gets passed around, but someone will always be left holding it. And it won't be them.

I don't think of my little blog to be some sort of call to arms, but it feels like someone needs to. For this scene to survive, the people that love it need to take it back and clear it out. Call out the posers. Start rebuilding the gates. Say no to something for once. Refuse to even engage with the fluff that isn't worth your time. Pretend like you give a fuck about the thing that gave you all you have.

If not, this is what you get.

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