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Tuesday
Jun042019

Gatekeepers and Lineworkers

In this world you’re either a gatekeeper or a lineworker. Some people are both, but the different roles are not easy to reconcile. Did you ever line up to wait to get into a nightclub or restaurant? Then you’re lineworker. Do you own such a restaurant- then you’re gatekeeper…for now. 

The power of gatekeeping was made personal – became an experience I could use because I owned it- when I edited a book published by a well known imprint. In it I got to choose who appeared or not. I asked world famous names and they ALL agreed. No one said no. Why? Because after a while- I started by asking the less famous first- a kind of band wagon effect started and no one wanted to be left out of the party.

If you can instigate a party and then exclude people – you’ve arrived- you’re a gatekeeper.

But what if you can’t attract people to your own cause; or maybe you don’t have one? Then you hijack or manoeuvre your way into controlling an existing gatekeeping organisation. This is what many people call ‘a career’. There are numerous gatekeeping orgs out there. Some are harder to infiltrate than others. One that is not so easy to enter successfully but promises handsome rewards in cash and prestige is politics. Prestige you say? Yes, although politicians are universally reviled they are also accorded a great deal of air time; politicians are handsomely paid in what they mostly crave: attention.

But what of the rest- the lineworkers? Aren’t they fools to be taken for a ride time and again by the gatekeepers? Well take my own trade of writing. Many writers I know cavil and groan under the command of publishers- but they wouldn’t want to publish their own book. They want the kudos of a famous ‘house’ behind them. Was ever thus- at least in the current age of American style publishing- Hemingway famously manoeuvred his way out of publishing deal to be accepted by Knopf- the leading firm of his time. 

Does anyone care who published Milton or Shakespeare or even Hemingway for that matter? Of course not. Gatekeepers perish with their age- that is their fate, their punishment for assuming the riches generated by others. Lineworkers get to live on after their death. Or some do. But beyond this superficial analysis it makes sense to understand the actual work the gatekeeper does- and it is not fun and games- but usually dull and repetitive- work that is offloaded onto other lineworkers who sell their hours for a crust of bread. So you have a choice of linework- either way you are kept waiting by the gatekeeper.

Isn’t it a form of addiction? Maybe. I was just reminded of that Lou Reed song about heroin: “I’m waiting for my man/25 dollars in my hand/he’s never early, he’s always late/ the first thing you learn is you always got to wait.”

Some people hate waiting. A man I knew who started a financial PR firm (gatekeeper for finance companies once his ‘name’ was made) pushed in front of me in a very friendly way while we were queuing for food at a charity supper- “I just hate waiting in line,” he explained. And we, with a laugh, let him barge in. Not everyone is in the same rush and we shouldn’t always envy those who are.

Gatekeepers exclude for profit. We all exclude. If Bill Gates gave all his billions to everyone on the planet we’d get about a fiver each…he excludes healthy folk to concentrate on curing diseases instead. You don’t invite everyone on the street to Christmas, usually. But we try to include everyone who wants to come, don’t we?

Gatekeepers use the mass media to create an open invitation. Then they make you wait. But the mass media is fickle- the other day a young woman with 2 million Instagram followers couldn’t sell 36 tee shirts of her own design. The party she was gatekeeping was too easy to join. Numbers aren’t enough. You need desire too, a fierce desire to belong, to join. Make it hard. This is where the power comes in, the ugliness. Gatekeeping isn’t cost free.

Why do gatekeepers exist? Because people want to party. They want to band together and feel cosy against the cold and dark outside. And they want to feel special. They want to exclude others but they don't want to do the dirty work. Let the gatekeeper take the blame, shoulder the hard task of saying 'no' day in in day out. The lineworkers want to feel special, to be given power; the gatekeepers simply push in, smilingly assuming power. So why not be a gatekeeper but a different kind. Why not have your own party? Invite all your friends. All of you become both invitees and gatekeepers- alternating in turn…

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