19 Aug 2013

The Concept of "Shipping"

Shipping has got to be one of the most polarized aspects of fandom, regardless of fandom. Beloved and embraced by many, it can be the source for a lot of devotion and passion. On the flip side it can also potentially be a huge source for conflict, like shipper-wars (competing shippers antagonizing each other, especially on online communities and forums), and also a thorn in the side for a lot of non-shippers tired of relationship elements taking over a fandom (like characters starting out as colleagues, friends, or even enemies eventually getting involved romantically or showing clear signs of having romantic feelings for one another).

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of shipping, here is a brief explanation. It's the phenomenon when a person, a fan gets emotionally invested in the relationship between two characters, whether they are officially a couple ('canon' or 'conventional' as shippers like to call it) or just two characters the fan in question believes should become a couple (often referred to as 'unconventional' or 'non-canon'). For people involved in shipping it can become quite the emotional rollercoaster, with high points when the relationship is doing well, and complete turmoil when it isn't.

I am most definitely a shipper, have been since my first fandom; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while I do enjoy many of the other aspects of my fandoms, I have a tendency to primarily hone in on the aspects of relationship (although there are a couple of fandoms where I don't ship). I believe one of the reasons I am so interested in relationships in fandom is because I love character driven stories, I love seeing relationships grow and change over time. I also love revisiting old seasons of shows I love, and remind myself where these characters started out, knowing very well how things will change in coming seasons.

Try to guess which of these two was my first ever ship...

A huge misconception about shippers is the notion that we are physically attracted to one of the characters (or both) and therefore we're in our minds casting ourselves as the love interest for this particular character. I am not even going to try to speak for all shippers, because how do I really know what goes on in the heads of my fellow shippers. However, speaking for myself I can state right now that this doesn't at all apply for me. Sure, I may find one or both parties in a ship physically attractive, after all a lot of the actors cast in television shows are really beautiful people (my fandoms are mostly television shows). But first of all, the actor and the character are two very different people. I've met quite a lot of actors over the years, and while it's a thrill to meet the person behind a character you love, they are most often vastly different from their fictional counterparts. And even when they are similar, they are still their own people.

I'm not in love with the actor, most of the time I'm not even in love with the character (sometimes I am, it happens). Sure, some people compare the emotions involved with shipping with being in love, and that could very well be true as it is a powerful set of emotions. But the thing I fall in love with is not one character or another, it's the relationship itself. I fall in love with the emotions and the dynamic between these two characters. I am not looking to be part of the relationship, I have no interest in casting myself in the place of one of the characters, I just want to delve into the emotions, the bond between these two characters - if that makes sense. I'm in love with love, basically.

So, how do shippers 'ship'?

Well, there are many ways to 'ship' just as there are many ways to be a fan. You can simply read/watch the books/movies/show in general and be emotionally invested in a relationship or the inter-character dynamic between two specific characters. You can join an online community for said fandom, be it a social media group or a forum. You can devote your creative/artistic abilities towards creating artwork, gif-sets, avatars, wallpapers, write fan fiction, make fan videos. You can search out the aforementioned artistic creations and enjoy what is out there, maybe offer feedback and/or promote it to other fans.

Shippers are as diverse as fans are in general. Some shippers prefer to stick to canon and not divulge in the 'what ifs' that fan fiction and videos offer. Some shippers religiously explore the 'what ifs' as a way to deal with the emotional turmoil, sometimes even going to such length as purposely ignoring canon events in favour fan-made alternatives. Some shippers (sadly) indulge in shipper-wars, where they attack alternatives for the ship they love and the fans of said alternatives, and as a result give other shippers and shipping in general a very bad name in fandom.

I tend to be the kind of shipper which contributes and/or seek out the artistic creations in a fandom, especially fan fiction and videos. I view these creations as immense therapy and tension relief whenever my ships are going through a rough patch, and as extra treats whenever the relationship is holding steady. It's win-win for me, as I get to 'correct' the bad and expand upon the good.

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