The Conventions of Shipping

True despair awaits those who choose to “ship”. No, I am not talking about boating, I am referring to the fandom practice of “shipping” (as in relation-shipping) two characters together in hopes that they become a couple. At first it begins as innocently as anything, maybe a remark or two about how “perfect these two would be for each other”, but then it begins to creep into your thoughts. Eventually, you’ll suddenly find yourself consumed by the idea of two fictional characters falling in love with each other, pray that they will become “endgame” as the series concludes, and proudly declare them to be your OTP (One True Pairing) to anyone who is (or isn’t) listening. Conversely, you can become dedicated to the sinking of a ship, to hate one so completely that you’ll never miss a chance to insult it; since the two characters are “obviously wrong for each other” and no one else can see it. Shipping is a complex thing indeed, but perhaps the most interesting thing about it is why people enjoy doing it. The joy of having a ship of yours sail (become canon) is nothing compared to the joy you get wanting it to sail. The pain, the heartache, the despair, and the frustration are all things people truly enjoy out of the shipping experience. Like masochistic servants pleading for harsh admonishments from their master/mistress, shippers tend to flock to the most tumultuous of pairings, ones where the Will They/Won’t They dynamic doesn’t come off as a forgone conclusion.

I have seen political extremist argue with each other over the internet, I have seen personal tragedies shamelessly used as weapons against unseen adversaries, but I have yet to see more vicious and more vitriolic confrontations from that between shippers. Hardcore shippers are the most bitter, loathing, and hateful individuals I have ever had the pleasure of observing over the internet. Shipping arguments go beyond ego, they go beyond the self or the community; no, shipping arguments reach into the very soul of an individual and releases some kind of primal passion that only ignites when a potential fictional couple is on the line. Obviously, you will seldom see that kind of passion ignited over sophomoric ships like Jim and Pam of The Office, but if you put a decent amount of “Zutarians” and “Kataangers” (those who ship Katarra from Avatar: The Last Airbender with Zuko or Aang) in the same chat room together, be prepared for a spiteful confrontation. Suddenly, that pain and anxiety that shippers secretly love so much comes up to the surface and gets channeled into a nervous energy that compels them to harshly criticize anyone who thinks differently from them, and creators of long running series that feature romance love to stoke the flames of war just to keep people talking about their story.

Like with most err… vocations, there is a wide variety of practitioners and as such, there are many different kinds of shippers. There are some who prefer to keep things on the level of only subtext, where a ship is hinted at but never explicitly confirmed, or in shipper terms, canonized. This often a technique writers use to write homosexual couples in shows appropriate for all audiences (i.e, “kids shows”) without harming poor, fragile, and impressionable conservative adults. Other shippers love to bust out “Crack Ships” which are nonsensical and generally impossible pairings that people form in their heads for fun (“LeFou X Belle from Beauty and the Beast are ENDGAME“). As you can see, shipping can range from a deadly serious passion, to a silly thing people do for fun. I’ve always been curious however, what its root purpose was.

My interpretation is that shipping is just another form of escapism, the most prominent form of romantic escapism there is in fact. Real relationships are often predictable, based on superficial things like social class and money, and are achieved through qualities many of us don’t have. Not everyone can be confident, or smooth, or articulate, or charismatic, or seductive; which is why when a fake relationship between people who are most or all of those things comes along. that is also based on nothing but “true” love and chemistry, we flock to it. And there are so many perspectives to them too as there is a high variety, which is where the animosity comes from. Ships that feature a shy nerd somehow getting the hot, popular person are either met with adoration or contempt because those either fill a specific hole in one’s life or comes across as transparent wish fulfillment. Some have even gone further and stated that those contribute to the destructive “Nice Guy” mentality.

Shipping has contributed to public perceptions and ideas on what kind of people should be in relationships that speak to a wide variety of individuals that directly clash with one another; which is the reason why passionate arguments arise from them. They can range from fun little mental activities, to life consuming passions, and they’re something everyone can become involved in. Shipping is all around us, and it will stay that way as long as it continues to fill the void romance leaves in peoople’s lives. There is definitely a lot more to say when it comes to this subject, but I think I’ll conclude by saying it’s a super complex thing from something you would expect to be simple.

Quote of the Day:

“Come on, they’re not real, they’re like toys. These guys here, they’re goin’ out. Pretty serious. And look at Choose Goose and Lollipop Girl; they’re still testing the waters, but I think things are gonna work out. Check out Xergiok and Turtle P. Weird. But cool. Right, Jake?”

– Finn the Human, Adventure Time

3 thoughts on “The Conventions of Shipping

  1. Wait Adventure Time even discussed shipping? Wow.
    I think the DoctorxMaster ship has been confirmed as sailing now, the fans who do ship them have indeed been encouraged.
    But I have never seen shippers behave worse than political extremists O_o


    1. That may seem like hyperbole, but I recall seeing shipping wars where one side explicitly wished gruesome deaths on their detractors. What was scary wasn’t the threat itself, but how calm and coherent they were about it all. It gave me this eerie “This guy has to be a psychopath” feeling.

      PS: Adventure Time did an episode that parodied shipping a while back. I believe it was called “All the Little People”


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