While watching Moonlighting, did you find yourself pulling for Maddie and David to end up together? Did you tune in to The X-Files every week as much for Mulder and Scully’s chemistry as for the cases? Do you think New Girl’s Nick and Jess should admit they have a thing for each other already? Are you hoping Will and Alicia give it another go in The Good Wife? If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you might be “shipping” TV couples. And if you find yourself rooting for, or shipping, a fictional couple, you are what’s known as a “shipper.”
Thanks to the success of Twilight-fan fiction-turned-erotic-novel Fifty Shades of Grey and the well-known wars among The Hunger Games (Team Peeta vs. Team Gale) and Twilight (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob) and The Vampire Diaries (Team Damon vs. Team Stefan) fans, shipping and shippers have been getting more exposure in the mainstream media than usual. Since this coverage, from what I can tell, has not been very flattering, I’d guess those not already familiar with the idea and terminology have not been in any rush to run out and learn more.
But despite what you may have heard (*cough*Entertainment Weekly*cough*), shipping does not make you one of “TV’s weirdest fans.” Not least because shipping applies to far more than television—there are shippers out there for books, movies, and video games as well—and because we shippers are not, in fact, unicorns.
While the term shipping, which is commonly believed to have originally been short for “relationshipping,” may be an Internet phenomenon, the idea behind it is far from new. Defined on Wikipedia as “the belief that two fictional characters, typically from the same series, are in an intimate relationship, or have romantic feelings that could potentially lead to a relationship,” shipping is simply the expression of fans’ interest and affection for the romance in a story.
Shippers are a well-known part of online culture and are constantly banding together to form communities—part of larger “fandoms,” so called because they are made up of all the fans of a particular work—devoted to the fictional couple of their choice. Members of these often close-knit communities follow each other across all sorts of social media sites, including LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, to name a few.
In these communities, shippers hold discussions, post fan works (including fan fiction, fan videos, fan art, and fan mixes), share news, and more. In this way, the original work serves as a sort of springboard for all sorts of fun, creative, not-for-profit (this is important) expression that fellow fans can appreciate and enjoy. And that’s what it’s all about.
Many people look down on shippers for their dedication to a fictional work’s relationships, as if this means they can’t be interested in all the other aspects as well, which is ridiculous and insulting, but nothing that romance fans haven’t heard before. Personally, I think a shipper’s approach to literary criticism is as valid as any other, period. But that’s another post.
As a romance fan and serial shipper myself, I’ll admit I am usually first drawn to a show (or a book or a movie...) for its potential relationships—well, and hot actors, ’cause I’m shallow like that. But while a certain pairing may be a big interest (even a primary interest) of mine in a show, I am normally as invested in the overall story as the next viewer.
Which is not to say that I am not right now, as I type this, watching the last episode of Grey’s Anatomy and finding myself ever so slightly annoyed with Jackson Avery for falling into bed with what’s-her-name, the visiting doctor his mom set him up with, rather than April Kepner, whom I’ve been kinda-sorta shipping him with for a while now....
Hey, it’s what I do!
So tell me: Are you part of any fandom, or are you a more casual viewer/reader? Would you consider yourself a shipper? Why or why not? And if so, who are your ships/One True Pairings (OTPs) in fiction?
Just for fun, here are a few of my past and present TV ships (if I went into books and movies, we could be here all day!):
Logan/Veronica, Veronica Mars
Michael/Sara, Prison Break
Cary/Kalinda, The Good Wife