By Kayla Upadhyaya, Senior Arts Editor
Published March 4, 2012
Some fans of television just like to watch their shows in peace and let the writers do their thang — others become completely obsessed with the characters and their relationships (or potential relationships) and have to become a part of the storytelling process themselves. The latter are the shippers, a small but passionate and powerful subculture of TV geeks who vehemently advocate for — or “ship” — certain romantic pairings within and between their respective fandoms, relying mainly on the Internet as their soapbox.
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I admit it: I’m a shipper. I was shipping Luke/Lorelai, Phoebe/Cole and Scully/Mulder before I even knew what shipping was. But I’m not your conventional shipper, primarily because I don’t participate in one of the most common shipping activities: writing and reading fan fiction.
Fanfic refers to scenes and short stories created by the fans of an original piece of work. For me, I trust the original creator more than the fans most of the time … I don’t want anyone but Joss Whedon and Co. making up Buffyverse stories, because the imitators are bound to pale in comparison. And let’s face it, there’s a hell of a lot of poorly written fanfic floating around the Interworld written by obsessive high-schoolers who spectacularly pack passionately recycled romantic cliches, magnificently flat prose and dozens of unnecessary adverbs into their underdeveloped, wince-inducing love stories.
But I have come to discover that not all fanfic makes me want to light myself on fire. I’ll click on a link from time to time and suddenly find myself getting emotional over a short story about Castle and Beckett. The truly talented fanfic writers operate within the characterizations outlined by the original work, making it easy to get lost in their stories as if they came from the true creators themselves.
And fanfic isn’t the only way for shippers to make tribute to their OTPs (that’s “one true pairings” for those of you unfamiliar with the language of shipping). The more technologically inclined shippers express themselves through fanvids, video compilations of clips featuring their ship, usually backed by a terrible pop song that somehow speaks to their relationship. Fanvids are almost always horrible, but I confess that I once spent nearly an hour searching for and watching Don Draper/Pete Campbell fanvids that never fail to make me laugh until I cry, so they certainly do have their entertainment appeal.
While I haven’t ever written a piece of fanfic or created a fanvid, I am embarrassed to admit that I have participated in a ship war … or two. For those of you who don’t know, a ship war is basically an ongoing debate — usually taking place on Tumblr or a message-board thread — in which the most diehard fandom fiends pour their hearts out to defend their ships and tear down the ships of others.
For the most part, I hate ship wars. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had to intervene in a Clana (Clark/Lana) vs. Clois (Clark/Lois) war to explain that Lana Lang is the worst TV character ever or a Bangel (Buffy/Angel) vs. Spuffy (Buffy/Spike) war to explain that shipping a character with someone who attempted to rape them is, you know, wrong.
But when “Community” was returning for its third season last fall, as a way to encourage our followers to tune in and get everyone hyped up about the premiere, my friends and I started a “Community” shipping war on Tumblr and Twitter. What began as mostly a joke ended in me writing a very serious 1,500-plus word manifesto on Wedison, my personal ship name for Jeff/Annie (I think most of the Internet uses Jannie, but come on, that’s just dumb). I don’t frequently let my shipping colors show, but when I do, things get very serious.
Or not serious at all. The most fun ships are the crackships and the crossovers — pairing two characters who make little to no sense or two characters from two completely different shows. Some imaginative shippers concoct alternate universes, in which Jack Donaghy has a passionate love affair with Lucille Bluth or Amy Pond dates Harry Potter. I personally ship Leslie Knope with Jason Sudeikis as Joe Biden and Peggy Olson with Abed as Batman, but sadly, there is not nearly enough fanfic out there dedicated to either pairing.
Some shows just lend themselves to shipping, whether it’s because every member of its cast is obscenely attractive or that the story is open to the matching and rematching of endless combinations of characters. In the case of “The Vampire Diaries,” it’s both. “Vampire Diaries” fans are divided into two factions: Team Delena (Damon/Elena) and Team Stelena (Stefan/Elena). Personally, I ship no one with anyone on the show and everyone with everyone … which is to say that I don’t give a damn about whether Elena goes back to longtime boyfriend Stefan or switches things up to be with bad boy Damon — there are too many other great storylines going down in this show for it to be reduced to a mere battle of the ships. Plus, we all know the only valid ships are Happoline (Caroline/Happiness), Kathero (Katherine/Heroism) and Alaricohol (Alaric/Alcohol).
In recent years, showrunners and writers have actually started listening to the pleas of fans and the ideas put forth in fan-made work. The Jeff/Annie montage in “Community” ’s brilliant clip episode was directly inspired by a fanvid. I don’t think writers should always give in to fan-service — if they did, Team Wincest would have won long ago and the brother duo of “Supernatural” would be, well, more than just brothers. Fans really do drum up some awful ideas.
But it’s nice to know that we do have some power and that the writers listen. And there’s something fascinating about the universality of shipping — no show, movie, book or fandom is exempt. Even real-life pairings like Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet and Paula Abdul/Simon Cowell … there’s a ship for that.