Hello Entertainment Weekly. I won’t lie, I’ve been a bit frustrated with your articles for a while now but the magazine (and website) tends to be a good source of TV related information so I’ve stuck it out. I hoped for articles on the shows I watch. Happy Endings, Cougar Town, The Vampire Diaries, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, etc but with limited exception, we’ve been skipped over in favor of yet another Modern Family spread or Twilight cover. I can’t really place all the blame on you. After all, this happens in a lot of magazines.
So imagine my excitement when pictures of an upcoming cover were released featuring Paul Wesley, Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder of The Vampire Diaries. Could the “other vampire show” finally be getting its due? The fans were ecstatic, believe me. Three collectible covers, a feature article and on top of that, a separate article about the shipping phenomenon were being released. I was thrilled and joined fellow fans in rejoicing that a magazine with a large circulation was finally recognizing this show that is consistently praised by critics and viewers. Add to that my excitement about the idea of an objective article about shippers and I’m sure you can understand my expectations.
But before we should go further, perhaps you should understand me. I like to say I’m not really a shipper. But that would be a lie. I ship quite often. The Vampire Diaries has proven that my loyalty is incredibly fickle; as one recapper (iphignia939.dreamwidth.org) put it, “I only go where I am led” but I still ship. Your article accurately defined shipping as “being invested in the romance or possibility of romance between two characters”. So yes, I ship. To be more specific, I think you would call me an intense fan but casual shipper. My investment in romantic couplings stems more from my interest in individual characters but I’ll certainly admit to being swept off my feet by a well-placed “As you wish” or “I fancy you”. We still read Jane Austen novels in high school and watch Disney princess movies in elementary school. My mind is hard-wired to respond to swoon-worthy moments.
When I ship though, I tend to chat about things on twitter and reblog gifs (small moving pictures) on tumblr of moments that did especially well in wooing me. I occasionally search out fan-made videos but most are sent to me by friends. Of course, word of mouth is a large factor in sharing fan videos. So many are made that finding the good ones can be troubling. I rely on referrals. I enjoy fanfiction, especially when it involves supporting characters, since their screen time is minimal. And from time to time, I blog a more extensive thought about why a show is or isn’t going with a particular coupling. And most of the shippers I know tend towards this attitude. Moments of obsession but a general outlook of patience and enjoyment of a little extra with our favorite shows.
Now here we are at Friday and the new issue has come out. I’ve included a small addendum at the bottom of this letter noting my frustrations with the TVD specific article but for the time being let’s focus on the shippers.
My first offense comes in with the first page, when you note that “there are even–no joke–Simon-and-Paula shippers. (They’re grieving, so please: soft giggles)”. In what is introduced as an insightful look at shippers, you immediately relegate us to a TMZ version of the matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof. I know very few people who waste time shipping real life couples. Being invested in the gossip? Certainly. But if having an albeit abnormal interest in who’s dating who is considered shipping, what were the thousands of people lined up to see Will & Kate tie the knot? No, shipping is reserved for the fictional world. Beyond the inaccuracy, you’ve immediately made the implication that all shippers are a wee bit off their rocker. That in turn, negates some of the impact of Andrew Marlowe (Castle’s creator)’s next statement, where he talks about shippers being some of the most engaged fans. Instead of a picture of passionate fans, we’re left with the idea that all shippers don’t understand the line between fiction & reality.
Secondly, I find your mention of the Once Upon a Time shippers to be severely lacking in research. If you take a look at the blogosphere, you would see that fans are actually quite frustrated with the show in regards to the Emma/Graham dynamic because those choices hasn’t paid off. (Unless the only reward was to piss off fans without incorporating the death into the story). Furthermore, the true shippers for that show revolve around Snow White & Prince Charming’s story.
We follow that with a mention of Supernatural. Fans have long waited to have this show, with its talented pair of actors in Jared Padalecki & Jensen Ackles, recognized on a large scale. I don’t watch Supernatural but if I didn’t have friends who did, I would assume that the biggest aspect of the show is hints of incest between the main characters. This comment would be much better placed after your discussion of slash fiction, as a way to note that one might be surprised by just who can be shipped with whom.
There’s a brief nod to early slash between Kirk/Spock but it is stated that “shipping and slashing became ways for marginalized, neglected sci-fi fans to … impishly subvert a geek fan culture that until recently has been largely male-targeted and male-driven”. The idea supposes that slash fiction is only written by sci-fi geek girls as a middle finger to the industry. Never mind the idea that there might be more chemistry between a same-sex couple than a straight one and that’s where the desire to write comes from. There’s a reference to Buffy being “key to the development of shipper culture” AND THEN YOU NEVER MENTION BUFFY AGAIN. What is that?
And now we get into the meat of the matter where you note that “shippers … ship anything with a romantic pulse”. Do you also think that if you put two people in a room they’ll start f*cking like rabbits? Or your comment that because one fan watches Castle, that automatically makes her a shipper? In this case, we’re all shippers. I’m nearly at a loss for your choice of talking to a “shipper” who writes Wincest, where she comments that her writing of incest stems from the same desire as writing slash. NO. Again, where was the research on what slash truly is or the fact that most fans consider ‘Wincest” to be nasty.
The article gives no answers or insight to those outside of fandoms as to why shippers make the choices they do. It says nothing about how a look or a few simple words can inspire romantic stories between characters. Worse, it implies that shippers merely exist to write incestuous storylines, fight with creators over how a character should behave, and put a song to a slide show.
Beyond the inaccuracies and ignoring of all shipper aspects, the article was flat out boring. Where was the writing that indicated the passion and excitement behind shippers? Where was the acknowledgment of the show’s writers in being able to spark such vested interest in their characters? I’ve read scientific journal articles that were more interesting. Anyone reading this article would think that shippers and the shows they ship are boring and passionless.
Why bother? Why not write a fascinating look in to the shipper culture and really delve into how that works? Where were the interviews with actors (who often spur on these fantasies) or with bloggers who analyze the working of fictional relationships? Instead, we got a lazy, boring article that made every shipper, regardless of intensity, appear like an idiot with no grasp on reality. In fact, we got an article that heavily emphasizes slash fiction, incest and a lack of understanding.
And if you did want to ridicule the whole shipping concept, there are better ways to do it. Mention the way fans will rage at the cast and crew of a show over fictional characters or insist that they hate other fans based on the pettiness of a single line in one episode. There is a section of crazy shippers out there. If you wanted to imply that we all fit this bill, believe me, there are better ways to rip a fandom apart.
So in the end, I want to appreciate the efforts but on second thought, stick to the Twilight covers. I’d rather not see my shows and fandoms dragged through the mud.
A Reluctant Shipper
There was a postscript to this article. For the reasons why it is no longer here and why specific comments to this post have been deleted, please read my latest post, “Apologies and Convictions.”
For another perspective, and a fabulous one at that, check out Erin (@entertainocd’s) thoughts on the shipper article.