Shaming the Ship

If you’ve ever attended a movie premiere or book signing, you’ve probably heard someone squeal, “I totally ship them!”

I admit, the first time I heard this was at Cassandra Clare’s book signing in Kansas City over a year ago…and I was super confused. “Ship?” I thought. “Like a boat?” So here I am, picturing Dido singing, “I’ll go down with this ship.” Which, in retrospect, kind of works with today’s lingo. But at the time, a cosplaying Shadowhunter kindly explained to me what she meant, and I still dig her for it.

For those of you who don’t know, “ship” is short for “relationship.” Saying you “ship” a couple means you love those two characters being together. Yes, even when they’re sailing on boats. (Excuse me for my poor humor.) Fans can ship a couple that is actually together in the story or characters you wish were together. The term largely started in fandoms and fan fiction.

Is there a better photo for this article? I think not.

I’m totally for shipping whoever you want. I think it’s so much fun, even when I see people point out ships that are purely imagined. In fact, I’ve come across some ships that I had never even considered, but thought were awesome. (*cough, cough, Elsa and Jack Frost, cough cough*) It’s fan fiction heaven. That being said, there is always a negative side.

Recently, I’ve started to see people say things like, “If you ship those who aren’t together in the story, you’re a bad fan,” or “If you ship X and X, you promote abuse,” or blah blah blah.

Listen, I think it’s great to debate aspects of fiction, like how abuse is displayed. But “debate” is the keyword here. Just because one person feels a certain way about a character does not mean everyone should feel that way. One of the best parts of fiction is how malleable it is. A dynamic character could be seen differently by millions of people. Not to mention that fiction itself is fiction. Just because something criminal happens in a show does not mean it was criminal in the context of the show. Example? Take post-apocalyptic fiction. If it’s the end of world, and you see someone stealing from a store (or even killing another person), you automatically sympathize because survival, right? But if that character was doing that in our world, they’d be a bad person. In the context of a post-apocalyptic situation, the moral paradigm has shifted. Does that make anyone bad or good? That’s up for debate. *wink*

Sometimes, fiction is just fiction. Sometimes, a ship is something we sail on. It doesn’t have to have double meaning or be scrutinized beyond the fact that it’s purely entertaining. Just because a fan ships a couple on a show doesn’t mean they would ship them in a real-life situation. As an example, I thought I’d discuss a movie (hopefully) everyone has seen by now. If you haven’t, don’t worry. Just go to the next bolded line.

Spoilers for The Last Jedi beyond this point:

So, as many of you know by now, there was quite the shift in Kylo Ren and Rey in the last movie. Though nothing traditionally romantic happened (i.e. kissing), many felt their relationship was romantic in nature. Where it goes, no one knows, but that doesn’t stop the fandom from drawing photos, posting theories, and just plain ol’ fan girling.

Do I ship them? Yes and no. To me, I find their dynamic fascinating, which—as someone who is here to be entertained—is all I want in a story. So, yes, I love what happened between them in The Last Jedi, because I never saw it coming, yet it was believable, twisted, and exciting. But no, I wouldn’t encourage that sort of dynamic in real life.

Basically, if my best friend came to me and said, “This masked guy chased me through the woods as I shot at him, and then he knocked me unconscious and tried to read my mind. Later, I scarred him, and he killed his dad, but now we have a universe connection.” I would definitely not ship it. I would call the police. But Star Wars isn’t my best friend. Star Wars is a space opera. It’s not functioning on our moral constructs. In the setup of the fictional universe, you’re literally talking about a dark side and light side colliding in a space war. Of course unhealthy moments are going to happen. Does that mean you can’t enjoy the story? Maybe. Maybe not. If that ruins the story for you, that’s fine. If you want to debate it, go for it! But I draw the line at fans telling other fans what they can/should/want to enjoy.

Spoilers End

If you dislike a ship (or a story), by all means, we’re all allowed to our opinions, but I will always draw a line on those who shame others for enjoying (or disliking) a piece of fiction.

We’re here to be entertained and to have fun, and yes, there are times for debate. Yes, those debates are super important. I’m not telling you to stop debating. In fact, one of my favorite all-time quotes is, “The history books will tell what happened, but the art will tell them how we felt about it.” (Jermaine Rogers.) Debating art is society trying to encapsulate how they feel about current and past issues. Debating fiction is a natural response. All I ask is that we respect one another while we debate. No name-calling. No ship-shaming. Just a couple of fans having a reasonable discussion about how we feel about certain stories. Then, at the end of the day, we can enjoy our fandoms and sail off into the sunset on our preferred ships without trying to sink others.

Who are some of your favorite ships? (Actual boats allowed.)


14 thoughts on “Shaming the Ship

  1. I’ll be honest here: once upon a time, I ran across the question “Favourite ships” when I was applying to join a group. Not knowing what it meant, I listed off Serenity, Enterprise, the TARDIS and various others, because I took the question literally! Fortunately one of the admin was a friend of mine, who probably thought I was being my normal faceteous self, but I honestly had no clue!

    But since finding out, I can say that I ship Zoe/Wash, Eleven/River, House/The Bitch and a few that didn’t happen but I think should have (Faith/Spike would have been pretty explosive and I couldn’t stand Simon but noticed that Jayne had a romantic affection for Kaylee).

  2. Always been a fan of the Titanic/Iceberg shipping. Seriously, this is a part of fandoms that scare me because people take them very far. I have friends who gave up on ‘Last Airbender’ because their favorite ship never appeared. So, I think there’s definitely an opposite side of the spectrum from the shaming. It is interesting to see how invested people can get in these ideas too. In regards to my own stories. I’ve had people send messages demanding that certain characters hook up or other couples be split apart. I’d say ‘request’, but the tone really is more of an angry demand.

  3. What? No mention of coffee during and after these debates. You’re slipping, Ms. Thompson. Just kidding. Ship is a new one on me, so you taught me something I didn’t know. Thank you. That’s why I like reading your blogs. However, my favorite ships are not romantic ones, so I don’t know if they technically qualify. I love the Frodo-Gollum ship (so complicated and tragic). The ship between the brothers in “Supernatural” is a winner for me. In other words, I like relationships where “the ship really hits the fan.” Boom! Drop the mic. I’ll be here all week. Be sure and tip your bartender and waitresses. Keep up the great work, Ms. Thompson. And thanks for teaching me a new word. I don’t know for sure, but I think you just made me hipper 🙂

    1. Haha! It’s good to hear from you, Lionel! I’m actually having coffee right now. And you brought up a great point. I think you can ship other types of relationships other than romantic ones? I don’t see why not, but I also had to learn this term from a random but fellow fan. So I have no clue. Come to think of it, some of my favorite character relationships are also non-romantic. Great discussion! Hope all is well!

  4. I definitely agree with your debate point of view. I think there are certain relationships that promote or glorify abuse e.g. Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey, but it’s something that should be discussed not used as ad hominem fodder. If someone asks me why I don’t like something or a particular ship, I’ll be happy to explain, but I like to go with the “Let people enjoy things” mien do long as those things aren’t promoting violence, bigotry, etc. My favorite ship isn’t canon and could be seen as problematic as well, and there are definitely some ships that disgust me (e.g. incest ships *blech*), but again it’s often better to curb your initial reaction and think about how what you’re going to say is going to affect someone and maybe think of a better way to say it if you say something at all.

    I abhor when people go to a fanfiction writer or fanartist’s page and bash them for what they’re writing/drawing. You have a choice in what to read or view, and artists have a choice in what they want to portray. The latest example I saw was a very talented artist who drew a male character with another male character. People came out of the woodwork to decry how “wrong” this one, but then insist that they weren’t homophobic by saying that the character wasn’t gay and that’s why they had problems with it. Regardless if the character is gay in canon, the fan artist can draw what they want and post it on their page.

    I totally ship Reylo btw 😀

  5. So it’s called “ship” now. Used to be “slash” as in Kirk/Spock or such. Fan fiction placing two characters in a romantic or sexual relationship where none existed in the TV show or book. I’m surprised my daughter hadn’t already informed me of this one.

    When I really enjoy a show or book, I always create an avatar of myself that is a friend or part of the action. Sometimes I ship one of the characters. But when a story/series is good but too dark, I find myself inventing side characters doing silly stuff that gives me a belly laugh and relieves the tension of worrying about the story’s outcome. (Templars vs. Team Hawke soccer match, anyone?)

    This seems like a really common mechanism for fans to enjoy works of fiction. We just need to realize that there is a boundary between the work as presented and what we come up with just for ourselves.

    1. I’m pretty sure “slash” has always referred to only same-sex-relationships between characters that are straight in canon and it’s more a description of fanfiction genre while shipping is a concept/action. Shipping can include slash relationships but it isn’t limited to them and it doesn’t have to be only uncanon pairings, many shippers ship the canon pairing. It’s just any romantic pairing a fan feels themselves supporting. (For example – I totally shipped Jacob/Bella in Twilight. I knew they didn’t have a chance, there wasn’t a shadow of doubt in my mind it would always be Edward/Bella. But personally I liked Jacob more and I thought their relationship would have been a more healthy one so I shipped them even though I knew it was hopeless.)

  6. Ha – as soon as you mentioned controversial ships my mind went to Kylo/Ray (aka Reylo to shippers). I’ll confess I’ve been shipping them since their first interaction in the first movie. Though I have no trouble seeing the the pros/cons in multiple ships. (Hence I always shipped Aang & Katara in The Last Airbender but I also extremely see why many people shipped Katara/Zuko – if I hadn’t known without a doubt what the end-canon-ship would be, I’d have been tempted that way myself.

    I hadn’t heard of ship-shaming before but sounds like those people are taking shipping too seriously. It’s pretty common to ship characters on opposite ends of the spectrum – the ones who in reality would make a terrible pairing. I think part of it is imagining if the heat of the antagonistic relationship was turned into chemistry instead. Hence you get the Dramione shippers (Draco/Hermione), Reylo shippers, Zutara shippers, etc.

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