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Fans & Fantasy: A Canon About Canon

In music, a canon is a piece in which one instrument starts a melody, and then another instrument starts the same melody a few measures later. A third may come in after that, and so on and so forth until the melody is layering over itself and providing many dimensions to the same song.

That's what I'd like to do with the next few columns. I'll be approaching the topic of ships and canon -- in its other definition, as something that's an established part of a world or continuity -- from a few different perspectives.

For example:

  • What exactly is canon? Where can the lines be drawn? How much can reliably be counted on to be an accepted part of a show's continuity?
  • How far can canon stretch to accept ships, and do ships depend on canon for their existence?
  • Does the existence of ships, and the mainstream acknowledgment of them, change canon, or is there still room for a version of canon in which those ships don't exist?
  • Does canon need to be the same for everyone? Can different fans with different visions of canon still interact and respect each other?

And all of that will build toward the Big Question, which has to do with whether ships should become canon and what would happen to TV writ large if that started to happen more often. But we're not there yet. First we have to figure out what canon is.

Since this column is less a column and more of an introduction, I'd like to ask a few questions for you to answer in comments. Answer the questions that apply to you and ignore the ones that don't.

  • Do you have ships that you consider to be canon? Short of a couple kissing or having sex onscreen, what do you consider the proof that your ship is canon?
  • Do you think a show's canon extends to comments by the creators or actors about their characters' motivations?
  • When a show leaves a question unanswered, do you think there's an intended canon that's just not shown, or are the creators inviting viewers to construct their own canon?
  • How much do your ships depend on what happens onscreen? Have there been ships that you stopped shipping because the characters' relationship onscreen changed? Or once a ship is set in your mind, is it there to stay?
  • Do you ship characters who have never or seldom met onscreen?
  • How much outside of what's explicitly shown onscreen is fair game for a discussion of a TV show? If you don't agree with shipping, is speculation of a character's motivations, past or secrets all right? Is it all right to posit theories?
  • What do you think needs to be part of the discussion of canon that I haven't asked yet?

And please, remember to respect each other and each other's opinion. Most of you have done so, but I've seen some comments that cast aspersions on the intelligence, good intentions or sanity of those on the other side. If you feel the urge to mention "haters," "extreme" fans/shippers, or something more disparaging, do your best to find another way to say it.

Thank you all for participating in the conversation so far.

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