Hi, I'm back again for another installment of the wild and wonderful world of shipping. The response to the introductory column has been beyond my wildest dreams, so enlightening and so full of thoughtful and varied opinions, and I just have to say THANK YOU!! I've learned so much from everything you had to say -- what is and isn't OK with you, how you wish things could to be, what elements appeal to and disgust you -- and all of these are valid viewpoints and I hope to be able to address a lot of them as the weeks go by. In the meantime, please continue to comment! All viewpoints are welcome, but please try to respect each other's right to disagree. I'm reading and listening to everything.
So today let's start at the beginning. Why does shipping happen?
It's a conundrum that baffles the non-shippers. TV is a passive medium. We watch it. We don't interact with it, like we do with video games. To reach back, to say "things are one way, but they should be another," seems counterintuitive. We're trusting entertainers to take us on a journey, to tell us a story, and it's fun to be carried away by that story. So why push back, why change the story? And why concentrate so hard on the romantic-pairing aspect? Isn't it enough to enjoy a TV show without feeling you need to change it in your own mind? And why is even that not enough these days -- why start pushing for your ships to be acknowledged on the show?
The answer, in short, is that we've gone interactive.
Interactivity has reached almost every aspect of our culture. The Internet has connected celebrities to fans, creators to consumers, and creative minds to one another in an unprecedented way. And it's not just the Internet. The advent of video games turned us from a world that sat in front of our TVs to watch things into a world that got to participate in the action, to make decisions and choose our own endings. Increasingly, it's no longer enough for many of us to be passively entertained. It's about not just being engaged but engaging back. And that effect doesn't apply only to new media -- it's also reaching into those forms of media that don't explicitly invite it.
Some shows have found ways to initiate that interaction. "The Walking Dead" has a number of video game spinoffs, from casual Facebook games to serious console shooters. Web series like "Ghostfacers" or "Teen Wolf: Search for a Cure" spring up as spinoffs to successful TV shows to give the fans more of what they crave. And "Sherlock" has a real-life version of John's blog and Sherlock's website, which fans can interact with as though they can access the characters. So TV is keeping up with the times in finding ways to go interactive, but the very nature of interactivity is that it goes both ways. And so fans are finding their way to initiate interactivity, too.
One of my favorite articles about interactive fandom and fan fiction is "The Boy Who Lived Forever," published in Time magazine in 2011. It's a comprehensive, respectful look at the world of fan fiction, shipping included, but for me the money quote is the following:
I love the show, but what if it went further? What happens if I press this big, shiny, red button that says "Do not press"?
It was a way to bring to light hidden subtexts that the show couldn't address.
Interactive portions of TV shows that are licensed by the creative minds behind the shows must stay within the confines of a reality that's rigidly drawn. But fan-created works aren't similarly limited. And so they are about -- and glory in -- breaking down walls, seeing what happens when those lines (not just those drawn by canon but by the society that is their foundation) go from black-and-white to gray. And when so very many of the taboos in our society are related to sexuality -- not just sexual orientation but how we define acceptable relationships and social rules as to when sex and love can conceivably happen -- shipping is a way to press the biggest, shiniest red button on the whole console.
And it turns out that, when you push boundaries, the world starts to change to meet you. Just look at the public turnaround on the issue of gay marriage. According to a Pew survey, support has risen from 37 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2012, and opposition has slid from 54 percent to 43 percent in the same amount of time. Those are huge jumps, and a lot of it has to do with the increasing connectivity of the world, where people are increasingly coming into contact with aspects of life that were kept hidden and invisible for a long time.
So it is with shipping. It's a way to make visible the desire to push boundaries and change the world and the media we're involved with. It's a way to say, look at these two characters, look at how the world says they can be only friends, or only enemies, or only something else entirely. But what if they weren't? Would it be exciting to explore that? And sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it's no. And sometimes it varies based on the person who's interacting. In the end, it's all about wanting to help shape the world, be it a fictional world or the real one.
(I want to make clear here that I'm not equating shipping with the gay rights movement in scope or importance, nor am I trying to draw any relationship between the two. The point here is to say, "Here's a movement that found that the more visible it was, the better a reaction it got over time... and here's another." Their trajectory is similar. Any other relationships between the two are another topic for another time.)
There's one more reason I'd like to mention about why shipping is such a huge draw for some fans, and that has to do with love. Not love between characters but love for them. We talk about TV, we get upset and worked up about what we see there, we come to forums like SpoilerTV, because we love the characters. They are part of our extended family, and despite their being fictional, but we love them just the same. And one of the things we want most for the people we love is for them to find love. Especially in a situation where they have a different hardship to overcome, a different monster to fight or a different betrayal to cope with every time we see them. So we ship to bring a little more love and light into that world, to mitigate our own empathy for how much darkness and pain can seem to rain down on the characters we care about. We ship because we want them to find happiness.
Why do you ship? What's the appeal? Sound off in the comments.