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Fans & Fantasy: Finding Harmony



So over the past few weeks I've talked about how shipping relates to canon. How sometimes it works by redefining it, by reading into it, by reshaping it or discarding it entirely, and by interacting with it as it interacts with us.

And in this very ending column of the section, I want to bring it back to the canon again -- the musical kind. The beautiful thing about a canon is that is is the same melody - no variation - played by each instrument, starting at a different time. But depending on which instrument is playing, and what other parts of the selfsame song it's interacting with, listeners will hear different things at different times.

Let's look at the musical example of the canon that I posted at the very start of this series of columns:



To every instrument on its own, this is a C major scale going downward. That's very clear.
But on the third beat, we have an minor third - an A minor. In the very next note a major third - G major.
The tune, the tenor, and the mood shifts from note to note depending on which notes are being played in conjunction

And in the four beats when we have all three notes playing together -- such a rich sound! an F major, an E minor, a D minor and then a C major chord. What's more, that F major is being created by adding a single note to the A minor. A difference of one note, one layer, and a minor chord becomes a major one. From sad to happy in a single F.

For those of you who don't read music, here's the single melody -- and here's the canon. You can't deny that it's the same melody, but depending on the beat, it sounds very, very different.

Now, there are two reasons I bring this back around to shipping.

One is the obvious, which is, depending on what notes you're playing at the same time, where you are and what pieces of the melody speak to you, you can listen to the same notes but hear something very, very different. Perhaps, if you're like me, and you're musically inclined and know what's coming next, you imagine that F on the bottom of the A minor third, and it almost sounds happy to you instead of sad. It's still a minor third, but you hear it as major. I don't need to tell you the point of this ham-handed metaphor -- what we see on the screen is the same, but what we take away from it is different, and there's no shame in that. Those are the differences that make art complex and intriguing and wonderful.

But the other half of the metaphor is this: Shipping isn't a single melody, either. That's what I've been trying to illustrate. Part of shipping is interpreting what's on the screen. Part of shipping is remaking it. Part of shipping is interaction with one another, and part of it is interaction with the outside world. Some shippers do some of these, some do others, some do all, but there is not a single thing that all shippers do.

Shippers are not a monolith. Shipping brings different joys to different people. And sometimes there's dissonance among the different points of view, and sometimes discomfort, and sometimes ugliness. But most of the time, harmony and acceptance, because we all understand that we see what we see, and it may not be what others see, but there's nothing wrong with enjoying and sharing and debating that.

And all these questions of "canon or not canon," "talk about it or not talk about it" -- they are conversations that go on within the shipping community as well. Some shippers would prefer to live in their own space and not engage the larger fandom; others think it's essential. Some find it intensely embarrassing when questions that touch on shipping are brought up with the professionals; other people see those questions as the only way to open doors that have traditionally stayed closed. Some shippers engage in behavior that embarrasses other shippers; some shippers have shame or guilt or fear attached to their shipping and would rather it be private; some find it a core part of who they are and how they interact with the world. But no single shipper's activity represents the community at large. Not even this columnist, no matter how much she may try to shed light on things.

Over the next few weeks I'm going to start talking about the different things shipping is to different people. Some of them are in conflict with each other. Some are not. But each is an insight into one corner of a varied world, and each has a different relationship to canon, to the rest of fandom, and to the world at large.

But first, I'll be bringing you something special. A friend of mine, Paul, a non-shipper who was interested in how shippers think, had the good graces to engage with me in a long conversation. It was a long and sometimes uncomfortable talk, but in the end we were able to find many points of agreement. The conversation was an uneasy one, and there was a lot of friction, but I found places to concede certain behaviors are unsustainable, and he found some previously unexplored interest in the underlying questions that drive shipping. I'll be bringing you that conversation as a column, and as an example that yes, we can discuss this and make progress.

Speaking of discussions:

I ask very specific questions at the end of every column. There's a reason I do this: to help guide the discussion and focus our energies not toward our animosity toward each other but toward the topics within and around shipping that bear talking about. To that end, I continue to be a little dismayed that every week has contained some permutation of "X and Y aren't in love, and you're watching it wrong if you think so." So let me state this, in boldface, and for the record.

The point of this column is not to convince you to ship. So the point of your comments should not be to convince people not to.

I'm writing this column because there are things to talk about with shipping. The big, big question is, how do we co-exist with non-shippers? What in our behavior needs to be modified; what are the reasons for the animosity that exists and how can we come to an understanding? And yes, we have to co-exist. Because things can't stand as they are. You can't control what I see when I watch TV, and I can't control what you see. But we're both watching, and we both feel the need to discuss it. So no matter how many times you say "Shippers should find their own forum," shippers aren't going away. Coexisting isn't impossible. We just need to start to listen to each other.

If you're here to do that, and not to shame or drive in wedges, then I hope you'll look forward to future columns as much as I'm looking forward to posting them. If you're not interested in that process? Fine, but that takes you outside the discussion, too, and your comments will not be treated as valid discussion points.

One more thing: I respectfully ask that you not downvote comments by shippers simply because they're by shippers. It is rude and it tells everyone that good faith is not to be found here. I'd prefer if you didn't use the voting system at all, as it seems a cowardly way to heckle from the sidelines. But if you're going to upvote and downvote, limit your downvotes to comments you feel are rude or inappropriate. And like it or not, comments by shippers on a shipping column are unquestionably appropriate.

How do we break the impasse? What is there to talk about besides "yes, ship" or "no, don't"? What are the specific questions you have to ask that will let us move forward?

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