Between the Lines: Fandom Ship Wars

Back to that age old moral dilemma of thinking we know better than anyone else what’s good for screens around the world, another characteristic of Tumblr fandom horror is the shipping war. Shipping, if you weren’t aware (who are we kidding) is when you think two characters should be together, romantically. Ship wars often occur when one character has more than one potential love interest, and it’s all fun and games when you’re arguing about the aesthetics of the ship, and which ship would have better chemistry, but eventually someone will take the shipping too far and all hell will break loose.

Personally, for me, ship wars are their worst in two scenarios: one, when a certain sect of the fandom deems one of the two Potential Love Interests as “problematic”; and the second is when fandoms, either large segments or smaller subsets of them, feel violently wronged to not have a potential couple as canon on the show. In both situations, we find ourselves back in two of the most toxic mindsets: believing that we have higher moral integrity than others, and demanding personal favors of writers who are out there telling stories they want to tell.

And you know what, I’m aware of the nuance. Sometimes ships are problematic. So, let’s rehash the definition of problematic as it exists for this column, something actually deeply inappropriate, unhealthy, bigoted and/or destructive. Problematic behavior is not behavior that opposes our personal opinions and desired outcomes. It isn’t behavior that we, as individuals, don’t like, although we could have personal problems with that behavior.

Problematic behavior, as far as I see it, is behavior that’s actually dangerous. Most of the ships that we, the Tumblr community, deem as problematic, are hardly so. They could be boring, maybe, or even just overdone or stereotypical, which is all unfair and slightly draining, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it problematic. Sometimes, we don’t like a ship for a multitude of reasons: the character we love deserves a better significant other, or no significant other, or a better love story, or the romance feels forced and unnecessary. These are all valid reasons, and it’s perfectly fine to not like a ship.

What’s not fine? Going after the character (and honestly, in some of the worst cases, going after the actor) that we dislike, taking their actions out of context and deeming them not only “problematic,” but a whole slew of other radicalized vocab: they’re terrible, unhealthy, gas-lighters, manipulators. After the injured shippers have taken their anger out on the characters, they pummel the people who do, for whatever reason, ship the ship that they don’t like. These pro-shippers are also shunned, ostracized, verbally abused, you name it, shipping wars have seen it.

And frankly, it’s disgusting behavior. I do dare say it’s problematic. Like I said in last week’s post on call-out culture, when dealing with the Internet and fandoms, in particular, we tend to forget that we are dealing with real people. We must, and I will strongly insist through the rest of my series, treat members of fandom with respect. The Internet is still a place, and fandom is still a place, and suddenly deciding death threats and verbal abuse is acceptable just isn’t okay.

Which brings me to the next scenario: when the writers are the ones at fault. Whole fandoms have ganged up and revolted against writers for ships not becoming canon. And HONESTLY, I get this too. I’m not saying the anger isn’t justified. I’m saying the methods of expressing that anger aren’t justified.

It’s never okay to tear down a writer’s entire story for the fact that two fictional people never got a chance to kiss on screen. It’s not okay to verbally abuse, stalk, or lash out on a writer who is telling the story they want to tell, to imply that they have done the entertainment industry a disservice by not appealing to the desires of a fandom. We’ve all seen it. It’s gross.

The writers are telling a story, and while the characters become our favorites, and we have all the rights to dream up new stories for them, the canon version of the story is still the writer’s personal playground. It’s a privilege to be allowed to watch it from the fence, and it’s our right to be allowed to go home (by which I mean AO3) and redesign it to our own desires. That’s the good thing about fandom, isn’t it? You can customize it to your own wants, but you can’t tell other people –writers or other shippers- how to make it theirs. That responsibility is theirs, just as this responsibility is yours.

And so, this Friday, just like last Friday, the idea is that we’ve got to be gentler, friends. We’ve got to take responsibility for ourselves, for the media we consume and how we consume it, and for the ways we deal with fictional disappointment. It says a lot about who we are as people, and honestly, maybe I’m being one of the people who think she’s got a higher moral standard than others. So tell me, what do you think?

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