As stated in Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers, one way fans can make personal meanings of whatever text they desire is to just not to ‘reread’ or ‘rewatch,’ but to ‘rewrite’ and “sustain [an] emotional experience” with that particular text. I believe in many ways, the idea of shipping relationships is a way fans make a long-lasting connection with that text and I believe shipping is at the core of many of the ‘poaching’ activities Jenkins touches on, such as fan fiction/fan writing.

EW.com dubs Shipper Nation as a “community whose members desire romance from – or project romance (“shipping”) onto almost any kind of pop culture pairing.” Some of the more recent popular ‘shipping’ pairings on television include Damon and Elena or Stefan and Elena from The Vampire Diaries, Sherlock and Watson from Elementary, Nick and Jess from New Girl, Castle and Beckett from Castle and Robin and Barney from How I Met Your Mother.

New Girl's "Jess and Nick" changed the direction of the FOX comedy. (Photo Source: Yahoo! Canada OMG! TV Blog)

New Girl’s “Jess and Nick” changed the direction of the FOX comedy. (Photo Source: Yahoo! Canada OMG! TV Blog)

Just do a quick search for the word shipping. You’ll find the most ‘desirable’ television couples and their respective rankings, message board threads of fans discussing the first couple they shipped (I was partial toward Brandon and Kelly in the later seasons of Beverly Hills, 90210, before he left her at the altar; I was just too young to understand the complexities of the Kelly/Brenda/Dylan triangle from the first four seasons) and the always up-for-debate best couple on television conversation, along with their respected statuses (Engaged! Friends with benefits! They haven’t even met yet!)

From a historical standpoint, TV Tropes reveals the term ‘shipping’ comes from fans of the Mulder and Scully pairing from 1993 sci-fi drama The X-Files. For those that believed the pair was better off as strictly platonic co-workers called themselves “noromos”, those on the other side of the coin were called “relationshippers” – but ultimately ‘shippers worked because the word does not discriminate in terms of what type of relation you ‘ship. Sigh. So much ‘shipping going on.

So why do we ship? There are many answers to this question. In my experience as a devoted fan of heavy-handed daytime and primetime soaps, and quite a few sitcoms that play up the predictable ‘will they or won’t they’ relationships, I believe if a fan senses even a hint of chemistry between the two actors (from the very start), or the premises of the show is built around two characters “getting together,” fans will become devoted. They’ll write fan-fiction. They’ll create music videos depicting the relationship. Sometimes real-life plays into it–actors and actresses that aren’t together on-screen get together off-screen and there’s an out pour from fans to see their chemistry play out on the show. Oftentimes, the love affair that blossoms between the characters turns into a real-life romance, a la Lea Michele and the late Cory Monteith, also known as Rachel and Finn on FOX’s Glee.

Some fans want to change the show to suit their own shipping needs. Even Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy revealed to Oprah Winfrey early this year that she had to ‘take the show back’ from the fans’ so she could continue to write and produce:

One of the most talked about television couples is Scandal’s Olivia and Fitz, also known as ‘Olitz’ (yes, we will get to blending couple names at a later date). Olivia and Fitz’s relationship can be described as contentious, explosive, and downright forbidden. In the fictional Scandal-D.C. world, Fitz is not only the President of the United States, but he’s a married man. Olivia is a powerful political fixer who knows and interacts with Fitz’s wife (the freakin’ First Lady!), Mellie. All three parties know each other, know the situation and despite that, the show is carefully directed in a way to make the audience fall for Olivia and Fitz and forget that what they’re doing is well, pretty awful. Scandal fans do not just ship Olitz, they practically live for Olitz.

Kerry Washington (Olivia) and Tony Goldwyn (Fitz) from the ABC drama, Scandal. Photoshoot from the April 2013 TV Guide cover. It's an understatement to say their fans are devoted. (Photo Source: In Flex We Trust)

Kerry Washington and Tony Goldwyn from the ABC drama, Scandal posing as Olivia and Fitz for the April 2013 TV Guide cover. It’s an understatement to say their fans are devoted. (Photo Source: In Flex We Trust)

Taking the love of their favorite couple to the extreme, certain Gladiators have actually given another actor on Scandal, Scott Foley, a difficult time on Twitter because his character (Jake) became a potential romantic interest for Olivia Pope toward the latter half of the previous season.

In a way, I believe there needs to be not only an awareness of shipping, but an understanding of the limitations on how far shipping can go. Debating whether Olivia has better chemistry with Fitz than with Jake or deciding that Olivia beginning a relationship with Jake would be the more healthy opinion is one thing. To attack personally because of these certain desires can take the fun out of shipping. Some take it to the extremes. But everyone has their own shipping story to tell, and I, along with the writers, producers, actors, reporters and fans alike should encourage that vocal enthusiasm, to a point.

Written with StackEdit.

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Shipping is interesting stuff. It is one of those activities that really draws people in, or cements them as a fan, because its the point where you are so invested in the fan object that you want to create in it or with it or for it. It is curious that the creator feels she needs to take back control, because obviously the fans don’t have any say in canon, and to react territorially is I think a bad idea.

    Reply
  2. I have been shipping since I was a pre-teen but never knew it had a name. I do this with both television shows and book series, it is definitely an aspect of a text that creates a lasting emotional tie for me. In my How I Met Your Mother research I have come across quite a bit of Barney/Robin fanfic and just plain adoration for the couple despite Barney’s checkered past. Maybe a potential future blog post?
    But I definitely agree that there needs to be a line drawn somewhere when it comes to real life harassment.

    Reply
  3. You guys raise some really good points. I’ve been trying to figure out at what point in fandom does shipping begin, and of course at what point does it cross the line (which is pretty obvious).. but you can do a few searches on Twitter for ‘popular couples’ and there are a ton of tweets where people pronounce their ‘shipping status’, but is it really as simple as saying ‘I SHIP BOOTH AND BONES!’ or something to that extent. If there’s one thing I really love, it’s how coupledom really takes off on its own, long after the show ends its run on television, complete with fan fic and vids, just another extension of what this culture can produce.

    Reply

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About Christina Maxwell

I’m a young professional journalist with a dual B.A. degree in Radio-TV-Film and Journalism and I am currently working on my M.A. in Writing, specializing in Journalism and New Media Studies (both at Rowan University). Although my advanced degree allows me to have options in the future, for now, my main goal is finding a job in journalism. I am a journalist at heart. First hand knowledge, original reporting and precisive answers are what I strive for when I'm working. For the past two years, I have done freelance reporting with the Gloucester Township Patch, but my goal is to have a sustainable, consistent job in journalism.

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fandom, participatory culture, social media

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