Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shipping News: Hell hath no fury like a (Sterek) shipper scorned.

The plan with this post was to begin a weekly segment that outlines all the biggest news from the world of “shipping” - I’ve mentioned “shipping” before, so if you have no idea what I'm talking about then please head here first (if you have stumbled across this because you are interested in actual nautical adventures then please exit the page now). I meant for it to encompass, all ships and all shows but when I sat down to write it there is really only one thing that is worthy of discussion and that’s a little ship by the name of “Sterek”.

For those of you that don’t know Sterek stands for the coupling of Stiles and Derek from the MTV show Teen Wolf. Before you run away from the thought of discussing an MTV show, just give it a chance because Teen Wolf has become one of the most talked about shows for the (American) summer season. I had barely even heard of it before the second season started and suddenly my Tumblr dashboard was taken over by these supernatural teenagers and one of the most popular parts of the show is the relationship between the sarcastic (human) Stiles and the alpha wolf with trust issues Derek.

Of course Stiles and Derek aren’t actually a couple on the show (in other words they are not canon - although there is clear subtext) but the chemistry between these two is hard to deny and as their interactions increased throughout season 2 so too did the shippers. It’s hardly original that two handsome and damaged characters would be paired together by fangirls and despite the fact that I myself ship them to timbuktu and back I probably wouldn’t be discussing them in this depth if it weren’t for Entertainment Weekly.

Basically what happened was that Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch decided to create their first ever Summer TV Awards to celebrate all that is good (and bad) about the (American) summer season. In order to do this they compiled a list of categories and asked their readers to nominate their favourites in the comments. Again, this is hardly original, in fact it’s how most online polls are run these days but unfortunately for PopWatch they decided to include a category titled - “Couple You’re ‘Shipping Like Crazy”.

You might be able to guess from the use of the apostrophe on the word shipping that EW is exactly down with the lingo but whatever, shippers don’t get all that many occasions to express their love for a ship to the general public so no one was complaining. Anyway the word got to Tumblr that this poll was happening and the Sterek shippers soon mobilized like Caesar's army and by the time the poll opened there had been over 600 comments nominating the Teen Wolf pairing, at least 3 times more than any other couple.

Alas when the Sterek shippers made their way to back to the EW website ready to vote for their OTP (one true pairing) they were shocked to find that their couple had been left of the list. Surely the 600+ comments were enough to warrant a nomination. They were, rightfully, pissed off and as anyone who has spent any time on any kind of fandom related forum or blog, one does not simply piss off the shippers. All you have to do is go to EW’s Summer TV Awards voting page and check out the 700+ comments demanding retribution to realise that they made a mistake.

Even Teen Wolf’s creator Jeff Davis recognized the seriousness of EW’s mistake when he tweeted:

I don’t know what the EW were thinking when they excluded Sterek from their list of nominations... I mean they might have thought the nominations were a joke, or maybe they were just partaking in the long honoured tradition of dismissing female fanbases as delusional and unimportant. Whatever it was, they made a mistake and the Sterek fans were right to demand some kind of response and eventually they got it. When I woke up this morning EW had posted this condescending message:

Teen Wolf “Sterek” fans, we’ve read your (hundreds and hundreds of) comments and admire your passion. The reason Sterek didn’t make the category is because it’s not an acknowledged will-they-or-won’t-they storyline on the show itself. The pairings we included in that category all share a scripted, long-established dynamic on their show. We’re sorry if you feel your truly impressive mobilization for nominating the duo was in vain. We will acknowledge your passion with a special award when the winners are announced Monday. 
And to clarify: The reader nominations are viewed as suggestions. Votes aren’t counted until the polls open.”

There are quite a few things wrong with this statement, other than its condescending nature. For starters it misinterprets the word “shipping” which does not limit itself to purely canon couples. Also I have been informed (I don’t watch the shows so I don’t know for sure) that some of the couples nominated are not explicitly stated to be part of will-they-or-won’t-they storylines meaning they are based on subtext and chemistry, just like Sterek. The only difference that I can see is that all the couples nominated by EW are heterosexual.

While I wouldn’t go as far as some other fans by calling EW homophobic, I would say that they are perpetuating the heteronormative assumption that everyone is straight until proven gay and completely ignores the possibility that there is anything in between. In their minds Stiles and Derek are shown to have been interested in women, which means they are straight and therefore they will never happen on the show which denies them the status of legitimate ship. Now, I’m not saying that Sterek will become cannon (although you never know with Teen Wolf) but this attitude is incredibly problematic not to mention outdated. It seems that EW really is, as one fan commented - the “Regina’s Mom” of pop culture sites.

It’s pretty clear that PopWatch doesn’t really understand what they're talking about. This is not great considering that it markets itself as “Keeping an eye on pop culture”. It’s certainly not keeping a very close eye seeing as “shipping” is a major buzzword in popular culture journalism right now, and even if you’re not entirely sure what it means it’s really not that hard to look it up on Urban Dictionary. I can't help but think that if whoever is in charge if this poll had done their homework, none of this would be happening.

Say what you want about shippers, they are passionate enough to fight for what they believe in and that’s something that should be respected. I could go into detail about the issues of gendering fandom in order to distinguish the difference between being an intelligent fan and a batshit crazy fangirl but I won’t because I'm sure you have other things you need to do before you die. You can read more of man rants about taking fandom seriously here and here.

The event has not been all bad though because it spawned this interview with Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis, who truly is a gift. And it also allowed Eonline to further distinguish itself from the dinosaur that is EW - at least they seem to know what shipping is, and they don’t just dismiss it as childish - I mean the final of their Top Couples Tournament was fought between two non-canon (and non-heterosexual) ships (Faberry and Destiel).

Look, shipping isn’t for everyone, and I am well aware that some shippers can get a little bit too attached to their favourite pairing (no judgement I’m guilty of this). The thing is it’s something that is a big (and getting bigger) part of fandom and any one that is “keeping an eye on” popular culture would have to be blind not to see it.
That's all for now future shippers, check back next week for more shipping news.