Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Shipping News Special: Woe is Fandom, No One Will Ever Understand Us

Three guesses as to what I am going to talk about this week… of course it’s Sterek. Yeah I know but I committed so this is happening. The week started out so well. Sterek won another poll, EOnline interviewed Jeff and Matt gave us some adorable new Hobrien gifs. Everything was happy sparkle fun time until MTV remote control decided to get in on the action and everything just spiraled out of control.

First things first: Sterek won EOnline’s first (annual???) Fantasy TV Couples Tournament. Good for you Sterek fans, it’s always nice to win things and you worked hard to get your reward. And for your trouble EOnline got you this little gem of a quote from our creator-god Jeff Davis:

"I continue to be amazed at the tenacity of Sterek fans to not only win these online polls but literally throttle the competition. I think Tyler and Dylan will be very proud to know that the characters they helped create have inspired so much dedication and love. Congrats to the Stereks!" (x)

Ignoring the Regina’s Mom use of “the Stereks” this is actually a really sweet quote. Jeff’s not laughing at shippers (even though it’s clear he still doesn’t quite understand us) and there’s a nice acknowledgement of Hoechlin and Dylan – normally they are kept out of these discussions. All in all, as a slash fan and a Sterek fan I would call this a win.

Add in the fact that the Teen Wolf Tumblr gave us a couple of adorable gifs from what I can only assume are the outtakes of the now infamous boat video. Really things were going pretty well for Sterek fans, some might even say too well.

Then MTV’s Remote Control Blog published this article and it sent Sterek fans into a tizzy. The blog post has all the usual misinterpretations that the media makes, but the fandom has come to expect more from MTV, I guess that’s why this article pissed so many people off. 

The passages that most fans seem offended by are:

“While the likelihood of ever witnessing sexytime between Derek/Stiles is pretty slim, that never stops you guys from shipping the hell out of the two hunky characters, and now, all of that pluck has paid off!” (x)


“We asked Rae Votta, a writer at our sister site,, and verifiable Sterek expert (a Stexpert, if you will), to chime in on the phenomenon, and she had this to say: "Sterek is the perfect storm of fandom shipping -- two totally attractive guys, that tension-filled canon relationship where they sort of hate each other but clearly care, and you've got supernatural elements clouding their ability to truly ever be together. It's a wonder Sterek and a legion of young women don't take over the entire world." Votta, who has her Masters in Linguistics with a focus on fan communities and culture, certainly knows her stuff, eh?” (x)

Look, I’ll admit the article is a tad patronizing but it’s no worse than any other time a major media outlet has tried to talk about shipping. In fact I thought it was a little better than most (let’s not forget that the whole Fantasy Couples Tournament was a bit dismissive to start with). But let’s talk about why this upset so many shippers.

Quite a few fans were upset because the article said the “likelihood of ever witnessing sexytime between Derek/Stiles is pretty slim”. Part of me understands that, it’s never nice to hear an outsider talk about your OTP that way. The other part of me, the part of me that has been a slash fan for the last 14 years, can’t get over the fact that a blog associated with the network actually said there was a slim chance a non-canon slash pairing could have sex. Seriously that’s crazy. A couple of years ago they wouldn’t have even acknowledged the ship existed now there out there saying it could happen… even if it’s not likely that’s a huge step forward.

The other problem here is, of course, the fact that the media continues to associate shipping (especially slash) with sex. This idea seems to stem from two points – there’s the fact that homosexuality is almost always defined by sexual acts and the fact that female fans are almost always depicted as horny teenage girls. I’m pretty sure the article’s author was just trying to be up with it and wink at the porn but that doesn’t mean it should be forgiven. It’s not just about sex and the sooner the media starts to understand this, the sooner shipping will actually be taken seriously.

Okay now let’s talk about what the lovely Rae Votta had to say about Sterek. She’s actually a really great girl, and if anyone gets it she does but she made the mistake of referring to Sterek fans as “a legion of young women”. This plays into the media’s stereotype of fans as teenage girls, which is employed to dismiss fandom because the tastes of young woman are simply fleeting fancies controlled by hormones and not worthy of anyone’s respect. This is one of my pet peeves so I completely understand why people are angry but if this quote was taken out of the context of this incredibly patronizing article (and you ignore the ‘young women’ distinction) it’s actually a pretty accurate description of Sterek and it’s fandom. Don’t hate on Rae Votta because her quote was used in a crappy article.

In fact the awesome Ms Votta responded to the objections to her use of phrase ‘young women’ saying: “I am in no way marginalizing the rest of the fandom, but instead celebrating the power of female fandom as a cultural force. Too often women, especially young women, are written off as silly — instead of as the powerful tastemakers and drivers of popular culture they actually are.” That’s a sentiment I can get behind (sorry guys I got to support anyone else that made it through fan studies).  

The only other thing I have to say about this article is that this is the Network – not Teen Wolf. Teen Wolf are use to Sterek (or getting there), they are even starting to take it seriously. Not everyone working at MTV is in the same boat and while the author of this particular post didn’t do a very good job: the amazing thing is that the article exists at all. Television shows and certainly networks do not usually engage with non-canon ships in this way… or at all. They’re in uncharted territory so cut them some slack (and tell them to hire a fandom liaison to help them negotiate a complicated subculture that they really don’t understand). 

Finally remember this article is not just for fans. It’s for the general public, which means when talking about shipping you have to do it in a different way than you would if you were speaking directly to the fandom. As someone that has to talk about shipping with non-shippers on a daily basis, it’s not as easy as it looks. Although I want fandom (and shipping) to be taken seriously my defense mechanism is humour. I know they don’t understand it, and I know that they are judging me for engaging with it – so I make fun of myself before anyone else can. I know a lot of other fans that write about fandom do the same thing.

The inherent problem with this article is not that it tries to make light of the situation, or even that it states there is only a slim chance of Sterek happening (we already knew that), it’s that the author is very clearly not one of us. When we as fans poke fun at shipping or slash to break the tension we do it with love: we’re laughing with the fandom. The MTV Remote Control Blog post is laughing at the fandom and that’s really very not cool MTV.

One day the media will learn that we are the only ones that are allowed to make fun of shipping and that will be a good day.

All right – that’s my two cents on the drama. I will be writing up a regular shipping news later where I will talk about the latest crop of Teen Wolf spoilers that have come out to distract us but until then have this little snippet from EOnline’s Spoiler Chat:
We can tell you that the first half of Teen Wolf's upcoming season is a bit light on the Sterek, though they will interact, according to Tyler Hoechlin. "It's always fun working with Dylan[O'Brien], we have a blast together. It's been one of my favorite relationships on the show. There's always going to be that interaction. How much there will be this season? We'll see!"  O'Brien adds that there's been so little Sterek action so far, "I told Jeff [Davis] I think it would be funny if the next scene he writes between Stiles and Derek, he ends it with us like about to walk away but we look back at each other and say, ‘I miss this!'" (x)

As always remember to let me know your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

Till next time shippers: never give up, never surrender!