Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fangirl 101: An Idiot’s Guide to Talking About Shipping

I get a lot of questions from all kinds of people outside fandom. They ask a variety of different things but more often than not they want to know about shipping. I’ve already written a basic guide to shipping, slash and fan fiction but that doesn’t seem to be enough because while they understand the general concepts, they still don’t know how to talk about them. In an effort to stop myself from having to have the same conversation over and over again I’m going to give you a simple set of rules to help outsiders navigate the tempestuous waters of the shipping fandom.

So you want to talk about shipping – you’ve heard all the cool kids on Tumblr shouting about it and it’s become something of buzz word in online media circles the problem is you have no idea where to start. Don’t fret because UndieGirl has you covered. I’m awesome like that.

Don’t talk down to us!

Shipping might seem silly to you (I get that) but it’s important to us (yes seriously). We are aware that the romantic interactions of fictional characters are hardly the most pressing of issues but it’s something we care about, so don’t just dismiss it because you think it’s frivolous. How many people watch and enjoy reality TV? How is shipping any more frivolous than that?

We don’t care how stupid you think it is, we enjoy speculating about the love lives of our favourite characters. Do you know why? Because it’s fun. We don’t need you to explain to us that these characters aren’t really in a relationship. You don’t need to tell us that it’s just a tv show/movie/book so we shouldn’t care this much. We do not need to be rescued from our delusions because we are not delusional (well most of us aren’t).

This is simply how we choose to engage with the text – if you don’t like it then don’t talk about it. Just ignore us and we will ignore you. It’s win win.

If you don’t know the meaning of a word: do not use it!

This should be a no brainier but remember last years EW/Sterek drama? That whole thing could have been avoided if someone hadn’t tried to use the word shipping without knowing what it actually meant. I know fandom is a whole new language, and it’s fun to use new terms but just because you have discovered a shiny new word doesn’t mean you should use it.  

Fandom is the same as any other subculture – if you are not one of us then don’t try to talk like us. If you do attempt to be down with the kids by using the lingo you will slip up and you will end up looking like a nob. Don’t worry, spend a bit of time around fandom and you will pick up the language easily enough but until then just use terms that you are comfortable with. You’re better off saying ‘couple’ or ‘pairing’ rather than ship (especially if you feel the need to put an apostrophe in front of the word like so: ‘shipping – we get it, it’s short for relationship). The moment you use a term the wrong way, is the moment you lose your audience.

Know your resources!

If you are going to insist on employing fandom terms then at least do your research. A basic Google search is probably enough but incase you’re having trouble here are a couple of handy links to get you started:

Pop Culture is Not Art’s Fangirl 101 – more tips and guides like this one.
Fanlore – like Wikipedia but for fandom.
TVTropes – like Fanlore but snarkier (also has specific textual examples).
The Daily Dot’s How to Speak Fangirl – an article defining key terms.
Urban Dictionary – if I have to explain this one you’re a lost cause.

Ask for help!

We’re nice. Most of us are anyway. And you know what we really love talking about shipping – so if after you have done your research you still don’t understand a particular term or you want to know more about a particular ship then just ask someone. I know you’re all too manly to stop and ask for directions but seriously get over yourselves. We know things – you want to know things – you are wasting a valuable resource by not talking to us.  

Hi my name is UndieGirl, I’m here to help, ask me how. The University of Newcastle qualified me to talk fandom and AfterElton calls me a slash expert. You can contact me via email, Tumblr or Facebook. If I don’t know the answer to your question I can point you in the direction of someone that can. Do yourself – and those of us that like a drama free fandom – a favour and send me a message before you put your foot in your mouth.  

Assumptions make you an ass!

We are not all hormonal teenage girls – or young women – or whatever other patronizing label you want to put on us. Yes there are quite a few young straight girls that enjoy shipping but that’s hardly an accurate representation of the community as a whole. A large number of shippers identify as queer and the amount of men/boys that engage with the phenomenon is constantly increasing. There is no such thing as stereotypical shipper and if you try to suggest there is you will be offending a massive chunk of the fandom. So it’s best to just not do that… okay. 

It’s not just about sex!

Those two dudes (I’m using dude as a gender neutral term) are pretty attractive but we don’t just ship them because we want to see them make out. Don’t get me wrong, watching pretty people rub up against each other is fun but that’s not what shipping is about. Shipping is about being invested in characters and their journey, which we hope is heading towards each other. Sex is a nice pay off if it happens but it’s not everything – so stop acting like it is.

Don’t talk about the porn!

I’m not saying we’re ashamed of it; we’re not. We’ve read and seen things that your pretty little brains couldn’t dream of, and for a lot of fandom it’s actually a point of pride. That’s not the issue, the issue is that you don’t get it. When we talk about the porn we know it’s just one aspect of a large dynamic community, you on the other hand tend to think it’s something to giggle at.

I know you think you’re cute winking as this secret world that lives behind the closed doors of the Internet, but you’re not. All shippers really want is to be taken seriously – and part of the issue is the assumption that we are all hormonal teenage girls. By talking about the porn, even if you think you’re doing it in a positive way, you’re just reinforcing a negative stereotype that we are desperately trying to escape… and that’s just going to piss people off.

Leave your heteronormative expectations at the door!

You’ve probably noticed that slash (and to a lesser extent femslash) is uber popular in the shipping community. The thing is – we don’t ship these couples just because they’re gay (except for a stupid minority). Representation is important, and we really do want to see more queer couples in our favourite stories but the reason we want those two gentlemen (or ladies) to be together has nothing to do with the fact that they have the same junk in their pants.

This might be a bit hard for you but I’m going to need you to step outside of the heteronormative bubble for a minute and imagine that not everyone is automatically either straight or gay. You see people assume that sexuality is a strict binary of gay or straight but really it’s a big ball of sexy-wexy stuff that shifts and changes over time. Right so if you ignore heteronomative assumptions then you can ship anyone with anyone regardless of what gender they have previously shown interest in.

It’s not crazy of delusional to see chemistry between two people just because it doesn’t fit with your binary expectations of gender and sexuality. Seriously, if this is your objection – then you need to take a long hard look at your own prejudices.

Extra tip: DO NOT think you can satisfy slash fans by introducing or increasing the role of a canonically queer character (you should do that anyway - just don't say it's for the slash fans).

Shipping does not equal slash! 

Slash is a type of shipping but not all shipping is slash (thanks to Ebony for the heads up on this one). While slash is a large and very vocal part of the shipping community - not everybody ships slash. Heterosexual pairings can be just as popular (just look at the Gossip Girl fandom - the great Chair/Dair divide). Shipping also includes canon pairings (couples that are together in the actual text). It's not just subtext! And it's not just gay men. We care about couples - all couples whether they are gay or straight or anything else. Some ships are canon and some are not... some are totally insane crack. It doesn't matter - it's still shipping. 

Hell hath no fury like a shipper scorned!

Trust me when I say you do not want to get on our bad side. This is not a joke. Shippers can be fun and cool but if you insult them or their ship in anyway you will regret it. We mobilize better than any other group and we will fight to the death. We are quite literally willing to go down with our ship – and if we are going down you can bet your ass we will take you with us. This might sound overly ominous but it’s the truth. You are better saying nothing at all than risking the wrath of a scorned shipper.

Shippers are NOT above reproach!

There are a lot of issues in the shipping community that we should be talking about. There’s the underlying racism and whitewashing that is more often than not ignored or dismissed as unimportant. There is the fetishization of gay men (and the marginalization of female characters) within the slash community. There is the perpetuation of gender stereotypes – sexism is still a thing. And that’s just a few of the issues that run rampant within the world of shipping. These are very real problems that should be discussed whenever possible.

These are the kind of things that you should questioning about the shipping community… so why are you wasting your time calling us delusional for caring about things?

Do not let us scare you off!

Shippers tend to be rather insular. Fandom did (and sometimes still does) have negative real world consequences so some fans like to keep the whole community out of the public eye. For this reason, when you talk about shipping you are almost always going to come up against some objections. There is a differences between shippers with a legitimate concerns because you didn't treat them with the respect they feel they deserve - and shippers that just don't want you butting your head into their private club. Contrary to what people think, fandom is not fight club. We are allowed to talk about it and you can too (as long as you follow these handy tips). 

Everybody ships!

Did you ever wonder whether or not Ross and Rachel would ever work out their issues? Were you sure that Sam and Diane were meant to be? Do you think that Homer and Marge really do make a cute couple? Well then you are a shipper. It’s not your fault, everyone does it. Society has programmed us to put everyone into neat romantic pairs; like we’re all Noah and fiction is the ark. You’re just like us – except we’re better at it. So get off your high horse and join the fun.

All right then, I think that pretty much covers the major issues. Hopefully you now feel more qualified to talk about shipping. If you think I missed something then don’t hesitate to hit me up in the comments. Otherwise enjoy the magical mystical world of shipping – remember to stay alert!