Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Shipping News: Hetronormativity - Don't do it!

This week I am reminded of just how fundamentally heteronomative Western society really is, and shippers finally get an article that treats us like actual people. I know I’m as shocked as you are.

EW has a news top 10 list: 10 Couples We’re Shipping Right Now. The list is pretty predicable including fan favs like The Vampire Diaries Delena and New Girl’s Nick/Jess. That said there were a couple of choices that had me questioning whether or not I want to live on this planet anymore…

The inclusion of Holmes/Watson from Elementary set off a couple of alarm bells. Despite early misgivings Liu’s female Joan Watson turned out to be pretty badass and is generally regarded as one of the best parts of this adaptation. While I’m not an active part of the Elementary fandom I was under the impression that TPTB were insisting that the relationship between Watson and Holmes would remain strictly platonic despite the gender change. Of course that’s not going to stop people from shipping them (it certainly doesn’t stop the BBC Sherlock fans) but it does beg the question as to why they were included in the EW’s list.

Most of the couples on this list are heterosexual and are stated in canon as either in a relationship or heading towards one (although Captain Swan is a bit iffy). As the EW has used this definition of shipping before to exclude slash pairings I figured that’s what they were sticking with. But the inclusion of Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes makes an interesting statement. It suggests that as long as the pairing is heterosexual then interest doesn’t need to be explicitly stated in the text for the couple to be legitimately shippable. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the hetronormative ideology of our patriarchal society at work.

The thing is I know that the EW didn’t mean anything by it. The list personal opinion about the ships they care about – they don’t have to care about slash or femslash that’s totally fine. What this does is point out just how silly most of the objections to slash really are. It would be stupid to ask people why they ship Sherlock/Joan – watching two people that have great chemistry interact, watching their relationship shift and change as they start to care about each other… that’s everything I love about TV but it’s also everything I love about my favourite slash and femslash pairings.

It’s moments like these that really remind me of the underlying problems within society. I know I don’t usually take these things that seriously and I often insist that slash is not advocacy – I still believe that. Wanting a slash pairing to happen isn’t about equal representation but that’s mainly because equal representation is a thing that should happen regardless of what we ship. It should just be a thing and it’s truly mindboggling that it’s not.  Sometimes I forget that the majority of people still adhere to the hetronormative assumption that everyone is straight until proven gay. Then something like this comes along to remind me and I am left sitting here staring in shock and awe at the ridiculousness of it all.

Please note that I am not trying to insult Elementary – I’m not arguing for the legitimacy of one ship or another (or for the legitimacy of one adaptation over another). I think Elementary is doing some incredibly interesting things but I am simply trying to draw attention to the problematic heteronormative assumptions that result in fundamental inequality within society.

It’s not all bad news this week though, because Zap2it’s Carina MacKenzie finally managed to do the unthinkable by writing an article about shippers that didn’t make me want to punch anyone. Well done Carina and well done Zap2It for positing it. I told you it could be done. Look it’s not perfect but it’s just so far above all the previous depictions of shipping that I can’t quite believe it.

The article not overtly positive, so it doesn’t feel as though it’s pandering to shippers. It even mentions the darker side of shipping: the crazies that send death threats to TPTB, actors and poor Internet bloggers that are just trying to make a living. I also give it kudos for mentioning romantically before sexually and suggesting that shipping can be about platonic friendship as well. If you’re interested here’s a great Tumblr post outlining everything this article did right.

Here’s the thing though I’m a Sterek shipper and I’d never try to suggest that our community is devoid of the crazies mentioned earlier or in some way inherently better than other fandoms. I have experienced some truly horrible people in the Sterek fandom as have those involved in the shows production and publicity of Teen Wolf. So Sterek fandom, do not assume that this article means you are above the negative aspects of shipping. You have some great people that do some great things but for every great person there is are a bunch of assholes making the rest of us look bad.

That said it is nice to see a positive article about shippers. This article depicts shippers enthusiasm as sweet not creepy, which is almost unheard of in non-fandom circles. While The Sterek Campaign is just a little bit too sincere for my sarcastic soul I do appreciate that it is an excellent example of fandom doing it right. Showing their support for something, without being demanding (although we will see how long the niceties lasts when Season 3 comes along and crushes everyone’s dreams).

And I’m done. Later shippers.