Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Shipping News: The Problem With Upgrading the Relationship

Hi guys, it’s been a while because Teen Wolf has taken over my life (okay there’s other stuff too but you’re not interested in that so it’s not worth mentioning). Anyway we’ve had most of the season finals – which is always a turbulent time for shippers – and it’s almost time for Summer TV: when everything is just so much simpler (or so we thought damn you Teen Wolf). And while we’re on a topic of finals, let’s talk about whether or not we really want our OTP to actually get together.

Season Final Madness:

In The Vampire Diaries Damon got the girl (Elena) but I was too sad about losing Alaric again to care. Also Rebekah got the boy (Matt) and Klaus wants to be Caroline’s last love so he’s letting Tyler be her first.
Are all of you watching Nashville? Because you should be! The season final was a shipper’s dream (or nightmare) with death and drinking and a horrible car crash. Seriously this is the most amazing prime-time soap in recent years. Watch it (if only for the Deacon/Rayna).
Supernatural fans dared to dream (and write fan fiction) about a fallen Castiel… until it wasn’t a dream anymore. Also Dean brought Sam back from the brink with the power of brotherly (or not so brotherly) love).

Bits and Pieces:
  • Readexpress wrote and article on Kirk/Spock fan fiction – read it here.
  • Fandom’s reluctance about Yahoo!’s purchase of Tumblr hasn’t stopped them from shipping the two companies.

Let’s talk about the “relationship upgrade”.

Shippers talk a lot about how much they want their OTP to be canon but is that really the case? After all a relationship upgrade for a popular pairing has often resulted in a drastic downfall of the show they star in, which begs the question – are we actually interested in what happens after happily ever after.

This topic comes from a discussion I was having with one of my lonely readers in the comments of last week’s Talking Teen Wolf but it’s something I have thought about (and talked about) on many different occasions. I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘slow build’ relationship but there comes a point where I am over the will-they-wont-they drama and ready for them to settle down (or sink the ship).

The thing is, while I might be ready to see a couple finally get their act together that doesn’t mean I’m ready to let go of the series they star in. But does an established relationship really mean the end of the drama?

This is problem is only really apparent in a series, stand alone films or books avoid ‘shipping bed death’ because of the finite time period that the action takes place. In a film, the end is the end but in a series there can be multiple endings. It is in a series (no matter what format) that we have to find the drama in happily ever after. Unfortunately that usually means that ever after is not all that happy.

When shippers imagine their OTP finally getting together they often imagine them walking off into the sunset together and living out their days happily in love (as the plethora of domestic futurefic can attest) but from a narrative perspective the idea of happily ever after is pretty boring. So when your fav couple finally gets together a whole new bunch of worries start to come out.

First is the fact that everyone has their own idea of what happily ever after entails, meaning that not everyone is going to satisfied with how it happens on the screen. Then there’s the fact that once our fav characters that have fought so hard finally get what they wanted – watching them suffer loses it’s appeal to a certain extent. And let’s not forget if most of the narrative tension in a series is built of unresolved sexual tension then the whole series is going to change (and not necessarily for the better) once that tension is resolved.

These problems are dealt with in a variety of different ways. The most prominent is that once a couple has officially hooked up they shift from being a will-they-wont-they to an on-again-off-again romance. If not done well and on-again-off-again relationship can feel like a punch in the gut for shippers that were so sure that those two people were meant to be only to have it turn out that they don’t really work together.

The other option is the last-minute-hookup, in which the tension is only resolved in the final five minutes of the final episode/book/film of the series. This option is probably the least likely to offend because it leaves it open for fans to give the couple the happily ever after they always dreamed off. It’s satisfying enough to reward shippers but not rigid enough to ruin fantasies. Of course this option only works if the fanbase is not sick of the couple before they hook up.

Let’s face it, there is only so long sexual tension can remain unresolved before it we start getting blue balls. For me the cut off us usually around season 4, after that I just can’t be bothered to care anymore. There are exceptions of course – but generally the tension reaches a point where it’s no longer pleasurable and I’m really not into orgasm denial.

The more I think about the more I have a problem with the idea that getting a couple together means the end of dramatic tension. That seems lazy to me. Surely there is enough drama in an established relationship to sustain a couple more seasons without having to break them up again and again?

These issues are less prevalent in ensemble dramas – if the story is about a group of people with a number of different romantic pairings then there is less pressure to keep the sexual tension unresolved (unfortunately this usually means there is another couple that must remain unresolved – think Monica and Chandler compared to Ross and Rachel). Also if the romance is a side story to the actual drama then getting the couple together shouldn’t affect the narrative all that much.

As a shipper it’s kind of disappointing to think that either we don’t get to see our OTP as a couple or we have to watch them constantly break up. Surely there is a way to maintain narrative tension without undermining a relationship that fans desperately want to succeed.

What do you think lonely reader? Would you rather wait 6 seasons to see your OTP kiss or do you want to see what happens after happily ever after at the risk that it might not be that happy?

Let me know what you think in the comments.