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09 September 2009 @ 08:43 am
Balladbird presents: Shippers in the mist  

Shippers… they are a breed of fan that exists at the very edge of the fandom.  To outsiders they may seem shy and introverted, as they seldom voice strong opinions to the outside world.  Within their own circles, however, they are a group of fascinating depth as well as terrifying animosity.  Although their higher circles are almost invariably female, I nonetheless tried my hand at inserting myself into their society.  After months of patient research, I eventually found myself in the deepest trenches of their world.  What sights did I see?  What events did I encounter?  What truths will I reveal?  Join me, as I share all that I discovered during my time amongst this dignified, but misunderstood people.


In case the title and opening paragraph didn’t make it obvious enough, the style I chose for this essay is a documentary.  The primary reason I have for writing this is to entertain, so perhaps I will have exaggerated certain facts along the way.  Perhaps I didn’t.  I don’t feel like telling, as I’m sure you’ll tell me.  Also note that I wrote this in as completely an unbiased manner as it’s possible for any human to do.  It actually wasn’t hard, as I’m delightfully good at making fun of all parties equally.  Without further ado, let us begin:




Part the first: basic information-


“Shippers” is the title given to any member of fandom that participates in the act of “shipping.”  I have it on reasonably good authority that this particular word is a shortened form of “relation shipping,” as in, a group of fans whose primary joy within fandom is the appreciation and study of romantic relationships within the series.  Even though I’ve gotten to the point where I can more or less accept this as correct, my time among them has deadened the part of me that would have wondered why they shortened the name of their hobby in such a way as to hearken memories of massive, floating, steel death machines.  Indeed, had I known then what I know now, I would not have been surprised to hear that this particular metaphor was what they had in mind when they coined the term.


Shipping, you see, is serious business.


I’ll elaborate on that point in a minute, first, however, I suppose I should offer some additional information to the handful of people who may be uninitiated into the world of shippers.  Anime, manga, novels, movies, series… virtually any medium you can imagine typically employs a number of romantic plotline archetypes as a way of pulling their audience into their story.  Often, this leads to lines of ambiguously open pseudo-romantic relationships between the various members of a character cast.  When the story leaves these lines open for a long enough period of time, a faction of their fandom will eventually become shippers.


Shippers choose a particular pair of characters out of the list of possible couples, and then contribute to the fandom in such a way as to voice this support.  In time, the couple they ship becomes dearer to them than the plot of the story itself.  There’s nothing wrong with this, at all.  It’s just another way to derive enjoyment from a medium whose purpose is to provide it.  Shippers express their love of the pairing in question in a variety of ways, among them:  fanfiction, fanart, cosplay, group discussion, essay writing, and insulting the ever-loving piss out of anyone who dares to hold an opinion different from theirs with regard to the couple in question.


Right… that last one seems to need further explanation… all in good time!


In my study of the various shipping communities for various fandoms, I’ve found a number of similarities:


-The majority of shipping participants are always female.  There are a few males who profess to love a certain ship, but the number among them who actively contributes to the ship is sparse.


-Regardless of genre or medium, the two ships that eventually become the biggest and most violent are almost always (with a few exceptions) those fans who ship the main character x the action girl, and those fans who ship the main character x the girly-girl.


-For series in which there isn’t much ambiguity regarding the main character’s love interest, the lines for the two biggest ships will instead become the fans of the main character x his canon love interest, and the fans of the main character x whichever other male he looks the cutest with.  Shipping rivalries in these series tend to be much tamer than in more ambiguous ones.



Well, now that I’ve touched onto the basics, it’s time for me to address the part of shipping fandom for which it is most legendary:  The angry, vengeful, glee with which the members of different ships harass one another.


Part the second:  teh anger~


I suppose it deserves to be mentioned that anger is hardly a trait that is exclusive to shipping.  Especially amongst anime fans, all of fandom tends to have an immortal bug very firmly lodged somewhere deep in their rectal tract.  The manner in which shippers express their hatred toward each other is considerably different from more mainstream fandom, but that seems to be more because of the way genders prefer to express their anger.


Power level arguments:  In anime fandom, this is where the majority of male energy will be spent.  Because the majority of participants in these debates are male, the way anger is exhibited is also very much done in the way of the cliché male.  Fans are absolutely intolerant of opinions that differ from their own, and should they ever encounter one, no matter how politely or tactfully it is worded, they will proceed to pounce upon it as if they were starving lions in the Serengeti.  You can count on there being exactly as much hatred and profanity as the forum in question is prepared to allow.


Example given:


Fanboy A: You know… I don’t believe there’s adequate manga evidence to support the belief that Gin Ichimaru is significantly stronger than Kaname Tousen.


Fanboy B: Excuse me?  What the ****?  Do you not have a  ***damn brain?  Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?  Any *** damn idiot can tell you that that blind hypocrite jackass isn’t half as strong as Gin, you’re just a ****ing idiot fanboy for saying otherwise.  That’s it! You really don’t have a brain!  Some donkey just took a **** in your ear and you’ve been making do with that.  Seriously, man, you’re a ****ing idiot for even THINKING something so stupid.


Confrontational, arrogant, and crude, this is the modus operandi preferred by the prepubescent male fanbase so central to any shonen anime.  Women, on the other hand… while by absolutely no stretch of the imagination less vicious or cruel to one another, tend to prefer a theme of subtlety when it comes to direct confrontation with rival shippers.


Example given:


Fangirl A: I think I like ship 1 better than ship 2.


Fangirl B:  aww, that’s too bad.  Ship 2 reinforces the importance of true love, and has so much evidence behind it.  Fans of ship 1 seem to lack the understanding of literature and human emotion needed to truly appreciate what the author wants to say.


Condescending?  Check.  Vaguely insulting, without being quite inflammatory enough for a mod to make a case against you?  Check.  This is about the worst most upfront shipping arguments allow themselves to get out in the open areas of a forum.  Typically, this is also the worst the individual exchange between the two girls will get, as well.  Is that where it stops?  Oh good lord, no.


See, after the confrontation, both girls will find their way into the secret communities where they can be surrounded by only those who share their views.  Once they reach this safe haven, they invariably have a recount of events that goes something like this:


Ship 1 fangirl A: That stupid bitch Fangirl B got into an argument with me, today.  God those fans of Ship 2 are so delusional.


Ship1fangirlC: Yeah, anyone who supports ship 2 has to be batshit insane.   Don’t worry too much about Fangirl B, though.  She’s just a stupid, fat whore who’s upset by how screwed up her life is.


Ah, the viciousness of female fandom… Direct insults toward individuals, rather than simply their point of view is the way of life for many of these girls.  Insults regarding appearance aren’t even where the line is drawn.  Nothing is sacred when it comes to finding fault in those whose views differ from yours.  Say, for instance, one of the more prolific members of a rival ship suffers from bipolar disorder.  (Let’s just say… because there’s no direct reference there, at all.)

Making jokes about how she’s literally crazy or inept is sure to make you look like the better person when you bring it up with your shipmates, right?


Now, this wouldn’t be a problem, if the secret communities were as secret as some tend to think. The problem arises in that members of the rival ship inevitably come upon these hidden transmissions, sharing them with their friends and spreading the anger even further.


 Let me point out to any who aren’t familiar with shippers and their fandom: personal attacks against shippers occur all the time.  Yes, both sides do it… a lot.


I’ve asked several members of rival ships about the source of their bad blood with one another, and invariably I’m given a line that more or less echoes the sentiment of “We just want to ship what we like.  All the negativity and personal attacks come from the other side.”


In the interest of being impartial, I feel I need to point out the logical paradox that would arise if both people were telling the truth, as it would mean that both parties were responsible for an anger that neither side partakes of.  I suppose the possibility that one entire side was lying to me, and the whole thing was an elaborate scheme on their part to mask the wickedness of their hearts, but I think it’s vastly more likely that both sides participate in acting negatively toward each other.  I think both sides do so with their eyes open, and take a degree of joy and satisfaction in doing so.  As such, I honestly believe that the day will never come when shipping ceases to be so negative, because there’s a certain percentage of every ship’s fandom (a small one, to be sure, but very clearly there) for whom the negativity is as important as the relationship itself.


Part the third: so you want to be a shipper-


That last section probably had me come off sounding very negative about it, but really shipping is no more inherently worse than any other twig of general fandom.  The communities themselves are very warm and accepting of new members who share their passion, and unless you’re particularly unlucky, or extremely outspoken, you shouldn’t have more than the occasional unpleasant brush with rival shippers.  Ship wars are ugly business, and thanks to the proliferation of “anonymous” posting in many venues shippers like to use to express themselves, you can never be completely sure that you’re safe from insult or injury, but on the whole the positive memories will outweigh the negative ones.


Once you’re accepted, all you need to do is follow the rather silly fad rules, such as:


-Take the two characters you ship together.  Proceed to cut away the final syllable of both their names.  Now glue their names together.  Congratulations, that is now the name of your passion.  It’s not Ichigo x Rukia, it’s IchiRuki.  It’s not Ichigo x Orihime, it’s IchiHime.  What’s so offensive about the “Go” “a” and “Ori” sounds?  Well, as passionate as shippers may be about their OTP, they never qu~ite like it enough to go through the bother of fully pronouncing their beloved character’s names.

-You will draw porn.  Do it.


Okay, so there are not that many rules.  Still, they’re important.



Finale: to the creators-


Tite Kubo, Masashi Kishimoto, J.K. Rowling… indeed every single author or director or composer of every artistic act that has ever been and ever will be… please do yourself a favor, one you would probably have discovered without my having to tell you: ignore your fanbase to the furthest extent possible.


Fans are an incomprehensible quandary of almost frighteningly intense emotions who, much like when you give change to a homeless person, quickly forget any kindness you toss them and immediately demand still more from you.  Chances are the fandom is so broken on any issue you can think of that you can’t make a single move with your plot without pissing off a healthy chunk of your supporters.  Knowing this, it’s best to just do your own thing, and drown out the incessant voices of those who wish to influence you.


By the by, Mr. Kubo… when can I look forward to Ulquiorra’s triumphant return to your manga?

yulieana on September 9th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
Haha, funny. You got a point there, although, that is universal to any difference of opinions.

About the last (Ulquiorra) question to Mr. Kubo..? I second that.
(Anonymous) on September 9th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
I know this. ^^ As I said, this was primarily just written on a whim to entertain for a few minutes.
(no subject) - yulieana on September 9th, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
_debbiechan__debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 02:24 pm (UTC)

I love you, Ballad. <3

Comment passed along to Kubo-sensei. ~_^
secila80: UlquiHime THE slapsecila80 on September 9th, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Hahahahahaha. Nice, very nice! You seem to have collected some poignant memories during your time in the shipping jungle.
jiaolin on September 9th, 2009 02:41 pm (UTC)
Ahh, it's nice to hear from you, balladbird. :)

Amusing insight as always, and 100% true of course. I definitely support the last line of the post. xD

(btw, in case you didn't know this is karasunomai)
_debbiechan_: iNSaNITY is ReLaTIVE_debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 02:50 pm (UTC)
And before people start making charges of sexism against Ballad (they will and they're welcome to--he's used to it), I'll remind them that I've made the observation before here on bleachness about the "gender" styles of arguing. It's true that here on this comm we avoid the direct free-for-all insulting sort of of atmosphere cultivated in gamer forums where males dominate.
In fact you could say that bleachness imitates this style:

Fangirl B: aww, that’s too bad. Ship 2 reinforces the importance of true love, and has so much evidence behind it. Fans of ship 1 seem to lack the understanding of literature and human emotion needed to truly appreciate what the author wants to say.


Yeah, but as the latest offerings on page 5 in Karenai's controversial essay show (there was a lot of arguing just yesterday), a lot of our members don't pussyfoot or do passive-aggressive sarcasm to a fault. Of this I'm fairly proud because I grew up among boy's putting their arguments out there without a whole lot of backroom backstabbing and I like it when disputes are settled in the OPEN.

but yeah, Ballad, gossip is not anything peculiar to women. That's politics. That's shipping. That's human nature. But there is something about shipping that is FEMALE and for that we do need more meta. I hereby request MOAR (from maybe a female writer this time? Pwetty pwease?)

And oh, just for the record, I'm the prominent fan with Bipolar Disorder who has been made fun of in shipping circles. There's nothing about my mental health history I'm ashamed of and there's nothing really anybody can say anymore to really hurt me. I've got crocodile hide and I'm often entertained by ship wars--not beyond being annoyed by them--but yeah...

negativity... you got that right, Ballad. It's obviously part of the fun. But there's a big difference between cruelty and the mere satisfaction that comes from scoring a point or "being right." You see "being right" doesn't assume that one is "better." It may, but it as in Sports and Games, it is a small victory in the greater scheme of things. I may be right about predicting this week's winner in such and such shounen's battle but you may be kinder to your sister and give more to charities than I do....

Insanity is relative as well.

Be well. ^^

Edited at 2009-09-09 03:20 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) on September 9th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
"but yeah, Ballad, gossip is not anything peculiar to women. That's politics. That's shipping. That's human nature. But there is something about shipping that is FEMALE and for that we do need more meta. I hereby request MOAR (from maybe a female writer this time? Pwetty pwease?)"

Ugh, politics. >.< One of the things that made me slink back to anime fandom now that I have a free day was my disgust at trying to read my way through the social commentary at the bottom of online news stories. After the fifth person swearing that the swine flu was an attempt to enforce eugenics by President Obama, I missed the familiar crazy of anime fandom.

Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that any particular behavior was exclusive to any one gender. Every rule has exceptions, and while it's a rather common way for many to behave, that hardly defines how everyone in the same category would behave. Shipping is often identified as feminine, and the majority of its participants are female, but that hardly entitles the use of absolutes when speaking. (I hate 'em as much as anyone. I cringe every time I hear a movie trailer announce that there's "Romance for the girls, and action for the guys." I like romance, too, dangit. >.<

(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - masakochan on September 9th, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - eriu11 on September 9th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - eriu11 on September 9th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Grenatescarboucle on September 9th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
Dude, you've never seen me arguing in a LTD thread XDD I act more like a guy ~___~ I'm always very upfront, but heck, I'm a gamer and a geek, so the way some girls argued made me want to show them what gamers are able to say to each other when they argue, lolol. Then, they wouldn't say I'm attacking them in my replies XD

You will draw porn. Do it.
I don't know how to draw ;_; Sorry T_______T I'm sure this rule would interest some friend of mine though XD

All in all, I agree _o/ But heck, I'm someone who's rough and tough, and nowadays, I pretty much rant much more about MY fandom than any other _o/
semicolon abuse hotline: give my fandom sexhallowd on September 9th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
This is by far one of the sanest things I've read in and about fandom lately.
Nicholas Orin Re: evil tomoyosavantnicholas on December 30th, 2009 07:10 am (UTC)
True. Something sane and comprehensible amidst the fangirl squees.
Seakhyata on September 9th, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
Interesting read.

As someone who has honed her iron guts arguing and counter arguing and counter-counter arguing in feminist circles for years, I have neither the time not the experience for indulging in passive aggressive behavior or fake niceties. I tend to go straight for the jugular when I argue, so underhandedness or sly crap in any way, shape or form just rubs me off the wrong way.

I do get exhausted when it comes to ship wars from time to time, but that's got more to do with my sleep issues than anything else, heh.

Ultimately, I do find arguing in shipping circles fun. But I can also comfortably argue about power levels and plot logistics in Bleach with the same ease as I do in shipping, so maybe I'm just an anomaly.
_debbiechan_: Hime Tops Everyone!_debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)

Anomalies like you and Syn tend to be my homegirls. And yes, we WILL talk power levels and plot logistics...

and be attacked for our warped senses of feminism in that we strive to be "just like the guys." XD

But ... but ... but ... I'm ever so fond of my girlie inclinations. *twirls curl*
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on September 9th, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
V to the A to the D-E-R (Vader!): ichiruki - worst fan evah [tenebris]jaina on September 9th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Hee. This is a fun post.

Something worth remembering is that none of us are as immune to the crazy as we would like. I generally keep a cool head about things, but I sometimes still go brainsplody about shipping shenanigans. But even if it's really nutty stuff, would it affect me at all if I didn't have some interest in the hypothetical ship, or a related one? Prooooobably not.

I do hate the name smooshes, though. Even IchiRuki. In my day, slashes were good enough for everyone! *hobbles off with cane*

Edited at 2009-09-09 04:06 pm (UTC)
_debbiechan_: Orihime Avie by Jenni_debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)

I tend to go brainsplody over the personal attacks. Like I've said lots of times, the WTFery of some shipping arguments and the character-bashing doesn't seem to get to me as much as it does other people, but I get downright mafioso when someone disses my homegirls--and here is where Ballad has observed me at my shipper worst. XD Like when members of a not to be named forum accused your interview with Kubo of being shipping biased and one called you a "nutjob" and I had the AUDACITY to call them out on that.

Wow, I never heard the end of it. I apparently provoked a living shitstorm. Remind me not to do that again next time someone badmouths you, 'kay? ~_^ I must be an example of pure virtuousness like, um....

a idealized version of a manga heroine or sumtin.
(no subject) - jaina on September 9th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - _debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jaina on September 9th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
『ミカオル』 ☆mikaoru on September 9th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)

I really enjoyed this. It was an excelent read and a bit of sanity among all the craziness that's called fandom. Thank you (:

As a side note, I also love talking about power-levels and plot logistics xD

Edited at 2009-09-09 05:43 pm (UTC)
Kim!spartydragon on September 9th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Lol! TRUFAX!!! I mostly lurk in anime fandom anymore ('Cept for Gintama 'cause it's awesome and crazy) and I'm constantly appalled by the methods people choose to argue with.

Really, the only difference between guys and girls arguing about something is that guys'll generally insult you openly, while girls will do so privately. I've always found the latter very cowardly. However, neither method actually makes any sense considering the argument is over a neutral third party (in this case, power levels or shipper stuff) so personal insults only make their own opinions invalid simply because, somewhere in that long, drawn out rant, they forget to actually discuss the matter at hand. X)

I LOVE to mess up guys when discussing manga/anime by completely ignoring their little temper tantrums and presenting a calm, logical case for my opinion. It's so funny to watch them explode. XD

I don't do the same with shippers though. Shippers are NUTS. I think I've had more friends suffer personal attacks outside of forum activities from crazy shippers than from crazy fanboys. O.o
There's no Love Without you: pic#77599178ne_wayz on September 9th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)
Geez, this thing was so funny it has be commenting!! O_0 Thanks Ballad!!

I, personally, have been attacked by the shipping fandom to more of a personal level. People telling me that Im a bad IchiRuki fan because I have IchiHime fans for friends...Yup, us girls with our PMS and sleep deprivations and all that good stuff can really mess up the fun in fandom.

And like Debbie suggested...it would be cool to read this from a females perspective, someone who has been through the high and lows of shipping wank? Hmmmm *eyeballs debbie* :P
_debbiechan_: SWEATDROPPING Ishida by Pisotoru_debbiechan_ on September 9th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)

I'd rather write Pr0n XD ... or finish that birthday fic I started for Jaina's bday two years ago... but yeah, I've got meta about shipping on the backburner. Thing is, my fandom jollies can only be gotten for small periods lately what with all these new personal family challenges so it's all I can do to keep up with bleachness and report spammy or shipper-insulting posts on BA in order to maintain my quota of negativity in fandom. XD Most of the time I'd rather be drawing nekky anime boys... which reminds me! I HAVEN'T SEEN THE LATEST BLEACH ANIME EP YET! Maybe someone lost some clothing in a battle!

I encourage more esays, serious or cynical or whatever on any fandom-related topic, here on this comm, though. I loves to read them.
(no subject) - jaina on September 9th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - r0ck3tsci3ntist on September 9th, 2009 09:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jaina on September 9th, 2009 09:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - r0ck3tsci3ntist on September 9th, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jaina on September 9th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shiba_explosion on September 10th, 2009 06:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
shinigami_1nabe on September 9th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
A Really Great Read!
*de-lurks for this brilliant essay*

Thoroughly enjoyed your take on shipping -- and happier still that you touched upon some gender(ed) dimensions of shipping.

Perhaps the fact that shipping is predominantly women-led, -filled, and -ruled reflects bigger gender-based (or -biased) values assigned to certain domains. More specifically, that romance is a feminine concern. Even more disconcerting is that, I suspect, that this is the reason why shipping has had been deemed by 'more serious / intelligent / real fans' as an invalid and silly aspect of fandom.


I must admit that I am a sporadic participant in shipping communities and boards because I simply do not have the stamina to debate text / panels / angles / relational distances / metaphors. Or the patience to read discussions (I much prefer essays, Ichiruki ones, to be exact). So I do not have your experience, balladbird, but I've learned two things form my limited experience:

- There will always be complementary couples to anyone's main pair. And you will have to get used to a combination of pairs for every ship. For some, it's to get possible competition for your main girl / boy out of the way. For others, because double dates in fanfiction are super fun!

- Prepare to be insulted and discredited by self-defined 'real / serious / true / intelligent' fans who are too real / serious / true / intelligent to even consider talking about the romantic potentials in the story. They will try to make you feel bad by calling your perspective shallow, or calling you a sad little spinster who has no love life so you live vicariously through literary characters you identify with. Ignore them. They're probably sad little losers too bitter to even contemplate fictional romance, or they simply ship the opposing pair.

n a o k o || want your rad bromance: Izuru- Zetsubou no Hananendo_chan on September 9th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)
As funny as it is, I do find it a tiny bit insulting to those of us who aren't bitches about shipping. And I can say Ulquiorra/Orihime quite fine, thanks. The name smoshes likely originated to save summary space on FFN, not because all shippers are lazy bums. I'm curious as to why yuri wasn't addressed. There are plenty of women who ship girl/girl pairings, myself included.

But on the other hand, a lot of what you wrote is exactly why I left the FMA fandom.
n a o k o || want your rad bromance: Szayel- Gay sparklies of doooomnendo_chan on September 9th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)

I'm not trying to attack you about this or anything, I just wanted to prove not all shippers are psychos. But a lot of anti-shippers forget that romance is a part of reality, and fiction is just another way of trying to catch reality.

So there's my fail two cents.
Lilyfoodisverygood on September 9th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)

Oh how well you've captured our shipping sentiments XD
Yes I admit I'm guilty to some of these generalizations but I'm really not active enough in fandom to care so hats off to you for giving me such an lolzy morning!