Ginger tea spiked with Drambuie? Check. Contemplative attitude about the past year in fandom? Check. Urge to be sarcastic under proper restraints and wits dulled by alcohol? Check, check. What else have I learned besides the fact that sarcasm doesn’t win arguments?
Let’s talk shipping. It’s not like I haven’t known for years that shipping is a wacky pastime, but I’ve been getting more insight into the psychology of shipping as time goes by. Shipping is a great passion not much unlike the passion some people feel for football, long-haired cats, collectible dolls or medieval swords. I once got into terrible trouble for suggesting in a comment on the LJ of a friend that I thought that shipping a fictional pairing might involve the same parts of the brain as falling in love. As far as I could see, a lot of the euphoria, obsessive behavior and irrational lapses that accompany romantic love for an actual person accompany shipping a couple of fictional people.
I was told by another commenter in that LJ that comparing shipping to being in love was absurd and that it was obvious that I’d been in fandom too long and that I needed a break. I thanked the person for her concern for my mental health, and although our whole exchange was eventually deleted (why? I think there’s a lot to be learned from people misunderstanding one another and have never figured out why lots of online disputes, especially ones that end up being politely settled end up being erased from cyberspace), I haven’t forgotten my analogy and its implications.
Shipping is a preference, certainly, as much as liking Oreos over Moonpies or Drambuie over Bailey’s Irish Cream or the Jetsons over the Flinstones is. But the reason people get so sensitive over their shipping preferences rather than their tastes in jellybeans or paperback novels being examined is that shipping must hit close to some primitive mating part of the brain. This is my theory, anyway. We all have our kinks and are entitled to them and long live freedom of expression and all that, but just take a glance over fanfiction.net and you’ll see that shipping has to do a lot with the projection of not only sexual fantasies but romantic ideals as well.
Let it be known that I’m quite certain that some people who like hardcore leather gay sex in their real lives may enjoy the fluffiest het ships in the anime universe and vice versa. There may even be something of psychological importance to the dichotomies there, but don’t ask me--no one gave me any money to conduct a proper scientific study. Anyone want to? I could use the extra cash.
Involvement in fandom makes a shipping passion even more passionate. I know this from personal experience. I was in the fandom that coined the term “shipping” (from the word relation-ship)—the X-files fandom way way WAY back when the age of the Internet was only dawning upon the dark lonely landscape of nerds messing with new ways to entertain themselves (or as scholars prefer to call us nowadays, “artists engaging the text with transformative works”). I was only on the periphery of fandom because I was too busy throwing up while gestating my first child and then later nursing him. The year that Mulder and Scully had their ALMOST-first kiss in The X-files movie, my son was in a hippy cooperative preschool where the parents cleaned toilets and taught classes, and I was too busy to write fanfic but I knew it existed and I even read some of it.
I remember thinking: I’ve never wanted something so much as to see two fictional characters finally realize their feelings for one another. This can’t be healthy.
I attributed lots of my shipping enthusiasm to fluctuating hormones, though, because I’d gotten pregnant again and was soon nursing another baby. X-files the series went on with Mulder and Scully having sex, having a baby, and the baby developing paranormal powers and making his crib mobile spin like a hurricane, and my love for the characters was still going strong when the series ended. It was quite another adventure with my shipping in Friends. How long did that show go on? Ten years? I shipped Ross and Rachel (yes, I know, there’s a pattern here—behold Fox Mulder, Ross Geller, and Ishida Uryuu—I like skinny intellectuals—yes, I even married one, so there). There was a time when I would go “damn, a whole summer to wait to see if they get together,” but by the last season, I really didn’t care that much whether Ross kissed Rachel first or vice versa in the great “they finally got together” scene. I’d never gotten into an online fandom for this pairing.
My emotional investment in these two ships was super high when each series started, and in the case of X-files, it was fueled by fanfic to a greater passion. Arguably, the pairing of Mulder/Scully is more memorable than Ross/Rachel, but I believe that the battles between shippers and noromos (the No More Romance crowd) in the X-files fandom had something to do with maintaining my fervor for my pairing. It was like a contest--in this case, shipping was about seeing who was going to be right. It was like anticipating the end of a race, a tennis match or even a beauty competition. This is the lure of “will we be canon?” shipping (as opposed to “hey I’m over here happily shipping my slash or crack or fairly-probable-in-canon with not a care in the world as to what the author’s ultimate direction or the rest of fandom’s reaction may be” shipping). It doesn’t matter if it’s the Olympics or betting to see which of two caterpillars in front of the university library will make it across the sidewalk before being stepped on, human nature loves a competition.
There was never any real doubt that Ross and Rachel of Friends would end up together (or maybe I’m wrong--like I say, I didn’t follow the fandom and I know competitions can rise up out of anything) but the shippers versus the noromos in X-files was intense. Ross and Rachel had sex together fairly early in the series (third season maybe?) and it wasn’t a matter of “will they or won’t they?” it was a matter of “when will they get together at last?” … even after Rachel popped that baby out. Maybe if I’d been in the fandom and had been exposed to some hardcore Joey/Rachel shippers, my fervor for authorial intent coupled with my original liking for my pairing would’ve whipped me into writing honking big essays about the canonical inevitability of Ross and Rachel (believe me, that’s how I sometimes feel about Ichigo and Rukia--I’ve only written one essay that focused exclusively on that particular pair in Bleach and felt the whole time I was writing it that was like arguing sugar is sweet or the sky is blue. So, really, if you’ve read my authorial intent essays or my other essays that touch on the topic of shipping, you’ll find that they’re really about other things—like contextual interpretation, the size of eyeballs in manga panels and such, and not so much about IchiRuki’s chances to win the great canon race).
It was fandom itself that, in a sense, created the first ship I wrote fic for. The romance of Bulma and Vegeta in the Dragonball series, unlike the other two series mentioned above, isn’t included in the story. It mostly happens off-screen, in a three-year time skip in the canon story. I came to the Dragonball story long after it had officially ended so there wasn’t the tension of “what’s going to happen next?” fueling my ship passions. I cut my shipper teeth in the Dragonball fandom, though, learning the basics of writing romance dialogue and sex scenes, discovering the lovely underworld of yaoi (haha, I developed a crazy fondness for Radditz/Vegeta), getting my first flames and hate mails, administrating a forum board and having my name make fandom_wank for the first time (I think the post got deleted but it was still traumatizing). It was in Dragonball, often called the gateway drug to anime and manga, that I learned that there’s such a thing as shipping being carried too far.
But hey, there are some things I’d rather not remember about fandom. Suffice it to say, I’m still being surprised, almost on a weekly basis, at how impassioned people can get over their ships. Maybe the ugliness in the Bleach shipwars hasn’t reached the notoriety of HP or Xena, but I could tell stories that would curl your hair. What remains consistent, though--and this may surprise you if you’re not a shipper--is that people spend more time loving their own pairings than hating rival ships. Honest. Anger is part of passion but the core feeling is love. Of course, like all romances, so much depends on where the lovers are in the relationship--newbies tend to be all gooey and giggly over AMVs and seiyuu interviews whereas old timers bear grudges against fandom people (within their own ships and through fandom in general). I believe that most shippers, though, young or old, just want to squee in peace and have their fun in relative private without the jeers of non-shippers who stare and point. I believe most shippers, if polled, would answer that they would rather spend their hours acting retarded over all the silly shippy stuffs they love than spend time engaging other fans about whose ship is more morally stable, more psychologically compatible or more likely to become canon.
Well, maybe all shippers aren’t completely honest about that last pastime. Even shippers who claim to eschew the “who’ll be canon?” debates in forums will lurk enemy territory and write long argumentative posts in their own space about how their opponents are wrong and their own ship is more canon that theirs and how debating is fruitless but… sarcasm, straw-man, sarcasm, wounded righteousness over right to ship in peace, more sarcasm, etc….
It’s human nature. We are born, we learn to walk, we fall in love and we compete against one another.
My most beloved ships in Bleach aren’t one of the most contested in the competitions. Even though it had my heart and imagination in the Soul Society arc (yes, I’m precocious and cutting edge like that) Renji and Ishida isn’t even a popular yaoi pairing, and Ishida and Orihime (oh my great love! It took me about three years to realize that the dynamics of it reminded me of my own great love affair with my husband--as in ditzy girl in love with other guy fails to notice brilliant decent guy devoted to her … this may or may not explain my fascination for the pair) is a popular het ship but the fandom itself is fairly laid back. No one gets into vicious name-calling spats on CrunchyRoll or YouTube over IshiHime or RenIshi, so maybe my true shipper soul hasn’t been tested as much as, say, the soul of a Harry/Hermione shipper.
I almost--and this is the curious scientist part of myself, my inner Mayuri if you will--want to experience having a favorite ship sink in the waters of canon just to see what it feels like. I really love my one ship in Bleach that has a fair shot at canon, and that if the story doesn’t end with at least some intimations of IshiHime, I’ll be as hurt as I was when my first boyfriend dumped me in my first big college love affair. Yes, my feelings for my ship are that intense.
So what is it that I’ve really learned after all these years of being a shipper? If I click my heels together like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I usually find that great revelations are actually re-discoveries of truths I knew from the beginning. There’s no place like home. Love is a battlefield …. And Shippers are crazy.
Once upon a time, wandering through the fanclub of a pairing I immensely dislike in Bleach (I’m a whore for ships in Bleach and there are only three I dislike so I’ll leave it to you to guess which fanclub I was lurking in), I came across a fan, an adult fan, possibly a fan who’d long ago seen age 30 like I have, who admitted to bursting into tears of joy over some little canon interaction between her favorite pair in Bleach. My first impulse was to laugh but then I remembered how hot my own neck got when the Valentine’s issue of WSJ came out in 2009 (yes, I will always remember it was the Valentine’s issue), and my favorite Bleach ship had its first interaction in three, COUNT THEM, three frigging years. I almost cried. I would’ve cried, I’m sure, if I’d had been alone with my monitor and if my husband hadn’t been sitting there placidly reading his biography of Petrarch whilst I made incoherent gurgling noises of joy over two ink drawings in a Japanese comic.
A nemesis of mine in the Bleach fandom once mocked bleachness by saying “oh isn’t that the place where debbiechan says hate the ship but not the shipper?” In essence, that’s the philosophy. I’ll argue this or that but I’m not putting you as a person down. I maintain my right to say IchiRuki will be canon over IchiOri, but while there may be some differences between visible arguers and fic writers and graphic makers and noise and wank stirrers in any given fandom, I’ve learned that shippers are more alike than they are different.
It’s a truism about people, but yeah, it never hurts to remember it about shippers. I know you love your ship. I love mine too. It’s a craziness we both share so, in the end, let’s not hate one another.
And so maybe I can dream of peace among the crazies but I don’t even dare to hope that when the end of Bleach comes and one ship triumphs in canon over another, there won’t be people shaking their fists at Kubo and hating him. People love to hate the author more than they love to hate one another in fandom. There’s a theory John Lennon put forth in his lovesong “Imagine” in which peace on earth is only achieved if humanity turns its back on G-d and creator. Maybe bonding among fans happens when everyone agrees that the author is trolling.
Trust me, if no ships are made canon by the end of Bleach, this is what you’ll see. But my money’s still on IchiRuki.