This week’s lessons on Geek Anthropology is all about entering into a shipper’s mind. Yes, ships happen often, and not all of them are canon. As you already know, there are several different types of fans. One of them is the shipper. Shippers are very interested in relationships, aka ships in fan fiction, related to their favorite characters. The ships might be canon, fanon, head canon, or something else because imagination is the limit. Ships can come in all sort of shapes and tastes: straight, queer, in pairs, threesomes… Some are sanctioned by producers, others live only in the subtext never to see their closures come alive, and others are just part of the fans’ imaginations. So, why do ships happen and how? Are they just orchestrated by producers to make us fall in love with the show and fall into tears every time something bad happens to our OTP (one true pairing), or is there something more?
[SPOILERS AHEAD OF OUAT E11S5] If you saw the last episode of Once Upon a Time this Sunday, and if you are a shipper of Captain Swan, the couple formed by Emma Swan and Captain Hook, you might be heartbroken. Tears have fallen, and a thousand tissues have been used while you saw Captain Swan say goodbye to each other in the most dramatic way possible. Captain Swan happens to be a canon het ship [heterosexual relationship] with many shippers behind. However, if we compare this to the queer femslash Swan Queen (Emma Swan and the Evil Queen), things can get complicated. While Captain Swan is canon and well accepted by a wide audience, Swan Queen lives in subtext and the imagination of many fans who would desire to see that ship happening but that won’t come into life in the show. But why is so?
Why do producers keep on subtext for certain ships that might be queer or not, while feeding the fames on those that are deemed socially as “normal”? Is it an issue of stereotypes or is there something else? How do you think the audience of OUAT would react to Captain Charming (Captain Hook x Prince Charming)? And Captain Swan? What do you think producers think about the issue? What is their target?
Sadly: profit. Producers like Disney (and by extension Marvel) want to make sure that their creations will be consumed by the highest amount of people possible. Hence, they will introduce canon ships while adding subtext to fuel fans’ imagination. However, subtext usually ends up having no closure, meaning that fans will need to imagine what happens with that theoretical ship. This doesn’t mean that canon ships won’t see the hand of fans changing things from the narrative that they don’t like. So, producers want the most profit possible from their creations while giving fuel to fans to create and touch so that the fandom sparks into more profit.
Shippers who love certain ships, canon or not, queer or not, will work for free to sponsor their favorite OTPs. Fannish work translates into fan fiction, fan art, gifs, videos and anything fans can come up to and share among themselves and that spark their imagination and the imagination of others. In creating and re-imagining the narratives of their favorite ships, they fuel their desire to see characters as human and as an example of real life within a world of fantasy. They explore their personalities, sexualities, needs, desires and wants through creating, sharing and defending their favorite fannish couples.
Although OUAT tried shily to make some progress in showing some queer desire through the character of Mulan and her failed love with Aurora, and recently what might work out with Red, the reality is that, for the most part, ships are devoid of queer desire. Shippers crave for conflicted charaters who show up how messed up a relationship can be. Because some of the heterosexual ships in OUAT show up a great degree of turmoil that make the characters believable, these canon ships have become really strong and famous: Captain Swan or Rumbelle are just as real as some of my friends’ relationships and stories are. We’ve seen lots of kissing, and some hints on “we just had sex” with Snow White and Charming, and also Rumbelle. The ultimate kissing stars are Captain Swan. As you can see, the sexual tension is hinted, but only among het couples. Queer ones are yet to show up anything. We’re still on diapers with Mulan and her love interests.
When confronted with this desert, fans create a new narrative, a world where the characters make choices, have dreams, desires and show up their fears while they are also sexual and alluring. In re-writing the narrative and making it more human, fans explore their personalities, possibilities, give more depth to characters, and engage in fanspeech with other fans who might share their views or decide to make their own.
While producers might keep on trying to make the greatest profit from their productions, fans will crave for more diversity onscreen. Ships happen, in all shapes, combinations and colors. Shippers are just fans who, by creating, sharing and defending their OTPs are crying out loud for the need of ship diversity within the canon world. Our world is rich and complicated. We are creatures with desires, hopes, and fears. And so, we demand the same from our favorite characters. When they fall flat and short, when the combinations are always the same, when the characters are given few to no choices, we create a new world for them making them more interesting by using the available subtext to explore and give closure to ship that producers left incomplete.
Yes, ships happen, into a shipper’s mind first. Then, they might break loose and be admired by thousands.
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