I ship it!

Since I got tired of writing only super serious life posts, I’m continuing my Christmas break (lol) with a post about one of my favorite things to do in fandoms. You guessed it from the title, I’m a shipper.

I am that kind of shipper who views shipping as an art form, I never multi-ship, and I put hours of thought into my OTPs, and NOTPS too.

Note: For those of you not in on the fandom lingo, here’s a few terms

Ship: Noun: Short for relationship, usually means erotic, but can mean friendship, if you specify it as such. Verb: To support or hope for said relationship, usually by making fan content or subscribing to other fan’s content, but can just be casually enjoying it on the show or book.

OTP: One True Pairing, your favorite couple, that you cannot see being satisfied with any other pairing, think of it as the soulmate of fictional relationships. Initially it meant the one pairing of the source material overall that you liked, but now it more of means the pairings for each character you prefer, so you can have more than one. For example, your One True Pairing for Batman can be him with Wonder Woman, or with Catwoman, while your One True Pairing for Superman can be with Lois Lane, or with Wonder Woman (depending on what DCU you follow) and you can have both, but Wonder Woman can’t be in both, you have to pick, otherwise it’s called being a multi-shipper.

NOTP: The pairing in a fandom you absolutely hate, usually because you like a different ship more, in my case, it’s because my NOTPS are usually abusive relationships that I find horrifying that people ship at all.

Shipping War: When fans take shipping WAY too seriously and attack each other and the author over it. A debate is not a shipping war per sec, but fans will fight on social media and leave hate comments on the opposition’s videos, like it really make s a difference, and riot if the source Creator doesn’t do what they want, it’s all a joke until shows actually lose ratings over it. No rational fan likes shipping wars.

Just like in my previous post about RWBY, I am making the case that caring about this stuff is not only important if you’re a fan, but also if you’re not, because fandoms are influencing your life way more than you realize they are, unless you are in one.

Seriously, I make friends over this stuff, and other people lose friends over it, and that’s just the beginning of the way fandoms permeate the culture. And that’s global, for the most part. Think how Frozen became a world wide sensation in like a month and it still is 6 years later.

If you still aren’t convinced, then hear me on this: Fandom Logic has permeated even our political social interactions… in fact, if I’m being honest, Politics are the original Fandom.

LSU Press :: Books - Politics for the Love of Fandom
This book goes more into the subject, if you’re interested, I just found it while researching this post.

So, that being said, I’ve learned quite a bit from participating in a few, you really see the good, the bad, and the ugly side of people’s art and love of art and values through fandoms.

And shipping is an especially good way to learn this, since as a woman, I find relationships to be pretty much the most important thing there is, and plenty of men I know or know of take the ships very seriously too. Though they tend to blame the overall show’s tone for what they don’t like, while women tend to focus on the characters themselves and whether or not they have chemistry. I, an intellectual female fan, do both.

I had my days of fan-raging out over stuff I didn’t like, and I sometimes indulge that around people who agree with me almost 100% (who doesn’t) but overtime i realized that it fixes nothing, and no one will ever see your point if you just yell at them. I’ve started being able to calmly discuss things with other fans, and actually diffuse it if they get too worked up. Though it doesn’t always work. I do this more with politics, religion, and other real world issues now too, actually, learning about one helped me learn about the other.

There, I think I’ve justified talking about this so seriously enough now, let’s get to the meat of this post:

Shipping: Why Bother?

So, the top annoying things i hear in fandoms about shipping is the self righterous snobbish comments about it not being improtnatn who gets with who, who kisses, and waht not. That we should focus on the plot.

I fine this stupid and concerning for a couple reasons. The first being

  1. Nothing in the story is real, so why does it matter which particular element people focus on? Are you really saying the plot is more “real” than the relationships, because usually the plot depends on magic, superpowers, or a political system that’s not actually in place int he real world, while relationship dynamics are a real thing, more people care about than they do the so-called “important” stuff.

2. Sex, kissing, and all the rest that goes with are important. That’s literally how we get new life, and have a future on this planet, and in a story it works the same way. Strictly speaking, without couples, there is no real continuation or progression of a plot. Stories that don’t develop ships end up in a weird loop, of never changing dynamics. Even freaking Star Trek eventually added ships to change stuff up and that’s one of the most popular sci–fi shows of all time. Dr. Who has a ton of shipping. Shipping changes stuff in ways other plot points don’t. in franchise like the MCU, adding a next generation of kids because of the couples gives you the opportunity to go into themes like legacy, and carrying on a hero’es mission, even when the circumstances have changed. Yo just don’t get that without a romantic subplot to set it up.

Actually, even stories that keep romance out of it usually have a mentor-ship arc, which is basically a variation of a parenthood arc. So yes, I find it quite important.

That said, I don’t think most fans actually hearken to the idea that shipping is unimportant. Some do find it stupid to argue over it.

I think, in one way, they are right, arguing based on personal taste is a colossal waste of time. I think of the shippers of Zuko x Katara vs Zuko x Mai, yeah, I prefer one, but neither is toxic enough for me to argue about it. In that case it is more of a minor annoyance.

But then, if a ship is promoting a lifestyle, mindset, and set of behaviors that is simply wrong, and that may influence what younger viewers think is acceptable in relationships, I think it is the job of viewers and fans to call it out. After all, we contribute to it if we support this stuff. Which is why I find the shippers of Harleyquin and Joker to be quite scary. The tags “EVIL LOVE” are insulting and degrading the very nature of what love is. Love is never evil, if it’s evil, it’s not really love, just a sick impersonation of it. Why would you support such an abusive relationship?

At this point someone usually argues that it’s just for fun. To which I respond “Bullcrap”

People take this stuff dead seriously, and more and more science supports that fiction affects our brains almost the same way non-fiction does, in fact, it effects us more simply because we consume more fiction than reality, in this culture. We’ve substituted local gossip for shipping discussions.

And, if the amount of toxic relationships in the culture is any indication, we really to believe this crap is normal.

It astonished me after watching Naruto, how many fans saw no problem at all with the way the ships ended, even though at least a couple of them are toxic, and most were not developed at all. But the alternative fandom ships were almost worse, making me wonder if people honestly thought this was relationship goals.

I think people do purposely choose to ignore the red flags in these ships and put the best possible spin on it, and hey, it’s a show, so why is it not open to interpretation?

I used to be more lax about that, but after realizing that in my own life, my family and I had made the same excuses for my dad and my other relatives that people make for fictional characters, I had to wonder, is there really a line of reality?

We use backstory to excuse a lot, and in real life, we do that too. My dad uses his own tragic backstory to excuse all of his behavior, even what is not explained by said backstory (and his is a very anime type kind of story too. Not in a nice way.) I have a prime example of what it might be like to live with an anime protagonist post the show. Allegedly, my dad moved on, overcame his trials by his own efforts and hard work, married happily, settled, and had 3 great daughters. What more could you ask for if this was an anime?

Yet, nothing was truly happy in my household, my dad still related to my mom, me, and my sisters in exactly the same way he related to his toxic family. He didn’t ever have satisfaction in his line of work, even though it was something he enjoyed he stressed constantly and complained and abused his employees.

So, I maintain, if a character has unresolved issues and is shipped anyway, it will remain toxic whatever the fandom chooses to believe. And, an author is probably writing from their experience, so it raises concerns about what they think is okay.

One of the reasons I mentioned that I do not like the Bumblebee ship in RWBY (that’s a gay ship between Yang and Blake, two Main Characters) is that I believe its toxic, and since this is the focus on this post, let’s dive a little bit more into why that is:

I said that Bumblebee was pushed to pander to the fans, and that it took the focus off both character’s development, but I didn’t really go into how it actually works. And since it’s hardly addressed at all, this should be short.

The dynamic of Bumblebee is mostly to be gay, and even LGBTQ fans complain about that very thing, I’ve seen it. If we remove that element, all we have left is a few funny exchanges in season 1, a single heartfelt conversation that was mostly Blake being defensive until the end is season 2, absolutely nothing important in season 3 except Yang trying and failing to save Blake from her psycho-ex (which at that pint in time Yang would have done for any of her team), nothing in season 4 at all. A angry gripe session of Yang in season 5 where she blames Blake for leaving her, and doesn’t try to understand until Weiss of all people point sit out to her, and even then she seems hesitant, but sort of accepts Blake back into the team. In season 6, they spend most of it being uncomfortable with all the unresolved tension and changes in their lives, ending it by tag-teaming Adam to death and reassuring each other they’ll be there for each other. Great!

Vol 7 we get more of nothing, except Nora hinting that they are a thing–Nora, mind you, not them–and Yang saying the wrong thing, and Blake being weird about it, and then both of them discussing what’s going on without having anything notable to say about it, I don’t even remember what they talked about.

In vol 8 so far, we have zero conversations, while they disagree on the plan of action, and Yang worries Blake will look down on her for someone vaguely defined reason (seriously, it makes no sense, Blake did pretty much exactly what Yang is doing in volume 5, of course since they’ve never TALKED about it, maybe Yang is unaware of that fact).

Great history isn’t it? The amount of time Yang and Blake actually spend together NOT making each other uncomfortable is… maybe two scenes? Out of 8 volumes. Yeah, this just doesn’t work for me.

Aside from the dynamic, I also put a lot of thought into personality. Like parents and family usually do for their children, you think what will bring out the best in the other person, what they need, and you look at their track record for clues about any pattern they have in relationships.

Yang has a total of zero relationships that we know of, other than a very negative mother-daughter one, a decent Father-daughter one, and a questionable sister-sister one. She’s consistently annoying and angry at all her other friends and doesn’t listen to any of them except Weiss on one occasion. Terrific. (I didn’t dislike Yang initially thought, I thought she was a good character in volume 5, it just got dropped after that).

Blake does have one relationship, or one and a half, under her belt, and that’s actually my main concern. It was an abusive relationship with Adam, the guy who tries to kill her like two or three times afterward. Since that relationship ended (a straight one I might add) she’s been busy running form her problems, and being pretty reliant on other people for her self-care. It takes Yang really beating it into her head in vol 2 for her to rest a little, with help from Sun. And then Sun has to follow her home and risk his life a couple times for her to get that she needs to stop hating herself and trying to be alone.

I didn’t think all this made Blake a bad character, I could relate to some of what she felt, and it was a good story. However, to me, her development with Sun was a crucial part of it. She was learning to talk through stuff with him, not carry it all inside. To open up to help, and be less defensive and sad. It was solid. She also was strangely unhung-up over Adam while she was around Sun.

Once Sun left, Blake goes back to being freaked out by Adam, and Yang doesn’t really make a difference here. They don’t talk about it more than once, and Blake just ticks Yang ff that time. Then after they kill him, Blake is upset but resolved to be better. I thought that was good for her…but then it’s just kind of gone in the next volume and Blake is acting awkward and insecure around Yang…

And she was literally flirting with Sun a week ago in the show’s timeline.

To me this makes it seem way more like Blake just can’t not be a relationship to have self worth, she relied on other people to help her get through things not in a good way, but in a, “If I don’t get this kind of attention, I shut down” kind of way. She makes no move to talk to or bond with the other characters, and she and Yang continue to not work through their unresolved issues. Which seems far more like her relationship with Adam than with Sun, and not what we should be going for if she’s really learned something.

Together, their dynamic seems codependent, when it’s there at all, most of the time it isn’t. Yang has abandonment issues, and she gets mad at Blake for leaving her… that’s never talked about either. And she never admits that’s she pushing her issues onto Blake when she has no right to do so, as Blake never made her any promises to stay, and quite actively pushed her away most of the time. Blake’s whole aura is “don’t rely on me” Yang, like most neglected kids, is drawn to the familiar, hoping someone will make a different choice and somehow heal them, and sets herself up for disappointment when Blake does what people like Blake do, and runs or refuses to talk to her.

Yang is also angry, which is what Blake’s past failed relationship was like, so it hardly seems healthy for Blake either.

Being with someone like your abuser doesn’t fix trauma, it doubles down on it. Even if they are not “as bad”, it’s still poison.

My mom had an abusive father, he’d get drunk and yell at her, I don’t know if he hit her, she’s never told me. But he’d be angry, inconsiderate, and a jerk. Her mom was stable, but had to work to compensate for her several useless husbands, so my mom was left to mother her younger sister and take care of herself. My mom ever needs anyone that much even tot his day, 40 years later.

My dad ensures that you can’t rely on him, he yelled and stormed at my mom, and made fun of her weight, her singing, her personality, and no matter what we said, he wouldn’t stop. He recreated her trauma, and it didn’t fix a dang thing.

I tend to gravitate toward people who are negligent with me, or toxic, only I don’t realize it till later. It’s scary.

That being said, if Yang and Blake were real people, this relationship would be a bad idea, and in my opinion, it would not last. Blake will get tired of repeating the same patterns, she at least seems to learn slightly. Yang never learns, and will likely just go from person to person, unless some serious character growth happens.

If a fan were to say I was making assumptions, I’d retort that volume 1 and 2 establish Yang as a bit of a violent flirt, and in her own words, she prefers to drift “with the flow”. She doesn’t go through much to change that between volume 1 and 6, so… yeah, I don’t think she’s over it. She tends to be disrespectful to all older women she meets, Maria, Winter, the Ace Ops Females, and any others handy, because she has mommy issues. Then she turns to younger women to try to heal that. At least, it looks that way.

Now, I got all of this by actually watching the show and paying attention, and I’m pretty sure the writers down’t do that. No one seems to notice Yang has a pattern, which you’d think it would have to be intentional, however based on my own writing experience,it’s really not. I write character who consistently play off other characters in patterns, without even trying, because that’s how the personality tells itself to me. Yang has been given Mommy issues, she acts accordingly without the writers needing to plan it, we write what we know.

I wouldn’t have to try to give a character Daddy issues, I do have to try to give them a good relationship with the males in their lives. That’s how it is.

So, I spent a lot of time on Bumblebee to show you how this analysis of ships can work, and why it’s important. The level to which you can recognize these patterns in fiction may mirror the level to which you are aware of them in your own life and your family’s.

It’s not coincidence the at the people who hate Bumblebee also give the most thought out critiques about the show overall, usually. They see that common sense is being thrown out along with the continuity.

I notice most underdeveloped ships are toxic, actually, it’ like without the time and effort to think it out, we default to toxicity, because it’s toxic to not put in effort to something.

Bumblebee is like a n archetype for the main problems with shipping. Things are overlooked that should not be over looked, things are excused that are not excusable, and trust establishment is traded for cute fluffy moments, which to me are never cute if there’s nothing there.

Contrast that to a shoujo like “Lovely Complex” where both Risa’s falling for Otani, and her winning of his trust and affection are drawn out to a length that’s believable with plenty of emotional ups and downs along the way, till the climatic moment where they kiss and he returns her feelings, and you’ll just see the difference. It can be hard to re-watch because it rings so true. I’ve felt a lot of those frustrations, and the show’s message that true love never gives up is a good one. It even matches the Bible when it says “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

Fiction is a great way to experience love as we believe it should be, to give ourselves an idea of what should happen if we could love the way we want to.

I find it highly disturbing when people’s fictional love is worse than my real life love experience, mine isn’t so great, but I’ve still been blessed with some real friends and good family members. When I dream of love in the future, I dream of something better.

Another reason I find shipping just to pander to the audience to be a really bad idea. An author ought to be lifting our gazes higher than we’ve been before, to help us see what we should be looking for, even if they don’t know very well themselves, they need to strive for ideals.

You do often end up with the trashy romance novel tropes if the author has no actual experience to back it up, but Jane Austen was single, yet wrote some of the best romances of our English literature, so if you have a keen mind and an observant soul, I don’t think that has to stop you.

Again, effort is everything here.

When I ship character in my own writing, I test it out as a friendship first, I explore the strengths and weaknesses, and I honestly ask myself if I can promote this kind of dynamic to my potential audience. will this become abusive? Is it encouraging an unhealthy attitude toward love? That sort of thing. Once I find a way to make it good, without being too perfect to be believable, I set the wheels in motion to turn it into a romance. When I introduce a character just to be part of a ship (all writers do it) I try to flesh them out so they contribute more than just that to the story, at some point, the ship may not even be the main thing they contribute.

Since I began taking this approach to shipping, I noticed that fandoms have circles of shippers. People who ship just for the sexual excitement, and people who are looking to learn and benefit by the ships, and raw inspiration for their own lives. You tend to find more single people in the first circle, and people who are probably since for a reason, in the second you find more people who have successful relationships, and enjoy talking about them. That’s pretty telling right there.

Some fans ship superficially, and root for one character for no particular reason other than they are hotter, and they like that dynamic better. The “bad boy” “sad boi” or “angry boi’ thing turns them on, ( usually it’s women, if it’s men…normally it’s just how thicc the female is..sadly, there’s some exceptions, but superficial shipping is grossly predictable).

The ones like me and my friends tend to ship more for development’s sake. We wait to see who will be the healthiest, sweetest match, and go from there.

People still argue over the best option, but these debates tend to be more civil, not always, but usually, and we can see the other person’s point a little, because we actually think about the ship from different angles.

It’s like how in real life, when you want to marry someone, you can’t just think of the butterflies,you have to think of finances, family, location, the future, all that. And with the fight person, that can be exciting or at least you will get stronger because of it; with the wrong person, that stuff causes everything to fall apart. (And you may be the wrong person at times).

One thing I no longer ignore in shipping is family. I used to, but now I realize that behavior that is sown into you will come back out in some form or another.

In the MHA fandom, I love Shoto Todoroki’s character because the show takes the time to show how he acts like his father even when he doesn’t intend to, and then he confronts that and changes, proving he is not his father, but giving a realistic portrait of how it is for all of us from toxic backgrounds. On the other hand, we see Uraraka, who has great partners, often acts insecure despite that, showing we still have to choose to benefit from good parents. Both these characters carry that into their potential ships, and to my surprise, I have found fan content that addresses that, plus content from the creator himself has.

There are case where the victim of abuse will not abuse their spouse and kids the same way they were abused, my dad didn’t beat us, for example, but he was still violent in other ways. And usually if it doesn’t come out in the same kind of violence, it comes out in overcompensation the other way in self defense. Leading to neglect, and emotional distance from the family.

With all human efforts to fix things, you have to pay the piper. You aim for one thing, you get it, you lose something else. It’s just how we are, we can’t be everything, only God can love without compromising, and enable us to do so.

Why does all this need to trickle back to shipping? Though. It’s not real, it can’t make us happy.

That is true.

Actually, the best shippers are the ones who don’t rely on ships to make them happy. I’ve done my time looking to fill my emotional void with romance writing, but the older I get, the less it works. I find I am more interested in seeing what I can apply to my own life, and what I can’t. I prefer to write ships that way too. Too cotton candy, and you lose any sense of reality; too toxic, and it ceases to be helpful. It’s not that complicated, but boy does it require effort.

The startling truth that most non-writers don’t know is that writing romance is freaking hard. It’s a challenge, even for subpar writers, to build a whole relationship in a story.

You see, Love, even if it’s in fiction, is never easy. It’s why series like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey start one way, and end another. You can’t write just about sex and feels all the time, romance eventually forces you to look at your own life. even if it’s clumsily done, some element of actual love starts to find its way into any ongoing romance. If it’s longer than one book, or one season, the writer can’t help it, they start to change the story around it.

Love is not stagnant. Sexual love has phases, just like every other kind, and each one is glorious in its own way. It challenges you. The act of sex itself is not really just about physical pleasure, anyone who takes it seriously knows that, it’s about giving, and learning to receive. Learning together. That’s why it makes a good metaphor for love in general, and God compares the Love between Him and US to a romantic love. It’s because it takes you so high, yet it requires all you got to give, or it dies off.

Even in fiction, Love is powerful. It gives people hope to read about it even when it’s not real, because they hope, somewhere out there, it is.

Which is why, we need to be so, so careful what we call a good idea in a relationship. Hint: It’s not choking someone else.

The rise of kinky shipping in fandoms is not something I see as a good sign. and there’s some evidence it’s on the rise in our real world relationship too, to the point where we’re no longer feeling ashamed of it.

Now, I’m not talking a fetish for a particular body part, I don’t really see that as much of a concern, widely. But normalizing violence in relationships, it’s a problem. People other than me notice that kids try to imitate anime, with it’s violent love tropes, and its harmless to a point, but then it’s not.

Plus, I’ve said before I think fiction is where people with unhealthy parents often turn to find something better to base their own ideals on, and it can’t be made light of in that way.

I guess, lastly, I hold even frictional love to be sacred, in a way. The same way fiction that riffs on good parenting is disgusting, fiction that promotes abuse is disgusting. To give glory to something, even in the imagination, that is base and vile is still wrong. In fact, making light of abuse is arguably only helping it continue to circulate. Because I believe in the Bible, I believe Love should be taken seriously, though it’s perfectly fine to be lighthearted about it, if you are lighthearted because the people are happy and trust each other.

This basically became an essay about shipping, but that’s how I roll.

I still have more I could say about this, but that’s enough for one post. Until next time, stay honest–Natasha.

One thought on “I ship it!

  1. Pingback: More about MHA ships, and what they tell us about our culture. | drybonestruth

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