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Shipping, initially derived from the word relationship, is the desire by fans for two or more people, either real-life people or fictional characters (in film, literature, television, etc.) to be in a romantic relationship. It is considered a general term for fans' involvement with the ongoing development of two people in a work of fiction. Shipping often takes the form of creative works, including fanfiction stories and fan art, most often published on the internet.
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The first "ship" that became widely popular and accepted was the characters Kirk and Spock from the television show Star Trek. This began in the mid-1970s, and was often referred to as Kirk/Spock, and later "K/S", pronounced "K slash S". This is why relationships between two men are now often referred to as "slash".
The actual usage of the term "ship" saw its origin around 1995 by internet fans of the TV show The X-Files, who believed the two main characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, should be engaged in a romantic relationship.[unreliable source?] They called themselves "relationshippers," at first; then R'shipper, 'shipper, and finally just shipper.
The oldest uses of the noun ship and the noun shipper, as recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary, date back to 1996 postings on the Usenet group alt.tv.x-files; shipping is first attested slightly later, in 1997 and the verb to ship in 1998.
Notation and terminology
"Ship" and its derivatives in this context have since come to be in wide and versatile use. "Shipping" refers to the phenomenon; a "ship" is the concept of a fictional couple; to "ship" a couple means to have an affinity for it in one way or another; a "shipper" or a "fangirl/boy" is somebody significantly involved with such an affinity; a "shipping war" is when two ships contradict each other, causing fans of each ship to argue. A ship that a particular fan prefers over all others is called an OTP, which stands for one true pairing.
When discussing shipping, a ship that has been confirmed by its series is called a canon ship or sailed ship, whereas a sunk ship is a ship that has been proven unable to exist in canon.
Various naming conventions have developed in different online communities to refer to prospective couples, likely due to the ambiguity and cumbersomeness of the "Character 1 and Character 2" format. The first method deployed was using a slash, first used for Kirk/Spock. This is today mainly used for same-sex ships; fanfiction with these pairings is known as slash fiction. The de facto standard for hetero ships in fan fiction became a plus sign (Harry+Hermione), but ! or x can also be used as separators in place of +. Additionally, name blending is often used to refer to a couple. Portmanteaus and clipped compounds are used not only to abbreviate character pairings but also to create a name for the ship itself. For example, 'Klance' forms a clipped compound, and an abbreviated form of the complete names Keith and Lance. 'Sculder' is an example of surnames being blended, in this case Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. These combinations of names often follow systematic phonological principles.
Many fandom-specific variants exist and often use fandom-specific terminology. These often employ words that describe the relationship between characters in the context of the fictional universe and simply add the word "Shipping" to the end. Other terminology include using a combination of the characters' names and codes as a ship name.
Types of ships
Within shipping, same-sex pairings are popular; they are sometimes known as "slash and femslash". Within the anime/manga fandom, borrowed Japanese terms such as yaoi and yuri may be used. A person who supports same-sex pairings and reads or writes slash fiction may be referred to as a "slasher", although the Japanese term "fujoshi" for women who like same-sex stories, and "fudanshi" as the male equivalent of that, are also commonly used within the community, especially by fans of yaoi.
As mentioned before, the term "slash" predates the use of "shipping" by at least some 20 years. It was originally coined as a term to describe a pairing of Kirk and Spock of Star Trek, Kirk/Spock (or "K/S"; sometimes spoken "Kirk-slash-Spock", whence "slash") homosexual fan fiction. For a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, "K/S" was used to describe such fan fiction, regardless of whether or not they were related to Star Trek, and eventually "slash" became a universal term to describe all homosexual-themed fan works.
Parallel to this development, the term "slash" was also being used in some fandoms to denote fan fiction or other fanworks depicting sexual acts with an implied rating of NC-17, whether homosexual or heterosexual. It is likely that this is the same "slash" term born of the Star Trek fandom but adapted to the pornographic focus that commonly dominates fanfiction and fans works in the Kirk/Spock ship, as well as the various ships of other same-sex couples. This caused the term to spread to heterosexual ships.
In May 2020, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power showrunner Noelle Stevenson said that while shipping has been a great tool for fans, she does not want films or shows with just occasional glances, or for all same-sex relationships to be portrayed as shipping. She argued that the Catra/Adora relationship in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is not an example of shipping, since it is "central to the plot" of the story.
Love triangles are commonly used as a plot device to cause conflict in the story. The easy way around this is to pair all three together, or one member with both potential romantic partners. This is not to be confused with a harem, which is usually just a single character being sought out by many others. Situations such as that may be the one to cause a polyamorous relationship. Polyamory is not always caused by love triangles, but those that don't tend to be less accepted by the fandom.
Interspecies, which is usually displayed in fandoms of media consisting of animals of various species, is usually not controversial until a human is paired with a non-humanoid, sapient character. It is especially controversial when between a human and an animal or furry, which treads a contentious line on bestiality.
Controversial age differences have a wide range. An elderly adult with a young adult, anyone with an immortal or slowly aging being, teenagers with young adults, or even ships involving fictional children are all part of this category. However, in anime or manga like Hetalia in which the characters are personified countries, there are large age gaps, sometimes of hundreds of years, then shipping between characters of many different ages is widely accepted in the fandom. Some shippers, of course, may be referring to the given "human" ages of the countries. The use of these human ages gives way to a smaller age gap.
Romances between two characters who canonically hate each other also occur. It is often interpreted that the characters share sexual tension between each other. An example would be pairing Daniel LaRusso and his bully and rival Johnny from The Karate Kid. This is one of the most popular types of shipping.
Daria was marked throughout its run by shipper debate, primarily over whether the title character should have a relationship with Trent Lane. A common argument was that it would signal a turning away from the more subversive aspects of Daria's character, such as bitter criticism of romantic relationships. The show's writers responded by having Daria develop a crush on Trent, who remained involved with his off-and-on girlfriend Monique who became a target of shipper ire. The crush ended in the third-season finale.
That episode introduced Tom Sloane, who became Jane's boyfriend, threatening Daria and Jane's friendship. Daria and Tom warmed up to each other throughout the fourth season, leading up to its finale. With Jane and Tom's relationship in crisis, a heated argument between Daria and Tom led up to a kiss in Tom's car. In the TV movie Is it Fall Yet?, Daria decided to begin a relationship with Tom, and Daria and Jane patched up their friendship. This caused an uproar, and conversation turned to whether Tom was more appropriate than Trent had been. The debate was satirized by the show's writers in a piece on MTV's website.
In interviews done after the series' run, series co-creator Glenn Eichler revealed that "any viewer who really thought that Daria and Trent could [have] a relationship was just not watching the show we were making," Tom came about because "going into our fourth year... I thought it was really pushing credibility for Daria to have only had one or two dates during her whole high school career," and "teaser" episodes like "Pierce Me" were "intended to provide some fun for that portion of the audience that was so invested in the romance angle. The fact that those moments were few and far between should have given some indication that the series was not about Daria's love life."
Harry Potter fandom
The Harry Potter series' most contentious ship debates came from supporters of various potential pairings:
- Harry Potter and his close female friend Hermione Granger
- Hermione ending up with Ron Weasley, close friend of both Harry and Hermione.
- Harry ending up with Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister.
- Lily Evans ending up with either James Potter, or Severus Snape.
- Remus Lupin ending up with either Sirius Black or Nymphadora Tonks.
- Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy - 'Drarry'
- Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy - 'Dramione'
Author J.K. Rowling appeared to tamp down the first possibility even before the debates got truly started following the release of Goblet of Fire in July 2000, when she stated in October 1999 that Harry and Hermione "are very platonic friends" after the release of Prisoner of Azkaban in July 1999.
The alternative, which ended up occurring, was of Harry ending up with Ginny Weasley, Ron's younger sister, whose obvious crush on him served as a plot-line starting in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Rowling later commented that she had planned Ginny as Harry's "ideal girl" from the very beginning. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hermione informs Harry that Ginny has "given up" on him; in the subsequent Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry develops a crush on Ginny. Eventually, Ginny is revealed to have taken Hermione's advice to boost her self-confidence by dating other boys.
An interview with J.K. Rowling shortly after the release of Half-Blood Prince caused significant controversy within the fandom. An interviewer stated that Harry/Hermione fans were delusional, to which Rowling responded that they were "still valued members of her readership", but that there had been "anvil-sized hints" for future Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny relationships, and that Harry/Hermione shippers needed to re-read the books. This caused an uproar among Harry/Hermione shippers, some of whom claimed they would return their copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and boycott future Harry Potter books.
Rowling's attitude towards the shipping phenomenon has varied between amused and bewildered to frustrated. In that same interview, she stated:
Well, you see, I'm a relative newcomer to the world of shipping, because for a long time, I didn't go on the net and look up Harry Potter. A long time. Occasionally I had to, because there were weird news stories or something that I would have to go and check, because I was supposed to have said something I hadn’t said. I had never gone and looked at fan sites, and then one day I did and oh – my – god. Five hours later or something, I get up from the computer shaking slightly [all laugh]. ‘What is going on?’ And it was during that first mammoth session that I met the shippers, and it was a most extraordinary thing. I had no idea there was this huge underworld seething beneath me.
The release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in July 2007 saw an epilogue, nineteen years after the events at the focus of the series, where Harry and Ginny are married and have three children, as are Ron and Hermione with two.
Rowling stated in an interview in February 2014 in Wonderland Magazine, however, that she thought that realistically Hermione and Ron had "too much fundamental incompatibility," that they were written together "as a form of wish fulfillment" to reconcile a relationship she herself was once in. She went on to say that perhaps with marriage counseling Ron and Hermione would have been all right. She later said that Harry's love for Ginny is "true," thereby denying any potential canon relationship between Harry and Hermione.
Xena: Warrior Princess fandom
Shortly after the series' debut, fans started discussing the possibility of a relationship between Xena and her sidekick and best friend Gabrielle. Toward the end of the first season, the show's producers began to play to this perception by deliberately inserting usually humorous lesbian innuendo into some episodes. However, Xena had a number of male love interests as well, and from the first season had an adversarial but sexually charged dynamic with Ares, the God of War, who frequently tried to win her over as his "Warrior Queen". Gabrielle had once had a male husband, whose death deeply affected her.
According to journalist Cathy Young, the quarrel between fans about a relationship between Xena and Gabrielle had a sociopolitical angle, in which some on the anti-relationship side were "undoubtedly driven by bona fide bigotry", while some on the pro-relationship side were lesbians who "approached the argument as a real-life gay rights struggle" in which "denying a sexual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was tantamount to denying the reality of their own lives". She added:
In a way, knowing that the staff paid attention to fan opinions may have made matters worse: There was an incentive for the rival groups to out-shout one another to make themselves heard. Many fans who had no appetite for these wars fled the online fandom. Storylines that were seen as betraying the subtext, particularly the Xena-Ares relationship in the fifth season, were met with intense hostility from a small but vocal group; at other times, non-subtext fans grumbled about what they saw as pandering to the pro-subtext fan base (such as several sixth-season episodes emphasizing Xena and Gabrielle's transcendent bond as soul mates).
In 2000, during the airing of the fifth season, the intensity of the "shipping wars" was chronicled (from a non-subtexter's point of view) in an article titled "The Discrimination in the Xenaverse" in the online Xena fan magazine Whoosh!, and numerous letters in response.
The wars did not abate after the 2001 series finale. With no new material from the show itself, the debates were fueled by various statements from the cast and crew. In January 2003, Xena star Lucy Lawless told Lesbian News magazine that after watching the finale, she had come to believe that Xena and Gabrielle's relationship was "definitely gay". However, in the interviews and commentaries on the DVD sets released in 2003–2005, the actors, writers, and producers continued to stress the ambiguity of the relationship, and in several interviews both Lawless and Renee O'Connor, who played Gabrielle, spoke of Ares as a principal love interest for Xena, with O'Connor commenting, "If there was ever going to be one man in Xena's life, it would be Ares."
In March 2005, one-time Xena screenwriter Katherine Fugate, an outspoken supporter of the Xena/Gabrielle pairing, posted a statement on her website appealing for tolerance in the fandom:
The show existed as it did when it did. And it enabled many to be empowered on many levels, for many walks of life. So if one definition doesn't work for you, then discard it. If it does, hold it gently. But please, allow everyone the grace to take what they need from the show and make it theirs. Let them have what moved them – be it that Xena was in love with Gabrielle or Xena was in love with Ares. Please stop the arguing and name-calling and need to be right, because, in the end, the show worked, it healed, it changed lives, it created new friendships, new loves and new thought, and it was bloody fantastic. And that's what matters. That it simply lived.
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