Shipping

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Synonyms: Relationshipping
See also: Pairing, OTP, OT3, OT4, Skinship, Multishipping
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I will go down with this ship,
And I won't put my hands up and surrender.
There will be no white flag above my door.
I'm in love and always will be.
-- Dido

Shipping in fandom is the act of supporting or wishing for a particular romantic relationship — that is, a het (different-sex), slash (male/male), femslash (female/female), or poly (three or more partners) ship — by discussing it, writing meta about it, or creating other types of fanworks exploring it. Fans who have and promote favorite ships are called shippers. They might assert that the relationship does exist or will exist in canon, that they would like it to exist, or simply that they enjoy imagining it. Shippers who support multiple ships within a single canon are often referred to as multishippers, especially if they support those ships equally.

The relationships that fans promote or wish for are not all happy-fluffy-bunny ones; fans also enjoy enemyslash and wrongshipping.

Some shippers support relationships that are portrayed or acknowledged as established in canon, some shippers like relationships that exist only as subtext (whether intentional or accidental -- itself a topic of debate), and some prefer relationships where the characters have no subtext discernible to non-shippers. Some fans ship characters who never even appear in canon together! It is important to note that some percentage of fans actively do not want their ship to become canon, especially wrongshippers and fans who don't trust the show's writers and producers to "do it right". Shippers have been known to regret it when their wish came true.

Shippy is the adjectival form of ship. Shippy can be used to describe canon interactions between characters, as well as fanworks that are not gen. Like slashy, shippy can be applied to subtext, as well as to acknowledged romance.

Etymology

The term originated in the X-Files fandom (1993), where viewers who wanted to see a romantic relationship between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were dubbed "relationshippers," or "shippers." Some were self-described intellishippers. It was also used on discussion groups for Lois and Clark (1993), where "shippers" were those who were pushing for stories in which the pair would get together romantically onscreen.

"Shippers" evolved into the shortened term "ship," used to refer to a potential romantic pairing a fan supported or wished to see become canon. "Ship" was subsequently used as a verb: "(to) ship a certain pairing."

In the past, "shippers" was sometimes used to refer exclusively to fans of heterosexual pairings, as opposed to "slashers" who wanted two male characters to get together. For example, see Slashing versus 'Shipping, or Why it's Easier to be a Slasher, a 2004 meta essay by T'Mar. Today, it now also means fans of slash pairings.

A clash between rival groups of pairing supporters is called a "ship war" or "shipping war".

Jack/Daniel icon with text "I will go down with this ship."

Because of their homophones, the terms are often accompanied or embellished by nautical or maritime imagery (for example, if canon makes a particular pairing unlikely or difficult to write, shippers may say it has "sunk their ship.") When the song "White Flag" by Dido came out, one of its lyrics, "I will go down with this ship," became a motto for passionate shipping, appearing on many, many Livejournal icons, banner graphics and other website and blog decorations. A factor in the rapid adoption of this quote by fandom may have been the use of David Boreanaz (Angel) as Dido's stalker / love interest in the music video,[1] at a time when the Spuffy v Bangel ship war was still arousing passions in Buffy fandom.

Shipper and Ship Nicknames

Shippers of a particular pairing may make up names to describe themselves, such as the Rocketshippers of Pokémon fandom. Sometimes shipper names denote a specific subgroup of fans of that pairing, such as the Harmonians in Harry Potter or Larries in One Direction.

Nicknames for the ships themselves are ubiquitous and usually follow specific naming conventions. In the 2010s, portmanteaus or smooshnames (e.g. "Johnlock" or "Destiel") are particularly common. A single relationship may have multiple names. See Pairing Name for more detail.

Shipping and The X-Files

X-Files, and its time place in history as one of the first big internet fandoms, is often regarded as the fandom that started formal shipping.

From a fan in 2006:
I think the X Files started it when the endless "will they wont they" storyline combined with the out of control myth-arc. As the myth-arc got more inaccessible, people turned away from it to the much simpler matter of the characters shagging each other senseless. More people got online during the mid-to-late 90's, it was easier for them to get into that.... Then there's gender: Blokes don't talk about their feelings so much as a rule. They were more likely to sit around discussing the workings of the Starship Enterprise than write about Spock/Kirk getting it on. The character of Scully drew a lot more women into the budding net fandom where they discovered that they, um, were not alone. They brought all these messy feelings with them. The "will they wont they"/messed up myth-arc encouraged that at just the right moment and shipping - not quite as we know it today - was born. Women then found that this new medium gave them freedom to explore the sexual fantasies they'd always had but had never before been able to express. Through the guise of becoming your favourite ship you can try out all sorts of stuff that you might never dream of doing in real life. Men wanting to see lesbians at it has generally been regarded as fine but women wanting to see two men getting on it... woah! Incest?! Go for it. S&M? Rape? Torture? Men have so much fantasy fodder provided for them, we've had to make it all for ourselves... and how we have!! We've broadened the playground and we're obsessed by the wonderland we've created for ourselves. It's a fantastical pandora's box we've opened with our silly little shipping.... It makes perfect sense that teenagers are very into this. Men fantasize alone. Women are doing it all together, which is a touch weird and goodness knows what it'll do to society. I'm hoping it's a positive effect. So shippers are pushing the envelope of our human sexual fantasies, forcing them into respectability. Fandom has become less about the shows themselves and more about making friends and exploring relationships and sexuality. Whether you perceive that as good or bad really depends on what you wanted from your fandom in the first place. [2]
Some claim that the phrase "shipper" came from X-Files fandom::
"On Delphi chatting with CC and on AOL & Prodigy since S1. For the record, Kelli Rocherolle (google it) coined “shipper” on Prodigy during S1 back when “CancerMan” was still CSM. We had a huge group on the scifi Prodigy BB...."[3]

Further Reading/Meta

Notes

  1. White Flag video on YouTube (retrieved July 4th 2015)
  2. The internet is for... ah, you know...; Archive (post and comments about shipping, and pairing, history of terms, and prevalence) (2006)
  3. Kate Knibb's comment in How Horny X-Files Lovers Created a New Type of Online Fandom, Archived version
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