Ship War

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Synonyms: shipwar, shipping war
See also: shipping, OTP, Fan war
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A ship war is a heated disagreement between two or more groups of shippers. Ship wars are usually between fans of two, or more, ships with a character in common, for example the two ships involved in the Bellarke vs Clexa ship war had the character of Clarke Griffin in common, with both sides believing their ship was the best one. Unlike your garden variety of wank, ship wars span a long period of time (often years) and involve many people in their fandom. Symptoms of a ship war include:

  • rants, both of the "we're obviously right" and "why can't we all write our porn and get along" kinds
  • long-winded essays trying to prove canonicity or superiority of the preferred ship (sometimes going overboard and claiming every scene with one or both of the characters as proof, in a very convoluted, Dan Brown fashion) or pointing the flaws in similar essays by rival shippers
  • a refusal to quiet down till well after the canon is closed
  • anti-shipper posts appearing in that ship's Tumblr tag
  • mocking the other ship, or opposing shipper groups, via graphics, like memes and manips
  • Character Bashing of the one who is "in the way" of each side's preferred ship

Ship wars often aggravate other fannish behavior such as flames ("if you like X/Y, you're Z!") and character bashing.


Panel of a humorous picture meta, by coolkarmact, about the Jonsa vs Jonerys ship war in Game of Thrones fandom, but the sentiments could apply to almost any ship war

In an article The fall of fandom etiquette and the rise of the ship war writer Clare McBride posits that the birth of modern ship wars began with the Harmonians in Harry Potter fandom

Because they’d invested so heavily in this one ship, to the detriment of making wider connections in fandom and developing a diverse interest in the series, Rowling’s revelation threatened to invalidate not only their ship, but their fandom...

In a pre-social media age, none of these could really reach or touch Rowling unless she, for some reason, actively sought them out, but, nevertheless, something had changed; the Harmonians, facing extinction, had decided to double-down and bite the hand that fed them. The ship meant more to them than the fandom did.

This is the moment that birthed zero-sum shipping, a kind of blind gamesmanship that only values a ship for whether it not it wins, not whether or not it is enjoyable. Add in the peculiar moralizing of the Harmonians, and, voila, you’ve got the recipe for fans antagonizing creators over appearing to support ships that are, in their eyes, morally unacceptable.[1]

Whereas the writer Sean Z believes that the prevalence of ship wars is tied to platform migration, especially the opt-in model of LiveJournal and the opt-out model of Tumblr

Unlike LiveJournal’s communities, Tumblr’s fandoms rely on tagging. Instead of joining a group for your interest, you simply search for #show or #movie. This is where problems begin. A user on tumblr can tag a post with whatever tag they wish. Let’s say I was a shipper who wanted to pair off Alice and Bob on the show Great Adventures. I might tag a post “#AliceBob #GreatAdventures #ThisShowIsAmazing.” Unfortunately, until December of 2017, Tumblr did not have any built-in filtering mechanism, so every user who wanted to see posts using the #GreatAdventures tag would see my posts about Alice/Bob, as well as other pairings, like Bob/Eve, Alice/Eve, etc...

Early Tumblr fandom attempted to work around this problem with the simple etiquette “don’t tag your hate.” If you were passionate that Bob and Alice should never be together and you wanted to write an essay on why it was a horrible pairing, it would be inappropriate to use the #AliceBob tag, since that’s used by all the people who want to find content for the pairing. Instead, the early solution was to use #anti-AliceBob when arguing against something. The idea was to replicate the communities of LiveJournal by separating users who objected to a pairing to those who favored it. The term anti, or anti-shipper, comes from this tagging practice, and entered common use in 2015.

Unfortunately, this plan to help fandom police itself backfired. By creating the #anti-AliceBob tag, the fandom created a community joined together by their hatred for something. And, over time, these anti communities radicalized other members.[2]

In the 2010s, there has been fannish discussion about how the arguments in ship wars have changed, from whether or not a ship has canon support to whether or not a ship is morally good.[3] See also The Three Laws of Fandom.


Meta/Further Reading


The TV Tropes article on Ship to Ship Combat provides many more examples.



  1. ^ TV Tropes had to lock the Die For Our Ship/InuYasha page, saying it "houses one of the most rabid and militant shipping wars of all time." It is the only page about shipping which receives this treatment.