The Fall of Fandom Etiquette and the Rise of the Ship War

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Title: The Fall of Fandom Etiquette and the Rise of the Ship War
Creator: Clare McBride
Date(s): May 16, 2018
Medium: online
Fandom: Harry Potter
External Links: The fall of fandom etiquette and the rise of the ship war, Archived version
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The Fall of Fandom Etiquette and the Rise of the Ship War is a 2018 essay by Clare McBride at SyfyWire.

Some Topics Discussed

  • ship wars
  • the first recorded reference to HMS Harmony was on a August 9, 2003 post from Mad Eye Mike on MuggleNet’s Chamber of Secrets forums
  • the Harmonians
  • the importance of, and a link, to an interview: "On July 16, 2005, immediately following the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, MuggleNet’s Emerson Spartz and the Leaky Cauldron’s Melissa Anelli met with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling in her Edinburgh, Scotland, home for an exclusive interview." See: EXCLUSIVE 2005 INTERVIEW
  • a link to What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding, an August 8, 2005 Harmonian rant
  • ship wars as a zero sum game
  • Harry Potter, due to its size and influence, was a gateway to an entire generation of fans, and what happened there greatly influences fandom today
  • weaponizing Twitter and Tumblr
  • Leaky Cauldron, Fiction Alley, Sugar Quill


I never feel so fandom-old as I do when I’m confronted with the worst excesses of the next generation of fans. I’m fine with the generational differences, the fact that none of them will ever truly understand what a magical world LiveJournal was before it fell to the Russians, and how my icon-making skills are meaningless in their .gif economy. I’ve made my peace.

What makes me feel the most ancient and out-of-touch is the drama.

But attitudes towards shipping have definitely changed in the Tumblr era. What was once the love of two characters’ dynamic has become, to a small but outspoken subsection of fans, a zero-sum game. How did we get from “God, I love seeing these two together” to “These two need to be together, so help me God?"

The first skirmishes in the Harmony Wars indicated that it would be a classic ship war: Ron/Hermione shippers on one side and Harry/Hermione shippers on the other. (For those of you blessed enough to have never witnessed a ship war, think Team Edward vs. Team Jacob.) Being a literary fandom in both senses of the word, people spent endless hours on forums, mailing lists, and news groups dissecting the books to analyze every character interaction to make the case for their ship of choice.

But even early on, the tension between these two factions ran hot. Sugar Quill, one of the first Harry Potter-specific fic archives, refused to accept Harry/Hermione fic on the grounds that it was not “canon-compliant” (interestingly, they accepted Remus/Sirius fic as canon-compliant because YOU KNOW IT WAS), which may have contributed to the opening of FictionAlley, which pointedly accepted all ships. Ship-specific fansites and communities became the norm, allowing the factions to more or less peaceably coexist, although the occasional battle still happened.

Harry/Hermione became known as the HMS Harmony (get it!) at some point after the publication of The Order of the Phoenix—the first recorded reference to it that I could find was an August 9, 2003 post from Mad Eye Mike on MuggleNet’s Chamber of Secrets forums.

The HMS Harmony is a reality-based vessel. Unlike other ships, we don't have our heads in the clouds. We can accept the truth about a situation and move on. We've never had to alter things (text, scenes) or create our own (fics) to justify, satisfy and provide proof of our ship. We ship H/Hr mostly because we feel the characters are best suited for each other. If in the end JKR decides that's not the case, so be it. We'll move on.

For instance, Harmonians would look at Ron and Hermione’s bickering and conclude that it wasn’t a childish mode of flirting and expressing emotional investment in the tradition of teenagers since time immemorial, but rather symptomatic of the tragic fact that they could never really understand each other. And if they couldn’t understand each other, how could they be a good match? Their insistence that there was only one correct way to read the text and that any other reading that went contrary to their ship indicated that said reader was clearly unable to fully appreciate the genius of Harry Potter was insufferable.

But at least their insufferability and their ire was contained within the roomy borders of the Harry Potter fandom.

That is… until the interview.

Spartz, Anelli, and Rowling begin discussing the romance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. When Spartz shares that he and Anelli thought she made it very clear that Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione were items, Rowling agrees.

And then Spartz says something Harry Potter fandom has never forgotten: “Harry/Hermione shippers — delusional!”

Rowling, to her credit, distances herself from the word, but goes on to say that she thought she’d dropped “anvil-sized” hints about Ron/Hermione and that, essentially, she considered the entire discussion done with. Ron and Hermione were going to be together, and that was that.

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.

So they turned their ire on her. Harmonians began to openly insult Rowling, calling into question her talent as a writer, denigrating her for being divorced, and even insulting her personal appearance. One post even indulges in some pearl clutching, wondering if the “moral” of Ron/Hermione is really one she wants to pass down to her daughters.


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.


On Tumblr

Most fan reactions to the article were positive or appreciative.

I don’t know how I missed this piece from Clare McBride, but it’s an incredibly thorough argument for HP as being the start of what has since become a strong fandom cultural shift–and, I think, a vital read for anyone trying to engage with creator/audience dynamics as a whole. As someone caught in between (adjacent to creatives, and on the path to becoming one, but also adjacent to fandom, and still situated somewhat in them), it’s often hard not to feel like the conversation about what it means to discourse with fandom is incomplete. The case McBride makes here, that it comes down to a lack of understanding and education in fandom history, is one that I have made before, and one I really urge those on both sides of the issue to dive into.[1]

One BBC Sherlock fan responded with relief:

Honestly, I’m just so relieved to see an article about bad fandom dynamics and gross ship wars that doesn’t even *mention* BBC Sherlock. This is a proud day for Sherlockians – we might not be the most egregiously toxic fandom ever! Maybe in the end, we were just typically toxic.[2]

Some fans shared memories of the conflicts cited in the article, or added other examples and reference points:

I’m not touching Harry Potter fandom (or the movies) with a 10-foot pole, but this Harry/Hermione thing drives me up the fucking wall. It completely ruined the HP fandom for me.

The whole Harry/Hermione thing began WITH THE MOVIES, not the books. In the books JKR made it quite explicit that Ron/Hermione were going to be a thing, and Harry/Hermione shippers were quite rare, back then, and super cool and laid-back. If anything, Hermione/Draco was HUGE back then (before Drarry took over).

Then the actors grew up, and shitty directors/writers could not fathom the hot girl not ending up with the protagonist (and yes, hot girl. Book!Hermione was a plain-looking nerd with buck teeth, not the beautiful Emma Watson), and Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson had a lot of chemistry they both simply didn’t have with Rupert Grint. As much as I love Cuarón, he was the first to explicitly highlight this.

Pitting fans against each others ALWAYS brings profit (see the shitty Twilight phenomenon). The movies SYSTEMATICALLY destroyed Ron’s character (by giving him 3 lines every film, and giving all his best lines from the book TO HERMIONE); they gave Hermione and Ron very few interactions while emphasizing Harry/Hermione, and in film 7 they gave Ron and Hermione a shitty half-hidden kiss peck in the darkness while giving her and Harry a full on make-out scene half-naked. Which, call it “horcrux” all you want, it was pure fucking fan service for those shitty loud Harry/Hermione fans, because they DEMANDED their ship be canon, and the writers were afraid of alienating them. By 2010, the only fans left who still shipped Ron and Hermione were book lovers who generally disliked the movies.

Harry and Hermione have one of the best friendships ever written in YA books. And sure, they make for an excellent ship, too (heck, 90% of my ships are friends-turned-into-more and only 5% of those are actually canon). But the way the fandom/movies have turned it into a Harry/Hermione vs. Ron/Hermione war is fucking infuriating. I refuse to blame the fandom alone. The writers/directors/producers had a FIELD TRIP playing us.[3]

For me since I’m involved more with TV show fandoms it has changed drastically. I remember when I first got online as a teen when “Buffy” still aired it wasn’t that bad to talk about Spuffy or Bangel and we were all still fans of the show. That started changing for me when LOST aired. I was a Jater and we got some crazy hate from a few Skaters, but the message board I was a part of was really nice and banned users if they were sending hate of any kind. Since FB, Twitter, and Tumblr got popular it changed drastically and got so bad. The “Once Upon a Time” fandom was destroyed by the ship wars and some of these “fans” sent death threats to the writers and actors. Then I saw it happen to almost every show I’d been a part of no matter if it was DC, Marvel, hospital shows, period dramas, whatever. If there was a love triangle there were some crazed fans that would send hate. It happens in fandoms for movies, books, and even bands, but you don’t see it was much as you do with TV shows. I decided recently to stop watching “Supergirl” because of this and how they bullied the actors off social media and off the show it’s self. And even the Vicbourne shippers for “Victoria” had this happen in a FB group where an argument broke out over those who still like/watch the show (like me) and others who want it cancelled since they treated Lord M’s exit wrong and it’s not historically accurate. It’s just absurd since the book it’s based off is considered historical fiction and we all knew Lord M died in real life only a few years after Queen Victoria married Albert. :( It’s just sad how a lot of this has become and fandom just isn’t what it is for those of us who embraced it in the early days of online fandom. We just want to watch our shows/movies, read books, read/write fanfic, see fanart/fanvids, and have fun. Fandom is supposed to be about fun and if you’re that upset about your ship not working out than something is wrong. I had many not work out since I’ve been watching TV my whole life but that’s just the way stories go sometimes.[4]

So, reading through this, I get an inkling there’s probably some social-identity dynamics going on here. I mean, just reading that piece I see the hallmarks of a in-group identity: setting boundry (we ship Harmony), in-group favoritism (we’re morally superior and reading things correctly), in-group grievance (we got called delusional), mobilization in behalf of the group (attack the author).

Man there’s something weird about applying the poli sci literature on social identity and collective action to fandom.[5]

And some fans expressed surprise:

This was… informative. I had no idea, having stepped into online fandom communities fairly recently. It saddens me to learn that a much beloved literary piece, written in part to teach people to be accepting and compassionate, was used as a platform to separate and hurt others. But, if the religious wars that have and still do rage on this earth are any indication, people will always find a reason to fight and a way to justify their war cries.[6]

Fans weren't the only people to respond to the article. Writer Maggie Stiefvater reblogged a link to the article on her Tumblr, and added a comment:

I always told myself I’d write as if toxic fandom didn’t exist, but I know now it’s a comforting lie. It’s not an additive influence for me, however — it’s subtractive. There are two characters I cannot imagine myself ever writing about again as long as I maintain a functional presence on the internet; it’s simply not worth it even breathing their names in the reply to a Tumblr ask, much less typing them into a manuscript. I know to do so would be to at least temporarily render my asks, replies, and comments unusable for anything else. Maybe one day I’ll ghost and let the internet war unknown to me, but I’m not yet ready to depart antisocial media just yet. It would feel like I was turning my back on a particular form of connectivity and society.[7]

Reblogging Stiefvater's post, a fan added:

A big reason I bailed on active participation in the HP fandom was the increasing toxicity. I was only ever peripheral to The Big Names™, but I was close enough to see the acid building, and I didn’t want to get splashed.

Fandom… Doesn’t exist without source material. Source material doesn’t exist without its creator. So fandom doesn’t exist without original content creators.

Attacking original content creators because they’re not creating to your highly specific desires is idiotic. It’s obnoxious. It’s peurile, supremely juvenile behavior.

Don’t fucking do that, y'all.[8]


  1. ^ Tumblr post by sarahbatistapereira. Posted on June 18, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  2. ^ Tumblr post by notagarroter. Posted on June 29, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  3. ^ Tumblr post by emily84. Posted on July 10, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  4. ^ Tumblr post by buffyfan145. Posted on June 24, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  5. ^ Tumblr post by whammy5. Posted on June 18, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  6. ^ Tumblr post by hismissus. Posted on June 28, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  7. ^ Tumblr post by maggie-stiefvater. Posted on June 24, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.
  8. ^ Tumblr post by crofethr. Posted on June 24, 2018. Accessed on July 15, 2018.