Shipping, initially derived from the word relationship, is the desire by fans for two or more people, either real-life people or fictional characters, to be in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. It is considered a general term for fans' emotional involvement with the ongoing development of a relationship in a work of fiction. Shipping often takes the form of creative works, including fanfiction and fan art, most often published on the internet.
Types of ships
A ship that has been confirmed by its series and is true is called a canon ship. Canon means "true to the series". A canon ship might be a romantic couple actively portrayed, or only understood as canon due to the creators of the media confirming it as true.
Shipping can involve any kind of romantic relationship between any character. A pairing between characters who rarely or never interact with each other, including those from different series, is called a crack pairing. A character paired with an inanimate object is called a cargo ship.
OTP stands for one true pairing, and generally refers to an individual fan's particularly heartfelt love for a pairing. Other variations occur, such a OT3 which usually applies to poly relationships (especially love triangles in canon).
Shipping usually refers to romantic relationships. Applied outside of romance, the term is controversial. Some fans apply can also refer to simple friendships; this subset is sometimes known as a "BrOTP" (a portmanteau of the terms bromance and one true pairing). Shipping in fanfiction between a same-sex couple is also known as slash fiction, an older term and concept that dates to the late 1970s.
In anime/manga communities, shipping is more commonly referred to as pairing(s); in Filipino pop culture, it is frequently called loveteam(s). In East Asian contexts, the practice is also referred to as coupling or CP.
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The activity of fans creating relationships for fictional characters far predates the term. Though the word "ship" is a truncation of "relationship", where and when it was first used to indicate involvement with fictional relationships is unclear. 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". This is why relationships between two men are now often referred to as "slash".
The actual term "shipping" was originated in the mid-1990s by internet fans of the TV show The X-Files, who believed the two main characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, should be or were 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 nouns ship and 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. Its earliest attestation of the verb to ship, on the other hand, comes from 2005, from the printed version of the Urban Dictionary.
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, and so forth.
There are a wide number of terms used among fans who practice shipping. In addition to popular terms used among shippers in general, there are other terms that only specific fandoms use, such as giving special names to the ships in question. For example, a "sailed ship" is a pairing that has been established as canonically true, whereas a "sunk ship" is a ship that has been proven unable to sail. Another common term is an "OTP", an abbreviation of "One True Pairing". To deem a ship OTP, one is declaring their deep emotional investment in it. On occasion, though, a person may not be able to decide on an OTP in a single fandom. This is when the uncommon term "TTP" is used. It simply stands for Two True Pairings.
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 most widespread appears to be putting the slash character (/) between the two names ("Character1/Character2"). Other methods of identifying relationships between characters often create hybrid terms such as portmanteaus and clipped compounds to abbreviate character pairings. For example, Drarry forms a clipped compound, abbreviated from the complete names Draco and Harry. Another form of hybrid naming is to place an exclamation point (!) between the two names being compounded (i.e.: Draco!Harry). These combinations 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. For example, MartyrShipping refers to the relationship between Ivypool and Hollyleaf from the Warriors series, because both suffered a great deal for their beliefs. Other terminology is more vague, consisting of codes for the character names. For example, according to Japanese wordplay, Takeshi Yamamoto can be represented by the number 80 and Hayato Gokudera by the number 59, thus the Reborn! pairing is referred to as "8059".
(If one wishes to say in a formal writing assignment of some sort, such as school summer reading, one could say that one "prefers this couple's romantic relationship to others in the book" or that one "strongly supports the romantic pairing", or any other variation of the two.)
Shipping may defy classical social standards and be taboo.
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".
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 fan works 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 fan 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.
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Interspecies, which is usually displayed in fandoms of media consisting of animals of various species, usually isn’t controversial until a human is paired with a non-humanoid, sentient character. It's especially controversial when it's between a human and an animal or furry. An example of a controversial canon ship would be Sonic/Elise. Some consider such pairings bestiality.
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Controversial age differences have a wide range. An elderly adult with a young adult, anyone with an immortal or slowly-ageing being, teenagers with young adults, or pedophiliacs 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. Using these human ages gives way to a smaller age gap.
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Romances between two characters who canonically hate each other also occur. It's often interpreted that the characters share sexual tension between each other.
Another example of non-conventional shipping is in the Homestuck fandom, which introduced three new shipping categories: Kismesissitude or hate-love (a deep-rooted rivalry), Moirallegiance (a deep, very powerful platonic friendship), and Auspisticism (a three-person relationship created between two would-be rivals and a peer mediator). Those in the Homestuck fandom refer to the usual romantic relationship as matespritship.
Daria fandom was marked through its entire run by shipper debate. From the series' first season, the main conflict was over whether the title character, Daria Morgendorffer, should have a relationship with Trent Lane, a slacker rock-band frontman, whom Daria met through his sister, Jane. A common argument against this possible outcome was that such a development would signal a turn away from the more subversive aspects of Daria's character, such as bitter criticism of romantic relationships, and thus the show.
The show's writers responded by having Daria develop a crush on Trent. Trent, however, remained involved with his off-and-on girlfriend Monique, who immediately became a target of shipper ire. The crush ended in the third season's finale, "Jane's Addition", when Daria realized that Trent could never satisfy her in the long run.
That same episode introduced Tom Sloane, a charming and intellectual son of privilege. Although Tom became Jane's boyfriend, threatening Daria and Jane's friendship in the process, Daria and Tom warmed up to each other throughout the fourth season, leading up to its finale, "Dye! Dye! My Darling," broadcast August 2, 2000. 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 instant uproar, and conversation now 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 the prospective relationship between Harry Potter and his close female friend Hermione Granger, and supporters of Hermione ending up instead with Ron Weasley, close friend of both. Author J.K. Rowling appeared to try to tamp down the possibility, stating at one point that Harry and Hermione "are very platonic friends".
Another alternative 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. 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, however, Harry develops a crush on Ginny, convinced that he has missed his opportunity with her. In the end Ginny turns out to never have given up on Harry after all, but merely taken Hermione's advice to try to date other boys to boost her self-confidence. Though their romantic relationship becomes one of the few sources of comfort in Harry's difficult life, he makes a decision to end it for fear that Voldemort would learn of it and target Ginny. Rowling later commented that she had planned Ginny as Harry's "ideal girl" from the very beginning.
An interview with J.K. Rowling conducted by fansite webmasters Emerson Spartz (MuggleNet) and Melissa Anelli (The Leaky Cauldron) shortly after the release of Half-Blood Prince caused significant controversy within the fandom. In the interview, Spartz 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 incident resulted in an uproar among Harry/Hermione shippers, some of whom announced that they would return their copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and boycott future Harry Potter books, leveling criticism at Spartz, Anelli, and Rowling herself. Many of them complained that both sites had a Ron/Hermione bias and criticized Rowling for not including a representative of their community. The uproar was the subject of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle.
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 kids, Lily Luna, James Sirius, and Albus Severus, and Ron and Hermione are also married and have two, Rose and Hugo. This has been received negatively by some fans, especially those who ship non-canon pairings. A result has been the "EWE" tag added to the summaries of fan-fiction, meaning "Epilogue, What Epilogue?"
Harry/Hermione shippers were somewhat vindicated in an interview with Rowling in February 2014 in Wonderland Magazine in which she stated that she thought that realistically "in some ways Harry and Hermione are a better fit [in comparison to Ron and Hermione]" and that Hermione and Ron had "too much fundamental incompatibility." She stated that Hermione and Ron were written together "as a form of wish fulfillment" as way 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 also went on to say in a talk at Exeter University that Harry's love for Ginny is true, thereby denying anything between Harry and Hermione. In spite of that, the ship debates still continue.
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. The show acquired a cult following in the lesbian community. However, Xena had a number of male love interests as well, and from the first season she 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 herself had once had a male husband, and his death deeply affected her.
According to journalist Cathy Young, the quarrel between online fans of the show about whether there should be 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 and sometimes nastiness of the "shipping wars" in the Xena fandom was chronicled (from a non-subtexter's point of view) by Australian artist Nancy Lorenz in an article titled "The Discrimination in the Xenaverse" in the online Xena fan magazine Whoosh!, and also in numerous letters in response.
The wars did not abate after the series came to an end in 2001. With no new material from the show itself, the debates were further fueled by various statements from the cast and crew. In January 2003, Lucy Lawless, the show's star, told Lesbian News magazine that after watching the series finale (in which Gabrielle revived Xena with a mouth-to-mouth water transfer filmed to look like a full kiss) 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. In the interview for the Season 6 episode "Coming Home", O'Connor commented, "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.||”|
- Verba, Joan Marie (2003). Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan and Zine History, 1967-1987, 2nd edition (PDF). pp. 18–19.
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- TV Tropes wiki article on Shipping
- The Shipper's Manifesto – A LiveJournal community that documents multi-fandom shipping essays.
- A Call to End The Shipping Wars – An essay on Mugglenet.
- "Creating a Pocket Universe: 'Shippers', fan fiction and The X-Files online", essay by Christine Scodari and Jenna L. Felder on the "shipper" debate within The X-Files community during the 1990s and how fans' reading of the show differs from that of the creators