• Editoral: Why Do We Ship?

    Big Mac, the fandom has decided that you should date at least one of these mares... plus twenty-seven others off-panel!

    Let's talk about shipping, what it means to us, and what are some of the pitfalls. Find more after the break!

      Prioritize, Shining!

    So what was the earliest ship fic you ever read? I guarantee it's not the first ever made. Although shipping has gained notoriety thanks to the internet, it's an older tradition than many realize. One of the earliest forms came in 1913. Sybil Brinton, a 40-year-old wealthy English woman published "Old Friends and New Fancies". This self-proclaimed sequel to Jane Austen's works mimicked her writing voice and sought to pair up well-loved characters from all six of Austen's works.

    “Nowdays it is the fashion to admire loudest what one understands least." - Mr Bingley

    The trend would pick up notoriety thanks to Star Trek. Fanzines would put out the call for fictional pieces, which were submitted by just about every method available. It was here that the term "slash fic" came into existence, as the Kirk/Spock stories caught many people unaware. 

    Now it's a part of every fandom. Given the sheer scope shipping can entail, my own view is very limited. Having bounced around online and read some various perspectives, I want to share what I've come to view, both positive and negative, to shipping. It all starts with a fundamental human concept.

    Whole fan fics and artwork sprint from a single PDA.

    We Are in Love with Love
    I'm betting a lot of folks reading this don't consider themselves shippers. But double-or-nothing, I bet those same folks have felt a connection with a couple that wasn't real. Perhaps that spaghetti shared between two dogs made you grin. Maybe you felt some pain as Han's final words before freezing were "I know." If you're like me, you tear Up a little during a a scene with a certain scrapbook. 

    But if real life is a better example, let me share a tale. While flying back from Pacific Ponycon this past January, I happened to sit in the row with a man decked in a red and black-plaid shirt, jeans, a 5 o'clock shadow, and a battered tan cap. In chatting with the stewardess, he mentioned that upon setting down he had a several-hour drive in a big rig to reach his home at the Wyoming border. Despite the past-midnight touchdown, he wanted to be home in time to take his kids to school.

    In that moment several passengers, including myself, connected with this man. I knew nothing of him, his family, or much else but I understood he was putting forth effort for his loved ones. On some level we connect with others over a universal yet very private emotion. Ralph Waldo Emersson said it well in an 1841 essay:

    "And what fastens attention, in the intercourse of life, like any passage betraying affection between two parties? Perhaps we never saw them before, and never shall meet them again. But we see them exchange a glance, or betray a deep emotion, and we are no longer strangers. We understand them, and take the warmest interest in the development of the romance. All mankind love a lover."

    So whether or not we engage in fictional shipping I think it's important to acknowledge that the idea of love has a universal appeal. We are drawn to people who demonstrate love, whether in fiction or in life. For a moment we might understand them, and in doing so forge a connection.  

     I know folks like the idea that this is Derpy's daughter,
    but I find myself smitten with the idea this is her family.

    The Real Shipping Fuel
    So if we are able to connect with a part of ourselves and with others over the idea of love, why not express this within a fandom? Often if you ask someone why they ship characters, they might talk about "evidence" from the show or how obviously the two would compliment one another. I think this is a mistake.

    That's trying to justify a ship and seek validation from the outside. The ships we find interesting, and the way we express this, are a reflection upon of ourselves. What do we think a happy relationship would look like? What do we value in others? What do we want for ourselves? It's hard to tackle these directly, so perhaps borrowing Equestria for a little bit can help us puzzle this out.

    Many fans are embarrassed or confused by such displays. Some might feel offended that the characters they enjoy are being conscripted into someone else's scenarios. Maybe it seems frightening, given the vehemence with which some push their One True Pairings (OTP's) or argue against those who take the opposite view. And if we have little-to-no interest in a ship, it becomes grating when someone won't allow us the freedom to not participate.

    Yet for all the valid criticisms I still celebrate the idea that this is about forging connections. Not just with fictional characters, but using the idea of a ship as parallel play with other fans. Putting up a piece of fan fiction or artwork can act as a beacon to like-minded fans.

    To quote psychologist Jared DeFife in an interview with the Huffington Post:

    "The vast majority of people who are engaging in this are [doing so] in an affirmative, positive, socially engaging, feeling really connected with other people way. There's always this move to pathologize this process. I don't think it's a pathological one at all. I think it's really normal. I think what it says about you is that it says you care about connections and relationships to others -- as we all do. So to engage in this inherently normal."

    I'll add to that I think the desire not to ship is also normal. It comes down to where we choose to focus our energy.

    Would this count as Rarity's own self-insert fic?
    Whoa. Romanception!

    The Flame Wars of Love
    The idea behind shipping is that we connect with both other people and even fictional characters over a shared emotion. If the story is working right, we feel what the character feels. So the emotions that drive shipping can be very forceful. Fanatical, even. 

    Shipping is meant to be for fun, but one of the surest ways to kill that is to start a flame war. I think the root for many of these wars, besides the omnipresent internet trolling, is that we tend to make a leap in logic. The ships we enjoy can reflect our own views on love, or speak to something we can't express in words. So if someone rejects or insults that idea, we're tempted to assume they're insulting ourselves. So one fired shot gains another, and back and forth, and pretty soon what was supposed to be fun becomes an argument that demands way more energy. 
    This is probably the biggest turn-off to shipping. It's like walking in on a brawl. Unless you're eager to get in a fight, there's not much incentive to take another step. We see the same behavior between rival sports teams, or cities, and especially in politics. When we invest a part of ourselves in something, we're tempted to lash out when that topic is threatened. 

    Or perhaps we feel that someone is intruding on our privacy, trying to make us agree with them. I witnessed this back in my time within the Digimon fandom. This took place on a fandom message board, Megchan's Digimon Sekai (Megchan's Digimon World). A small group became very passionate about the idea that the youngest hero, Iori, would one day marry a young, unnamed girl in a wheelchair seen in a single episode. In a mirror of how Derpy became a fandom name, this girl became know as Jen and the fans insisted on "JenOri" as the OTP. The forum topics didn't matter. If they could force the issue, they would. The push became so intrusive several proponents ended up banned.

    There was nothing wrong with the idea but the fans' zeal alienated everyone else. I think the desire for recognition became greater than even the enjoyment of the ship itself. It's this same desire that leads fan to argue over what ships are "canon", which can seem absurd if it's not even the story's goal. It's turning over our creativity and drive to the show, expecting it to reward us rather than finding our own enjoyment.

    I think shipping would be less intrusive and more fun if people were able to set aside the need for validation. Which brings us to what most intrigues me about shipping culture, the creativity.

    Not gonna lie. This would be an awesome or hilarious story.

    The Creative Spark
    The biggest thing that attracted me to the Brony fandom was the creative energy put forth after each episode. That includes romantic ideas, though arguably My Little Pony should stick to just one ship: Friendship.

    To have any of the Mane cast engage in a serious relationship would change the whole show's dynamic and might undermine its core appeal. That said, why shouldn't the fandom explore this idea?

    The Magicians series' author, Lev Grossman stated in a Times article "The Boy Who Lived Forever":

    "Even back then it was apparent that fan fiction was not just an homage to the glory of the original but also a reaction to it. It was about finding the boundaries that the original couldn't or wouldn't break, and breaking them. ... 

    I love the show, but what if it went further? What happens if I press this big, shiny, red button that says "Do not press"?

    It was a way to bring to light hidden subtexts that the show couldn't address."

    Why not borrow creative control for just a little bit, in the realm of our own imagination? Why not wonder how a logical pony like Twilight would react to new feelings, or ask how a shy pony like Fluttershy might find the motivation to connect with another? 

    Depending on the ship this might easily attract other fans. Much like the idea that fans will buy anything with the MLP logo, some works enjoy greater popularity because they chose an appealing ship. With this can come the temptation to put less energy into characterization and rush the relationship, which dampens the exploration. Many of us have read stories that amounted to, "They met. They fell in love. They married. The end." 

    What audience really craves is a journey. They want to walk with the two characters as the relationship grows so that when we reach the point where love is expressed, we can feel like we've invested a part of ourselves and share the thrill. That's why I find myself enjoying the unlikely ships more. The ones that don't directly cite the show's events, so they require the artist or author to work harder to form the connection. 

    The show can establish that these two are attracted.
    But how that attraction is expressed can be the fans' domain. 

    OC's and Beyond
    I think the topic of shipping an OC with a show character deserves its own post down the line. It's an even more contested topic than shipping two show-based characters. Yet for now I'll point folks to a discussion from 2015 where Equestria Daily brought up that very question. You'll have to check the archived comments link to see what folks said.

    For now I'll sum it up. I view shipping as a very natural act . We're curious about love and the characters we enjoy provide an avenue to express our ideas. Not all works are of equal quality and it's very easy to go too far with promoting a ship. The real challenge is a healthy, creative expression. It can be amazing to see how people respond when you show your best self.

    That's my view on shipping. What's yours?

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading! 

    Twitter: Silver Quill