If you’ve ever been in a fandom of any kind, you’ve probably noticed that animosity can occur between the shippers and the non-shippers. Most fans who aren’t into shipping just learn to tolerate or avoid it, but some take it very personally, claiming that it is ruining the fandom for them. In extreme cases, it causes people to leave a fandom entirely or even stop watching or reading something they used to like. Nowhere are these reactions better seen than in Tumblr confession blogs. These are blogs where fans anonymously submit their opinions on anything related to a work or its fandom. Looking through a few confession blogs, I’ve identified two camps of anti-shippers.
First there are those who don’t mind shipping, perhaps even low-key ship something themselves, but feel that the shipping has taken over the fandom to an annoying extent. A confession submitted to Confessions-in-south-park reads “People who submit Creek to their blogs: Please try not to tag your posts with the ‘South Park’ tag, because it suddenly gets full of spam. Not saying I don’t like it, I am a shipper myself, just stay on the specific tags to organize a bit, please.”
The second camp are those who seemingly outright despise the ship and the shippers and wish they had no part of the fandom, as shown by this post to Lord of the Rings Confessions: “I hate it when people ship Frodo and Sam. Yes they hug a lot and yes, they love each other like crazy, but it’s not a romantic love. It’s philia, which is Greek for ‘the love of brothers’, and no matter how much slash is out there, I’ll never be able to see it any other way.”
On one level, it is understandable why non-shippers feel this way. If you love a work but 90% of fandom activities stem from a small group of shippers which you are not a part of, it can make you feel alienated and locked out of your own fandom. The nature of the internet makes it all too easy to stumble upon something you didn’t want to see, such as pornographic fanart. You can install parental controls on your computer but you can’t exactly install a NOTP blocker.
But at the same time, shippers also have a right to space in a fandom and not all of their activities consist of drawing dirty fanart. Their ships are often incredibly important to them personally, perhaps cheering them up when they feel down or helping them come to terms with their own sexuality. It can be argued that shippers have done more to shape modern fan culture than any other group. Star Trek’s Kirk/Spock fangirls published many early fanzines in the 1970’s, giving birth to modern fanfiction. Yet even this caused several Star Trek fans to leave the fandom entirely. Considering that many popular ships consist of homosexual pairings, reactions like these can come across as homophobic.
It becomes even more awkward when creators either make the ship canon or at least hint at it, making the non-shippers accuse them of doing it just to appease the slash fans. Take for example the BBC tv series Merlin, an Arthurian legend which re-casts the roles of Merlin and Arthur as attractive 20-somethings. The two of them had a sizeable slash fanbase from day one and as the series went on, there were significantly more “moments” between the two; teasing each other, half naked wrestling, and constant speeches about bonds and destiny. It’s unclear if the show’s writers were queerbaiting deliberately or if they genuinely didn’t realize that their portrayal of the relationship could easily be misinterpreted as romantic. Either way, many non-shippers grew bored of it quickly, some even blacklisting the entire Merlin fandom of consisting of nothing but crazy slash fangirls.
So should the shippers tone it down or should the non-shippers just lighten up? There is no easy answer to this problem. I’m a firm believer that people should be able to enjoy fandom any way they want to as long as they don’t cause any harm to others. But I also recognize that fandom isn’t the happy, rosy, all-accepting place I want it to be and it’s harsh to tell people to stay out of a place that they used to be a part of.
The best middle ground I can come to is that non-shippers should accept that every fandom contains shippers because people will always interpret things differently, but that doesn’t mean they will force others to like their ships too. Shippers should also respect the general fandom and not become militant in defending their ship. At the end of the day, we’re all fans even if our opinions differ. Shipper or not, our love for our favorite stories unites us all.