Case studies of shipping-afflicted fandoms Daria fandom Daria
fandom was marked through its entire run by shipper debate. From the series' first season, the main conflict was between people who thought that 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, and thus the show.
The show's writers responded by having Daria develop a crush on Trent, even having Daria go as far as to get a piercing because Trent encouraged her to, as well as having her get rashes on her head at the sight of 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 who nonetheless drove a Ford Pinto
. 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. With Daria indecisive as to whether this relationship should be pursued further, Daria and Jane's friendship was in tatters for the rest of the episode. In the made-for-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. The shipper faction having won the initial debate (in fair part having do with other artistic decisions Daria made after Season 1 reflecting a conceptual desire towards post-modernity, such as a musical
episode, "Daria!", extended dream sequences laden with 70s-80s detective show references ("Murder, She Snored"), and human representations of the major holidays
[and Guy Fawkes Day
] manifesting themselves in Lawndale in "Depth Takes A Holiday"), conversation now turned to whether Tom was more appropriate than the long-dismissed Trent. The debate was satirized by the show's writers in a piece on MTV's website.
In the series finale, the made-for-TV movie, "Is It College Yet?", Daria and Tom broke up over the fact that they were going to different colleges. The debate was over, and so was the series.
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 generated ship debates with supporters of the prospective relationship between Harry Potter
and his close female friend Hermione Granger
at odds with supporters of Hermione ending up instead with Ron Weasley
, close friend of both.
Quotes from Rowling which seemed to contradict the possibility of Harry ending up with Hermione were usually countered by claiming them to be deliberate obfuscations designed to lure astute observation off-course (though such claims were far from undisputed, given that these allegedly vague quotes included such phrases as "[Harry and Hermione] are very platonic friends",
and were repeated on at least three different occasions).
Another alternative is of Harry ending up with Ginny Weasley
, Ron's younger sister, whose obvious crush on him served as a comical plotline starting in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
and apparently subsiding in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
, where Hermione informs Harry that Ginny has "given up" on him.
The resolution did not come until 2005, with the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
. The book contained a prominent sub-plot in which Harry develops a crush on the previously-pining 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 and be more like herself around him. Though their romantic relationship becomes one of the few sources of comfort in Harry's difficult life, he makes a bold decision to break it apart 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. Other common ships include Luna, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, who are obviously paired because of their awkwardness. A common slash ship is Drarry (Draco/Harry), which is an example of a popular fan habit of shipping antagonists.
The effect of this turnout was dramatically amplified by an interview with J.K. Rowling conducted by fansite webmasters Emerson Spartz (MuggleNet
) and Melissa Anelli (The Leaky Cauldron
) shortly after the book's release. During the interview Spartz commented that Harry/Hermione shippers were "delusional", to which Rowling chuckled, though making it clear that she did not share the sentiment and that the Harry/Hermione fans were "still valued members of her readership". 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, as a way to avoid difficult questions. The uproar was loud enough to merit an article in the San Francisco Chronicle
Rowling's attitude towards the shipping phenomenon has varied between amused and bewildered to frustrated, as she revealed in that interview. She explained:
||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 many 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?".
Xena: Warrior Princess fandom
The Xena: Warrior Princess
fandom saw often "shipping wars" that turned especially intense due to spillover from real-life debates about homosexuality
and gay rights
Shortly after the 1995 debut of the action/fantasy series about a woman warrior seeking redemption for a dark past, 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 once had a male husband, and his death deeply affected her.
In a 10-year retrospective of the show in Salon.com
, journalist Cathy Young wrote:
||Almost from the start, the fandom was bitterly divided among various factions, particularly subtext fans pitted against those who saw Xena and Gabrielle as friends. Fandom wars over relationships are nothing new: "X-Files" fans clashed vehemently over whether Mulder and Scully should do the deed. In the "Xena" fandom, though, these wars had the added angle of sexual politics. Some of the anti-subtext sentiment was undoubtedly driven by bona fide bigotry. Some lesbian fans, on the other hand, approached the argument as a real-life gay rights struggle and labeled all dissent as homophobic: To them, denying a sexual relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was tantamount to denying the reality of their own lives, and the "Are they or aren't they" tease was an insulting way to keep the characters in the closet. 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 Xenaverse 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 have been fueled by often contradictory statements from the cast and staff. In January 2003, Lucy Lawless
, the star of Xena: Warrior Princess
, 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.