Are You A Shipper Or A Supporter?
Either way, your contribution to fandom is always welcome.
A couple weeks ago, I released an article about why shippers, regardless of their preferences, should respect canon. In it, I mentioned that my opinions on what “shipping” means regarding fan culture warrant a separate discussion. After two heavier topics, I reckon now is an opportune time to wind down by making good on said discussion.
Since I already provided the widely-accepted definition for shippers in the aforementioned article, I’ll move on to what “fanon” is and its connection with shipping activities. I should make clear that while this topic can definitely apply to platonic relationships, I’ll be focusing on romantic relationships throughout this piece as they are more popular among shippers.
Unlike canon, fanon is made up of scenarios and beliefs shared by fans that don’t exist in a given story. In the case of shippers, this can take the form of those fan works I listed in that post as well as persuasive or argumentative essays where, as is common among theory crafters and other content creators, fans may either defend their thoughts on canon plausibility or detail why their ideas could work (better) in the story.
That is where my thoughts come in: having an affinity for canon couples doesn’t seem like shipping, because their relationships are presumably fleshed out and don’t necessarily need (new) content developed for them to keep fans entertained or participating in the community. Unless the relationships really are underdeveloped (and thus, unconvincing) or fans are simply interested in exploring concepts that haven’t been elaborated on or uncharted territory altogether, I’d argue that we’re more likely to see alternate takes from the “what if” crowd. The amount of works available for all sorts of fandoms on sites such as Twitter and Archive Of Our Own speaks for itself.
I think romances that are either implied or open to interpretation can also fit nicely into shipping communities since there’s plenty of space to fill in and creative readings to spark a dialogue. Whether it’s to increase representation or highlight relationship dynamics that are often downplayed or neglected in media and discourse, there is value in theorizing on what could have been.
You can absolutely argue that these reasons would actually make anyone a shipper irrespective of whether their preferences fall under canon or fanon. Besides, not everyone will be invested in official pairings, and, as I discussed in my other post, there are also those who won’t accept the romances for what they are. In my view, however, “supporter” is a more accurate term for fans who just follow the story and bear no strong emotions toward the outcome, which is admittedly more common in cases where the romance is a subplot.
That being said, I think the term can also refer to those who genuinely enjoy the romantic developments as opposed to merely believing they’re well-written or well-acted, to the point where they may dabble in or seek out fan content to consume. In my experience though, supporters tend to be just as invested if not more so in other story elements unrelated to romance compared to shippers, but that doesn’t mean the latter can’t be taken seriously.
Much like entertainment itself, shipping is ultimately supposed to be a fun and even artistic hobby that can help people form bonds and improve whatever skills that drive their passions. There’s no shame in labelling ourselves either way; unless we cause conflict in fandoms, we aren’t lesser fans or oddities for choosing to engage with our favourite stories how we see fit. Always remember to respect other peoples’ opinions and keep an open mind when expressing your own.