“Shipping” is a fandom term that refers to a desire to see two fictional characters in a relationship. Shipping includes many behaviors, such as…
- Wanting canon to bring the characters together.
- Wanting to interpret canon in such a way that it makes sense for the characters to be together, or that they’re already together.
- Fantasizing about two characters being together, regardless of whether that would make sense.
- Wanting to produce or consume fan works that portray the characters together.
- Rooting for a particular relationship over the alternatives, similar to how sportsball fandoms root for teams.
As a person who has always been on the outside of fandoms, shipping doesn’t really make sense to me. That is, I have difficulty imagining ever feeling that way about characters. Sometimes I like romantic arcs in fiction, and I even enjoy stories in the romance genre, but I don’t fantasize about counterfactual relationships between characters.
But perhaps it’s something I can understand after all. Because you see, I have fantasies in the opposite direction.
When characters get together (either romantically, or as friends), sometimes I like to imagine that the characters will realize they’re terrible for each other, and break up with each other. This is most common when the story portrays a strong conflict in the relationship, with the intent that the characters will overcome the conflict and rebuild their relationship stronger than ever. I have a tendency to think there’s a better resolution to the conflict, in which the characters just break up for good. In my mind it’s a happy ending, or at least a satisfying one.
I feel obligated to include a concrete example, so here’s one. In Scott Pilgrim vs the World, there is a third-act breakup where Ramona leaves Scott to be with his rival Gideon. It is later revealed that Gideon has implanted a mind-control chip in Ramona. However, an alternative interpretation is that the mind-control chip is a fantasy invented by Scott in order to justify his policing the romantic relationship of his ex.
I think part of the reason that same-sex pairings are so commonly shipped, is that there aren’t enough stories that include canonical same-sex pairings. Where canon is lacking, people substitute fantasies and fan works. Well, in my opinion, there’s also a shortage of break-up stories.
I was talking about this with online friends, and it seems that fandoms have several terms for being against ships (NOTP, noromo, anti-shipping), but what they’re really describing is some sort of conflict with other fans. Maybe you’re tired of seeing fan works that ship two characters together, or maybe the thought of that relationship squicks you out. Or maybe you just like rooting against a particular relationship ever appearing in canon. As for “anti-shipping”, it has acquired the connotation of being against ships specifically for moral reasons (e.g. because one of the characters is canonically underage).
But what I’m describing is somewhat different. I’m not saying I dislike seeing characters together. Rather, I like seeing them apart. The ending where Scott and Ramona get together is fine. I just like to think about the alternative ending where they don’t get back together.
When we were talking about this, Coyote dubbed fantasizing about breakups “postshipping“. LOL