Lately, I’ve been seeing discussions of “anti-shipping” hit mainstream, for example in a Kotaku article trying to connect it to the latest video game controversies. I’m separated by two degrees from any anti-shipping arguments, but I’m aware it’s a clusterfuck, so I’m a bit apprehensive about this new attention. People who are involved in anti-shipping flame wars are notorious for pulling in complete strangers to the subject, and coercively classifying them on one side or the other. It’s a nasty flame war I prefer to keep at arms distance, although I find some of the underlying questions to be interesting.
Briefly, anti-shippers (or simply “antis” if you want to be enigmatic and ungoogleable) are people with moral objections to certain kinds of problematic ships. The precise content of anti-shipper or pro-shipper stances is slippery, but in my understanding anti-shippers commonly object to ships with characters that are canonically minors, and even label it pedophilia. If you’re familiar with the dominant culture in fanfic (AO3 in particular), and their habit of shipping basically every pair of characters, you can see how the disagreement is substantial and significant.
This raises several questions. What exactly counts as problematic or not? What does it mean to have a moral objection to problematic content, vs just not liking that content, or not wanting to be exposed to it? Once we’ve identified problematic content, what actions do we advocate taking in response? As a writer who has occasionally critiqued works of fiction from a social justice perspective, it is that last question that fascinates me.