Episode 97: The Shipping Question
In Episode 97, “The Shipping Question,” Elizabeth and Flourish unveil their brand-spanking-new survey, on shipping and what we mean when we say we’re doing it. They discuss the inspiration for the survey, what’s included (and what isn’t), and their own shipping histories, practices, and preferences. They also read a trio of listener letters: on shipping and speculation, on fanfiction tastes, and a follow-up to the discussion on “creativity” vs. “originality.”
[00:00:47] Seriously, take the Shipping Survey! You can also look at the Projects page on our site to see everything we did for the Definitions and Tropes surveys, which will give you a lil ~preview~ of what kinds of things we’re likely to do when the Shipping Survey results come in.
[00:19:28] Relevant to this discussion: in Episode 54, featuring Sean Stewart, we talk a lot about how the scientific method does and doesn’t relate to fannish collective intelligence in the age of the internet.
[00:21:04] Flourish’s X-files rec is “Machines of Freedom” by Amal Nahurriyeh.
[00:31:29] On the FictionAlley forums apparently the name was “S.S. Master and Wolf” and we are very sorry we looked it up. And since we looked up the names, we must now share with you: Snaberforth, Snack, Snaco, Snagrid, Snumbledore, Snarry, Sneville, Snockhart, Snucius, Snupin, Snarco, Snackin, Snilymus, Snily, Snermione, Jeverus and Reverus (!!!) WE CAST THESE DEMON SMUSH SHIP NAMES OUT.
[00:36:16] The four AO3 Archive Warnings are “Graphic Depictions of Violence,” “Major Character Death,” “Rape/Non-Con,” and “Underage.” There’s also “Choose Not To Use Archive Warnings” and “No Archive Warnings Apply.” The research about which warnings are used most frequently is by sometimes-Fansplaining-contributor Destination Toast.
[00:54:57] We will NOT link you to the bad Google machine-learning Bach chorale nonsense lest you think we endorse it, but “Harmonet: A Neural Net for Harmonizing Chorales in the Style of J.S. Bach” is the 1992 paper that did it right.
Flourish Klink: Hi, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Minkel: Hi, Flourish!
FK: And welcome to Fansplaining, the podcast by, for, and about fandom.
ELM: This is Episode #97, “The Shipping Question.”
FK: Like, overarchingly. What is shipping?
ELM: Oh my God. Yes. This is a rhetorical turn of phrase, “the blank question.” The shipping question. Yes, we are asking “what is shipping,” specifically, in our brand new survey!
FK: Yeah! We have a survey!
ELM: We haven’t had a survey of this scale since 2016 when we did the…was it 2016? No, 2017. The years fly by. 2017 we did the Fanfiction Definitions Survey, it was 2016 we did the Tropes Survey. I remember it was the October before the election.
FK: Yeah, I remember that. It was a, it was an innocent time.
ELM: It was just a good distraction, honestly.
FK: Yeah, yeah. OK. Before you listen to the rest of this episode, may I entreat you to go and take this survey? Because if you listen to this episode and then take it, then you will have just heard all of our opinions about things, and you’ll be influenced by them, and that’s not how it should be. So take the survey!
ELM: Right. I mean, to be honest I feel like we said this last time as well, but if you listen to this, we are already influencing your opinions, because you listen to our voices.
FK: Yeah it’s true.
ELM: Doesn’t mean you’re necessarily agreeing with them or following them, but we have already influenced people.
FK: Right, OK. So anyway, right now pause this recording, and go to fansplaining.com/shippingsurvey, that’s, like, all one word, “shippingsurvey,” and take the survey, and then come back here and listen to the rest of the episode. OK?
ELM: OK. All right.
FK: We’re not, we’re not gonna pretend that we’re gonna take it—
ELM: Are they gone now?
FK: Are they gone now?
ELM: Let’s pause! Let’s pause it for 15 minutes while they take it.
FK: Let’s not do that.
ELM: Let’s do 15 minutes of silence.
FK: [after a pause] No. [ELM laughs] OK. We’re gonna assume that you have now taken the survey if you’re gonna take it.
ELM: Yes. OK. So. Shipping. Obviously something we talk about a lot, something that comes up a lot in fandom. Why did we decide to do this survey?
FK: Well, OK. So for a variety of reasons, but one of them being, like, people define “shipping” in really different ways, and like, if you sit around in fandom, and like, also in larger entertainment and media spaces, you quickly realize that not everyone is using this word in the same way. Right?
FK: And it’s weird, and difficult.
ELM: Yeah. One memorable moment, I…it was maybe last fall? The fall before last fall. I remember there was a little dust-up on Twitter because it was a male entertainment journalist making very strident claims about what shipping was and wasn’t. And he was like, “Well, of course,” you know, “you can’t ship something if it’s happening on the show. It’s only for things that aren’t happening.” And it was like, “Bro! You learned this term like a year ago, and now you’re just declaring what it can include and can’t include, like, you’re not even a part of these practices!”
FK: More to the point, you’re wrong.
ELM: Yeah. And also, “Bro, you’re wrong!” You know. I mean, it’s not like, not all male critics, and I’ve seen entertainment journalists of all genders make these claims, to the point where it’s like…I know you’re not actually engaging in shipping.
ELM: I also see people using, in broader pop-culture space, people who I would say, they would never say they were “in fandom” or do anything that’s fandomy, but they’ll use the term “I ship that.” Or sometimes I feel like even just like syntactically using it in a way that I would never seen in anyone in fandom use it ever, which I was gonna say “use it wrong,” but is it wrong? If language is…
FK: Yeah, the word has sort of become a thing. A broader thing!
FK: A thing with many meanings.
ELM: I think it’s kind of, the horse is out of the barn and it’s morphed into, like, 50 different horses. Like, I got a low-key Loki? Loki vibe.
FK: With horses?
ELM: Just horses out of barns, and then turning into 50 different horses? That feels like Loki. Isn’t it?
FK: Do they all have six legs?
ELM: I thought it was eight legs. Is it only six?
FK: No, it’s eight, probably.
ELM: Yeah, that sounds normal. Yeah, why would it be six-legged horses when you could have an eight-legged horse?
FK: I don’t know, could be like a beetle. Beetles are nice.
ELM: Yeah, 50 eight-legged horses are out of the barn.
ELM: Each one claiming they have the correct definition, and all that aside, within fandom it’s pretty clear that people don’t agree on what this means and I think it’s at the heart of a huge number of the conflicts. Right? When I say I ship something, it means something very different than when other people in the same space…I mean we’ve talked about this at length, but this is the time I think to really zero in on it, and kind of, we really want to get at what, what people are saying. What it means to them.
FK: Yeah, and I mean, you know, obviously people’s practices differ too, right? I think generally speaking we have similar definitions of what shipping can be, like, we understand—you and I—the same, like, breadth of things, but our personal practices are quite different.
ELM: What do you do shipping-wise that I don’t do? Or vice versa?
FK: You get super into particular ships, and like, they totally consume you…
ELM: Not necessarily, not necessarily practices, but…OK, but you’ve definitely been consumed by ships.
FK: I’ve been consumed by ships. But generally speaking I think I tend to have, like, multiple things goin’ on.
ELM: Yeah, I think you’re kind of like more of a ship normie?
FK: [laughing] I don’t know if that’s normal! I actually—
ELM: You’re, you’re like a real casual shipper…
FK: Mostly yeah, but I think that, I think that actually generally speaking my interactions have been that most people are particularly into a particular ship, like, way more than I am into any one particular ship. And like, can’t deal with other ships with those characters or something, you know?
ELM: Here’s a theory: you really like genre.
ELM: Not just romance novels, but you, you know…
FK: Yeah, yeah, not just romance.
ELM: You like formulaic genre, you know. But in particular romance. Cause we’re talking about shipping. And you write it.
ELM: And I have to wonder if, for you, you have less of a…you know, you’re just like the people who are on AO3 who are just reading by trope across any fandom or…
FK: Yeah, that’s true. I think that is true, yeah.
ELM: But that’s not necessarily—that’s something you were already primed to do cause you like that. You, you like to see the same kind of dynamics.
ELM: Which, like, you know, obviously there are shippers who get really singly devoted to a ship and it’s because they like a dynamic. Like, I certainly like certain dynamics more than others.
FK: Right. Right, right.
ELM: And I don’t like it if the ship that I’m actively in, people are depicting them with the dynamic that feels out-of-character to me. It’s not like I just like their faces and want to see them kiss. And then there are lots of people, you know, who just like that. They’re like, “Shipping for me is…I like the idea of these two together, and I can see them any pairing, any characterization, doesn’t matter to me.”
FK: Right, right right.
ELM: “I just want, like, this face and this face, this body and this body.” I’m gonna say, I think a lot of people who feel that way I don’t know necessarily that they’re cognizant of it.
ELM: Because I will see, you know, obviously OOC—out-of-character is in the eye of the beholder. But I’ve even seen, we get recs to “The Rec Center” for stories I’ve read and ships that I’m in or have had and people will say, you know, “This is such great characterization!” And I’ll just think, “Oh my God, that was the most any-two-guys thing I’ve ever read, I didn’t think that it felt like the characters at all. I think they had good chemistry, but it just felt like I was in a romance novel,” and not like either of us are right or wrong, but you know, I…you know what I mean? You know what I’m getting at?
FK: I do, I do know what you mean. There are some people, I think, who like…that a story has internally-consistent characterization is more important than the characterization is consistent to what they are in the original thing, maybe.
ELM: Yeah, yeah. All right, but this is a little—I’m sorry, I’m taking us down a little bit of a rabbit hole. Back to shipping.
FK: Yeah. We, actually, you know, why don’t we—we had, we had a bunch of letters that were about shipping broadly. Should we just start off this by reading one of them and, and talking about that and then going on into the, the rest of the topics, or…what should we do?
ELM: Yeah, yeah, let’s do that. I think there was the one about shipping vs. speculation?
FK: Yeah! Yeah, OK. So this, this is a letter from Joanna.
“Dear Elizabeth and Flourish, as a woman who’s been into geeky stuff for over 20 years but who has only been in online fandom for the past year-and-a-half or so, I’m very happy to have found your podcast! I’m not in transformative fandom, but I find it really interesting to read and hear about.” Aww, that’s really nice!
“I’m almost caught up listening to your back episodes, and there’s one topic I would really like you to address directly in an upcoming episode, that’s been niggling at me for awhile now: the intersection of shipping and speculation. From what I’ve seen thus far, the most prominent examples of this in recent years have been Johnlock in the Sherlock fandom, Zutara in the Avatar: The Last Airbender fandom, and Reylo in the Star Wars fandom. These pairings seem to me to differ from other varieties of ships in that they were, have been, or are believed by their proponents to be not just great pairings but also canon, so that the discourse surrounding them has a strong element of arguments in support of the idea that those romantic pairings were or are intended by the creators.
“I’m wondering what your thoughts are about how, in your experience, shipping has affected speculation, and how views of ships can differ depending on whether or not the shippers claim the pairing to be canon or not. At present, the only relevant ship I’m aware of that fits this description whose debate or discourse is ongoing is Reylo, and I’m curious about what other ships are out there whose canon status is currently being debated within various fandoms. For the record, I’m not a shipper and I’m not opinionated on ships as ships, but I do like to analyze and speculate. Thanks and keep up the great work! Joanna.”
ELM: So! It’s interesting, I have a bunch of different thoughts. My very first one is thinking about this, you know, thinking about a person who is not a shipper, but who likes speculation, and about what that might mean when speculation involves the romantic futures of the characters.
ELM: Right? And so, and you could sit side-by-side with a bunch of people who are doing it in the shippy way.
ELM: And be having the same conversation. Like, “Here’s why I think they’re going to get together.” And the shipper says, “Yeah, here’s why I think they’re gonna get together,” but you’re actually coming from different places.
FK: I think this happens a lot in Game of Thrones fandom actually.
ELM: All right, tell me more!
FK: No, really! Because—OK, so right, one of the things in Game of Thrones fandom is there’s, like, all this idea—and I’m not caught up on the show, so this is like, a little bit outdated, but at one point there was a lot of speculation about, OK, like, who are going to be, quote, “the heads of the dragon,” because there’s this, like, prophecy and so on. Right? So there’s this idea that there’s gonna be, like, three people who are together gonna sort of rule as a triumvirate or something…
ELM: This is more than I wanted to know about Game of Thrones, Flourish.
FK: I’m sorry.
ELM: It’s fine!
FK: The point is that some people, like, the idea is “oh, this is going to be romantic relationships,” that are creating this, like, prophecy-rulership, right? And so people who are into the idea of, like, speculation and like theory-crafting or whatever are, like, looking through and trying to see, like, “oh,” you know. And in Game of Thrones in particular there have been some fan theories that were later confirmed, that were widely held—and people had read the book right. Hooray! Right? We all, we all picked up on this! [ELM laughs] So people are, like, really invested in figuring out sort of what that will be, and it sort of implies romantic relationships.
And then there are other people who are in this in a very classic shippery way, right? Who are like “Yeah! I wanna see them get together! I wanna smush their faces together, they should get together, they would be such a good couple!” Right? Which to me is a very classic shippery way, as opposed to, like, “Oh yes,” like, “I don’t really care so much about whether they’re a good pairing, but it seems to me like this prophecy that’s been written in this book suggests that they’re gonna fuck at some point.” Right?
ELM: FYI, Flourish is stroking her nonexistent beard right now. Which looked like quite a large beard. [FK laughing] Larger than George R.R. Martin’s beard. I believe he has a trimmed beard.
FK: Yes. His is short.
ELM: Yeah. This was like, it wasn’t quite Gandalf length. Medium.
ELM: So, so this is true also, but now I’m thinking about, like, OK. You have lots of people in the shipping space who are writing these, like, proof posts, these theoretical posts. Right? And trying to use all of the language…maybe not trying to, but actually using the same language that people use in, like, these fan theory, speculative fan spaces. Often feels to me like a sort of…intellectualizing? And rationalizing, of your, like, emotional affect. Right? Like…
ELM: Cause you don’t wanna say “I just love the idea of,” I was gonna say, I was gonna say any number of ships and now I feel like they’re all hot water. What’s a—[laughs] What’s a, like, very endgame-y conversation around a ship that I can reference? Whatever. Like, I’ll say John and Sherlock, right? You’re not saying “Oh, the chemistry, oh, it’s so right together!” Right? You’re saying, “That is not—” Maybe you’ll say that too, and you could do both, but I think there are some people who will say “No no no no. It’s not that I feel like they’re right together, it’s that they are right together through these serious things that have nothing to do with my emotions and everything to do with the proof that the show has given me.” Right?
And that is kind of a…I mean, I think that’s frankly a bit of a, it has some layers of gendered stigma around it, you don’t wanna…you don’t wanna argue from the perspective of your own pleasure. Just like the saying—I’m not necessarily pinning this on any ship, but like, “this would be great for representation,” or, you know, “this is queer activism” or whatever. That’s a serious reason why you ship it, it’s not just “OH THOSE TWO!” You know? Like, “Those guys!” You know?
ELM: You know, sure, like, there’s a lot of different ways you can go about it, but it makes me…obviously it kinda bums me out, the idea that people would put these layers, that people would feel the need to put these layers on it and need to be taken seriously in their shipping practices.
FK: Yeah. I mean, I think that the—I think that—I think you’re right, I think it also can get very, very, very messy between, like, representation questions and rationalization questions and emotion questions.
FK: I’m thinking—just because you brought up Game of Thrones I’m thinking about—
ELM: [yelling] I didn’t bring up Game of Thrones!
FK: Just because we were talking about Game of Thrones, and by “we” I mean “me”…
ELM: Jesus! I, I cannot tell you how much I am dreading—what, is it eight weeks until this thing is over?
FK: Oh my God.
ELM: It’s just all anyone talks about and my stupid neighbor who’s an asshole blasts it!
FK: I’m sorry!
ELM: [singing the Game of Thrones theme] DAH NAH DA NA DAH NAH DA NA DAH NAH!” [FK sings too] Such a dick! This is the guy who complained that I was chopping cauliflower, and I have to listen to people, you know, screaming for an hour.
FK: Yeah, screaming and screaming and…
ELM: I’m sure it’s a great show but I just, I hate him, so…
FK: No, I understand, you’ve got a lot of associations.
ELM: Tar ten million people with the same brush! [laughing]
FK: The reason that I went back to this is I’m just thinking about, like, and again, like, I don’t mean to, like, center my own ships and stuff, but sometimes when I think about this I try and think about, like, “what are examples of these things.” And I think about I really like Brienne, and why do I like Brienne? Like, there’s a lot of different reasons about that. And, like, my feelings about her and shipping her with people sometimes get mixed up in, like, rationalization of like, “Oh yes, this is—these are the themes that he’s trying to,” like, “that George R.R. Martin is trying to work out,” and that gets wrapped up with, like, “I think her characterization is this way,” and that gets mixed up with my emotions about her and, like, the people that I ship her with, and so on.
ELM: Right, right.
FK: And I’ve had a lot of conversations with other people, because she’s a character who people feel very strongly about, because she’s a very unusual character in a lot of ways, and people have, like, these deep emotional feelings that come into these rationalizations and also relate to representation, and it’s just a real morass. Not in, like, a bad way, but it’s hard to pick apart.
ELM: Yeah, and I mean, I often think that it’s…you know, something that individuals may not be able to do. Like, some of it I feel like, you would need, like, a therapist! [all laughing] Who also really understands what shipping is!
FK: Yeah, right?
ELM: On an inherent level! Or maybe, you know, an insightful friend who can say, like—but who knows a lot about you. But some of it is incredibly internal, you know? And like, I don’t know. A lot of the ways that I relate to the characters in the relationships that I’m shipping are not things that I would want to broadcast publicly, you know? Or if I do, it’s in a self-deprecating way, you know, when they say like “Oh, Sirius Black is a huge douchebag,” I’m like “Yep! OK! Just my guy!” Or I got what’s-his-name…I don’t ship him with anyone, but I always get Tony Stark on the—[FK laughing] He’s, like, my Myers-Briggs avatar and I’m just like “Great! Fine. Don’t worry about it.” You know?
But obviously whenever anyone’s like, “Oh, that character’s a huge douchebag,” it’s funny to be like “sure, I relate to that person!” [FK laughs] But…eh…OK. You know? And then when you add the shipping element to it, beyond just a single character, I think that that can get to a lot of intimacies in ways…I mean there’s also tons of stories about people saying they discovered things about their own relationships or sexuality or romantic identity or any, or gender or any of those things, through their ships.
ELM: You know, obviously that can kind of tip over the line into, like, otherkin.
FK: Right. [laughs]
ELM: You know, people saying that they embody the person they’re shipping or whatever, which can get a little…into some, some…
FK: It can become a lot.
ELM: Some territory where you may wanna be talkin’ about that with someone.
ELM: If it’s interfering with your, your IRL life.
ELM: Your embodiment of a fictional character, then, yes. Yes.
FK: Right. So, I think the other thing that is brought up with Joanna’s question here that is just relevant, I’m noting, is that a lot of this has to do with how people…I mean it really is about sort of how people are reading a text. Because texts, like, do set up relationships…so for example Sherlock, right, obviously Sherlock—whether you ship it or not—is largely about the relationship between Sherlock and John, right?
FK: I mean you could say the same thing with Elementary. Whether or not, I mean…
FK: I mean, whatever. It’s a Sherlock Holmes thing, so much of it is about this relationship.
ELM: Yeah, and they always had the line, Moffatt always had the line “it’s a show about a detective, not a detective show.”
FK: Right. Exactly. So given that, it’s like, there’s other…there’s other shows that are not exactly like that, right? That it’s like, well, in this case you can argue whether the relationship is romantic or not, or if it’s sexual or not, but there’s other shows where it’s like, you know—it’s, it’s actually not about the two of them necessarily, it’s about something else. So it’s an interesting question, then. I think that that does make it different in terms of speculation. Cause I think that it would be hard to say, like, I think that there are some cases where you would never say that something is speculation. Like, I don’t know.
ELM: Mm. What about that—I’m thinking, I’m just trying to think of…well, all the ships that are coming in mind are like, minor characters who have been elevated by fandom or something.
ELM: Which I don’t know if that’s what you’re getting at exactly.
FK: Yeah, yeah, I am.
ELM: Like the two white guys in Pacific Rim.
FK: Yeah. [ELM laughing] But there’s something genuinely also different between people saying, like, “this is the central thing in a show,” and it is indeed the central thing, and other people being like “this minor character I think is gonna become really important and is really,” you know, “I think that’s going to be canon, I think that they should be elevated.” I don’t know.
ELM: Yeah. I mean, I, I think that it is…all of the examples that the letter gives are, like, examples where the relationship between the two members of the ship is, it does seem to be central to the plot. Which is I think what you’re saying, right?
FK: Yeah! Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
ELM: You know. And because of the, the structures of our broader storytelling society, and our society in general, like, that inherently means a kind of will-they-won’t-they. Like, these are the patterns of the stories that we tell, right? And so, like…and, and it’s interesting too because it often, it works on kind of these levels, and now I’m thinking about Johnlock so much which is a shame because I don’t wanna think about that, but like, there’s, there’s so much of it that relies—that kind of muddles an idea of, like, this is written by humans who are flawed and who maybe are not always the greatest writers [FK laughs] and the idea of some sort of “truth” existing in the text.
ELM: And…so then you get people…you know, speculating in their shipping and trying to prove things, but it’s not science. You know? Because it’s not the physical world, it’s some humans writing words on a page, and, and things that you might see as evidence points might be just a fluke of their writing, and things that you see that count against what you’re looking at may just be them also. It’s often not great writing, is, is the part of it, right? But then you see people are kind of trapped in this “I’m proving things” shipping cycle…
FK: Right. Which can also, like, it can be fun to make not-great writing into something that feels better than it is through this method. But then at the end of it, you can’t expect anything to come of it, because you made that, not them.
ELM: Right. Oh, God. It’s, it’s so funny thinking about it, too, like, how…when this works for me and when it doesn’t, too.
ELM: Like, I don’t know. I was just thinking about this because, cause I’m going to center my own experiences, cause I thought the—the last X-Men movie was just bad. Like, straight-up bad, right? Like…
ELM: We agree on this.
FK: I did not think it was the greatest movie [laughs] that I’ve ever seen.
ELM: No! So whenever I read a fic that, like, tries to fix all the writing problems in it, I get angry.
FK: Because you’re just like, “No! Just give up!”
ELM: Just skip it! Don’t try to, like, “Oh, actually this bad—this plot hole was actually a cover for…” and I’m like, “NO. Something went wrong when they were writing that, I don’t know what happened…”
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah.
ELM: And it annoys me! Where, I’ve been in other fandoms where the writing—like, Torchwood, the show, the writing was very uneven, but…maybe it was because people weren’t trying to fix the uneven parts, they were just like, “I’m gonna focus on the good things here! Like the characters!” You know?
FK: Yeah. It’s pretty hit-or-miss for me too. So until the recent, the most recent X-Files, there was like literally one fic that I’d ever read that, that incorporated all of X-Files canon including the second, really bad movie. And it was good.
ELM: That worked for you.
FK: That one. And it was the only one that worked for me. I’ll put it in the show notes if anyone cares. Like, but it was the only one. You know? And it—
ELM: But you would get, you would get distracted whenever anyone…it’s the same sort of thing, it’s a similar sort of feeling, it takes me out of it, when I feel like someone…like, I’m totally happy if I feel like you have a good sense of the canon and then you’re disregarding it.
ELM: But when I feel like you actually, it’s so sloppy that you don’t actually know…
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: And I’m like, “Just watch the movie once!” You know? Like…
ELM: Then that annoys me and it takes me right out of it.
ELM: So. And I like how now we’re talking about fanfiction.
FK: Yeah we’ve gotten way way way off topic. OK, we should come back. Bring it back.
ELM: Shipping. Shipping. We have tried, in the survey, if you’ve taken it you’ve seen, hopefully you’ve taken it if you’re listening! We have tried to get at some of the speculation elements of it. There are—you know, there are questions about whether you use terms like “endgame” when you talk about your own ships.
FK: Yeah. How much it matters if it becomes canon.
ELM: Right. And one thing that I wanna say explicitly is, we really, really tried to stay clear of asking about what kinds of ships people are shipping. Because this is not what this survey is about. And I think that would be a wholly different survey that was constructed differently. And not one I—I obviously know that’s opening a massive can of worms, based on every conversation we’ve ever had on this podcast, but it’s not one that I’m opposed to doing, especially if we foregrounded it by saying, you know. We can see in fanworks what people are shipping, but that’s not a measure of what…you know.
FK: Yeah. And we’ve got some questions—like when we ask people, you know, how much does it matter to you that a ship becomes canon, there’s, like, an expansion there: if it matters differently depending on the ship, tell us why. Because obviously, like, some people—it matters to me a lot if a ship that’s for an underrepresented couple becomes canon, because that’s representation, that matters to me, maybe, or something like that. Right?
ELM: Right, right.
FK: And I think that that’s—we wanted to give people enough space to say that, but that’s not the main point of this survey, because it would take a lot more to go into all the details about that.
ELM: Right, exactly. So just, yeah. And I wanted to clarify that because I do feel like…we’re also…we do ask for demographic information, but it’s not with the intent to, like, cross-reference and say, like, “Bisexual people are particularly interested in….” You know, like. Because we don’t, we don’t really have any of, we’re not going to have any information about the kinds of ships people are shipping. And I really feel like there’s so many factors involved. I do think that the relationship between queer people and potentially canon queer ships is, is different, right? Or people of color and potentially canon, you know, ships between people of color, et cetera, et cetera. So, like, it’s different, but it’s just…just to acknowledge very clearly.
FK: Yeah. The point—I think that we’re more interested, here, in like, the way that people define the term “shipping” than we are in any specific ship that someone might have. And I think that we’re really really trying to go down there and then someday in the future we might do something that is about specific ships.
ELM: Right, right. So hopefully, hopefully that was, uh…
FK: Clear. Should we talk about some of the other stuff that we didn’t include?
ELM: Yeah, yeah, why not?
FK: OK. So that was the really big one. We also struggled with how much we could talk about people’s breadth of activities that they do in shipping. Like, do you ship one way with one thing and another way with another thing? That was tough. We know that a lot of people would want to talk about, like, “Oh yeah, with this ship I behave these ways, and with that ship I behave these other ways,” but it’s really hard to break all of those things down separately.
ELM: Yeah. So I mean part of this was, we wanted to at least break it down a little bit. Like, we really can’t go into it and say, like, “When I was into Stucky I did this and when I was into,” you know, we can’t. That’s not gonna be useful information. Though obviously if you, as an individual, want to, like, write a meta kind of thinking about how you engage with it, like, go for it. You know.
FK: That’d be awesome! We’d love to see that.
ELM: Yeah, do it. But…I mean I feel like I could write a meta like that! Cause it’s not like it’s always exactly the same for me. And part of that’s dependent on the canon, part of that’s dependent on the fandom, part of it’s dependent on…
FK: My time of life! Are you kidding? Yeah.
FK: That’s huge.
ELM: There are a few things that did happen in the survey which you probably wouldn’t, I mean, you wouldn’t know because you just get led down a path. The survey branches at multiple points. So the first branch…should we reveal how the, how it works?
FK: Yeah, let’s reveal how it works! So really really, for real, take it first.
ELM: Yeah. Stop right now.
FK: We’re just gonna say it again. Stop right now. Take it.
ELM: Take it! Take it.
ELM: So [laughs] so the first branch is if you say you don’t know what shipping is at all, then you get taken to just a few questions where they’re like, “but do you root for romantic pairings in shows?” Just, we wanna know. Like, maybe you don’t know what shipping is but you still do some shipping-like behaviors.
ELM: If you say you know what it is but you say you don’t do it, then you get taken down a path where we kind of ask you to define what you think it is, and also if you like fictional relationships, and then if you do, why don’t you think that’s shipping? Cause you think that shipping is something different than what you’re doing, right?
ELM: Cause it’s partly about self-definition.
ELM: If you say you ship, though, you wind up with the bulk of the questions. Cause it’s really what the heart of the survey is. And the big, there’s only one split there, and we ask you whether you draw a distinction between active and casual shipping, or you don’t.
ELM: And so then if you say you do, then you got asked the same sets of questions for active and casual. If you say you don’t draw a distinction, you just answer them generally.
ELM: I can see it all clearly in my mind, like some branching trees. I hope that all made sense.
FK: [laughs] No, I can, I can see it pretty clearly, but we have worked on this survey a lot. I think the point…
ELM: [laughing] You wrote the survey!
FK: I think that the point here is just that there are some people, you know, obviously like everybody’s interactions with each ship is a little bit different. I think that that’s normal cause it’s like a different time. But there are some people who would say very strongly, like, “Of course, I use the word ‘shipping’ to mean both ‘oh yeah they look cute together,’ and I think that about a lot of things, and also like ‘UGH MUST SMASH THEIR FACES.’” You know? And I think that’s pretty common. So we wanted to incorporate that.
ELM: Whereas, like, for me, I definitely draw a distinction between active and casual. I actually don’t know if you do. Do you? For me personally.
ELM: If you took the survey, which one would you pick?
FK: I think…that I would…I’m not sure which one I would pick! I don’t think I would pick a distinction. Because I think that for me, I generally say that I ship…of course, I ship some things more strongly than others. But I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say, like, there’s a hard-and-fast line between these things I ship actively and these I ship casually.
ELM: Yeah. Cause you’re a ship normie.
FK: I don’t… [ELM laughing] I don’t think that that’s actually the normal way of… [laughing] Anyway.
ELM: No, it’s more like normcore, you know?
ELM: It’s like the, it’s like, you know. No, I shouldn’t. I’m just teasing.
FK: You’re just goin’. You’re just goin’.
ELM: All shipping is valid. All shipping is valid.
FK: You’re just goin’. Thank you, I appreciate that. Yeah. But I mean, but like, it is true though that I have been way—I have felt, like, literally when I was a teenager and I was shipping Mulder and Scully, like, I dreamed Mulder and Scully every night. Like, I could not.
ELM: Wow, that’s pretty extreme, Flourish.
FK: It was, it was like—it truly consumed my soul. [laughs] And like, you know. But there’s been a lot of other things that I’m like “Yeah, sure, whatever! I’ll read that fic, that sounds cute! They’d be cute!” You know. And I don’t know that I divide those things from each other really stringently.
ELM: Yeah, yeah. Whereas, you know, like, there is…there isn’t…something missing affect-wise for me when it comes to casual shipping. And like, there are definitely ships where I’m like “Oh, yeah! I see that. I like it!” And then I’ll try to read fic for it and I’ll be like, “OK.” [FK laughs] Whereas, like, when I’m reading a fic for a ship that I’m into I’m like… “YES. YES.”
FK: Maybe, maybe this is all this to do with how it presents, because I’ve definitely had things where I started off with “oh yeah” casually, and then, like, I fell down the rabbit hole later. But maybe if you see it and it’s that and you’re like “THAT!” and that’s it, then maybe it’s easier to draw a distinction.
ELM: Yeah! You know, or like, I don’t know. There are definitely times when I’ve really liked something and I’ve wanted it to, like, kind of click in a fandomy, fanfictiony way, like, for me if it’s fandomy it’s fanfiction.
ELM: And then, I’ll try it, and I’ll be like “Oh. This is not that.”
FK: Mm. Right.
ELM: You can’t force it. It’s like goin’ on a date with a… [laughs] With a fandom! And I’m like “Mm, not feelin’ it.”
FK: Yeah, that’s interesting! Whereas, I mean, I definitely do have some ships that I would say I definitely ship it, but like, I’m not interested in the fanfic for it really.
ELM: Right, right.
FK: You know?
ELM: Whereas for me that would be a casual, I would put that in the casual category.
FK: Yeah that’s interesting.
ELM: Fanfiction for me is…while I love fanfiction, it is, you know, like, on a whole, it is for me about reading within a, usually still reading within a ship. I mean obviously I read gen fic, but it is, I can’t think of any gen fic that, without even like, you know…
FK: Right, with no romance at all.
ELM: That’s, it doesn’t have to be romance even but like…there are some, there’s some fics I love, but yeah. It’s like, if it’s an established relationship or something in the background. Like, it doesn’t need to be about their relationship.
ELM: But like, if I’m into the ship I want them to be, like, doing something together.
FK: Right. [laughs]
ELM: Whether it’s being in a relationship or, like, fighting in the background or something.
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah yeah.
ELM: You know.
FK: Yeah, totally. Yeah, I wonder—I wonder also if this has to do with, you know the old term the “fandom bicycle”? Right? Do you ever get into that kind of a thing where you’re like “I’ll, I’ll—I’m into this character, and I’ll read anything about this character with anyone”?
FK: You never do that, right?
FK: Whereas I definitely—sometimes it’s like less about a ship for me and more about a character and I’ll read that character in…
FK: …context with…like I’ll read Janeway and anybody. That’s FINE. I, I’m here for it.
ELM: This is so interesting. Yeah!
FK: And like, I mean, I don’t read…I don’t know. I don’t read fic about Dax and anybody, that’s a character I like more in canon than in fanfic. But like, in the show I’m like, “Yeah, sure, with anyone! That would be great.” You know? [laughs]
ELM: I do, all right. I do have vague memories of reading all sorts of ships in Harry Potter between, like, 2001 and 2005. Right? Like, I remember reading…I definitely read Snape/Harry and then it was all Stockholm Syndrome [FK laughs] and I was like “I can’t do this anymore.” Aside from Harry/Draco and Remus/Sirius, which are things that I actually shipped, I read, like, Sirius/Lily.
ELM: A fraught ship!
FK: That’s fraught.
ELM: It was great! They were like, “this is bad we shouldn’t do this”—
FK: That’s a fraught topic.
ELM: Every single time that happened! [laughs] I’ve read, I’ve read all, all the Marauders in different…
FK: In different configurations?
ELM: Different configurations.
FK: Maybe the Marauders are your collective fandom bicycle.
ELM: I remember reading Snape/Lupin and Snape/Sirius.
FK: I read a lot of Snape fics, although I don’t think I ever would have said that Snape achieved the level of fandom bicycle for me.
ELM: Yeah, but just, now thinking about it I’m like “What, I would never read Snape/Lupin. That’s, that sounds terrible to me.” But for some reason…
ELM: Don’t do this to me. I can’t. [FK laughing] Can we give them some kind of ridiculous name like…
FK: Snirius. [laughing]
ELM: NO! I’m thinking, what would his, what would, um, what’s it, Potions…so like…
FK: Oh yeah, there was a name for Snupin. It was like…
ELM: What about, like, “Wolfmaster”? [laughs]
FK: I think it was called “Wolfsbane,” possibly.
FK: Because he’s always brewing him the potion!
ELM: Grudgingly, yeah. That’s actually a really good set-up.
FK: It’s actually a really good set-up!
ELM: And, like, childhood rivals, like, and…
FK: And yet both, like, being, like, kind of tormented and outsiders in a certain way?
FK: It’s a really good ship actually.
ELM: Sure, fine, maybe there was a reason I read it.
FK: Yeah, there was a reason you read Snupin! I read Snupin.
ELM: We had that, we did have the questions about OTPs. So you would never describe anything as your OTP. Oh, you would, probably! Mulder and Scully.
FK: No, I have—Mulder and Scully. That, I would say, is my OTP.
ELM: Because that was the one time that you felt all-consumed.
FK: I would say it’s the most meaningful or most all-consuming pairing I’ve ever had.
ELM: Do you think part of that is because it was when you were a teenager?
FK: Yes, 100%. But like, that doesn’t change the fact that it was the most. [laughs] You know?
ELM: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
FK: Like, it’s the MOST.
ELM: Right. There’s a lot of reasons. I mean there are reasons why, you know, like, in actual human relationships, like…
ELM: Like, it could be all-consuming if it hits you at one point in your life, and it could be the same person but if you met five years later…
ELM: It wouldn’t be like that, right?
FK: 100%. Yeah. Yes. So I would totally use the term OTP and I know exactly which one is mine. [laughs]
ELM: Yeah, yeah yeah.
FK: But I would also use it more casually I think, saying, like, I might use it in a casual way being like “Oh yeah, they’re my OTP,” but I don’t really mean it like OTP-OTP.
ELM: I feel like a lot of people do that.
ELM: So…yeah, I would also. I would say Remus/Sirius, I always describe Remus/Sirius as like…and I’ll be like “OTP,” and then I’ll clarify, “no, but like, the actual one.” You know, like, “the ONE-one.”
ELM: We both just said…what’s that construction, when you say “the something-something”?
FK: Oh, um…
ELM: There’s like a term for it.
FK: Contrastive reduplication?
ELM: What is it?
FK: It’s…emphatic? Or contrastive? Reduplication? It’s something reduplication, that’s the term for it.
ELM: That’s fascinating. We’ll look up the real term.
FK: It’s like saying “Oh yeah,” you know, “not the—”
ELM: You mean the thing, or like, the thing-thing?
FK: The thing-thing! Yeah.
ELM: [laughs] Language is good. Why don’t we take a quick break, because we have another letter that we wanna read.
FK: All right, let’s take a break.
FK: All right, we’re back!
ELM: We are back. OK. This is a letter that somehow fell through the cracks.
FK: Yeah. But we think it’s a good letter and we want to talk about it. So.
ELM: Like six months ago.
FK: Yeah. We’re slowly working our way through these guys. We’re sorry.
ELM: Yeah, thank you for your patience. OK. This is from T.S. I will read it since you read the first one.
FK: All right.
ELM: T.S. writes, “I feel like a weirdo fanfic writer and reader. I’m fairly new to fanfic and came to it because I became obsessed with one particular character in a smallish fandom who is killed off. I also love the world that canon started to build around this character and her people, and subsequently literally destroyed. I want to explore beyond what canon gave me, so my first fic is a multi-chapter gen fic exploring that character’s backstory and world. No ship, at least not yet, and no popular trope. It has maybe 50 hits, but I love writing it, so I plug away.
“Surprising myself, I spun off into an AU exploring this character’s story within a canon ship—but I’m not writing it for the ship’s sake. I actually started writing it to deal with how heartbroken I was about the Brett Kavanaugh bullshit.” This email came in around the time of that. Though we can all still be angry about it, as an aside. “It’s a serious rape recovery story and the other tropes that wander into the plot aren’t intentional. Two chapters in, I have thousands of hits.
“I guess I didn’t really realize just how ship-driven fanfic readers are. I also wonder how many people stumbled upon it because of the ‘Rape/Non-Con’ tag. It’s been a lesson in how people engage with fic, at least in this fandom.
“In terms of reading fanfic in my fandom, I feel guilty that I don’t love a lot of what’s out there, which is mostly ships, and, let’s be honest, fluff and smut. I’m all about loving what you love and I’m happy people are finding joy in what’s out there, but I haven’t been able to find much of what I love: expanding, bending the canon world and characters beyond, but not necessarily excluding, their love interests. I’m also more of a literary fiction person and can’t really tolerate the not-great writing for the sake of a ship or trope. I can, however, get into a lot of different stuff that I love, even all the stuff I just said I’m not really into, including Omegaverse.
“Side note, thank you ‘Rec Center’ for dishing up a lot of good writing.” You’re welcome! “See: that Omegaverse that I just mentioned. The Harry Potter fics have also been particularly delightful.
“I guess I’m feeling like a bit of a fanfic snob. I also wonder if I’m mischaracterizing fanfic because of my limited fandom perspective, or am I asking too much of fanfic? Thanks for your awesome podcast. I recently discovered it, and so I can listen to it non-stop. T.S.”
ELM: Thanks, T.S.!
FK: T.S., I don’t think you’re mischaracterizing fanfic. And I’m not sure that you’re asking too much of it, I just think that it is what it is.
ELM: [laughs] Clarification, maybe not clarification but what I will say about the “Rape/Non-Con” tag, I know from analyses of the Archive that it’s by far the least-used of all the major archive warnings. I just wanted to put that up front because I, I don’t think that getting thousands of hits on a non-con story is, like, the, the bazillions of non-con fans who are just clicking on that tag. Just because—
FK: I was gonna say, it’s divisive, some people are like “yeah I’m here for it” and some people are like “no never,” right?
ELM: But I do know in analysis of the use of the warnings, which are “Major Character Death,” “Underage,” “Non-Con,” and…there’s one more.
FK: I don’t remember.
ELM: Maybe it’s “Choose Not To Warn,” is the fourth. There are four and “Choose Not To Warn” is obviously controversial, but I’m, I’m gonna stand up for it. But I know the “Rape/Non-Con” tag by a factor of a lot is by far the least frequently used, and so I just wanna clarify. I’m not, this isn’t me trying to get involved in the purity culture, should-there-be-rape-fic-on-AO3. But I just need to make sure that this clarification that it’s not like, I doubt a lot of this traffic is driven by some kind of interest, whether it’s for whatever reason you would want to read a rape fic. But I don’t think that’s it. I do think it’s because if you wrote in a fandom that…
FK: Has a pairing.
ELM: That has a pairing that is popular, that’s why.
FK: Yeah, I agree.
ELM: Yeah. I think that a lot of this is very recognizable to me. And but then that’s kinda the answer, is, yep. [laughs]
ELM: [laughing] Most useless answer ever! I mean, this is like, you know, we’re not necessarily just talking about shipping here, we’re talking about shipping in fanfiction.
ELM: I think that…it can be hard for people who want to engage in these corners of fandom but aren’t particularly interested in ships.
FK: I think that’s true. I think also, this is something that I really mourn. I mean, it is one of the reasons why “The Rec Center” is great, but it is something that I really mourn the loss of, there being people who…I mean, there are still people who do this, but it’s not as widely, like, circulated or I’m not as aware of them, having individual reccers who have, like, a following, who you know what their aesthetic is, who are really reading widely and, like, sharing with you a lot of stuff, because that’s definitely how I found a lot of fic. Even within pairings, right? Cause my preference is usually for a shippy fic that engages with some of these deeper multi-chapter larger issues, that’s always my preference, I always wanna read a long fic that’s, like, about the world. I rarely want to read a short fic that’s about just character feelings.
FK: Which is not the most common fandom perspective [laughs] I realize this, by far. But I feel like there used to be more reccers that I knew who, you know, and I used to find fics through reccers who would go through and be like, “Here are the big multi-chapter fics that deal with this stuff,” you know. And now a lot of those people aren’t reccing any more. I don’t know.
ELM: So, I mean, this is very…obviously very anecdotally driven, or individual-perspective driven on both of our sides.
ELM: I agree with that, but part—and part of my speculation would be the fact that the structures of the AO3 make it so that there’s less of a need.
FK: Yeah. It’s true.
ELM: You can do a little bit of a, a backdoor way into this by, if there’s a writer you really respect, you can look at their bookmarks.
ELM: Which doesn’t always lead you to similar quality stuff! Like they may be interested in reading things that aren’t, it varies. Sometimes I’ll click on a really great writer’s bookmarks, and some of them will be like, “Oh, really? Like, this isn’t very good, I don’t understand.” But maybe it’s their friends, and they, you know, they all wrote in the fandom at the same time or whatever. And so whatever. There’s a lot of different reasons you can bookmark it. One of the problems is, because it’s just a bookmark, and I’d say only a minority of people explain why they’re bookmarking it.
FK: Or use the “recommended” vs. “not recommended” flag that you can put in there. It’s not “not recommended.” It’s like you can use a “recommended” flag.
ELM: Being like, extra bookmarked?
FK: Yeah, so there’s a, there’s a checkbox that just says “rec.” R-E-C. [laughs] Which is probably not the most user-friendly thing if you’ve never read fanfic before, but anyway. Yeah. So, like, you can, you can check a bookmark and it says, like, “Rec,” or not. But people don’t use that all the time.
ELM: No, because, so then that turns into a weird little, like, I mean this is the land of like, you know. No, no flames. Right? Like…
ELM: “Don’t say anything negative.” So what are you gonna do?
FK: Well I think some people bookmark things to read in the future.
ELM: Right. But because people don’t actually explain why they’re bookmarking it, most of the time you have no idea.
FK: Yeah, it’s true.
ELM: I think it’s a better process than just pure search with, the thing that I do not do is sorting by kudos from the top with no more filters, because it’s just like…generally doesn’t seem to yield the results that I want.
FK: It doesn’t yield what you want.
ELM: And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way!
ELM: But, because LiveJournal was so, so disparate, people had to do a lot of the work that AO3 removes the need for. You know, people had to create communities that…you could still do on AO3, but people feel less of a need because why do that when you could just click in the tag?
FK: Yeah. Well, this does make me want to be more assiduous about, like, bookmarking things and like actually saying why I’m bookmarking them and doing that, you know?
ELM: I mean, I follow a couple people from the Harry Potter fandom. I’m unfortunately not reading in Harry Potter right now. Who regularly—I would say daily rec a story or two. You know? One person I follow is multi-fandom, multi-shipper.
FK: Yeah yeah.
ELM: Recs things every day.
FK: People do this in, like, Reylo, I see people doing that too I guess. I just, I don’t know. I don’t know why it feels different to me. Maybe this is just a bad anecdotal perspective.
ELM: No no, I can only think of a handful of people that I follow who do this, you know? And if you don’t do it regularly then it’s gonna look weird, because you’ll be like “Hey, I read a story,” you know? And you’ll be like “Oh, is this the greatest story? Is that why you made a post about it?” Which puts a lot of pressure on it if you’re not regularly, you know, putting out recs. I’m not gonna, I mean, I’m in a weird position here because I have a…
ELM: Newsletter that I can put my recs in. So.
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah.
ELM: Hey, if you have a one-off rec and you don’t know where to put it, you can send it to “The Rec Center”!
FK: Yeah, you know, I’ve been saying I was gonna go through and do a bunch of, like, comb through.
ELM: It wasn’t a subtweet to you, but now it is.
FK: Yeah great OK. All right.
ELM: I think that this is a, this is a fair observation about fanfic culture. Definitely on AO3. I don’t think that a interest in shipping is unique to AO3. I think you would say this is a huge portion of Wattpad fanfiction culture as well.
ELM: It definitely is very differently expressed on Wattpad.
ELM: I do wonder if fanfiction.net actually if you were to do an analysis, you would find to be less shipping-focused.
FK: I think it is. Personally. I mean, that’s what my gut says. But it would be interesting, maybe we should do a—maybe we should do an analysis.
ELM: Yeah, I’m curious! I mean, I also, like, I know that there are a lot of relatively young fans who are going on FFN right now, which is very interesting to me, and, yeah. I think if you’re 13, you probably are more likely to be in gen fic than you are into romantic fic.
FK: Yeah, for sure.
ELM: That’s, what’s the next adventure they can go on? Not to say that 13-year-olds aren’t allowed to write romantic fic, but you know what I mean.
FK: Right. Right, totally.
ELM: You know what I mean!
FK: I do.
ELM: Like, when I was 14 and I wrote Buffy fanfiction and the only character was Giles.
ELM: There was no romance. Just Giles. Going about his business.
FK: You were an interesting 14-year-old.
ELM: And then, you know, I just found—I found a fic that I completed from my E.R. days.
FK: And you didn’t instantly share it with the internet?!
ELM: I know! It was like, and it was like 50 handwritten pages long.
ELM: It was a missing, it was like a, like a missing episode. It was like an entire episode.
FK: Elizabeth. Elizabeth. I need that right now please.
ELM: I don’t think it had any romance in it. I think it was just, like…
FK: I don’t care.
ELM: “Benson says this and Dr. [inaudible] says this!”
FK: I’ve never seen any E.R. really and yet I need this, so that’s your homework.
ELM: It’s at my, it’s at my parents’ house! [laughing] I can get it for you.
FK: Yeah! You will!
ELM: I actually would be curious to read it. I had seen every episode of E.R. at the time, so I probably had a pretty…I basically wrote a spec script. When I was 15.
FK: Yeah. I wanna see this. Great.
ELM: Oh my God. Cool. So this took us down a bit of a fanfiction-and-shipping rabbit hole. I am curious about people’s thoughts on this. That’s a whole different survey, probably, actually, to say…and that may be, maybe if we were to ever do a survey that asks, you know, “Do you ship mostly male/male pairings, female/female…” You know, like, I don’t know. There’s a limit to what we can do in a survey, like a multiple-choice survey kind of thing, you know. About individuals. Cause it varies for so many people.
FK: There really really is, and there’s also a lot of detail about your relationships to these things, and also, like, what would…wouldn’t you say, like, do you mostly ship X or Y, like, I would find that a really hard question to answer. Because on the one hand, like, sure, like, my OTP is a het OTP, so…maybe I should say that I mostly ship het?
ELM: You do, though. Mostly. Majority!
FK: I’m not sure that the majority of the fanfic I read is het though.
FK: By far, actually, I would be shocked to find out that the majority of the fanfic that I read is het. Because I read, like, a lot of different—
ELM: Most of what you write is.
FK: Yeah, probably. Or has, like, you know, multi-character which involves multiple genders. So yeah.
ELM: Yeah. I forgot about your One Direction fic. But I was thinking about the Star Wars and the Star Trek and the Sleepy Hollow.
FK: I’ve never written any Star Trek that was—
ELM: I thought you were writing an Amanda and…
FK: Oh, I guess so. I didn’t publish it.
ELM: Oh, it doesn’t count if you don’t publish it Flourish?
FK: [laughs] It DOES count. Yeah, that’s true. But like oddly that’s not the pairing I mostly think about if I think about Trek. Like, I’ve read almost no het in Trek except for Amanda/Sarek. And that’s not very much cause there’s actually not very much of it. So I don’t know. I mean this is like—maybe you’re right, maybe I should say that, but actually the fact that I have to think about it this hard and like I actually don’t know the answer, suggests that this would be really hard to do in a survey.
ELM: Yeah, and also with diminishing returns. “Well, in 1996 I shipped blank, but in 1998 I moved on to…” It’s like “OK I got it.” I don’t know. I shouldn’t be too dismissive but I always do find it funny. Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by something and they’ll be like “What have your ships been?” or something, or like, “what fandoms have you been in?” and I’ll be like, “Is this interesting to you if I just list the fandoms that I’ve been in?” [laughs]
ELM: For the last 20 years? Like…maybe? I don’t know. It’s funny, because then sometimes I’ll do it and then they’ll get really excited when it’s, like, one that they’ve shared as well. But I always find it very funny.
FK: Yeah, yeah. I know.
ELM: But, you know, maybe what I said earlier is actually more telling in the sense of, like, oh, well, we analyzed what people are shipping based on output. And that’s hard, because…it’s not necessarily, you know. And then it turns into some sort of self-reinforcing thing, because it’s like “Well, oh, I wanted to ship this pairing, but there wasn’t very much of it, so…”
ELM: Or, “I kinda like this, but then I looked on AO3 and there were 50,000 fics and then I was off to the races!” You know?
FK: Mm-hmm! Yeah. Absolutely.
ELM: It’s not like this is something that happens just to one individual. You’re part of a system.
FK: Right, right.
ELM: And like I don’t know. If the Black Sails fandom had been larger and different, I might still be, like, reading and writing Black Sails fanfiction right now. You know? It’s definitely part of the reason why I kind of set that one aside and I was like, “I still think this is the greatest show ever, but,” you know. It’s not catching me in that fannish way.
FK: Right. And I definitely think that when you hit different things, has different impacts. Like, for whatever reason I think I’ve been a Johnny-come-lately to a lot of, like, a lot of slash fandoms. Not like purely, because obviously some of them are ongoing, but like, I’ve never had a slash thing that was like currently active that totally consumed me. But I don’t know that that’s because…like, I think that if I had watched Voyager while it was on the air, I would’ve been the, Janeway and Seven as fuck, you know?
ELM: Yeah, yeah yeah.
FK: But it’s not, and it’s not exactly the most, like, written pairing in the universe.
ELM: Yeah! And then you could just feel like—I love those posts that are like, “clicks on AO3, sees two fics from a pairing, I guess I’m gonna have to do everything myself.” [FK laughing] Like, that’s like, I love that can-do attitude! But it’s also, like, that’s a very big ask. And you know, even if you do—have you ever looked in AO3 and you’ve seen, like, one person writing all of the, like…
ELM: Like, 20 stories?
FK: Yes, I have.
ELM: And you’re like “You, I respect you so much.” And also…so lonely, though! You know?
FK: Yeah, yeah yeah. No, I’ve definitely seen this. In fact, sometimes it really impacts, like, I’ve done some studies where I’m like, “I have to throw out all the fanfic this one person has written, because they are really into this one pairing and if I categorized all the fanfic for this topic on the internet, they would be disproportionately impacting it.
ELM: That’s incredible.
FK: With this really really—I don’t believe other people are obsessed with this pairing the way that this person is. I have to throw it out. And then I feel bad.
ELM: Don’t you wanna make that one person happy? Wow.
FK: Oh my God, though. Occasionally I’m like “This is a really obscure incest ship and this person is really obsessed with it and I’m pretty sure it’s not a central thing,” right?
ELM: I just think you’re prioritizing the needs of the many…
FK: “Over the needs of the few or the one”? [ELM laughing] All right, all right, all right, all right.
ELM: Yeah, so. All right. I don’t know. I think it’s interesting. So yeah, I think that, like, while we study output, in some ways I just—I’m not sure we could study anything else, you know? Like, I obviously think that it’s not without its flaws as a, as a body of data to represent.
ELM: Though, I mean, it doesn’t represent what people are, like, thinking, you know?
FK: No, or feeling, or even their actions, right? There’s a lot of actions people take when they’re shipping—and this is something that we tried to represent in the survey—that are not measurable, right?
ELM: Yeah, one of the—the last thing I added to the list of behaviors that wasn’t there originally was cosplaying as your ship.
FK: Yeah! Yeah.
ELM: Which is something that you definitely see on Tumblr, you see people maybe in a couple or just pretending, you know, to be the ship? But I was thinking about it. So I remember when I was living in London, my friend was visiting me, and he is not in fandom. But he is aware of it. And we went on this Sherlock Holmes walking tour.
ELM: And I would say that the majority of the people on the tour, which was like 50 people, I would describe as…BBC Sherlock fans. Of a certain…like, a fandom-y fan. When I think of fandom, like…
FK: Those were the people on that tour.
ELM: It was an aesthetic that I think you would see at, like, 221B Con, or like, any kind of, like, Sherlock transformative fandom…
FK: I do know.
ELM: Make, like, Sherlock crafts, that kind of vibe. Right? And there was a very…
FK: People who have the shirts that you lift up, and it says “Ask me about my pairing,” and then Sherlock and John are kissing on the other side.
ELM: Yeah, I mean, that was, that’s a Sherlock fan artist!
FK: I know!
ELM: Who makes those, yes!
FK: I know, a Sherlock fan artist who also previously has been in various other fandoms I’ve been in.
ELM: Yes, yes. So. There were multiple couples, maybe, I don’t know if they were couples in real life, but they were like cosplaying as Sherlock and John, and the aesthetic I would say was a lot of…female or female-presenting non-binary kind of androgynous, you know, like, and in little sweaters, and then the other, someone else would have a long coat. And then they’d be handcuffed together. And my friend after, we went out and we went out for a drink after and he was just like, “I—I wasn’t…” He just seemed really interested and confused by this kind of vibe, and he was like, “Is this like a, is this like a romantic thing?” Right?
ELM: People pretending to be, like, if you have that ship and then…and I was like “Well, I don’t know about any of these people. They might just be friends.”
FK: Yeah, are they actually couples? Yeah.
ELM: But, but, it was very interesting to look at and be like, “Oh yeah! I never really—I don’t really think of that,” cause just all the time people are just cosplaying as John and Sherlock, but tons of people do that with the inner relationship that they are in. Right? They’re like, acting out their ship, right?
FK: Totally. And I knew tons of people within Harry Potter fandom who did that with, like, every possible ship that you could think of, right? Yeah, totally.
ELM: Yeah. So it’s interesting and that’s the kind of thing that you may, you do see some couple cosplay or reenactments or roleplaying online, but it’s also…
FK: Like, oh, the cutest Finnrey, did you see the cutest Finnrey with their little kid?
ELM: With their baby? Yes.
ELM: Yes. Incredible.
FK: Anyway, yeah.
ELM: But I’m even thinking about, like, you know, reenactment.
FK: Yeah, totally.
ELM: You go out and do a photoshoot.
FK: And how do those things connect, right? Like…
ELM: Yeah. There’s a limit to how much, you know. And so I’m thinking about the 50 people who are—there wasn’t that many people who were doing couples cosplay at that thing. Like, you know. It may be something that you do privately.
FK: Or when it crosses over too, right, so like, my little cousin who just got married, on her wedding cake had “I love you—I know.”
FK: Like, they literally had that on their wedding cake. Like…
ELM: It’s really good, that’s good.
FK: It was like, it was really cute. But it was also like, what does that even…?
ELM: Yeah, do they ship them? Do they…
FK: Are they reenact—is this somehow an act of reenact—of weird cosplay?
ELM: Or do they just think that it’s, like, it’s a hilarious line because it is, it’s such a good line?
ELM: And maybe it became, like, their joke as a couple too? They’re like “Oh that thing from Star Wars.” And it isn’t, like, “I love the idea of Han and Leia together,” but… You know?
FK: Right! Or all of the above in different moments, right?
ELM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
FK: This wedding also had a moment where the bride’s family came out, surprising her and everyone else in the wedding, in giant inflatable dinosaur costumes and twerked to things. In order to, like…tease her.
FK: Which she loved, by the way, so like…
ELM: OK but like now even thinking about it too, think about our, like, heteronormative media space, too. It’s not like, you could just be like “Oh yeah, Han and Leia, they’re the couple in the thing.” It’s not like “Oh, I was hoping they’d get together!” You’re like “OF COURSE, they’re the couple!” You know?
FK: Although at the time…
ELM: I’m not saying…
FK: There were a bunch of people who thought Luke and Leia were gonna do it, so…
ELM: I know, I know. That’s true. So you could root for one or the other, but I think now, with like, 50 years of distance…
ELM: 50 years? Almost 50 years. Not that long. 40 years of distance.
FK: Yeah but still, a long time.
ELM: Definitely people could look at it and, because it, you know, now in everyone’s mind this was the couple that got together and, you know, you could just say like, “Oh, that’s them! That’s part of the plot.” And that gets you back to the speculation versus shipping, you know?
ELM: Circlin’ it back.
FK: We’ve circled back.
ELM: We have to wrap up, but we have one more letter which was about our last episode that I wanted to address quickly, because I just think you need to clarify it.
FK: Yeah, totally. Do you wanna read it? Cause I have to clarify it?
ELM: Yeah yeah. “Hi.” It was on Tumblr. It was anonymous. So they said, “Sorry to be an anon, I don’t have Tumblr. I was just listening to your latest episode and I was kind of bothered by you using romance novels as an example of uncreative work. I agree that creativity isn’t the only measure of value in art, and I liked your analogy of musical variations, but I often see a discounting of romance novels in fandom that bugs me, and I wonder why it’s so automatic. Not to offload a broader issue on you. You’re cool. It just came to mind.” Thanks, anon!
FK: Oh no! Oh no, anon, I read so many romance novels! I like them for this reason! I am talking about a positive thing about how, like, romance novels are variations, like that musical variation thing. I am trying to not in any way be negative about romance novels! I agree that they are discounted, and sometimes they are discounted because people say they are quote “uncreative” and say that’s a bad thing. But in this particular case, this is the very thing that I love about them! I have so many. [laughs]
ELM: Oh my God. Wait, but I still think that that’s Galaxy-Brain Panel One that they are not creative, and I think Galaxy-Brain Panel Number Two is why I brought up Bach chorales—
FK: Oh yeah, yeah yeah!
ELM: And then was mercilessly mocked by Google’s incredibly bad machine learning—I sent it to my friend who has a PhD in machine learning and he—
ELM: —agreed it was, he agreed it was very bad. Yeah. So I felt very. He’s also a musician so I felt like I was very validated.
ELM: And then he found a paper by some Germans from 1992 where they actually did do this.
ELM: Cause they understand there are rules that you can program in.
FK: Yes. I agree with you that “romance novels are uncreative” is like Galaxy-Brain One, and I was like, trying to say “Galaxy-Brain One! But what if Galaxy-Brain Two?” [laughs]
ELM: Galaxy-Brain Two is, is, like, “Creativity isn’t the only thing and formulaic things are great!” Galaxy-Brain Three is like, “Creativity is meaningless.”
FK: True. Also true.
ELM: That doesn’t mean anything, and the reason I brought up Bach chorales is because you can come up—just because there’s strict, strict formal rules, much more strict than a romance novel, right? You cannot—when I say there are rules, like, you cannot do specific things in this, like, mathematically, you are not allowed to put those two notes in that relationship to each other before those two notes. Right?
ELM: So, that being said, I think that creating a beautiful Bach chorale is an act of creativity, and just because they’re incredibly formal constraints doesn’t mean that it’s not creative.
FK: And I would agree.
ELM: And if you define creativity by originality, then there would literally be nothing, because nothing is original, and also fanfiction didn’t invent remixes, and like, it’s all…you know what I mean?
FK: Yeah! And also, I know that you hate it when I say this, but like, imagine, if you can, something that is completely original. You can’t, because it’s meaningless, because it would have absolutely no reference to our world or anything else. So therefore this is meaningless. Creativity is not a thing—or rather originality is not the thing.
ELM: I don’t hate when you say that! You just said that more clearly than you did the last time you said it.
FK: OK great. You hated it when I said it unclearly.
ELM: You did not say it clearly the first time. But yeah, that’s absolutely true. You know, if it’s based on your own life, well, your own life has been informed by all of the media you’ve ever consumed, every conversation you’ve ever had, and that’s…every person you ever talked to…
FK: And the world that you live in, the way that you have been brought up…
ELM: Yeah, and every person you’ve ever talked to is also involved—and yeah, maybe you would go to a remote island where people who have never had any contact with the rest of the world, and…
FK: They’re still all informed by their relationships to other people within their society!
ELM: And then they’re human, so that’s like, you know.
FK: Yeah! And they have similar, like, brain structures to every other human in the world. Like…and hormone balances, and…
ELM: You know, if I woke up tomorrow and Orlando could tell me a story, it would be truly original to me.
ELM: It would be the same-old same-old for cats, I think.
ELM: Also it would probably, I don’t know if it would have much of a narrative.
FK: I can’t imagine what story Pepys would tell me if he could tell me a story.
ELM: I think—I actually think dogs would tell more narratives. They wouldn’t be very good ones and they’d be very fast, they’d be like “And then I saw this. And then I saw this. And then this happened.” Right? They’d be, like, a linear narration of time.
FK: I think dogs would be closer to us than cats, because we’re so co-evolved. Like SO co-evolved.
ELM: Whereas I think that cats would just have, it would be like a postmodernist…just be like whatever thought came into their head, whatever they’re thinking, and then I don’t care. Move on. Next thoughts. You know? It’d be like, very…very, it would seem experimental.
FK: Yeah yeah yeah. Whereas dogs would be like, “You said the word ‘treat.’ And then. One did not come. And then. We went into the other room. And then. THERE WAS A TREAT! And then I sat. And then there was TREAT IN MY MOUTH!”
ELM: You make them sound like a computer program. “If treat, then I’m happy.” Yes. Yeah.
FK: I really, in my experience of dogs, this is not wrong.
FK: I love Pepys. That is totally how he is.
ELM: Yeah! That’s great.
FK: He hears the word “want,” because we ask him, like, “Do you want something?” And that’s the key word for him. His ears go up. He’s suddenly paying total attention if he hears the word “want.”
ELM: To be fair I think a lot of humans have that automatic response. “Do you want this?” and you’re like… No, then you have to like go get a job or whatever and they’re like “do you wanna do this?” And you’re like…
ELM: No. No.
FK: Anyway, anon, I’m sorry that that wasn’t clear. I really don’t want to discount romance novels. That is 200% not what I want in my life. Or in your life, or in anyone’s life.
ELM: Flourish is—not to like say, like, “Oh, just cause you’re so into romance novels,” I feel like this is like the romance novel version of, like, comic-book gatekeeping or whatever.
FK: Oh my God!
ELM: “Do you even alpha male, bro?”
FK: Oh my God. [laughing]
ELM: [laughing] I don’t know! Trying to think of a romance novel term.
FK: I do alpha male, bro!
ELM: I mean I, I feel like—I feel weird about this often in fandom because, like, I mean, I definitely agree…I think that it’s mixed. I feel like you really get two sides of the, I think you see a lot of people who are like very pro-romance-novel in fandom and then a lot of people who are dismissive of it. But I, I always feel weird. I’ve been thinking about this because there’s been controversy once again with the RITAs.
FK: Oh yeah.
ELM: And then there’s been controversy recently with the YA community and the self-canceling trend and some bad media coverage. And there’s been controversy recently, I feel like, with science fiction fandom, I don’t even know. And I’m on the periphery of all of these, because people intersect into fandom through these genres, but I’m not actually in these groups, so every time any of it passes my feed I’m like “I don’t know if I’m supposed to weigh in? Because I actually don’t know who you’re talking about and I’m sure you’re right.”
ELM: “I’m sure this is all biased and bad,” but I always feel kind of weird because I feel like I’m being silent but I don’t actually, I’m not actually in any of these groups.
FK: I will tell you that out of all of these, as far as I can tell, the science fiction one is the most complex and difficult. But I’m not, like, deeply in any of them enough to really say it. They’re all bad.
ELM: Cool, great.
FK: All right.
FK: We should probably wrap up.
ELM: Anyway. So. Hopefully, I mean you’ve already taken the Shipping Survey at this point. If you could share it with your friends…
ELM: …including people who are not in shipping fandom or transformative fandom…
FK: Maybe especially people who don’t know anything about this.
ELM: Yeah, like, you could send it, like, to your parents, unless your parents are shippers, in which case you should definitely send it to your parents, right. But like, send it to people of all ages, people of all backgrounds, like, we really want to know. Part of this is really meant to measure what has kind of penetrated into the mainstream outside of shipping communities. And so, like, if you’re—one of your parents or siblings or something says they know the term…
ELM: You know, I’d love to hear what they’ve heard! You know? Like, if they’ve just seen it in passing, like, and, and I also wanna know everyone’s feelings about fictional relationships.
FK: I agree.
ELM: Oh, and one final note too: we put it at the top of the survey, but this is specifically about fictional characters, because we tried to think about how we could incorporate RPF questions and there were too many variations to really make it worthwhile.
FK: It was too hard. We may do another one that is purely about RPF.
ELM: I think that would be great, because I think that it’d be similarly interesting to look at kind of the intersections of broader celebrity fandom and, like, RPF or shipping fandom.
FK: Yeah, and also I think we could get into a lot of other things that are specific to RPF that are…like, that would be relevant to that survey and would not be relevant to other forms of shipping. So we should do that.
ELM: Agree, agree. So we will do that, don’t you worry.
ELM: All right.
FK: Should we do wrapping-up business?
ELM: Let me do it this time!
ELM: Fansplaining.com is our website, it has all our episodes with transcripts. How are those transcripts going, Flourish?
ELM: Cool. Flourish is cleaning up our old transcripts.
FK: I am. I am at about, I’m a little bit over halfway through.
ELM: Oh I’m so impressed! Thank you.
FK: Show notes come next!
ELM: We also have articles. We have a whole bunch of articles from us and from some guest contributors, and when we get the results of this, we are gonna be writing possibly multiple articles. We’re gonna be analyzing them quantitatively and qualitatively and talking about shipping more broadly, so get excited about that.
If you want to get in touch with us, you should either write us at email@example.com, leave a voicemail at our phone number, 1-402…
FK: YAY! 1-401-526-3267.
ELM: I was on my way. I got thrown off by that area code.
FK: You really did.
ELM: 1-401-526-F-A-N-S, that’s FANS. You can leave us a voicemail. Both in Gmail and on our voicemail you can ask to remain anonymous and we will not share your name. So don’t worry about that. If you have a short question, fansplaining.tumblr.com, you can leave us an ask. But we would prefer long questions come in through the other two channels, and Twitter, Facebook, also fansplaining. Not an ideal place to ask questions, but you can follow us there.
FK: But you can do it if you really need to!
ELM: Probably, Flourish I imagine we’ll be doing some, on Twitter, some of the little outtakes, “Oh this is a funny response we got”?
FK: Yes. I will definitely be doing that.
ELM: So. And then, perhaps most importantly, to continue helping us to do this, patreon.com/fansplaining is how we make money. You may have seen news about Patreon changing things; just wanted to clarify, that’s not going to affect us because we are grandfathered in.
FK: Yeah. We’re legacy creators so we’re all good.
ELM: So don’t worry about that. So you can pledge as little as a dollar, as much as a million dollars. [FK laughs] Obviously not that.
FK: Don’t do that.
ELM: I mean you could. But there’s probably things you could use your millions for that are not a podcast.
FK: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ELM: [laughing] And now is the time to pledge if you have been thinking about bumping up your pledge, or you have $10-a-month to spare, that’s kind of the top end of where people usually pledge, because we’ve gotten the final proofs on our newest Tiny Zine, a collaboration once again with Maia Kobabe. This time, Flourish’s early fandom story.
FK: Yay! I am so excited, it looks so good, I’m really really really thrilled with the way it’s turned out and I hope that everybody enjoys it too.
ELM: It’s so cute. Yes. So if you didn’t see, the last Tiny Zine was about Maia’s early fandom experiences, and we’ll be doing one with mine for the summer as well. But, so, should we set a deadline? OK so this episode is coming out the first week of April, so if you sign up by this weekend, after this episode comes out, which will be you know the end—April 8th…
ELM: We will give lots of warning on Twitter and Tumblr, we’ll put you in the batch for this.
ELM: So that’s that! And as always, if you pledge $3-a-month you get all our special episodes. Our most recent one was about the relationship between Marvel and other film franchises and the Defense Department, and it guest starred Gavia Baker-Whitelaw, who’s a really smart journalist.
ELM: I did it, I did it all.
FK: You did it all.
ELM: Are you impressed?
FK: Uh, so—I’m very impressed. I guess I’ll talk to you later Elizabeth?
ELM: You will.
FK: All right. Buh-bye!
ELM: Bye, Flourish. [both laugh]
FK & ELM: Fansplaining is brought to you by all of our patrons, especially Kathleen Parham, Bryan Shields, Boxish, Grace Mitchell, Christine Hoxmeier, Desiree Longoria, Jennifer Brady, Bluella, Georgie Carroll, Goodwin, Earlgreytea68, Chloe-Leonna Steele, Menlo Steve, Katherine Lynn, Clare Mulligan, Heidi Tandy, Megan C., Sara, Josh Stenger, Tablesaw Tablesawsen, Jennifer Doherty, froggy, nubreed73, Amelia Harvey, Meghan McCusker, Michael Andersen, Helena Romelsjö, Willa, Cynsa Bonorris, veritasera, Clare Muston, sekrit, Maria Temming, Anne Jamison, Jay Bushman, Lucas Medeiros, Jules Chatelain, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Stephanie Burt, Jennifer Lackey, Tara Stewart, Dr. Mary Crowell, SecretFandomStories, Felar, and in honor of One Direction and Captain James McGraw Flint.
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