315. Fans, Geeks, and Shipping: A Momentary Study

Today we delve once again into anthropological study as we take a look at shipping. No, I don’t mean the transportation of goods. The word shipping also denotes a strange, fascinating, and occasionally outrageous trend observable in communities of geeks across the Internet.

As an eminently geeky blog, TMTF must investigate this sociological phenomenon. For science! Grab your pens, clipboards, and safety goggles, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s get geeky!

(Wait, give me ten minutes to research shipping on Wikipedia, that splendid fount of Internet knowledge. All right, let’s begin!)

We begin with a preliminary note about fandom. A portmanteau of fan and kingdom, a fandom is a community of people united by a common attachment to something. To put it more simply: a fandom is a group of fans. The word also refers to the subcultures created by these groups, and to each fan’s individual predilection for the object of attachment.

As the word shipping used in the context of fandom, it denotes a wish for two people, usually fictional characters, to have a certain kind of relationship—usually a romantic one. (I suppose shipping can involve more than two people, but I prefer not to pursue that thread of inquiry any further.) The term is the gerund form of the verb ship, which is derived from the word relationship. Fans ship their favorite characters by pairing them up. The word ship also functions as a noun, referring to a specific pairing.

In other words, shipping is fans wanting people (real or imagined) to find happiness together, which is sort of sweet, extremely silly, and just a bit creepy.

I didn’t know much about shipping before looking into it; I thought it might make an interesting blog post. I was astonished to realize how fully developed and widely accepted a practice shipping has become. Many fans pen fan fiction, create artwork, or write music promoting their preferred ships. Some fans argue about them—after all, this is the Internet.

Shipping has become so widely practiced that it apparently has its own terminology. A sailed ship, for example, is a pairing that actually happens. A joke ship is a ship too ridiculous to be taken seriously, and a sunken ship is one that has no chance of happening. (Wikipedia has a list of nearly twenty shipping terms. It’s insane.) Portmanteau combinations of names often represent ships, such as Romuliet for Romeo and Juliet. (Yes, Romuliet is an awful word; I hate to think of what terrible violence ships have inflicted upon the English language.) Some fans become so invested in certain ships that they declare them OTPthe One True Pairing for those characters.

I thought shipping was mostly a joke, but I was surprised to discover its complexity and ubiquity across the Internet.

What’s that? You want to know my preferred ship? That would be milk and coffee, thanks for asking. What finer OTP could there be?

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