This White Cisgender Heterosexual Upper Middle Class Man is Writing about Shipping. What Could Possibly Go Wrong
So, shipping, huh? To be clear I mean “relationshipping”—that fan practice of pairing off characters in film, tv, comics, or video game—not the act of sending things through the mail or the industry that rules the 75% of our planet that is covered with water.
In other words, I as a cisgender heterosexual white man am issuing my opinion on something that is not really my domain. I’m sorry in advance for my arrogance in weighing in on one of the rare bits of pop culture that is not specifically marketed towards my socioeconomic status, gender, race, sex identity, or sexual orientation. I promise to tread carefully.
For background, I think I first encountered the idea of it through the X-Files, which is often pointed to as the launching point of shipping in the modern contest. While I never particularly found myself invested in the romantic prospects of Scully or Mulder, I loved the show and was very aware that there was an active community that was very invested in their romantic travails—specifically that they fall in love with one another.
Currently in my neck of the woods, the two most dominant memes (if you will) of the shipping moment are the same sex pairings of Captain America and Winter Soldier/Bucky as ignited by the Civil War trailer—although I confess it may have preceded this moment and I was just unaware—and Finn and Poe “Poetry” Dameron from The Force Awakens. That Star Wars has also inspired comparatively smaller group to cheer for Finn and Rey or, in a “wish” that I confess I bristle at, Rey and Kylo Ren.
I don’t get it. I’ve tried and I just…don’t. I’m not stone of heart. I’ve cheered for characters in romantic comedies to finally make it work or for couples in tv shows to avoid a looming break up. But that was just me responding to text. I was not conjuring relationships from a key look or smile or what not.
Similarly, I am a big fan of hunting for homoeroticism and am very clear in my beliefs that movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 2, 2 Fast, 2 Furious, and, of course, the Lord of the Rings' trilogy are rich in homoeroticism. But I never actively cheered for, say, Tyrese Gibson’s Roman and Paul Walker’s Brian to make with the kissing nor did I argue for or create gifs or write stories for such events online.
So yeah, I don’t get it.
And that’s really ok.
Shipping has become a part of pop culture that is embraced voraciously by girls and women and, increasingly, those who identify as gay, bi, lesbian, queer, and gender queer. It’s easy to understand why if you pause for a moment. With the internet giving so many of us the chance to create with no one to tell you no (case in point, this entire site) and pop culture still predominantly made by and for people who share my general appearance, the size of my bank account, my point of view, and what “feels” erotic or intimate to me in my TV, film, comics, books, plays, video games, and music, it only makes sense that those not being specifically targeted and marketed to would seize the steering wheel. With the tools available to them—gifs, fan art, fan fiction, and the will to overinterpret—those not in the mainstream are able toassemble worlds of fiction that reflect their erotic interests and longings, their worldviews, their concerns, and their hopes, fears, and experiences. And that’s great, whether I get it or not. Because it isn’t for me. For once.
But I don’t write to tell those who love to ship that they’re ok and should keep on doing what they are doing. That would be the height of arrogance.
No, I write to talk to the people like me. People who might, say, reflexive get ruffled by people creating romantic relationships where none exist. I confess it. I have rolled my eyes about the obsessive “I want them to kiss so damn badly” movement that sprung up around Mulder and Scully, bemoaned people imagining two always been hetero-identified characters as gay based on a line of dialogue here or a slowed down moment there because, come on, those characters are straight. They’ve ALWAYS been straight.
But here’s the thing: why the hell should I, or those like me, care. I’m right. Captain America has always been straight. So why should it affect me if someone out there wants to create a tumblr that creates a world in which, post- Captain America: Winter Soldier, Bucky and Steve do not leap into Civil Way but instead cuddle on the couch, catch up on Orange is the New Black, and occasionally, make out. If it delights them, who am I to say they are doing it wrong.
I do feel compelled to add though, that there is still room to consider and question aspects of shipping culture. For instance, my fellow freelancer and internet friend (maybe….I don’t want to be presumptuous) Brett White wrote about his internal conflict regarding same sex shipping that sometimes can feel like they are erasing space for intimate male friendship. And that for him, even as a man who identifies as gay, he felt the loss of those intimate male friendships was more of a negative than the fan fictional shipping of them was a gain. He also advocated for more queer characters and relationships in properties, preferring to see actual text rather than subtext. I think that’s a compelling and interesting issue to explore and was stunned at the anger that seemed rain down on White afterwards, people often seeming to lose the point (pro-increased queer visibility in properties AND pro-non-sexual male intimate friendships) to rush to the idea that somehow he was standing against same sex relationships in pop culture in total.
Andrew Wheeler of Comics Alliance, a writer and editor who I greatly respect and is nice enough to occasionally respond to my tweets, wrote a few days ago that it was his feeling that heterosexual shipping was inherently, for lack of a better way to put it, “wrong” and invasive on queer culture in an unpleasant way. I had never considered this—especially given that my introduction, again, was Mulder and Scully—and I thought it was a compelling notion to be sure. I’m not sure how it was received, but I think there should be space to explore that as well.
Other topics that I’ve seen touched on include is there a difference between women shipping man on man relationships and men shipping woman on woman relationships, how fan entitlement can boil over when their ship is never realized or the rival one is (think Jacob v. Edward), and why men seem more likely to imagine themselves with the person they are attracted to in whatever media while women are more likely to pair them with an in-universe surrogate. (To explain that a bit more clearly, why men fantasize about themselves making out with Black Widow while women are more likely to push for Black Widow to make out with Captain America instead of themselves…if that is indeed clearer). All interesting, challenging ideas worthy of review and discussion.
So, I guess where I come to in the end is this: shipping is not about or for me so I need to get over whatever kneejerk felt but not thought out objections I might have AND that does not mean shipping should be free from critical review, analysis, and criticism.
And also, if I was going to ship someone, it would’ve been Brian and Roman in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Their erotic fixation on each other was so hot it scorched the screen!