For this discussion, we will be exploring the practice of Fandom Shipping.
The rhetoric of fandom is characterized by the binary of ‘normal versus abnormal.’ In order for scholars to create an accurate and productive discussion about fandom activities and practices, this binary must be dissolved; the existence of this binary not only alienates fans from mainstream society, making them feel ashamed of their interests, but also conceals a much more dangerous problem in fandom discourse: the criticism of female fans and their attachment to narrative romance. This criticism is rooted in female fans’ creation and consumption of para-texts; a para-text is merely any text, be it fan-fiction or fan-videos, created by fans that reinterprets the source material .
For female fans, the basic premise of most fandom para-texts and fan participation centers on the phenomenon of shipping which refers to the fan practice of encouraging romance between certain characters of the source text at the expense of other characters . From fan fiction to fan videos and fan art to entire sites dedicated to character romance, the practice of shipping which originated as a mere outlet for fan creativity, has taken center stage in all fandoms. The evolution of shippers trace back to the fan-zine culture of Star Trek, regarding the characters of Kirk and Spock and building off the show’s homo-social undertones . These early shippers largely consisted of middle-aged women.
Yet, this form fan practice does not represent shipping in the modern sense due to the limited parameters of the Zine culture . Character romance, or shipping as it is recognized today, began with the X- Files ; because the show’s emergence coincided with the internet age, The X-Files, was one the first television shows to have an online fandom . The internet exploded with the chemistry between the two paranormal investigators, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, and the fact that the romance was kept largely off screen only fueled the fans’ obsession .
As the phenomenon of fan shipping grew in popularity, the fan’s interaction with source texts increased; thus fandom participation increased . Buffy the Vampire Slayer marked another milestone for fan shipping as it was one of the first shows to make shipping a primarily adolescent phenomenon . The most significant influence on fandom shipping resulted from Twilight . Shipping has become the most powerful way in which fans identify and interact with the text; Twilight changed the phenomenon of shipping entirely by featuring a romantic decision between two male leads and a female protagonist as the narrative’s sole climax .
Many novels, television shows, and films seeking to target a female audience have co-opted this strategy of capitalizing on women’s focus on narrative romance, much to the criticism of fandom scholars. More than their male-counterparts, female fans have consistently been belittled in fandom discourse; female fans have often been compared to “addicts in need of fix” .
Due to their focus on character and narrative romance, female fans have been portrayed as “obsessively devoted”  to their fan texts to point where they “no longer can distinguish between fantasy and reality” . The focus on female dominated fandoms, brought to the forefront of scholarly discussions by the Twilight craze, has only reinforced this negative view of female fans (16).
As a woman and a fan, I find the rhetoric of fandom discourse offensive; it trivializes a woman’s desires and assumes that romance is only a feminine concern. Furthermore, fandom para-texts that focus on female desires should be encouraged instead of criticized in fandom discourse as these para-texts provide women with a voice in the conversation of sexual liberation where they had previously been silenced.
Rather than have their own desires denied, female fans can now use social media to express a sexual autonomy that has typically been reserved for men ; the topic of sex is no longer a taboo. Women can indulge their own sexual identity and preferences behind the comfort zone offered by the anonymity inherent within the online forums of the digital age (Driscoll).
1. Tushnet, Rebecca. “Copyright Laws, Fan Practices, and the Rights of the Author.” Fandom Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. Ed. Jonathan Grey, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. New York: New York University Press, 2007. pg. 62.
2. Tushnet, 63.
3. Driscoll, Catherine. “One True Pairing: The Romance of Pornography and the Pornography of Romance.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Karen Hellekson. McFarland, 2001. Kindle Digital Edition. Pgs. N/A
4. Driscoll, Catherine, N/A.
5. Jones, Bethan. “The Fandom is Out There: Social Media and the X-Files Online.” Fan Culture: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century. Ed. Kristin M. Barton & Johnathan Malcolm Lampley. North Carolina: McFarland and Company Inc., 2014. pg. 61.Print.
6. Jenkins, Henry. Fandom Today: Convergence Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Pg. 107. Print.
7. Jensen, Jeff. “Just Do It: Meet the Shippers.” Entertainment Weekly. 17 February 201: 107. Print.
9. Booth, Paul. Digital Fandom: New Media Studies. Peter Lang Publishing: New York, 2010. Amazon Digital Edition.
10. Montague, Charlotte. Vampires: From Dracula to Twilight The Complete Guide to Vampire Mythology. New York: Chartwell Books Inc, 2010. Pg.51. Print.
11. Montague, 52.
12. Booth, N/A
13. McKee, Alan. “Fans of Cultural Theory.” Fandom Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. Ed. Jonathan Grey, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. New York: New York University Press, 2007. pg. 38. Digital Edition.
14.Alters, Diane F. “The Other Side of Fandom: Anti-Fans, Non-Fans, and the Hurts of History.”Fandom Identities and Communities in a Mediated World. Ed. Jonathan Grey, CornelSandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. New York: New York University Press, 2007.Pg. 42. Digital Edition
16. Radaway, Janice. “Reading the Romance.” Cultural Studies An Anthology. Ed. Michael Rya Malden, USA, Oxford, UK, and Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. pg. 208. Print.
17. Driscoll, N/A.