Since one of my aims with this blog is to write about how my fandom experiences have changed over the past 20 years, I’m hoping this will be the first in a regular series of posts exploring whether we really do grow out of certain aspects of fandom, or whether it’s those aspects themselves that have changed.
I’ve already written briefly about feeling too old for fandom in general at times, and how I can’t decide if it’s me that’s changed or if fandom really does exclude older fans more than it used to. Although I’d planned to post this week about feeling too old for anime, reading comments from a couple of other Tumblr users led me to skipping that post in favour of a look at shipping.
Shipping, or creating content specifically about two characters in a relationship that most often isn’t canon, wasn’t my first fandom experience. When I discovered online fandom, it was initially through Yahoo Groups and similar message boards (I could never get the hang of newsgroups) devoted to discussing all aspects of a text; novels, TV shows, films, whatever. For me, it was the Discworld novels. I remember lots of threads along the lines of ‘what might happen to this character?’ or ‘which novel would you recommend to a Discworld newbie?’
That was really what I wanted from fandom at the time – just an opportunity to talk about the things I loved with people who loved them and knew them just as much as I did. That, for me, was ‘geeking out’, and I loved it.
I don’t remember exactly how I discovered fanfiction. My earliest memories of fanfiction were simultaneously finding a ‘Frasier’ fic archive via a message board dedicated to the show, and finding RPF slash fic on fanfiction.net. The slash fic held the allure of being about same-sex relationships, and to a young adult in the process of coming out, at a time when ‘Queer As Folk’ had just hit UK television, it was a revelation. I read mostly band fics, not that interested in the people themselves but in the upfront depictions of relationships I’d been told were to be hidden and kept secret. The ‘Frasier’ fic I devoured was equal parts shippy (largely Niles/Daphne but I also developed a love for Niles/Roz) and gen – scripts so perfectly in the style of the show, stories about incidents that were barely a throw-away line in a single episode, and even Mary-Sue romances.
Yes, I wrote a Mary-Sue fic. Not my fandom debut, but one of about six stories I wrote while active in that fandom. There were already several out there, and if there was a stigma attached to writing self-insert stuff then, I wasn’t aware of it. For me, writing a character based on myself simply felt like an extension of the (maladaptive) daydreaming I’ve always done to deal with years of bullying and emotional abuse (but let’s not go into that now). It was escapism, pure and simple, and I read similar stories by other writers and enjoyed them just as much.
In my fandom journey, shipping has only ever been one part of my experience. I’ve written and read plenty of ship-focused stuff, but I’ve always enjoyed gen just as much. If I find myself ‘involved’ in the shippy part of a fandom, it’s generally because that ship has a particular significance for me – perhaps I see a lot of myself in one character and enjoy seeing them have happy experiences, or one half of the ship is a minor character who doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in the show itself. I enjoy shipping as a thing, but it’s not always the focus of my fan experience. Just as often, I’ll be rooting for an individual character, or enjoying a gripping plot or dissecting meaning and symbolism.
The reason I picked this topic for the first ‘Am I Too Old For…?’ post, honestly, is seeing the way so many fans are reacting to the first few episodes of ‘Sarazanmai’ (I don’t want this to turn into a ‘Sarazanmai’ blog, but gosh darn do I have a lot of feelings about this show!). The series has so much to talk about – I’ve watched all three episodes several times over, had countless conversations with other fans, and love reading people’s theories and musings on what’s happened and what’s still to come. But seeing people talking about shipping ‘Sarazanmai’ characters? That just doesn’t sit right with me.
Maybe because the main three characters are middle-school boys and I’m a grown-up. Maybe because it’s an Ikuhara anime and while ships may become canon, the chances of anyone’s ship having a happy ending are slim to none. Maybe it’s because there’s so much other stuff happening in this show that I feel is being overlooked by people who just want to watch boys kissing (more about ships and fetishisation in a future post!).
I want to tell people not to go into this show with shipping goggles on. Partly because they’re likely to be disappointed, but partly because relationships are just one small part of this whole experience!
Honestly, it does irk me when I see other fans declare their chosen ships after just one episode of a show, or after a character has literally just been introduced.
When did fandom become about shipping first and stories second? I mean, I live for positive LGBTQIA representation, but that’s not the same as shipping. Just today, I made ungodly noises of delight at seeing a respectful portrayal of a same-sex relationship in ‘Carole & Tuesday’. I will enjoy seeing those characters again, but I wouldn’t say I’m actively shipping them. Likewise with the two lead characters themselves, if they do become a canon ship then that’s great, but I could just as happily watch this show be about a friendship and musical partnership.
Do fans value romantic/sexual relationships above platonic ones so much? Would saying ‘let them be friends!’ have people capslock-shouting at me for being anti-gay?
Don’t get me started on shipping wars. I somehow seem to have avoided such drama almost completely during my 20 or so years in online fandom. I came too late to ‘Due South’ to witness the Ray Wars and whoever was responsible for the unbelievably intense Haru/Rin vs. Haru/Makoto conflicts in ‘Free!’ fandom, they were not people I followed online. More recently, I saw the fringes of the ‘Voltron: Legendary Defender’ ship wars, and it really did make me feel old. I honestly do not understand what drives people to go to virtual war because they want their made-up character to knock boots with a different character than someone else does. It felt like playground fighting. It was nasty and vicious and it was about fictional characters, for crying out loud!
Isn’t fandom supposed to be fun? Aren’t we here to have a good time and share what we love? I deal with enough horrible people and horrible real-world events in my job; I go online in the evenings to escape all that.
But shipping wars isn’t the only reason I wonder if I’m too old to ship. In part, I feel sometimes like I’ve had my fill. I have read so much shippy fic over the past 20 years that it’s hard to find anything that strikes me as new. Every fandom, it sees, plays out the same tropes in fanfiction. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’ll happily read a fake-dating/mutual pining slow-burn fic even if it means I stay up all night and go to work on three hours’ sleep and a gallon of coffee. But there’s only so many times I can read ‘it turned out they were both into each other all along’ before I feel like I’ve seen it all before. Discovering a new ship, with new dynamics, keeps things fresh, but once I’ve read a dozen or so stories about the same relationship, quite often now I’m ready to move on.
Also, I’ve come to realise lately that being on the asexual spectrum also affects my approach to shipping. Because I’ve never had the experience of lust-at-first-sight or feeling flustered around a good-looking person or a half-naked person, reading or writing about those experiences doesn’t come naturally to me. When I write ships, I write friendships that develop into romance because that’s what makes sense to me. When I read fanfiction, I want to read the same thing, and lately it feels like that’s getting hard to find too. I’ve written stories with sex-scenes, but I don’t think I’ve written anything that counts as smut, and although I’m absolutely not against smut-fic, I also know it’s generally not my thing.
More and more, I find the stories that resonate with me are the ones with well-written plots or perfectly crafted comedy (and hardly anybody writes purely comedy fanfiction these days, it seems – it’s crack!fic or nothing). Of the stories I’ve written myself over the past year, I’d say half were shippy, and even then, they were several thousand words of plot with a ship developing alongside it.
So as fandom becomes all about shipping, and shipping becomes all about smut, sometimes I really do wonder if I’m just getting too old for shipping.
Do you agree? Has your love of shipping faded over time, or are you still sailing as many ships as ever? Comment and tell me, or come find me on Twitter or Tumblr to yell at me about ‘
Sarazanmai’ being a Fan Of A Certain Age.