But what about shipping for the sake of shipping? Yes, that’s a real thing too. We’d all like to think our personal version of shipping is a noble effort to preserve our queer culture — but that can’t be the whole story.
Even mild shipping wars — like the ones we saw near the end of Pretty Little Liars’ first season — are shipping wars. They devolve into name-calling and accusations and personal insults faster than you can say “fanwank.”
Only two percent of our survey participants said they engage in fandom because they want to convince other people that their ship is the best ship, but 30 percent said they’ve gotten into a debate in which they tried to bring someone else around to their way of thinking about shipping. (Which must mean 28 percent of them were forced into the debate!) In fact, the majority of survey participants said they’d be less likely to get involved in a fandom conversation if they sensed a shipping war breaking out.
If only 30 percent of people are engaging in shipping wars, it is a really loud, really active 30 percent. And my guess is that it comes from the following two statistics:
1) Of the 30 percent of people who say they’ve engaged in shipping debates, there is a huge incongruity between people who say they’ve brought someone around to their way of thinking, and people who say they’ve been brought around to someone else’s way of thinking. 64 percent of people say they’ve changed someone else’s mind. Only 20 percent say they’ve had their mind changed. That means the majority of shipping soldiers are either really good at choosing the right side of an argument, or really bad at telling when they’ve actually changed someone’s mind.
2) 19 percent of people who engage in shipping wars say no one has ever, or will ever, be able to change their mind about their favorite ship.
The longer an argument goes on without compromise — which is what happens when people assume that their way of thinking is the only correct way of thinking — the louder and nastier and more personal it gets. (Incidentally, 70 percent of our participants say they would never respond as aggressively in person as they do online.)
Camille, the most honest AfterEllen.com reader I spoke to about shipping wars, told me: “Sometimes I get angry when I comment — because I like to be right.”
My original question was: Are shipping wars sinking the Internet? 73 percent of our survey participants say they are less likely to participate in a discussion if a shipping war breaks out. Out of the 15 TV writers and recappers I asked, 14 said they’d rather write about shows without vocal shippers. If so many people are put off by shipping wars, and shipping wars are so prevalent, are they actually ruining our fandom experiences?
Apparently that depends on how well you can drown out the noise. I’m a natural shipper. I love love. And just like the majority of AfterEllen.com readers (76 percent), I enjoy fandom for the sense of camaraderie and shared experiences. I couldn’t begin to quantify the joy of writing and reading fan fiction, trolling through Tumblr for hours on end, or just live-Tweeting with readers during shows like Pretty Little Liars. In fact, participating in fandom is one of the things that helped me come to terms with my own sexuality.
The online fandom experience is one of the best things about modern pop culture — but if our survey is any indication, most people prefer snuggles to shouting.
Truth be told, I would have been one of those folks bombarding Louisa May Alcott with fan mail, pleading with her to put Jo and Laurie together. But when she didn’t, I wouldn’t have unleashed an angry letter at her. I wouldn’t have accused her of being a hack writer, or the spawn of Satan. I wouldn’t have even plotted the murders of all the gloating Team Amy people in the Little Women fandom. I would have done the same thing I did when I was eleven: I would have written my own ending.
Jo March wanted all the castles in the air to come true, so she and her sisters could live in them forever. And that is the beauty of fandom: Every castle is possible. The sails of our ships are limited only by our imaginations.
So I guess the real question is: Will we use our imaginations to expand the magic of narrative? Or will we use our imaginations to invent new ways of calling each other twats?