Watching Avengers: Age of Ultron made me think that shipping has gone mainstream. Shippers have become so vigorously unashamed of their ships (not to say proud) that they have become visible to the point where is impossible to ignore them.
Shipping as a term originated from Original Star Trek where ship was often referred as Captain’s Kirk love interest, which he repeatedly sacrificed for Spock. Maybe that’s how the ship became an alias for their intense love affair (in which I personally believe!).
The term survived to denote acknowledgement of putting two characters, that aren’t in a romantic relationship in cannon (official universe), into a romantic setting of their private ship. Yes, it is exactly as it sounds, with all kinds of details and all sorts of inappropriate behaviour. On a ship there can be any combination of characters, they don’t even have to be from the same fiction-verse, or for that matter in fiction at all – in the case of Supernatural where main characters are brothers, fans, uncomfortable with incest, ship the real life actors who portray them and the show itself had flirted with real realm as a parallel dimension within its verse so all bets are off there!.
A ship is also called slash because of the “/” sign that comes between shipped characters. So when you see it written like this Bilbo/Thorin don’t roam in unless you’re ready for some smushy or smutty action of some kind.
I personally would kick that door open. The reason people, like myself, kick open that door, and many others, lies in the straightness of mainstream couples. I don’t mean that in strictly gay versus straight sense but the fact is that the coupling of the characters in very predictable and kind of dull. That pretty blond/red/brunette will get that husky big guy that’ll say something nice and do something brave and they’ll be off on his noble steed/fancy car/ big yacht into sunset creating baby models for cover magazines.
That’s why new Avengers feels like shipping (spoilers ahead) because Black Widow/Hulk is priceless in them dealing with their monsters personas. In the mainstream mindset Hawkeye would be the one to put a smile on the face of any suburban housewife. (I’ve heard that people complained because that didn’t happen, and that the thing with Hulk came from nowhere, it’s because it’s outside of the flow, like a true ship, it sails its own course. I was surprised too not because I couldn’t see them, but because I have seen them since first movie, but was convinced they won’t go there, because, like ships often do, that relationship contains a lot of pain.
That’s another point about shipping. Pain. You would, if you’re completely unaware of the shipping world, think that shipping is mundane and fun. Fun and games, you would say, something you do to pass the time. And it is, to a point. But there is so much more to it. Reading fan fiction, I’ve discovered that fan fiction, which is always shipping to me, can be therapeutic. It makes room for people who often aren’t writers to deal with pain and fear, abuse, acceptance and rejection. Even with the trauma fictional worlds can inflict on us (personally I’ve produced few hundred pages dealing with that: see Torchwood, Children of Earth, and Hobbit, Battle of Five Armies). It’s a way to discuss and run scenarios of death, abuse and trauma that often don’t get into the mainstream.
It’s also a place where couples that represent a different ideal of love can be created and shown. This is where gay issues come into it. It’s question of visibility. In the real world of twenty people I’ll probably recognize at least couple of gay persons. In fiction, in twenty movies/series there are less! And they (unless they’re Will or Captain Jack Harkness) will be supportive, mostly comical characters. If they engage in romance, it’ll be off screen, and besides their sexuality they will rarely engage as active support in main action.
In shipping you get to take main characters who already have an agenda and motivation, and just add sexuality to it, a different one than is usually shown. That’s how you get wonderful diverse characters and plot choices. As Rowling beautifully put it referring to the matter of Dumbledore, gay people are just people! I would extend that their sexuality is just a part of their personality, not the other way around. And as little handicapped girls deserve toys that look like them, having an ear piece, wheelchair or walking cane, I think that grownups deserve couples that represent the diversity of real life.
For the Avengers, thank you very much for the chopping logs (although shirts were unnecessary) and for the sarcastic Black Widow who said it like it is.
Besides all this, shipping for me encodes a deeper layer of fear that is increasingly enveloping the subject of sex itself, but that is a whole other post.