Thoughts on shipping.

A ship-shipping ship, shipping shipping ships. source (for the image, as well as the caption)

A ship-shipping ship, shipping shipping ships. source (for the caption as well as the image. I’m not that clever).

Not that kind of shipping. Shipping. Like when you write fan fiction (on paper or in your head) in which fictional characters fall in luuuuve with each other and (presumably, at some point) have sex and/or are permanently joined together in sacred and/or fleshy bliss. It comes from the word “relationship” – hence “shipping,” as in: “I ship Harry and Ron, everyone knows they were the real love story at Hogwarts!”

And if you don’t know it yet — yes, that really is a thing, all across the various realms of geekdom, and recently more broadly in popular culture. So you’ll have fan communities who create art or write stories or make videos that bring together two (or more) characters who were not imagined by their creator as romantically involved.

Coupla things. Thing the First, and let’s just get this out of the way: I have a thing about canon. The creator is, to my mind, God in the universe of these characters to whom we feel so attached, and thus, if JK Rowling didn’t think that Harry and Ron would fall in love — well, she would know. Plain and simple. It’s one thing to create fan art that builds on the creator’s world, but I honestly think it’s another thing entirely to upend the story as the creator intended for it to be told. In my always humble (and probably minority) opinion.

But here’s Thing the Second, and Thing the Second is actually the thing that I believe is most important.

Most of these imagined relationships (Harry-Ron, Kirk-Spock, Jess-Jules [Bend It Like Beckham], Arthur-Merlin [Merlin], Katniss-Peeta-Gale, etc and so on, ad infinitum) don’t just upend the story as originally conceived, they upend the sexuality of those involved, often because the characters are so close — their relationship runs so deep — that we do not know how to let it be friendship. We do not know how to understand need and longing and fierce loyalty, unless it’s about romance and sexuality.

And thus, to my mind, when we ship Kirk and Spock, or Arthur and Merlin, or Sam and Frodo, we’re not only doing a disservice to the creator’s vision, we’re dishonoring the characters, and revealing more about about ourselves and our society than we may have intended. 

Note, for instance, that most shipping seems to entail male characters — as a society, we’re usually ok with girls and women loving each other and expressing that love in a way that is not romantic or sexual. Men on the other hand? We really don’t know what to do with that.

So we change it. We diminish and dismiss men’s capacity for loving each other — truly, deeply loving each other — and insist that such love can only find true expression in something akin to 21st century notions of romance and sexuality.

Once upon a time, in mid-19th century America, men wrote love letters to each other — honest to God, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking of our last hours spent together,” love letters to each other. Like, it was thing. You wrote to your friends and told them how you felt.

And true to late-20th/early 21st century form, letters such as these have led some to conclude that Abraham Lincoln himself was gay, despite copious evidence to the contrary — because why else would he express such tender affection for a man? Even though I presume that at least some of the men writing these letters were, in fact, expressing an emotion to which they were otherwise unable to give voice, sheer statistics would suggest that most of them weren’t. Which is to say: We weren’t always like this, America.

I do understand that some fan fic/shipping comes in response to the appalling dearth of LGBTQ love stories in our culture, and I guess it’s easier for me, a straight woman, to not want to validate the work that some people create around a love they’d like to see expressed. I will concede that.

But beyond that, mostly it just cheeses me off. You cannot tell me that a romantic, sexual relationship between Sam and Frodo would have been deeper or more real than the relationship we are told they had; you cannot tell me that Merlin’s love for Arthur was any less because they didn’t have sex.

I’m tired of telling boys and men that they cannot, may not love each other — frankly, shipping of this kind is little more than the flip-side of guys who yell “No homo!” after a big hug. There is nothing wrong with men falling in love with other men; there is also nothing wrong with men having loving friendships.

And with that, I have likely sealed my fate in the geek community, and so I bid you adieu. It was fun while it lasted. I’ll just be over here, reading my books.

#geeklulz

mordor door

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Geek is as geek does.

Available for purchase at ThinkGeek.com -- though, in my case, it really should be in the plural.

I’ve recently discovered a funny thing about me:

I’m less a geek, than I am a geek of geek culture.

It’s true that I’ve hit a few of the geek high points all on my own: I’m a life-long fan of the original three Star Wars films, and have nothing but disdain for the latter three; I’ve been watching Trek since the original series was first in re-runs (even I was a little too young when it first hit the airwaves); I’ve been known to watch all three LOTR films on consecutive evenings (extended cuts!); and I recently become a bona-fide Browncoat (aka: stupid-big fan of Firefly). I even have genuine Dr. Horrible cred, having watched it online almost immediately upon its release. Moreover, I’m a certified egg-head, and do things like read history because I want to and get deeply into the minutiae of history that particularly grabs me. So yeah. On some levels, I really am a geek.

But on a lot of other levels, I’m a complete dilettante. I don’t game (online or with poly dice) and never have (unless you count that one game of Angry Birds & a few visits to the arcade in the 80s); I don’t watch Dr. Who; I still haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s Guide. I intend to remedy that last sooner rather than later — especially now that even the boy is quoting lines at me — but I have no interest in either of the former. I don’t have any idea who’s Marvel and who’s DC, I didn’t much enjoy the actual source material for the LOTR films (though I did finally force myself to finish reading them), and I have no intention of ever reading any George RR Martin (I already know too many unsavory spoilers – why walk into that?)

But I love enthusiasm that vibrates in the very bones of the enthusiast. I love wild imaginations and thundering humanity. I love smart people, and especially smart people who really enjoy being smart. And I love hearing people talk about language and words and plots and narratives and what-is-canon.

So of course I love geek culture. After all being a geek — of any kind — is essentially about having ill-disguised, hugely enjoyable (and occasionally excruciating) enthusiasms. It’s about hatching plans in December 2011 to attend the midnight show of The Hobbit on the day it’s released in December 2012 (as I am); it’s about making elaborate plans for just which costumes you’re going to want to make for that event (not me, but my Internet pal kiranmartin [also known in these parts as caoil]). It’s about having opinions about each of the successive Doctors, and indeed, individual episodes in each Doctor’s arc. It’s about being able to describe yourself using Dungeons and Dragons terminology, and actually meaning it. It’s about loving something so much that you are willing to go outside the bounds of normative behavior to express that love, and more often than not, it demands a native intelligence that simply cannot let plot inconsistencies and fucking-long pod races slide (me again).

So I find myself following conversations about games and gaming culture (particuarly at my friend K. Cox’s place, because I also love people who know how to write), developing opinions about how women are presented in comics (it’s bad, man), and trading geek culture epehmera with my buddy anibundel (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for being among those who hounded me into my late Browncoat-dom). It’s why I love ThinkGeek.com, why I encouraged the boy to read Hitchhikers in the first place, and why just the other day, I found myself watching a show called The Nerdist, despite only catching about half the references — not to mention why I found myself annoyed (despite host Chad Chris Hardwick’s entirely charming presence) with the yawning chasm where the women should have been (“but they mentioned Felicia Day!” I can already hear someone protesting, to which I can only reply: “Right! Only after insulting four hugely talented women musicians, and in the most overtly sexual terms possible! And anyway, one mention of one women isn’t really enough, is it, for the love of God?”). (Please note update, in comments – my second reply to Alison. Squee! Chad Chris Hardwick got in touch directly via the Twitters to apologize!) 

So rock on my geeks! I less-than-three you from the bottom of my less-than-three, and I am so grateful to be allowed into the room now and then. I may not be as great a mind as any of you on any of this, but I will get the  snacks and help you find those buttons you need for your Hobbit shirt. Because you’re awesome. And you make my days much, much brighter.

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