The other day on Twitter, a friend made a joke about “ships.” Which, for those of you that don’t know about the wonderful world of fandom, ship is a term used to refer to relationships between characters. Generally speaking, these are non-cannon relationships, many of which will never have a prayer of showing up in the real fictional world of the books. Despite the inherently comedy involved in a group of geeks that spend their geek time compulsively obsessing over the sex lives on non-existent people, I’m not really going to judge anyone for it. I mean, everyone has some sort of geektitude to them somewhere.
As I was walking out to lunch today, I had a strong, explosive epiphany. You see, I’ve never really understood what the appeal of shipping is, but I think I might have a bit of an insight.
See, I think there are a couple of reasons behind the creation of that section of geekdom.
First, and probably a pretty big influence, is the reluctance of writers and publishers to put what might be considered “non-traditional” relationships in their work. I don’t question the desire to find characters that a reader can relate to in a book. I think that’s part of the reading experience, the great escape from daily life that a novel represents. Unfortunately, even in the modern world we live in, some relationships are rare. It’s hard to find a mainstream fantasy novel with a gay couple, or even an interracial couple. Yes, those books are out there, and if you’re reading this and can reccommend some good books for other readers, please do, but, they’re harder to find and don’t generally see the huge numbers of readership that the big fandoms get.
So, there’s one factor, and a pretty big one. You want to know why someone might be looking at the homoerotic subtext of Frodo and Sam’s relationship? It might be because they’re looking for something that can let them relate more completely to those characters.
The only thing wrong with that is the lack of representation for those minorities in fiction.
I’m not trying to sermonize on it, either. I’m only explaining something that other, better informed and better perspective people have written about before. I don’t think I need to go into too much detail on it because I think there are better people than me that can explain, rant, and consider that topic. A quick google search should give you dozens of great articles on it.
What I really want to talk about, is the second big reason.
I think, as a general rule, that the biggest fandoms are pretty simple and straight forward. It let’s the work appeal to the largest audience that way. I think there is also a bit of fun in reading or watching a show or movie that is simple and straight forward. Where the easy, simple plot lines are great for escapism, I think there is an intellectual desire to look deeper into the writing and acting.
I think that some parts of obsessive fandom comes from the fans being smarter than the source material might intend. Sometimes, this comes from the multiple levels of some writing that allows it to appeal to different levels of fans. For example, as a fan of Robert Jordan, I have noticed that you can read through the books and consider the basic plot, and enjoy that for what it is, or you can read through and start picking at layer after layer after layer. That’s just as enjoyable, but for a different type of fan.
Sometimes the simplicity comes from the fact that some things are meant to be simpler, but get picked up by a more complex readership. For example, the Harry Potter series is written for children. This doesn’t stop it from being extremely enjoyable to adults. Still, I think adults tend to read more into the story because they have more to draw understanding from. I love the Harry Potter books. My friends 10-year-old son loves the books as much as I do. We both enjoy them, but I seriously doubt he’s ever reading into the subtext, not because he’s not smart, because he doesn’t have the life experiences to draw from.
I think part of that is involved in the pop culture obsession.
Of course, there are stories that are just simple, too.
I think, ultimately, there is more to all of it than we really think. As I’m writing, I keep thinking about things like this. How do I, as an author, do more to make sure I can give the readers those things they desire? Do I even worry about it?
Probably not. I figure, if I give them my best writing, my best work, then they can decide if they want more from the stories than I can put in them.
And that’s probably all there is for it.