On the Flip Side: What is a Fandom and Why does it Have Ships?


By Thea Gonzales


– Fandom (noun) = the dominion of fans = the state of being a fan of something or someone/

a specific form of media of which one is a fan

ex. Doctor Who or Bob’s Burgers

– Ship (noun) = short for relationship

– Shipping (past participle verb) = supporting the idea of characters being together

– Shipper (noun) = one who ships

 Canon  (adjective) = follows the original story as the creator intended

antonym. Non-Canon (adjective) = does not follow the original story/created by fans

– Fanfiction = a work of fiction (involving characters of another form of media) that is written by fans


Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and with its arrival comes, once more, the annual scramble toward commercial adoration that those in relationships are unfortunate enough to participate in. However, with the increasing spread of technology in the recent decade, a counterculture of shippers has surfaced from the Internet as a common fixture in modern media and entertainment. Their Valentine’s Day will be spent loving characters who love each other.

According to freshman Rheannon Rivera, shipping has nothing to do with boats and is simply “supporting the idea of characters being together.”

From the suffix in the word “relationship” and the interest one has in the connection between fictional characters, a ship is born and launched into the water. Though ships can be romantic in nature, they need not always be: ships can also include platonic friendships.

“It’s like really thinking that your best friend and his girlfriend are super cute together – it’s not your relationship, but you enjoy the idea of it, anyway. Although, it’s most likely about fictional characters and not real people,” junior Nina Baranyk said.

Ships? Canons? There may as well be pirates. Fandoms come fully equipped with strange, hybrid words: ones that IRC librarian Kelly Stallard had to learn quickly while working in an adolescent environment.

“The first time I heard the term ‘shipping’ and realized what it meant, I was working in a middle school. Anytime I had 8th graders in the library, they only would speak about fandoms, shipping, OTPs. I had to pick up the lingo fast. I talk to students that ship fictional characters pretty much multiple periods every day. It actually comes up a lot when recommending books to students or debriefing about TV shows,” Stallard said.

Well, what does a shipper do besides like things? Shippers get involved in fandom activities: creating, viewing, and sharing fanfiction, fan art, fan videos, and/or whatever else fans are inspired to produce. Most of fandom life is found on popular websites such as Facebook, Tumblr, WattPad, Fanfiction.net, and AO3.  Much like avid fans of sports teams, shippers show their support for the fandom and the relationships within it.

“I’m a reader and a writer on WattPad. It’s one of the most amazing sites I’ve ever used, and there is so much to read on there. As for writing, I’ve written fanfictions. My most popular one has almost 100k reads right now. If it wasn’t for WattPad, I don’t think I would be friends with some of the people I know,” junior Haley Pagett said.

Though most shippers seem happy being enthusiastic fans of their ships, those on the outside and even those within the fandom community have found some areas of concern.

“Shipping has some unfortunate connotations now. A lot of young people, especially, who are really into shipping have the really nasty habit or fetishizing, or seeming to fetishize any relationship that isn’t straight. It seems like a ‘token’ thing for some people too. ‘No, I can’t be homophobic, really! I have a gay ship!’ ‘Oh, I’m so glad that gay marriage was passed, now Sherlock and John can marry!’ etc. The community can also have problems with skimming over the abusive natures of some relationships which can be uncomfortable,” senior Hannah Williams  said. 

However, as technology  continues to advance and “nerds” like Mark Zuckerberg rule the world, shipping has slipped into the mainstream.

“It is way too easy to get involved. Now that society has made ‘geeky’ things the new mainstream, more people have begun getting into different fandoms. Shipping is becoming an avid part of society,” freshman Kathy Trieu said.

But why do it? Why invest so much time focusing on the relationships of people who don’t even exist?

“Personally, I think it’s because the ship is what we want in our real life. Maybe you want a nice, intelligent guy to be your boyfriend, but sadly, it’s not working out. And also, it’s just great seeing two people work out. It’s totally easy to get emotionally involved. I mean, people are writing fanfiction and making fanvideos. You have to be emotionally involved for that,” junior June Choi said.

For those on the outside, shippers and their fandoms are still misunderstood and alienated. Nevertheless, shippers have created a community of their own, bridging the distance between continents and communicating in a dominion primarily found online.

“Because of this ship, I have a voice in a fandom. People actually listen to me, which is really really cool! And they don’t seem to mind when I write about them, which is so nice. My friends and I started a ship that is like… a major ship in the [Bob’s Burgers] fandom now, and it’s so neat!” Williams said. 

At the end of the day, shipping is as innocuous a pastime as stamp collecting or competitive whistling. The best shipping often is done without actively trying, and the most fun comes from those who open themselves up to more love in the world by appreciating the relationships that others have.

“Over all else,” Baranyk said, “Enjoy yourself and have fun. It’s actually a really common idea, and a lot of people ‘ship’ without connecting it to that term. You can always get involved, no matter who you are or how much effort you want to put into it.”