What Do 'Shippers Even Want? - Macleans.ca

What Do ‘Shippers Even Want?


I can’t really deal with the fan outrage over last night’s Chuck. Seriously, I can’t do it, so I’ll let the links do it for me. I understand that many fans are invested in particular relationships (Chuck-Sarah, in this case) and feel upset when they see the writers resorting to the Frasier Technique, the introduction of a new love interest to separate the two people whose romance is the focal point of the show. (Frasier Crane, you will recall, was introduced into Cheers as a take on the stuffy fiance characters from old screwball comedies, a way of keeping Diane and Sam apart for a while.) They know the writers are doing it to try and stretch the show out. And they may feel even more upset when this technique is tried by a low-rated show that could be canceled at any second. Chuck is not a show that can take its time in giving the fans what they want, and fans are understandably worried that the show could end without ever giving them what they’ve been waiting for.

On the other hand, here’s what I find weird about ‘shipping: it often seems so divorced from any specific goal for the characters. In a way, ‘shipping is a holdover from “closed” storytelling forms, like novels and films and plays, where the ending of the evening’s entertainment is literally the end. In those forms, we root for two characters to get together, i.e. get married or at least go steady or something. If it’s a comedy, they get married; if it’s a tragedy, they die. Either way, it ends. But in a television series, unless it’s specifically intended to have a limited run, there is no pre-set ending. More importantly, the people who are producing the show want to keep it from ending. Everything they do is geared towards making sure that the show won’t have to end. That’s one reason shows introduce obstacles to the will-they/won’t-they relationship: by keeping the two leads apart, they hope they can sustain interest in the show and keep it from ending.

Because TV ‘shipping is a closed-form idea applied to an open-form medium, it’s inevitably vague about what exactly the fans want for particular characters. Do they want them to be together in the end? Not exactly, because they don’t want the show to end. ‘Shipping is rarely expressed as a wish that characters will get married or even just start dating. It’s more of a general feeling that characters should be “together,” without a definite feeling about what “together” means. Basically it seems to just mean that the characters should be kissing each other instead of kissing other people.

‘Shipping a TV show may have made more sense back in the days when almost every show would push the reset button at the end of every episode (particularly drama shows). ‘Shipping Jim Rockford and Beth Davenport, or Kirk and Uhura, was a harmless pastime because you knew nothing was going to change anyway. It was part of the interactive way that the fans themselves created continuing story and character development for shows that didn’t actually have any. Once we entered the post-Cheers era where actually had ongoing romances (shows that weren’t soap operas) the fans’ rooting interest became a bigger problem, because we now have an expectation that our favourite romances will actually happen and be an ongoing part of the show. The writers know this, and devote a lot of attention to the romances, trying to keep the tension going without angering the fans. And there’s the biggest problem with ‘shipping: not that people do it, but that it comes to dominate the conversation about a show and even the way it’s written. There’s something unfortunate about the way an action-adventure-spy show is going to be dominated for as long as it lasts (maybe not long) by romance.

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What Do ‘Shippers Even Want?

  1. Frankly, the chemistry between Chuck and Sarah is so awkward and clunky I'm relieved to get a break from it.

  2. Leading to the bigger question of when we dropped the "Wor" from 'shipping. The earliest I noticed it was just post-Bravo TWOP.

    • Except, "shipping" in this context isn't derived from "worshiping", it's derived from "relationship".

      Wikipedia dates the term to an X-Files newsgroup as far back as 1996.

  3. But here's what you're missing–it's never BEEN billed as an action adventure spy show–it's always been equal parts, action, comedy and romance. Chuck and Sarah are the heart of the show and have been since day one. He's the geeky guy who one day may get the girl. Getting the girl is as important to his growth as a character as becoming a spy is. The producers have focused on them as a couple, have promoted them as a couple so you can't blame fans for wanting payoff. Chuck ads promote the Chuck/Sarah relationship hard( see promos for season 3).When they get it is another thing. The actors have massive chemistry and the C/S relationship is the foundation for the 2 characters no matter what else is happening. Sarah is often seen half dressed in a tongue in cheek way as a shout out to all the geeks watching. Not sure what Chuck would be without Sarah in the mix. Myself, I'd love to see them as a spy couple. That is where this should be leading for this particular show. That doesn't mean happily ever after, it means new obstacles. I think "shipper" would be satisfied with that.

  4. Its not a problem – you say its a problem when they get together. Its not!
    Its not the end. Look at Hart to Hart – a loving couple out kicking butt.
    And by constantly contriving obstacles it seem the writers are saying "look fans we don't really care about what you want, we are only here for the money – now buzz off".
    They've done this on/off for 3 years now – its tiresome – and worst of all it signals incompetence – that they are afraid they can't handle it because they believe in that rubbish that couples ruin shows (http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2009/09/what_r… )
    When the two become one , that "one" will fight crime as one – not a problem.