Private Members Area – What Are Shippers and Why Are They A Problem?

We have discussed “shippers” many times on this site and Courtney had talked about doing a post about them. I responded that I would take the “anti-shipper” view.  Considering the two people who are at the top of the leaderboard this season, I figured it was a good time to post it.

What is a shipper? Well, a shipper is someone who is invested in the romantic relationship of two people who are on TV.  More carefully defined, it is a person who wants two characters to get together and/or shows support for two characters already together. This started in the X-Files fandom and was originally limited to fictional programs. Of course, back then there wasn’t “reality” TV like there is now. I was heavily involved in the X-Files fandom and that, I must say, was back when shippers were fun. At first. But I digress.

I have no real problem with the casual observation that two people look hot together. Or the observation that it seems OBVIOUS that they’re knocking boots outside the dance studio. Or even the observation that the babies would be so pretty. Especially when there seems to be some evidence that it is true. I think this is relatively normal behavior. But I also don’t think this is really “shipping” as it is defined nowadays. I think it’s speculation, and usually harmless. I would even go so far as saying, when limited to FICTIONAL characters, it can be fun, in its light hearted, romance novel, fan fiction form.  We’ll talk about slash another time.  I don’t want to make John’s delicate sensibilities catch on fire or anything. :-D But as long as it stays just for fun and an OCCASIONAL past time, no harm no foul. 

Where it goes wrong is where the shippers in question lose complete touch with reality. They focus more on the “ship” than they do their own, real relationships. These “ships” become so important that they talk about them all day, they create websites or twitter accounts dedicated solely to the ship, and they get angry when someone suggests that perhaps you’re too invested (or have no idea what you’re talking about).  And most of all, when what might be a real relationship falls apart, you shout obscenities and death threats at the party you deem responsible. Yes, it happens. And yes, it’s one of the more disgusting displays I’ve seen on the internet.  (Side topic: Why do women always blame the woman for the breakup of a relationship??) But I skip ahead.

There are two kinds of “ships” that I’ve seen. First, the fiction based ships such as Ron/Hermione, Harry/Hermione, Bella/Edward, and the granddaddy of them all, Mulder/Scully, just to name a few. Then there is the real couple ships which includes the likes of Derek/Shannon, Maks/Karina, Mark/Sabrina, Rob Pattinson/Kristen Stewart, David Duchovny/Gillian Anderson, and Nina Dobrev/Ian Somerhalder.  From what I’ve seen, the very worst of the worst are those that cross over from fictional to real life. Pattinson and Stewart dated in real life and in the movies, as did Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder and their Vampire Diaries counterparts. Sometimes the ship doesn’t ACTUALLY cross over, but the fans fantasize that they do – like Mulder/Duchovny and Scully/Anderson. Lately, I’ve heard rumors that Duchovny and Anderson have something going on, but this “shipping” was so sick and deluded half the time (back in the day) that I hear the rumor and my first thought is “are those freaks STILL shipping those two?”  I think it’s the media hyping shipper talk – they’ve done it before, after all.  Some so called media sites get their stories from the comments or from fans disguising themselves as people in the know. And some sites, like Glamour, feed the shipper crap – those of us who run blogs see that for what it is…a desire to grab an under-served portion of the DWTS fandom, particularly in the case of Meryl and Maks.

The DWTS gang falls into the second category, of course, being that they’re all real people and not characters. Well, except for Maks. :-)  And poor Derek gets sucked into this crap six ways from Sunday due to his less than stellar choice in female companionship. Shannon…Cheryl Cole…Nina Dobrev – those are three women that have some pretty twisted fans and Derek has had the misfortune of crossing all of them. It’s a separate post, I think, on the “Why” of women, often mature women,  who become uber fans of these other women and become totally invested in their real life relationships.  I don’t know about ya’ll, but I like cute boys and never had much use for female celebrities (or fictional characters), except on rare occasions. And I want ME with the cute boy, not some other beyotch. ;-)

The Derek/Shannon shippers are some of the worst I’ve seen. Since neither one is famous at the level of Rob/Kristen, it’s a very small group of still vocal women. Yes, women old enough to be Derek’s mother, easily.  A couple of them (or one) have made literally hundreds of fake twitter accounts to harass Derek on a daily basis. He blocks them, they make a new account. Worst of all, she hates on anyone who “wrongs” Derek in her eyes, but then hates on Derek for something as simple as spelling. And breathing.  Seriously sick stuff. I know it’s one or two people thanks to Derek fans who have been around forever and saw enough to make them recognize people (and saw the beginnings of it with their own eyes) – and there’s other evidence, but that’s a different subject.   It all started because Derek lived with Shannon and then broke up with her.

Because I’m a Derek fan, these are the ships I’m most familiar with and, as such, I’ll write the rest of this article largely from that perspective. I have nothing against romance, and I actually think that Derek picks very beautiful women, albeit ones that all look very much alike. :-) But, lord have mercy, the crazy mother*&kers that get involved in shipping is enough to turn your hair white.  I’m not even sure where to start. Maybe at the beginning is best.

Years ago I was a die hard X-Files fan. Was I a shipper? Nah, not really. Always thought Scully was too much of a bitch for Mulder and Duchovny too much of an intellectual for the air-head Anderson.  I was a Duchovny/Mulder/X-Files fan, despite being a scientist (aka “Scully”). The “ships” didn’t really interest me all that much. I read fanfiction, though, and saw the resultant flame wars when anyone else dared to bed Mulder with someone other than Scully (or vice versa). Heaven help you if you wrote “slash”. Holy crap. The things these people would say – well, it was clear that they were way too invested and had even lost touch with reality. The reality being “IT’S JUST A TV SHOW!!”  It’s fiction. It’s fantasy. Everyone has their own take and the way the show was written, there was no “right” answer…until late in the game, anyway.  Same thing in the Harry Potter fandom…Harry/Hermione, Hermione/Ron….the list is much too long to go into. The insane fights and “flamewars” and the name calling was insane. There were even death threats against Duchovny once upon a time such that a lawyer friend of mine called the LA police about it and realized, back then, that they had no clue what was happening on the internet.  There was a web page threatening his death. All because he married Tea Leoni. Really crazy. I could go on and on…like how they faked sightings of David and Gillian on assignations together to further the “romance” they wanted.

But you know what? As nutty as these people were, they don’t even come close to today’s shipping. Blame it on Twitter. Blame it on the object of your affection having too much contact and too much exposure to the fan base that gives them their stardom. Once upon a time, Derek actually interacted with fans on the ABC boards – you can likely lay his complete and total lack of interaction with internet fans at the feet of Shannon/Derek shippers. These people drooled over Derek and Shannon’s activities on a daily basis, speculated what they would do on vacation, analyzed every look and every move. Shannon fanned these flames herself, unfortunately, interacting with fans on twitter and going so far as to tell fans too much information about her and Derek (me included, actually – completely on her own, un-instigated by me). It was quite disturbing. A year after they started dating, Derek walks out of a club with a playboy bunny and these fans rake him over the coals. Two of them, as noted above, send him hate on a nearly daily basis even today. The implication was that he was cheating on her. The reality that these fans didn’t want to hear was that Derek and Shannon had actually broken up before then and hadn’t deigned to tell anyone. How dare they!!

I thought that was pretty bad. How can you have a husband and children (and grandchildren) at home and get so involved/invested in the relationship of two people you’ve never met that you spend hours a day posting on a message board about them? That you THINK you know two people so well that you can cast aspersions on one and cast the other as a martyred saint?? You think you know what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, just by looking at a picture. I just don’t GET it. It seems to me that these people are lacking something fundamental in their own lives that drives them to this. Ha! I had no idea just how ugly it could really be until Derek started dating Cheryl Cole.

I don’t actually think there were many Derek/Cheryl shippers – no, Derek was the playboy bunny in that relationship. :-) He was the outsider that dared to get involved with the queen bee.  There are, on the other hand, tons of shipper factions in the Cheryl Cole fandom and they’re just as freaky as the rest. Derek spending every free moment he had with the queen threw them into rages the likes of which I hadn’t seen before.  There were the fans that were certain that Cheryl and her best friend Kimberly were in love and Derek was her beard (and, likewise, she was bearding for him). They seem to have no idea that two women could actually be best friends. Then there were those who wanted to see her back with her British version of Tiger Woods husband. Derek was the source of them not having their dreams come true so the twitter campaigns of hate began. Calling him an unknown, talentless famewhore were some of the nicer things they threw his way. Despite the fact that he went out of his way to avoid the media and is far better known than she is in this country. But to them, England is the center of the universe – so irrational that they can’t compute that no one here knows who the hell Cheryl Cole is – nor do most of us care. Combine that with the little fact that the population of the UK is about equal to that of New York State and you get a tiny idea of just how delusional these kids were. Delusions of grandeur from fans of a woman who lip syncs her way through life. Why yes, I’m bitter. After all, in the name of blogging for PureDerekHough and PureDWTS, I see all manner of crap. Can’t get away from it. And it’s just plain sick and disturbing.

These girls (and most of them were very young) would twist themselves into knots to explain why Derek was just at Cheryl’s hotel all night as a friend, or why they took two trips to Africa together as friends, or how Derek sleeping on the floor of Cheryl’s hospital room (Cheryl’s words) meant nothing more than friendship. Them spending every free moment together, night and day, was just him being her gay best friend, yet her never seeing her bff and “true love” Kimberly was because they were afraid for the world to know who they really were (Yo, no one cares if 2 women hang out together all the time – this is what women do, even peeing together). The vitriol and hatred they spewed at everyone made it VERY clear that they didn’t believe their own stories – but it was VERY important that they convince everyone else!

If all they did was talk amongst themselves, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. But they don’t just talk amongst themselves. They spewed hatred to Derek on twitter at all hours of the day and night. And spew hatred on to any Derek fans who dare object. It was quite disturbing, the level of vitriol and bile that got spewed at him. I could barely read twitter, it was so bad.

I can’t honestly say if the Maks/Karina situation resulted in the same level of bile, but I’ve seen just enough to suspect that it has. Instead of enjoying the two as professional dancers, they take sides and the person on the other side is scum while the other can do no wrong.  Of course, the celeb in question can fan the flames, like Shannon seemed to, for a while. Maks was loudly and fervently nasty about Karina, giving his fans license to react in kind, never thinking for an instant that there were TWO parties involved and Maks isn’t necessarily correct in his assessments. He’s emotionally involved, after all – his fans AREN’T. Or shouldn’t be.  The thing that really bothered me, from what I saw of the situation, was that Maks was loud, nasty and vicious while Karina kept her own council and acted with class – yet most fans of the pair hated on HER. In what universe is this logical? Just because Maks is acting like he was doesn’t mean he was wronged and that Karina was evil. Maks is Maks…and we don’t know what went on. And just because Maks says something, doesn’t mean it’s totally accurate.

Point is – if you spend hours raging on twitter about Karina and you’re devastated that they broke up (Or even ecstatic they broke up), you’ve lost touch with reality.  Their relationship is none of your business and Maks putting it all out there does NOT make it your business.

But the worst of the worst (until this season)? Derek and Nina Dobrev. Oh my lord. Another stretch of time where I couldn’t read twitter without barfing.  It went pretty much the way that Derek and Cheryl did – both couples were  together a lot longer than anyone realized, perhaps because they all knew that if it came out there would be a shit storm.  Derek is getting better all the time at keeping his relationships on the DL. Why was it worse??  Cheryl wasn’t ACTUALLY in a relationship when she started up with Derek. She was on the rebound, for sure, separated and on the way to divorcing her husband. Nina wasn’t either, but she was recently broken up in real life with her on-screen costar and love interest. The Cheryl fans were mean and nasty…but the Nina fans were completely delusional.  You have no idea how often they would be trash talking Derek about breaking up Nina and Ian (nope, they had been apart for several months) and they would refer to Nina by her *character’s* name.  They would pull Derek into these conversations about “Damon and Elena” and call him all manner of names – tweeting him directly, mind you – and accuse him of wrecking their relationship. Which relationship? Beats the hell out of me. And when “Damon and Elena” got together ON SCREEN, they tweeted him hundreds of screencaps of them kissing, fantasizing about how jealous he was (not realizing he was likely on set more than once). Um…yo. Fictional characters. And, btw, there were all kinds of reports of Ian dating someone else – conveniently ignored.  I saw all this because Derek was tagged on twitter A LOT. There were death threats, threats of violence…very pleasant.  It was like a mass delusion: Damon, Elena, Nina and Ian…with Derek mixed into the middle.  These chickies couldn’t keep straight which couple they were talking about, they had it so deeply intertwined in their heads.  And Derek getting in the middle of that threw them into rages. It was a bit scary and a lot disturbing.

Now? Now we have Meryl and Maks. Keep in mind that I have not gone looking to see what the kids are talking about. The sense that I have from what I have heard is that Charlie is persona non grata because he had the temerity to be in love with someone other than Meryl. Charlie running off with the beautiful Tanith has made Meryl a martyred saint, desperately looking for love. Along comes Maks. Every look, every touch is seen as evidence of their great love…and finally the beautiful Meryl is happy with her prince.  Anyone who gets in the way of that is in DEEP trouble. Even if it’s a double amputee and all she wants is the mirrorball trophy – not the prince. Everything is perfect right now for Meryl and Amy is threatening to ruin it. I don’t know if it’s that clear to them, and I certainly don’t want to go looking to determine if the underlying psychology is more than just hopeless romantics turning delusional.  Perhaps they sense that Amy winning the MBT would be such a huge blow to Maks that he would (theoretically) lump Meryl in with the rest of his “loser” (his implication) partners and would therefore turn away from Meryl just like he has them.  And their queen would be alone again.

At the end of the day, it seems interesting in that a huge, extreme investment in LOVE turns way too many people towards extreme hate.  The only thing I can imagine is that the “ship” for these extremists is filling a hole they have in their own life, that is they romanticize someone else’s relationship because theirs isn’t romantic in the least.  They idealize it to the point where it’s the end all be all – and as a result when it doesn’t work out the way they want, it’s like THEY are the one being cheated on.

I’ll repeat again, I have no problem with the occasional “ooohhhh look at Meryl and Maks, they’re so cute together…” as long as that is the end of it. But this isn’t my first time around the block – it starts this way and all too often degrades into this very disturbing thing.  If you lose sleep at night because someone told you that Meryl and Maks aren’t dating…you’re on the road to trouble.