Over the last decade, with the rise of streaming shows and ‘fandoms’, the phenomenon of ‘shipping’ has become increasingly prevalent.
There are fan pages for fictional couples even with minimal interaction on the actual show – individuals swiftly develop a desire to ship any two characters who share even a brief exchange on screen, regardless of the lack of substantial romantic subtext.
For a long time, TV show creators fed into that with subtle fan service to keep their shows relevant. Now, though, the TV audience is evolving and romance on TV is a secondary need for many. People are more invested in thrilling plot lines and character development, and fictional romance, in general, has taken a back seat – even in films.
Just last week, Stranger Things star Maya Hawke expressed mixed feelings about her character Robin having a girlfriend in season five of the show, telling Yahoo Entertainment that “love life isn’t the centre of existence’. This statement started a discussion on Twitter about our recent obsession with fictional relationships – and it has divided the internet.
The entire discourse escalated when user @crytinyte, tweeted that individuals swiftly develop a desire to ship any two characters who share even a brief interaction on screen, regardless of the lack of substantial romantic subtext. This behaviour, according to the argument, has its roots in a sense of social deprivation prevalent in today’s society. The theory suggests that people, lacking strong communities or meaningful connections, seek solace in fictional relationships as a way to compensate for their own loneliness.
I could write a 3000 word essay tonight about how this obsession with ships is emblematic of the chronic loneliness most young people feel in their lives. They have no communities and refuse to learn. Instead, they escape reality by creating delusions about fictional characters. https://t.co/oSC4GDkmvZ
— Subrina, who always has an opinion (@crytinyte) June 23, 2023
Some users were quick to chime in, arguing that in an increasingly digital age, where virtual interactions often replace face-to-face communication, individuals may find it harder to form deep connections and establish a sense of belonging. As a result, the fictional relationships portrayed on television screens become a source of comfort and escapism for many.
Psychologists and sociologists have long recognized the significance of social connection for human well-being. Loneliness, a prevalent issue in modern society, links to a range of negative physical and mental health outcomes. Some researchers do argue that the desire to ship fictional characters can be seen as an attempt to fill the void left by a lack of real-life social connections.
However, fandoms have always existed, and we can also attribute shipping to fans’ investment in storytelling, character development, and emotional engagement with fictional narratives. Shipping is often a form of creative expression and a way for fans to explore their own desires and fantasies.
We cannot ignore the need for human connection in an increasingly digital world, but it is equally important to acknowledge the creativity, passion, and emotional investment that fans bring to fictional relationships. But is it really the result of underlying social deprivation or is ‘shipping’ just a normal part of modern fandom culture?