Shipper Fools

If you think the "50 Shades of Grey" phenomenon is odd, wait until you meet some of the fans.

50 shades of grey. Photo by Bill Abbott and released under Creative Commons. Weak joke the work of the editor.

Sarah Tubb

Sarah Tubb

Friday 17 March

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When I started researching appeal of the phenomenal and cultural Juggernaut that is the 50 Shades book trilogy and film franchise I discovered that the fandom is in itself is another phenomenon.  Before I knew it I had fallen into a rabbit hole of social media abuse.

Firstly the books, I read the trilogy back in 2012, I had read the Twilight series and yes I needed to see what the fuss about the fan fiction was about.  I personally didn’t hate the books and there are  definitely better erotic romance books and the reviews are correct

E L James isn’t going to win any prizes for her lyrical prose.  And  I don’t think it was James’s intention for it to read in many places  as a story of an abusive relationship, but her limited and clumsy characterisation and inconsistent dialogue certainly means it could easily be read that way.

A friend asked me ‘as  a feminist and enjoy it?’ I did reply as a ‘feminist’  ‘you can read what you want’ who is to say you can’t and certainly not a patriarchal society telling you what you should and shouldn’t be reading.   

Also  I am in favour of anything that can 100 million people  to buy a book, read it and have an opinion.   And even more so if it is an expressive and  passionate opinion whether positive or negative.

And now potentially that’s 100 million fans to see the movie.  The movie reviews  for the first two parts of the trilogy are at best mediocre the main agreement from critics was that  the source material was so bad that the movie could only improve on that.  

The movie casting and filming was  at the point that the shipping began to gather momentum.   The more popular a fandom becomes, the more active do the fans become online from fan fiction and fan art to of course ‘shipping’  

The obsessing over Ana and Christian the characters in the book  transferred in one section of the fandom to the real life actors, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan creating a portmanteau ‘Damie’.

If you haven’t come across  it before, shipping  ordinarily  happens when fans want the actors who play certain characters to get together because there on (sometimes off) screen chemistry just makes them look good together. 

Research has shown there tends to be  two main kinds of shippers.   The ones who know it is fiction and do it for fun or because they love or would the characters to be together.  And the ones who really think that the actors are or should be together in real life.  The latter type is recognised by their conspiracy theories and stories of film companies and PR people forcing the two actors to keep their relationship secret.  The fact that one or both parties may be married on in a relationship is irrelevant and inconvenient to their ship.  Or in the case of the ‘Damie’  shippers an excuse to constantly publish  hate  on Twitter and Instagram on the actors wife as she is in the way of their ‘ship’.

So now in 2017 there are accounts  on main social media sites, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook  purely to promote the ‘Damie’ ship  many of them spend up to 14 hours a day  tweeting theories on why Damie is real.  Wild theories include ‘he is already divorced, his second child isn’t his or even the actors are secretly married.   As well as in their minds backing up their theories  by  posting film stills, red carpet premiere pictures and promotion interviews as evidence that their ship is real. 

Anything that debunks their ship is ignored and edited out of aggressively denied including interviews from the actors of photographs of Dornan with is wife and children.  All of which they state is PR.  And to maintain their delusion they believe as many shippers that the film company is banning them from revealing their true relationship and that all the actors friends and family  including his wife are complicit in this.

This is where the ship gets scary, the shippers  feel no barriers to contacting the actors or their friends and family to them them.  So much so that both actors and some of their families have had to close their social media accounts.   Hounded off social media by shipping fans who consider themselves to be the most devoted fans.

The fact is with a film franchise such as 50 Shades with its ‘erotic’ content a relationship between the two actors would be double the already box office gold.  They are not making a family friendly mini van Disney style movie.

In a time where ‘fake news and alternate facts’ are becoming more and more commonplace, internet trolls can sit on social media day after day creating fantasy scenarios about real people with lives and families without a second thought of the consequences.

Shipping real actors isn’t unique to the 50 Shades franchise.  A similar scenario is being played out in the Outlander fandom.  Again along with their characters the two main lead actors are also being shipped and abuse is being hurled at their partners. And to add another interesting dimension the main slayer of the fantastical Outlander shippers on Twitter is none other than William Shatner!  Most days he is pointing out the level of disrespect towards the actors and he has even had trolling from the Damie fandom.

Fandom ships have  been around a long time.  I remember 20 years ago forums dedicated to the X Files and much of the message boards were taken up with the speculation on what Mulder and Scully were getting up to when not searching for the ‘truth’.

But shipping real life people, harassing them, their family and friends on social media is a newer dimension and the fear is that is the beginning or maybe a good reflection on society today.   The rise of the social media troll seems to be accelerating and becoming more prevalent in uncertain times.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are having to rewrite their rules on abuse constantly to keep up but so far they are lagging behind.

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