By now you’re most likely familiar with the term “shipping”. If not, it’s the shortened form of “relationship”. In the old days we called it “slash” to represent the / in between two character names on fanfiction sites. (“Iron Man/Rainbow Dash erotic honeymoon.”) Either way, it’s all the same, fantasizing two (or more!) characters linked either romantically or sexually. Recently there’s been a new “trend” in ship naming. It’s a trend that confused me at first, but I’ve come to love: “Trash Ship”.
The best way I can sum it up is that a trash ship is a ship you KNOW is bad/problematic/unhealthy/wrong and screw it you ship it anyway. The common core, and in my opinion charm, to this is that the shippers and fully cognizant to the unhealthy nature of their ship. Previously this was called “darkfic”. Darkfic has been around pretty much since the dawn of fan fiction. It’s nothing new, and is a concept often explored to some very terrifying depths. An example of a trash ship would be HYDRA trash party which involves loves of abuse of characters within the Captain America universe.
But it’s not just fic. We, as people, have loved dark stories for centuries. The show Hannibal has one of the most intense and dedicated followings. Les Miserables is one of the most successful musicals of all time. Jessica Jones is a wildly successful Netflix show.
It would make sense that the interest carries over into fanworks too. Now discussing the whys of all that motivation is way above my pay grade, and not the point of this article. So what my point, you ask, exhausted with me by now.
Trash shipping is fine. Sometimes even good for you!
(Now that’s a blanket statement, and I feel I should cover my butt and say, “Yes there are some situations that are not ok because it’s carrying into real life.” However this is purely about fan fiction that does not cross to the real world.)
So why am I writing this? Well, for the trash shippers. I, myself, love me some problematic ships. Largely because I love delving into the psychological working of two vehemently opposed forces. It just usually has great storytelling, which I love. However, a rising issue on sites like tumblr (where a tag tracking system is used) is that hate for a ship is being tagged. Now, this happens with all ships, but I see the most damage being done to the trash shippers. People going into these tags and calling the shippers sick, wrong, defective, etc. This is never good for any fandom, no matter what. So I wanted to bring up a few points and maybe you discover your own trash ship in yourself.
Trash shippers, you are NORMAL for liking it. Let me break some things down.
Sigmund Freud theorized that we have two things within us, the “id” which is our instinctual desires, and the “superego” which is our more moral and critical thinking side. These two things do not have to connect for you to enjoy something. It’s how Schadenfreude is even a thing. We know we shouldn’t enjoy someone’s pain, but we do. If we didn’t enjoy the darkness the “horror” and “thriller” genres wouldn’t even exist. We know enjoying the exploits of a cannibal serial killer is wrong, but we enjoy it because it’s a good story. Just like we know we shouldn’t enjoy a problematic ship but we do. Heroes and villains have been romantically linked by fans since the dawn of time. Yes I have seen a trash ship of Harry Potter and Voldemort, and that ship is just as valid as any other ship.
But why? It’s fucked up? Ya damn right it is, and often that is heavily acknowledged but the shipper themselves. I’m trying to go this whole thing without discussing kink shaming because that’s both similar and very different, but for ease, I’ll use it here briefly. People who are kink shamed, or ship shamed, rarely experience it once. They are aware their thing is not good. They are aware you hate it. The only thing you’re actually accomplishing is hurting another human by abusing them for something that may have very natural motivations; such as coping with a horrific life situation by playing it out a different way.
Entertainment takes us to a “safe place” where darkness can be explored safely.
Is there some kink you’ve always been intrigued by, but know in reality is too risky so you don’t? Ship it and enjoy.
Is there a problematic time in your life and you want to read something to survive the situation through a stronger character? Ship it and enjoy.
Is there a character that reminds you of an abuser so much you hate them, and want to read them getting their comeuppance? Ship it and enjoy.
When we consume dark media, we’re running the gamut of “enjoying darkness in a safe place” to “using it as a coping mechanism”, and it’s all valid. Also, at the core of fandom facts, every ship exists. Everything. You can hate something all you want, but it exists. Then if you add in crossover fics it gets really wild. At the end of the day, a ship you think shouldn’t exist will anyway, so what are you actually doing?
Your attacking a person. Not a ship. A person. Everyone has their own reasons for liking something, trivial or deep feelings, and they deserve respect to like their thing in peace. Most people hide it under the guise of worrying about them in real life. That enjoying these things will carry over into real life. But is that really what you think? Or is it that something is so repugnant to you that you lose sight of the fact that there are real humans behind that screen?
It’s been proven that more often than not, fantasies do not reflect real life intentions (see the tiresome “Do video games cause violence” debate). Often people are simply fascinated by the dark stories because they’re often the most compelling. And let me tell you, you can find more brilliantly written, compelling stories for free online than in a bookstore. Add that level of writing to a problematic pairing and you’ve got a recipe for some really thrilling storytelling, or simple safe-place kink fulfillment. And it’s all valid and perfectly normal. I hate guns, they terrify me, but I love FPS video games. They’re fun because they’re not real. The same goes for the ships we enjoy.
For example, I personally detest shipping Jessica Jones with Kilgrave for seemingly obvious reasons. However, I have a friend that ships it, and she did convinced me to read ONE fic to at least understand where she’s coming from. In interest of fairness, I did. What did I find? Such an amazingly thrilling story that I almost began to ship it myself. It had those common thoughts and tones that come from the BDSM community, and that safe exploration of it even when it’s acknowledged as unsafe in reality. I still hate the pair, but I respect the shippers.
I even asked some of the staff here at Ace of Geeks for their trash ships and why they love them. What I found was not people who want these problematic situations in their lives, but a common enjoyment for just good storytelling. Not every story has to be pure to enjoy it. So here’s some of the trash that our staff loves:
Buffy/Spike – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “I think it was that Spike was trying so hard to change for her, but because he was quite literally soulless it was stupidly difficult for him. I liked the fact that it was an evil character who was only capable of evil still trying to do good. I’m a sucker for redemption stories.” Also “because they are both pretending to be harder than they are”
Emma/Regina – Once Upon a Time – “Henry already has two Moms! Why can’t he just have two Moms!”
Kylo Ren/Rey – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – “There’s always something compelling to me about corruption of the hero/redemption of the villain stories. I like both sides of it.”
Damian Wayne/Dick Grayson – Batman – “So these kids both have Father issues and it’s really satisfying to see how they take the family aspects, their brotherhood as it were, and use it in a relationship bonding way. These two have secrets only they can share with each other. They are the only ones to share each other’s experiences. They both handle it in different ways: Grayson is eternally smiling and carefree, and Damian is hardened and violent, from having to grow up too fast. That’s what makes them compliment each other in such a good way.”
Mal/Ben – Descendants – “Basic reform story. Good boy meets bad girl who’s not really bad, and they live happily ever in-the-near-future. I’m a sucker for those stories… lol”
Bruce Wayne/Selena Kyle – Batman – “He saw her for what she was, a broken angel that he wanted to give back flight. She saw him for what he was – strength… protection… yet she was afraid to let herself get attached because she didn’t want to get hurt or trapped.”
Dean Winchester/Sam Winchester – Supernatural – “Dean was forced to be a parent for his little brother and they have very little other social contact. They literally have only each other for what they’ve been through and being close and inseparable why wouldn’t they develop those kind of feelings? They share a heaven, which is meant for soulmates. They don’t have any kind of physical boundaries, always touching, always walking too close. all the signs point to it.”
So trash shippers, listen to me. I’m there in the dumpster with you. I’ve got my champagne and shutter shades on while I read my fourth Kylo Ren/Rey fic of the day. Because why not? This is fiction. That’s the point. Fiction is where we are safe to do anything. If it’s fiction that makes you feel unsafe, stay away. If it’s fiction that makes you feel safe, jump right on in.
The point is we need to start respecting each other. We’re all just trying to love what we love, and we need to stop hurting each other in the process. You are a normal human being if what you ship is not what you morally agree with. You are not wrong. You are not broken. If you feel that it raises some red flags within yourself that’s totally valid too and worth exploring to understand the why and how.
You are not required to only ship healthy and pure relationships. You might even find it therapeutic to NOT ship healthy ships. As long as we’re all aware it’s not healthy, and we’re respecting each other, then it’s a good day in fandom.
Is Lord Baelish/Sansa a fucked up ship? Ya damn right!
Should you respect people who still choose to ship it? YA DAMN RIGHT!
Now go my darlings. Enjoy your trash bins. And if you’ve got a problematic ship you enjoy, let me know! I would love to hear your thoughts on the ship and your theories for it. Because, if anything, fans are the most creative people on the planet.
Enjoy and let others enjoy.