"Writing To Cope": Anti-Shipping Rhetoric in Media Fandom

Abstract (in English): 

Hannibal, a drama series which aired on NBC from 2014-2017, experienced an unexpected revival when the show was released for streaming on Netflix in 2020. New fans, many of whom had been too young for the show when it first aired, brought with them a disdain for “problematic” content—ironic given the show itself’s over-the-top engagement with subjects like murder, emotional abuse, and cannibalism. A public incident on Twitter involving series creator Bryan Fuller provoked the ire of these new fans, who perceived an immoral betrayal in his vehement disapproval of “anti-shipping” culture.

The topic of this paper addresses an understudied yet integral element of contemporary fan practices in the new decade. “Anti-shipper” or “fancop” ideology, its followers often referred to simply as “antis,” casts itself against the similarly vehement “anti-anti” or “pro-shipper” faction. The former, made up of fans of all ages but predominated by teens and younger adults, posits that fictional works involving taboo content (rape, incest, underage sex, abuse) should not be created, consumed, or promoted, due to being “harmful.” This position, strongly held, induces “fancops” to heavily police the content created by others, to the extent of group harassment, doxxing, and public shaming. The latter, whose loudest voices are generally older, holds to the stance that since works of art and fiction involve no harm to real people, the positions held by “antis” are puritanical and ultimately counterproductive, especially towards those who create and consume “dark” content to cope with their own personal traumas.

The outgrowth of media fandom as a primarily niche activity performed within private communities of the 2000s and earlier, to a widely recognized hobby and valid form of participatory digital culture in the 2010s and beyond, has brought fan-writers and fan-artists into the public eye, and thus in direct contact—and often conflict—with creators, non-fans, and the mainstream. “In the public visibility of online publication, the insular nature of fan fiction – which could practically be maintained in its previous offline mode – is dispelled” (Lam 2014).

There is much research regarding the conflict in the 2010s between fans and non-fans, creators and actors specifically, as it relates to the “fourth wall” (Zubernis, Larsen 2012) but the newly & involuntarily public nature of fan practices, combined with the dominant and proactive Gen Z attitude towards social justice, has given rise to intense questions of what is permissible in fan activity, as of yet unexamined from an academic perspective.

The commerce-driven algorithmic affordances of this era’s mainstream fandom platforms have had the effect of breaking down boundaries between formerly siloed communities—including subcultures with different ideological and philosophical priorities.

This paper will use the Hannibal incident to explore sociological questions of anti-shipping behavior, its effects on fan literature production, and its origins within a wider digital environment dominated by discussions of free speech, social justice, and cancel culture. It will argue that the conflict is not new, but its new virulence and visibility can be attributed to drastic shifts in digital platform usage by fan communities.

Critical writing referenced:


ELO 2021: Language & Poetics

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Daniel Johannes...