There has been a troubling pattern forming in the fandom community over the last several months. As the quality of shows like Arrow and the previous season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (note: this season of SHIELD is much better and I’m not watching Arrow anymore so I can’t comment on that) began to decline, a certain segment of fans began to come out of the woodwork and began to play the blame game for this dip in quality. In the cases of both Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a certain segment of the fanbase decided it was all the fault of another; in this case it was mostly the fanboys blaming the “shippers” for ‘ruining’ their show.
A ‘shipper’ is a fan, usually a woman though not always, who pairs characters into various romantic and platonic pairings. They tend to be very invested in this particular pairing one way or another and they are also often the most passionate and vocals fans. They also tend to be the people producing a large amount of the art, fan fiction, and graphics online. These shippers are not new to this generation of fandom, they have been around for as long as there has been media for people to be fans (but that’s a different article that I’ll be writing) but the Internet has given everyone a much louder voice and places to meet up with like minded fans.
The first example, Arrow, is probably the most prominent. All you need to do is spend five minutes in the comment sections of any articles involving Arrow and you’ll see people saying the severe dip in quality in Arrow is due to the ‘Olicity’ fans. These are the fans who ship characters Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak and they tend to be very vocal. There is an entire segment of people who watch Arrow that place the blame of the show’s dip in quality entirely on the shoulders of these fans and that is not right. There is only one group of people to blame for the dip in quality of Arrow and that is the people working on Arrow.
Marc Guggenheim and his writers have to take responsibility for their own stories and make sure that their fans understand that their decisions are their own. There is a large subset of the fandom trying to outst another subset because they believe they have influence on the writers room in negative way. If Guggenheim and his writer decide to pander to a certain subset of fans that is not the fault of the fans but of Guggenheim and his writers for not having the confidence in their own material. The fans haven’t done anything wrong, they are doing what fans have always done, it’s the showrunners that decided that listening to them was the way to go. That is entirely on them and not on the fans and the showrunners need to discourage this dispute with fans by setting the record straight.
The other example is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season three. What started out as a very good season seemed to completely fall apart in the middle. A critic and youtuber that I usually agree with made an entire video blaming the entire season on the various shippers. He argued that the dip in viewers meant that the showrunners, Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, had to start to pander to the fans that were already there and those were, at least a decent amount of them, identified as shippers. There was hardly a storyline in season three that didn’t have some sort of couple involved and it was bad storytelling but that, again, was not the fault of the fans. The showrunners didn’t have to pander to those fans and the show is improving every day because it appears to have stopped doing that. Instead they used the fourth season for a soft reboot and are doing their own thing again. They regained their confidence in their own material and they are improving for it.
There is another angle of this that is disturbing when it comes to blaming shippers for the quality of a show. As I mentioned shippers tend to be women and the people complaining about the shippers tend to be men (though that is not always the case, obviously). It is another thing that feels very much like the boys trying to keep the girls out of the clubhouse. It feels like male fans are blaming female fans for any problems their show might have. They are blaming the wrong person and there have been incidences where a creator has begun to pander to the fans and the fans blamed the right person; the Star Wars prequels.
For all of the faults of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and there are plenty, it was trying for something different. It perhaps wasn’t what fans were looking for, though, or what they wanted and they were very vocal about it. So George Lucas did what the showrunners of Arrow and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; he pandered to the fans. He brought in a bunch of new characters and brought in Boba Fett and the movie was somehow worse than the first one. The fans blamed Lucas for this, perhaps not realizing that he was pandering to them until later, and the movies suffered for it. No one blames Star Wars fans for the quality of episode two, they blame Lucas, and that’s the right person to blame.
The quality of a show that runs for more than a few seasons is always going to go up and down but Arrow and to a lesser degree Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are not the fault of the shippers. If the showrunners don’t have the confidence in their own material and that the only way they’re going to keep fans is to pander to them, then that’s their fault and not the fans.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to be a fan but when it comes to the quality of a show the fans are never the ones at fault.