Have you ever dreamed and hoped about two people ending up together, fictional or not? You may have read a book or watched a movie where you thought two characters were perfect for each other and wanted to see them together. Maybe you even took that wish to the realm of real-life where you wanted two public figures or celebrities to form a romantic relationship. We’ve all had those thoughts, but what differentiates those from a harmless fantasy and an intrusive attack on people’s privacy?
Shipping is the term people often use to describe this phenomenon of fans wanting their favorite celebrities to date. Shipping is not a new thing. People have always been interested in the personal affairs of the rich and famous for centuries. Gossip sites and magazines have also always covered relationships of public figures, sometimes even rooting for a specific relationship to either exist or succeed. The existence of social media has further amplified this behavior with fans free to express their opinions and wishes about the personal lives of celebrities.
According to Dr. Derrick, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston, we tend to ship people because of the ‘parasocial relationships’ we form with them. This primarily means that we feel like we know celebrities because we’re constantly exposed to them. This could explain why we feel so entitled to make assumptions and fabricate traits regarding the personal lives of public figures. Their participation on public forums like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. further entices us to fabricate the type of person they really are, even though we don’t know them personally.
Shipping people in real life seems harmless enough for many people. After all, there wouldn’t be so many fan accounts solely dedicated to shipping specific people if that wasn’t the case. Fame and being a part of the public eye comes with many sacrifices, the most important one being privacy. You may be wondering since celebrities are public figures, why is it wrong to express our opinions of them when a part of their personal lives is published everywhere? Paparazzi are free to stalk them and take pictures of them and newspaper columns are free to publish news about their personal lives so why should we refrain from making comments? The answer is not about what we can do but more about what we ought to do. Yes, public figures are not above being criticized by the general public regarding certain actions (like political opinions) they may make but there is a line we shouldn’t cross when involving ourselves in their personal lives. And if there isn’t one, I believe it’s time we draw the line ourselves.
The toxic culture of shipping people in real life is a part of that line we definitely shouldn’t cross. Not only can it affect personal relationships of celebrities but it is a type of behavior that is just not ethical. Wishing public figures would date and sharing that with friends is one thing, but to dedicate entire accounts demanding celebrities to date is going too far. I cannot help but include the example of ‘Larry Stylinson’ (ship name of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson) when talking about this. Many fans of the former boy band, One Direction, believe that at one point, band members Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson, used to date. It first started out as a theory but now there are hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans of the supposed ‘couple’ who wholeheartedly believe that the two have indeed dated or are currently dating. Despite both the band members vehemently denying these rumors multiple times in the past, there have been many videos on YouTube made by fans, ‘confirming’ the relationship. Fans have also labeled them with what they believe to be their ‘real’ sexual orientations, despite neither of them confirming it. Assuming someone’s sexual orientation and trying to force it on them is a whole other level of disrespect and problematic behavior which, unfortunately, happens to a lot of public figures. Things got so bad for the bandmates that at one point they revealed that the ‘Larry’ ship had negatively affected their relationship and their relationships with their current partners.
Like I mentioned before, the invasion of privacy of the lives of public figures through paparazzi and journalism is legal, but is it morally ethical? Imagine being a celebrity and not wanting to take pictures with fans because you’re having a rough day. You go on the internet the next day only to find various articles reporting about how rude and insensitive you are. I don’t think that would be worth being in the spotlight for a lot of people. The same thing goes for people who incessantly ship public figures that they end up negatively impacting them instead. Behavior like this is worth evaluating because it points to a larger question of why we are so obsessed with the lives of celebrities and who they date. The situation is worse for celebrities with families since children are involved. Louis Tomlinson can be used as an example again in this regard because he has a child, who by the way, is believed to be fake by dedicated ‘Larry’ fans. This only goes to show how a lot of people do not really care about the damaging consequences of things that can happen to real human beings.
Celebrities can inspire us with their work and the image of themselves they present to fans. They can simultaneously feel like our friends or distant fictional characters for us. However, it is important to remember that they are neither and they do not owe us anything. Although the invasion of their privacy may be legal, we should remember to have empathy for these real human beings with real emotions. After all, it all comes down to a question of morality and basic human respect when publicly speaking on the delicate private matters of public figures.