To the ordinary person shipping is represented by the image above. However within the world of fandom it represents a completely different concept.
Shipping takes its roots from relationships. It’s the desire to see characters from one’s shows get into a relationship. One often sees commentary in fandom discusses your “ship”.
“Do you ship Destiel?”
“I ship OutlawQueen!”
One of the other things to mention is that usually names or descriptions of characters that fans ship are amalgamated much in the same way Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie became Brangelina so in the examples above Destiel is the amalgamation of the Dean and Castiel characters from the CW’s Supernatural TV show and OutlawQueen is the amalgamation of the Robin Hood (the Outlaw) and Regina Mills (the Evil Queen) from ABC’s Once Upon A Time.
Fans shipping is a pretty natural course of events for those who get hooked on a show. Everything from Soap Operas to Science Fiction series have those fans who want to see one character get together with another character.
All of these forms of shipping are mostly fun and safe. While there are battles fought by different factions within the fandom, usually the fandom wars over characters are mostly harmless. They do get heated and tempers flare but in the long run everyone knows that the relationships are fictional whether in a fans mind or playing out on the screen.
In Outlander there is but one kind of shipping and it crosses the boundary between fiction and reality. Those fans in the Outlander fandom who ‘ship’ are talking about lead actors Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe actually being involved in a real life relationship.
It’s perfectly OK to ‘ship’ real actors as a fantasy (knowing that in real life it is not a reality.) However, a subfaction of the Outlander Shippers actually believe or want to ensure that Sam and Caitriona date in real life. Let’s call these the Obsessive Shippers. There are other names used such as “Super Shippers”, “Extreme Shippers”, etc…
This kind of shipping is dangerous because in order to convince themselves that these two actors really are dating; they suspend disbelief in everything that shows they are not dating. The leaders of the Obsessive Shippers have created a narrative that, to them, is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe are in a relationship.
The narrative goes something like this:
Sam and Caitriona are in a very secure relationship but for reasons of business; Starz Entertainment has forced the couple to hide their relationship and pretend that they are not in a relationship. For 2016 the business reason was the Lionsgate acquisition of Starz Entertainment that was worth billions of dollars. Now that the merger has happened; it’s now Lionsgate that is forcing the couple to deny their love each other.
The Obsessive Shippers contend that the couple tries to tell their fans in hidden messages on their social media accounts on the facts of their true love relationship. These hidden messages and clues are known in the fandom as ‘bread crumbs’; an analogy to Hansel and Gretel leaving pieces of bread to find their way back to their home in the fairy tale story.
The narrative goes on to explain why the couple cannot just come out and tell the world that they are together. The evil network is controlling their social media accounts and keeping a watchful eye on them so the only way to tell the fans of their love is via these hidden messages. On some Obsessive Shipper social media posts some have suggested that there are times when Sam is able to wrest his social media account away from the evil Starz employees that oversee the account and uses it to profess his love to Caitriona.
Now the couple has said in multiple interviews that they are not dating. Respected publications such as People and Entertainment Weekly they’ve taken the time to say over and over that they are not dating:
E! News Video:
Yet with all of the time and energy these two actors give to denying the rumors in the media; the Obsessive Shippers have come up with the narrative that the couple are ‘forced’ to deny their relationship and lie to the fans by the network in order to keep their jobs. They go to extremes in creating this narrative fiction in that the network (Starz) has employed actresses to portray the girlfriend of Sam Heughan to hide the true relationship. The amount of money it would take to carry off this scale of a deception would sink the entire Outlander production budget for a small outfit like Starz.
Their reasonings are arguably one of the most unbelievable premises but they feed into the fiction they create by dropping tips to (or actually authoring articles for) gossip and tabloid sites. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; create it, report it to a tabloid or write an article yourself and then point to the false story when it’s published as absolute proof of what you believe!
If you read the tabloid stories closely however you see this:
“Sources have claimed that the “Outlander” Season 3 might say that there is nothing romantic going on …” That sentence doesn’t even make grammatical sense; what kind of editorial system does this site have?
Then later in the same article it states:
“Though these reports could possibly be true..” Possibly be true? So the reporter doesn’t even know if what they are reporting on is true! This is how bizarre the Outlander fandom is; unsubstantiated gossip becomes articles that gossip sites cite as a reference and then it gets propagated to other gossip sites!
Unfortunately the behavior of these Obsessive Shippers does not stop with just their denial of any relationship and propaganda article production; they actively harass and attack those that they think Sam or Caitriona may be dating.
They target the person’s social media accounts and using sock puppet accounts they direct their hatred towards the person and then publicly deny that they are behind the attacks. Some attacks were so bad that several self professed shippers publicly declared that they knew for a fact that other shippers were behind the attacks of certain people.
In addition, anyone perceived as being against shipping may be targeted for doxing.(See article on doxing here.)