MASSIVE ARROW SPOILERS THROUGH 4×17
I’ve written a few articles now which focus on processing fictional trauma, and all of them have tended to focus on fandom reaction to a certain episode of Arrow/Legends/Flash. It’s usually new content that brings out the emotional challenges within our characters that we as a fandom have to work through and process within and amongst ourselves. This week, however, I think it’s time to focus some attention on the elephant in the Arrow room that seems to grow bigger and nastier every day: The Olicity v. Lauriver ship wars.
Shipping, while a newer term for this digital age, is something that has existed for as long as television has. Romantic tension and the will-they-won’t-they of main characters is one of the foundations on which plotlines and sometimes entire television shows are built. Sometimes it’s waiting for the seemingly inevitable two main characters to get together (Lois/Clark, Ross/Rachel, Chuck/Sarah), sometimes it’s a love triangle (Katniss/Peeta/Gale, Robin/Ted/Barney, Sookie/Bill/Eric), and sometimes it’s a bit more wibbly wobbly (Doctor/Rose/River, Dean/Castiel, Han/Luke/Leia). But no matter which way you look at it, shipping is the driving force between many, many shows throughout television and movie history.
So what makes the Arrow fandom stand out when it comes to shipping? There’s the (ridiculously) handsome and brooding hero, and a slew of strong, independent, bad ass women (and more than a few men) to choose a ship from. Seems like there would be something for everyone, making everyone truly appreciate the writers and enjoy their time within the fandom. Right?
I hate to say it, because I hardcore love this fandom. But what makes the Arrow fandom stand out is that the ship wars here are constant, they’re intense, and they are unbelievably negative.
Despite there being a whole host of awesome characters on this show, the primary factions in these ship wars are Olicity shippers (Oliver/Felicity) and Laurivers (Oliver/Laurel). This seems to be because, while the show started out trying to follow comic book canon with regards to Oliver’s love life by building the relationship with Oliver and Laurel (who are together in the comics), the focus fairly quickly shifted to focus on Oliver and Felicity instead. From my understanding, this seems to be because of chemistry between actors, Stephen Amell (Oliver/Green Arrow) pushing for it, and producers not being afraid to go in a different direction from the comics if the story is good. I would imagine this was a highly complex decision with a million different angles to it, but the outcome within the fandom is having two sides. And unlike in other fandoms, these two sides just cannot seem to get along.
So, my general tactic is to look at a difficulty in the fandom and then analyze it and work to explain it through psychological terms. Going through the stages of fictional grief for a character decision? Here you go. Defense mechanisms to explain fandom bickering? Sure. Discussion of the importance of hope both in our show and in ourselves? Yup. This week?
I’ve got nothing.
I found and started watching Arrow late last summer during a very dark time in my personal life. I was an emotional mess, my family was a wreck, and I just could not see a way through. I was without hope, and I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world completely on my own. I put Arrow on the TV for background noise. I’m a sci-fi geek, though I wasn’t that big of a fan of superhero stuff, but it would give my brain something else to be distracted by while I hid from the world through fiction and technology. And then somewhere along the way, I was transfixed. Completely taken in. Hooked. And let me tell you why.
The main characters and superheroes on Arrow have no superpowers. They’re not metahumans or aliens. They didn’t get bitten by radioactive arachnids, or drink super serum. They’re just human beings, making choices. Oliver, the ultimate hero, survived unconscionable amounts of trauma. Torture. Isolation. Starvation. Betrayal. Being forced to kill, forced away from his family, watching untold amounts of people die, including having both parents and his best friend die violently in front of him, not to mention the near deaths of basically everyone he loves at one point or another. And yet instead of choosing to isolate himself further, or to give up on humanity, he chooses to fight for good in the world. He channels all of his anger, his sadness, his trauma into making the world a better place. Yes, he has stumbled along the way, and yes he has had his faith challenged and has regressed at times. But he always finds his footing, and he always keeps going, no matter what. He always, with the help of his team, finds hope.
And I don’t know about you, but I find that to be the very definition of inspiring.
So how do we go from loving this character who has struggled so much, has survived so much, and yet has made the conscious choice to fight each day of his life to make the world a better place…. to spewing hatred and negativity to other real people over who this fictional character should love? How does that happen? How does that make any sense?
I understand that we all have favorite characters, favorite actors, and favorite storylines. And as well we should. We are here because something about this show, this fandom, this universe spoke to us. The casual fan may not be so deeply invested in the day to day analysis of all things Arrow, but for those of us in the hard core category, we are here because our heart was pulled in by some part of this world that these writers, actors, and producers have created for us. Something pulled at our soul, and when something pulls at our soul, we are invested and want to be involved as much as we can. So… why then does it matter which part of the universe pulled us in? Why can’t we find common ground just on the fact that we love the same show? Each of us brings our own history, our own experiences, our own emotions to any piece of art we connect with. We each view it in a unique way as a result. No two people who view the Mona Lisa or listen to Beethoven’s 9th feel the exact same thing. We can all look at the same thing, watch the same thing, hear the same thing, read the same thing and yet walk away with completely different ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
And that’s not a bad thing. That’s wonderful.
It shows us the infinite nature of human creativity and range of emotion.
So why on earth are we fighting over it?!
Joseph Walther is a researcher in the field of psychology who has a theory called Social Information Processing (SIP) theory. This theory posits that relationships formed online are as strong and sometimes even stronger than those formed through traditional face to face interaction. And he has evidence and research to back it up. Now, I don’t have scientific research in front of me for what I’m about to say (maybe someday I’ll conduct some studies if they aren’t out there already), but if positive relationships formed online can be just as strong if not stronger than “typical” ones, wouldn’t that also mean that negativity online can be just as strong if not stronger than negativity we deal with face to face? We so very often think of the Internet as being other than “real life.” Even our lingo supports that. But we all know that in this day and age, for almost all of us, what happens on the Internet IS real life. Just like how fictional trauma causes real emotions, social interactions that take place online can and do affect all of us emotionally in a very real way. Some of us may have better boundaries than others, and some of us may be better at finding positive people to surround ourselves with online than others, but at the end of the day, the words that we all say – whether positive or negative – whether online through text or offline through our mouths — do have an effect on others. Our very own Wentworth Miller (Captain Cold) just gave us a very firm reminder of that this very week.
None of us know what is going to happen on Arrow week to week. I understand that many in the fandom think they know what will happen next week, and think they know who’s in the box. And maybe we do. Or maybe, because the universe that Arrow exists in is extremely timey wimey, we have no idea. Maybe we’re being led in one direction by all of the leaks and spoilers (which I won’t mention here, don’t worry), but it’s actually something else entirely. Maybe it’s all true but then is followed up with something else just as traumatic but for a different faction of the fandom that we don’t see coming. We can speculate and guess and theorize all we want, but you know what they say about assuming. This is a time where the fandom should be pulling together and be ready to support each other when we do finally understand what this entire season has been driving us towards, which is who is in that damn grave. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen. The support we withhold today may be exactly the support we need next week or the week/month/year after that.
Continuing on that train of thought, here are some concluding thoughts that I am directing at every single person in this fandom, whether Olicity shipper, Lauriver, or Other:
Don’t celebrate someone else’s pain.
Don’t model your behavior on someone else’s (i.e. “I’m going to be nasty because THEY are so nasty.”).
We are all responsible for our own choices and our own behavior.
Do you want a different faction of the fandom to act more positively? Well, make sure you’re doing so first.
I encourage you all to listen to our writers and to be a beacon of hope, rather than yet another source of negativity in this fandom.
I encourage you to remember all of the amazing things that ALL factions of this fandom have to offer… the amazing insights, friendships, fan art, fan fiction, fun, and laughter.
I encourage you to go back to the root of this show – of doing good in the world despite horrible and traumatic experiences – and incorporate that into your interactions with others, both in the fandom and out.
I encourage you to listen to our Captain and disagree maturely and intelligently, while leaving personal attacks out of it.
In short, I encourage you to act like Team Arrow. Bicker, disagree, and argue if you must. But when the time comes, pull together, defend each other, be there for each other, and most of all: fight to make the world (and this fandom) a better place.