From conventions to fanfiction, fans of any TV, movie, or book series can engage in activities “outsiders” may find puzzling. One such practice is “shipping,” or wanting two characters who are not romantically involved (or sometimes not even from the same universe) to get together (Kircher, 2017). As Abby Norman’s enlightening article from The Mary Sue points out, analyzing forums like Tumblr proves even fans ask themselves if shipping makes them “weird” (Norman, 2015). However, there are psychological reasons for the phenomenon, which the 2013 film Hitch (Tennant, 2005) explores.
Some films, another example of which is The Wedding Planner (Shankman, 2001) center on shippers of sorts whose job it is to bring characters together. Hitch has a love-doctor protagonist who works to help awkward men like Albert Brennaman’s dates go well. Alex “Hitch” Hitchens’ heart was broken at a young age, and he pities guys who are never given a chance because more confident men get in the way or cold women refuse to look at them. He explains this when defending the merits of his job to his skeptical love interest Sarah, as shown below.
Raman Passion offers an even simpler reason for shipping in his article for Penn State called Why Do We Ship?. At the basic level, people love love (Passion)! Although romantic comedies like Hitch are in a bit of a downturn as far as success lately, they are still a viable genre, and love works its way into nearly every story. As Passion states, people have a basic social need to be with one another and a biological need to continue the species, so they appreciate romantic stories and create their own (Passion, 2017).
Romantic buildup and subtext are two of the main elements of what make a couple “ship-worthy.” Hitch has both of these in spades. It made the wise choice to focus on Hitch the love-doctor’s attempts to help Albert win Allegra Cole, the girl of his dreams. In the process, Hitch also meets and woos Sarah Melas despite her original misgivings. The film shows the progress of these two relationships, and viewers “ship” them all the way to the end. Some may even ship Albert and Hitch’s “bromance” (a term for an endearing and nearly romantic friendship between two males) into a full relationship based on its growth.
Besides being an entertaining watch, Hitch is like a case study into how people relate to fictional characters and each other. A love-doctor is a fitting metaphor for a shipper. Other, more popular films may have a more rabid fan base and more loyal devotion to particular couplings. Still, the phenomenon of shipping itself is at the base level biological, and, at the story level, a sign that character relationships are well-developed.
- Hitch. Dir. Andy Tennant. Sony Pictures, Feb. 11, 2005. TV.
- Kircher, Madison M. “'I ship them' — the strange concept that's changing the way people talk about relationships.” Business Insider, 3 Aug. 2015. Web. Feb. 2017.
- Norman, Abby. “The Psychology of Fandom: Why We Get Attached to Fictional Characters.” themarysue.com, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. Feb. 2017.
- Passion, Raman. “Why Do We Ship?” Penn State University, n.d. Web. Feb. 2017.