Not Just an OTP: Final Thoughts

Somebody on a podcast I listen to said something that’s stuck with me – “You can feel more for a character than you do for people in real life. So, if you tell me how you feel about a character, then I know how you secretly must feel about me.” Which is true. Watching television is a form of escapism, which means that we can turn off our brains to some extent. What we feel for those characters is raw, and there’s a disconnect that allows us to judge them without the logic that we’re used to in real life. And it most definitely reveals the preferences and attitudes of certain fans.

After all, I’m not going to date a guy who calls Laurel and Felicity bitches simply because they stand up to Oliver – especially if they hated Laurel for doing it, loved Felicity because she didn’t, and then turned on her when she had a backbone. You can call yourself liberal until you’re blue in the face, but if you liked Patty for reasons that boil down to her following Barry around like it was her job and being hot while not challenging him in any way, I’m just…not going to trust your opinions on women or how they should behave. And if you can find excuses for literally every character’s actions but for some reason you seem fixated on every flaw the Black woman has – real or imagined – I’m going to say that the way you’re treating her is racist.

While I can agree that Felicity’s focus has eclipsed Oliver at times, I can’t deny that she started to get hate for standing up to Oliver – the original thing that people hated Laurel for.

What people say on the internet about fictional characters more often than not reflects how they truly feel about them, and they can say it because they have the protection of anonymity. It’s what they feel in their heart of hearts, so it’s going to influence how they deal with women and minorities in real life, how they vote, what they think about abortion and the Charleston massacre and Black Lives Matter. Even though obviously one is on a larger scale than the other, I can guarantee that even though politicians were all surprised that the United States actually elected a racist, sexist, xenophobic reality TV star as president, nobody in fandom was. Nobody in fandom was surprised that sexism is so entrenched in society that so many people overlooked the rape accusations and the “grab them by the pussy” remarks. Nobody was surprised that internalised misogyny is such a deep problem that over half of the white women in America voted for him. And I will bet everything I will ever own that there isn’t a Black person – or minority – in any fandom anywhere that was surprised that the racism spewing out of his and his party’s mouths, and the violence that it would promise for society, came second to whatever reason caused those people to vote for a white supremacist. Because they’ve seen that kind of attitude in fandom spaces. And no matter how innocuous it might seem, it’s always an indicator of how that person truly feels.

When you’re slut-shaming and complaining about women standing up for themselves, you’re telling me how you feel about women. When you’re complaining about the brown person’s feelings because they’re hurting the feelings of the white guy, you’re telling me what you think about the place of brown people in society. And if you constantly declare that the Black woman isn’t good enough for bullshit reasons, you’re telling me how you feel about Black people. Like I said, it isn’t one event that means you’re racist or sexist – it’s lots of little comments and actions built up into what gives you a picture of an attitude. Lots of those attitudes make up society’s attitude. And it’s subconscious, which is why people who point it out are met with resistance and anger – because nobody wants to be thought of as a bigot. But at some point you have to take your fingers out of your ears and listen when people say you’re treating them and others who look like them like shit with your words.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the ships discussed in this series. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the nerdy girl falling for the hot brooding superhero. I don’t have a problem with people who work together falling in love. And contrary to what certain fans on the internet have convinced themselves of, not everyone who likes Westallen has a problem with white people kissing. What I have a problem is the misogyny, slut-shaming, intelligence snobbery, and high school level hatred of the women that happen to stand in the way of both ships, and the blatant and non-blatant racism Iris receives. And even though most of the fans that do this will swear up and down that they don’t, the way they speak about these characters reveals how they truly feel about them.

Much of the hate Iris gets from certain sections of the fandom is because she’s stealing a white girl’s man. They will tell you it’s because of chemistry, science, and emotional abuse. Hopefully I will have convinced you that it’s mostly bullshit.

I used to ship Olicity. I don’t anymore, but I definitely used to, and one of the things that always frustrated me, as a fan of The Flash and someone who has all of her brain cells, was that people used to compare it to Snowbarry. Sure, I could see the similarities, but they were based on completely different things. That’s why I originally wrote this: to highlight all the ways people think that they’re the same thing, and then look at the racism so people would know that it’s inherently different. Oliver and Felicity actually liked each other, whereas a lot of fans simply wanted Barry and Caitlin to like each other, to the point that four years later they’re begging the writers to make sure that “Original Team Flash” is the focus of the show so that making gifsets of Barry looking in Caitlin’s general direction is easier. Now I know people start shipping couples after a cough – it’s the internet – but Snowbarry, as I said, isn’t really about Caitlin. It’s about a white self-insert they can demand to be with Barry. Does anyone really think that if Caitlin had been the journalist, the one who brought his story to the world, there wouldn’t be demands for Barry to date the person who was his bridge to Central City? Or that if she had the brash, ballsy personality that Earth-2 Iris had, there wouldn’t be demands for Barry to date someone who was his total opposite? The ship war on Arrow started when Oliver started interacting with Felicity; the ship war on The Flash started when people found out that Iris would be Black. And since most of the people I’ve seen that ship Snowbarry have an almost obnoxiously juvenile understanding of racism, it’s not likely that they’ll ever admit it.

The original conclusion to this when it was on TVTropes was called “Endgame or Nah?” – but it seems pretty obvious who’s going to end up with who, given that Olicity and Westallen got married in the same episode, to my eternal irritation, and everyone else, apparently. Lauriver, for the most part, has died out. In fact, there are a lot of people who think that any version of Laurel is too good for Oliver, which is suppose I can kind of see. In any case, Oliver seems happy with Felicity, so unless the showrunners decide to throw a massive curveball, I think we all know who we’re going to see riding off into the sunset at the end of the series.

Westallen also seems to be the endgame couple. We’ve seen a future where Iris dies, we’ve seen that Barry is broken without Iris, we’ve seen that Iris is miserable and devoid of hope without Barry, and we’ve seen that they get together in at least two other timelines and on an alternate earth. The writers also seem comically (haha) obsessed with dropping clues from the future about their life together, whether it’s newspaper headlines or possible speedster kids. But Snowbarry will continue – not just because they keep saying they won’t give up but because, as I said, it’s about Iris. They will continue to demand that Snowbarry happen and that Iris’ place be diminished. They will continue to bash Iris for meaningless things, exaggerate the things she does do, or else make things up. They will continue to spin alternative fact narratives as a coping mechanism for the fact that this time, the white girl doesn’t get to be the queen. Because racism. Which is rather unfortunate for the rest of us, but I suppose we must all make sacrifices.

The other reason that I wrote this is because, like I mentioned, resistance to representation does come in the form of directors who can’t find brown people in Africa, or butthurt fanboys who make supercuts of Star Wars movies because the women and the Black and brown people were hurting their white masculinity. It comes in the form of reviewers who are hypercritical of women, of people of colour, of any minority, and always willing to kick them back into a stereotypical box. It comes in the form of obnoxious fan girls who call Human Resources because their self-insert is less important than the Black girl and they were told by AppleCare that the white girl would be the one inspiring love songs. And it comes in the form of fanboys who are always crying about how they want “well-written,” “badass,” and “strong” female characters (experience has told me that many do not actually know what these words mean), but then complain whenever she does anything that indicates that she might desire something in the way of self-respect. Unless, of course, she’s “badass” and “strong” enough to appeal to their fantasy while also extremely talented at stroking their ego, doesn’t challenge their authority, and has a great ass.

The entitled fanboys were promised a world where they would reign supreme, where no one would challenge them, and they’d get their fantasy girl at the end, and the entitled fangirls were told that the white girl would be starring in the show instead of being part of the chorus. Television, films, and books are escapism for everyone, but the specific people who engage in this behaviour want a fantasy to consume and thus rage against anything that disrupts it. Which I suppose could be related to the fact that nobody ever complains when white people are always the stars of films about Egypt, but whenever there are fantasy lands, technologically-advanced metropolises, or dystopian futures, all of the Black people are dead, villainous, or subjugated. However, this series was about shipping, so that topic is another one that I suppose isn’t any of my business.

But if feedback from the creators of works that are trying to be diverse (which, again – I think the definition of the movement should be “inclusive”) consists of white male reviewers who prioritise the perspectives of the men who look like them, and fanboys who demand a fantasy that bolsters their feeling of superiority, and white women who feel entitled to being the standard of woman for all, what are they supposed to think? How are we going to get more diverse stories if the complaints against them are so deftly hidden that we often miss them? Now, I’m fully aware that creators are doing this anyway, but I still feel it’s important that we call out this kind of behaviour. Because what’s hidden under those innocuous complaints about how X movie would have been more interesting if the story had just centred the white guy is a deep desire to maintain a certain hierarchy of dominance in these genres, put forth by people who are beginning to realise their position at the top is in grave danger.

Shipping can be pretty entertaining most of the time. And you can get some great fanworks out of it, as well as some cool people to flail about things with. But one thing I’ve noticed is that it reveals what people actually think about people, how they see women and minorities, and how they’d react to me if we ever met. So it’s not just an OTP.

It’s never just an OTP.

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