Some of you reading this may watch Glee or Supernatural, but I doubt many of you are aware of the war that just recently ended deep in fan-space. A non-canon shipping war. This might sound like something fought in international waters sometime in the 18th Century but it's not. It's a knock-down, drag-out fight that has been raging for weeks between fans, bringing down an eonline.com page because it received more views than any post in the history of the site and causing previously civil TV fans to go out for blood. All in the name of a Valentine's Day poll to determine who voters' favourite TV couple was.
After weeks of voting the final stand-off was between Dastiel and Faberry. "Who are these people?" you ask. These are the portmanteau names of two of TV fandoms biggest non-canon ships Dean/Castiel from Supernatural and Quinn/Rachel (Fabray/Berry) from Glee; ship being short for relationship, shippers those who advocate them and canon meaning something actually depicted on the show. Non-canon ships are those relationships that are entirely subtextual, between characters that never officially show romantic interest in each other. Faberry won (by around 70,000 votes, a vote rate of 228 per minute). Out of a choice between any pairing of characters currently featuring on US TV shows, the most vocal and determined fans were those of a pairing many viewers would not even consider friendly, let alone romantic. Suddenly shippers were big mainstream news and everyone was talking about them.
The actresses who portray the pair (Lea Michele and Dianna Agron) tweeted a picture they took together holding a paper heart. Perez Hilton commented on the win calling the shippers 'fanatics' and Hulu's Morning After even created a fan video dedicated to the pair in a segment about the win. Every review site from Afterellen to Wetpaint was commenting. All this only days after Entertainment Weekly ran a four page spread that tried to explain to its readers the world of shipping.
Suddenly these fans had gone from under the radar and unheard of to the poster children for fan devotion. However, this article did a disservice by ignoring the truly fervent shippers, the non-canon shippers; those who would, by their own admission, go down with their ships. The non-canon shippers are a mostly invisible, much maligned and persecuted group, seen by many as the seedy underbelly of the fan world out to derail the work of TV writers, rather than the innovative and unwavering group they are. To be a non-canon shipper is an uphill battle and Faberry shippers fight hard on the internet's biggest fan battleground; Tumblr.
Search for Faberry on Tumblr and you will find a funhouse mirror version of Glee. The characters almost seem the same, but the art made of them, the stories told about them, the worlds built for them to live in are just slightly skewed. To be a non-canon shipper means having to make the world fit how you see it. Glee presents Faberry as former adversaries and tentative friends, the shippers see them as two people who show they care through confrontation, who fight because they are too scared to admit they love.
These small moments become the basis for hundreds of ballad backed YouTube videos and novel length works of fiction. Works of fiction so well-liked that original secondary characters created by these authors become recurrent figures in works produced by other fans. However, being a non-canon shipper is more than grasping at the tiny morsels given to you and building around them, it's about manipulating what you are shown to make it what you want to see. Glee has a scene with Finn and Rachel? Fine, Faberry shippers will rip the image, remove Finn and replace him with Quinn. These new versions often become so popular they spawn their own stories and videos, ones now a step even further removed from the original show. Characters become steeped in what's called fanon, that is the fan created version of canon.
For a non-shipper delving into the world of Faberry would seem alien. References to moments and character traits that have never appeared in the show, but seem commonplace to these fans, would make them unsure that it was the same show they were talking about. But that is because it's not the same show. In fact many Faberry shippers admit to not even watching the show anymore but instead consuming it through the creative work in the Faberry Tumblr fandom. What non-canon shippers truly watch is their version of the show, the version they make from the scraps Glee gives them and the work they create themselves. Ryan Murphy might have his name on this show, but its most invested fans aren't buying what he's selling. Don't tell Murphy but perhaps Roland Barthes was right all along, the author is dead.