Thursday, March 26, 2015

The way Kim Possible encourages you to be a shipper

I mentioned that breaking up can be easy was in large part in response to reading too many things where switching partners required way too much drama.  There had to be angst or tragedy or betrayal or hatred or ... whatever the fuck.  This in spite of the fact that I was reading things in Kim Possible fandom and in the show both of the main characters have relationships that end without any of that shit.

Another part of it has to do with my somewhat unexpected introduction to the world of shipping.  A curious verb (well, gerund here) that makes it sound like I'm moving freight.  Shipping is all about choosing, favoring, supporting, or opposing relationships and it doesn't take much of a look at the derivative work I've done here to note that I don't really do that much.

Snarky-Bella is asexual and aromantic.  ("Romantic" in the relationship sense; in other senses of the word she can be argued to be a romantic.)  She is the anti-ship.

Edith and Ben takes the canon couple and runs with it, the default option.

My Narnia works don't have that kind of relationship in them.

Skewed Slightly to the Left follows Edith and Ben's lead and runs with the canon pairings.

The most shipping I've done is probably with the character of Jessica from Twilight.  I've hinted at the possibility of a relationship between her and Jacob (here and here) and likewise hinted at such a possibility between her and Angela (example, example).  If you actually follow those links you might notice that "hinted" kind of overstates what I did.  It's pretty mild.

Apart from that I think I may have said in comments once or twice that if Bella has to be paired off with a character in Twilight, Alice seems like the best choice.

My point here is that I don't do a lot of deciding who should be with who.  When there is call for a romantic or sexual relationship, I generally just go with whatever is already in the work.

Thinking about Kim Possible things kind of forces me into new territory.

See, I have, for a while, had in my mind a Kim Possible universe that sticks closer to canon than Forgotten Seeds and Being more than a Simulacrum with the primary differences being continuity (what happens in one episode will effect what follows beyond the occasional one-line shout out) and diversity (everyone in canon Kim Possible is a monogamous straight cissexual gender role conforming person.)

Forgotten Seeds and Being more than a Simulacrum are both derivatives of a derivatives (but, the question remains, are they second derivatives or mixed derivatives?  how many independent variables are we talking here?) and, like Edith and Ben and Skewed Slightly to the Left I have every intention of following the relationships in the works they derive from.

Something derived directly from Kim Possible is a different matter entirely.

First off, if you want to have a story that covers any span of time you have to ship someone.  When Kim Possible first hit the air (beginning with the 13th episode in chronological order because What The Fuck Disney?) it premiered with a show about Kim trying to get up the nerve to ask her crush out to the dance while Ron asked anyone who was female out to the dance.

Kim had confidence issues, Ron had a lack of standards that was outmatched only by his lack of appeal.

The two of them trying to get dates to the dance was the main issue in the episode with them fighting their arch-foe Drakken coming in a distant ... um ... 15th, maybe?

The emphasis on dating doesn't pervade the show, time gets taken for dealing with things like detention, first jobs, facing fears, balancing old friends and new, body-swapping, ethical journalism, and other standard every-day parts of being a high school student.

But courting* is one of the most returned to topics.  At least one third of the episodes in season one have one or both of the characters trying to establish a relationship being a big part of what's going on.

In the first movie they travel back in time.  (And forward in time.  They do stuff.  With time.)  The advice they impart on their younger selves?  All dating related.

Shipping is not something that can easily be excised from Kim Possible, is my point, but at the same time the series doesn't give you a lot of guidance.

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By the time the idea for the show was solidified into something that could be pitched, the two creators had already decided how they wanted it to end.  They wanted it to end with Kim and Ron getting together.

That's not necessarily a bad idea, but it does play into some unfortunate narratives.  They did manage to avoid having Ron be an Internet Nice Guy.  He was friends with Kim because he wanted to be her friend, not because he hoped to leverage it into being her boyfriend.  But there's plenty of other stuff that went down badly.  Not the least of which being that it ends up delivering a message something like, "Ignore who you're physically attracted to and go for someone who doesn't turn you on at all but is a good friend."

The logic doesn't even 

Let me repeat: the logic of that message is so horrible that it does not allow you to finish a sentence, instead forcing you to break into a whole new paragraph for it is just that bad.

Kim is someone with significant pants-feelings.  There probably would be a decent message to be had in that she might not want to follow them quite so blindly (though, honestly, "teenagers think with their sexual organs too much" is a message that's been done to death), but there's nothing wrong with feeling attraction and pairing her off with someone who she isn't at all attracted to (as the happy ending) kind of sends the message that there is.

But all of this is ignoring an important point:

Kim and Ron getting together was supposed to be the end.

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The plan was to end with them just starting, it was supposed to end at the very beginning of the relationship.  They'd dance together to the Kim Possible version of Save the Best for Last except it'd be thematically better because unlike the singer in that song, Ron actually reveals his feelings.

And so that's how So the Drama ended.  One dance.  One kiss.  For whatever it's worth, the Kim Possible version of "Save the Best for Last" is "Could it Be" which is sung from the opposite perspective.  (Ron is analogous to the singer in "Save the Best for Last" Kim analogous to, and has the voice actor of, the singer in "Could it Be".)

And so it ended.  Kim got together with Ron while they were both hopped up on adrenaline and she was rebounding from a relationship failure so bad that she thought she'd be alone forever.  It's kind of unsurprising that the fandom didn't see that as definitively marking the one true pair.  Both Kim and Ron had previously been shown in relationships they wanted more, only to have those relationships fizzle out, and one dance is hardly a lifetime attachment.

Then the fans rebelled against Disney.  Kim Possible wasn't cancelled because of ratings or anything like that, it was cancelled because Disney had a magic number of episodes after which it considered a show stale.  This arbitrary formula had long been considered bullshit by all fans of shows that were cancelled because of it.

The fans managed to get Disney to back down, and the rule was dropped (which is why Phineas and Ferb has had such a long run.)

Thus Kim Possible Season 4 came about and something happened that the shows creators did not intend.  They had to actually show Kim and Ron in a relationship.

You might think that this would cement Kim and Ron as a pairing.  You'd be wrong.  The relationship was toxic every time it was shown as an actual romantic relationship.  If it was shown as friendship then things were generally ok, but when the two were shown dating it was fucking bad.  The relationship Kim had with a pile of green goo in a human suit that existed only to distract her was more healthy than her relationship with Ron.

Thus, shipping.

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Since you can't really excise the fact that the principle characters are driven to find romance, and the only official pairing is a toxic pile of Do Not Want, any fiction that's going to take place over an extended period of time has to deal with characters in or trying to get into romantic relationships.

The last minute paring off of secondary characters didn't help because a lot of the pairings didn't make sense or were flat out contradicted by things a few episodes earlier.

If you want the canon pairing (Kim and Ron) then you basically have to tear down what is actually shown and build a new version of it from the ground up in which, unlike Season 4, it doesn't suck.

If you don't want that pairing then you're faced with the fact that both Kim and Ron really, really want to be dating someone.  You've got to decide who.  For reasons that defy all logic, Ron has more options.  (Actually, it's mostly that the writer's seemed to have two running gags, one was him utterly failing to notice that someone liked him, the other was getting together with someone because of temporary popularity only to be dumped the moment it passed.)

But, regardless, you have to address it.  You don't really have a choice.  It's too big of a part of the main characters.  It's not precisely sex drive, more of a romance drive.  Take that away and you essentially end up dealing with different characters.

Most of the villains and many of the secondary characters you can ignore shipping with.  Shego, for example, is revealed late in the Season 4 to be so focused on her work as evil sidekick that she doesn't know how to date.  If you want to do a story with Shego and select secondary characters you can avoid shipping.

But for Kim, Ron, Monique, Bonnie, Tara, and the like, if you're going to do a story with them that takes place over any length of time you're going to have to ship like you're Fed Ex.

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Which is kind of new territory for me.  I mentioned that part of the reason for "breaking up can be easy" was reading too many things that assumed it needed to be full of angst awkwardness and animosity.  I said at the start of this post that another part was dealing with entering into the strange world of shipping.  This is how that happened.

On the one hand, it's tempting to pair characters for reasons that are thematic or related to character arcs, and it's also tempting to take into account significance of the character.

I think that's the reason that Ron/Bonnie is such a popular pairing.  The pairing is plausible, but in order for it to happen there needs to be character growth, the two could complement each other in ways that would encourage further growth, it puts out some good themes, and the two are about as similar as can be had in terms of significance.  Ron, as one of the main two, isn't going to have any non-Kim person as significant as he is, but Bonnie is up there.  Outside of Ron and Kim, Bonnie probably has the most lines of any high school student.

On the other hand, if you look back at the source material and ask the question who would be a good match for Ron, the options are basically Tara and Yori.  If you're not going to have him be in a long distance relationship (Japan is a long way from Colorado) that leaves you with Tara.

Tara was basically a nothing character, though.  In most of her appearances she was background art.  In a show that ran for 87 episodes she only spoke in six of them, and she wasn't exactly a major player.

And so when I'm just trying to think of what would happen to a universe where the reset button wasn't pushed every episode, I'm suddenly debating with myself over which ship to support.

The answer I settled on was both, just not at once.  Hence the change over in breaking up can be easy.  That said, I do want to get poly relationships into that universe.  Just not with those particular people.

And that's what entering the Kim Possible fandom does to you.

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* How the fuck does the English language not have a good single word term for "Romantic and/or sexual relationship"?

If I just say, "relationships," then it sounds like I include friendship and familial relations, if I say, "Dating," then it ignores the fact that most of the time what happened was trying and failing to get a date.

"Attraction" covers romantic and/or pantsfeels toward, but also covers significantly more ground so I even something as awkward and circumlocutory as, "pursuing attraction" doesn't hit the right note.  Or rather it does hit the note, but does so as if someone dropped an encyclopedia set on the keyboard and triggered most of the piano.

2 comments:

  1. Good analysis. (And "courting" seems like the right word to me - it's a little archaic, but the denotation is correct.)

    I have very, very little experience doing shipping. Outside of canonical relationships, I think all I've done is (a) make a handful of "hm, I could see those two together" comments and (b) try to invent crack ships for Worm. And I've never watched Kim Possible.

    I look forward to seeing the new serial.

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