Hats off to fans; they get stuff done. The latest evidence of this is the ways in which shippers (Vocabulary lesson for the unfamiliar: Shipper, n.: short for relationship-er; people who advocate for particular couples in media objects)—and particularly shippers of non-canon (i.e. not officially existing in the text of the media object itself) couples completely took over E! Online’s 2012 TV’s Top Couple Tournament.
The site’s “weeks-long bracket-style tournament” started with 64 couples, many of which were “real” on the show and therefore might be considered to be more legitimate than those existing only in the slash goggles of the beholder(s).
Slash Goggles, n.: A prosthesis enabling one to see desire where it might otherwise be invisible; though the “slash” part indicates specifically same-sex desire, there are surely heterogoggles as well, though less often required. For a great rundown—and the place where I first heard the term—see Julie Levin Russo’s Hera Has Six Mommies (A Transmedia Love Story). Because apparently I can’t blog without Julie.
Despite the potential for legitimacy deficit, as the voting went on, many of the goggle-authorized pairings advanced through round after round, handily defeating couples for which there was explicit textual evidence. By the final four, there was just one canon pairing, which was same-sex: Brittany and Santana from Glee. And there was just one heterosexual pairing, which was non-canon: Castle and Beckett from Castle.
When the voting came down to the final two, lo and behold, both couples were same-sex and non-canon: Faberry (Quinn and Rachel, played by Dianna Agron and Lea Michele from Glee) and Destiel (Castiel and Dean, played by Misha Collins and Jensen Ackles from Supernatural).
The surviving pairs weren’t, however, incestuous, which was a real possibility given the popularity of Wincest in Supernatural fandom. See Catherine Tosenberger’s 2008. piece “‘The Epic Love Story of Sam and Dean’: ‘Supernatural,’ Queer Readings, and the Romance of Incestuous Fan Fiction.”
E! staffers seem to have been pretty surprised by how the tournament went. In round two’s post:
Wow. Just when you think you know which couples have the biggest fan bases… Lots of shockers in the first round of our annual TV Couple’s Tournament! A Glee favorite knocked out, unconventional pairings triumphing over long-established love affairs, and a very normal married couple taking down a supernatural romance. These are all reasons we so thoroughly enjoy our TV Couple’s tournament, because no win is guaranteed.
The tone became surprised and condescending by round five: “Don’t go changing, shippers. Especially now that we’re down to only four in our TV’s Top Couples tournament and we need your crazy Internet ways more than ever.” Then, in the last voting post: “Holy fandemonium. You Glee and Supernatural fans are passionate when it comes to this final round of our TV’s Top Couple tournament. How passionate? Well, let’s just say you nearly crashed the entire site yesterday!”
E! found the intensity to be surprising and indeed suspicious enough to warrant verification:
Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) and Quinn Fabray (Dianna Agron) from Glee have won our TV’s Top Couple megapoll! Now, when we say “mega” that is, in this case, apparently an understatement. The fans for “Faberry” (Fabray/Berry) as they call themselves, set a new record high for page turns on E! Online for any single post in the entire history of the website. Umm…yeah, we are just as stunned as you. Also, we did an investigation into this voting and it showed no signs of false play among “Faberry” fans: Just a group of hardcore, dedicated shippers who organized mass-voting times (all hours of the night), and obviously took this thing very seriously.
But it’s perhaps a sign of the times that the non-canon nature of the outcome seems to have been more distressing to them than the same-sex aspect. Or, rather, the same-sex aspect was distressing because non-canon:
Now, I know what many of you who casually watch Glee are thinking: What the what?! Are Rachel and Quinn even a couple? And wait a minute, aren’t they straight? Why yes, yes they are, as far as we know. But the “Faberry” fans believe these two belong together. And from the very first step of this Top Couple tournament, they represented, making sure that the pair received a nomination. As you may or may not recall, we left the nominations solely up to you. And after starting with 64 couples, we are left with the winners, Rachel and Quinn.
However, for all of E!’s shock and awe, the incident didn’t surprise me. (Well, I was somewhat surprised by the scale—almost 400,000 votes in the final–but not the outcome). People who are denied official acknowledgement of their desire already have to be more affectively attached and put in more work to make it happen.
Moreover, the poll as a chance to make extremely visible to the people making Glee that this desire exists probably had something to do with it. Certainly, one fan site had it that the winning couple would have an interview—which I can’t find substantiated at E! anywhere, but was probably inspiring even if untrue.
It just goes to show that shippers and slashers, for all their supposed “resistance” to the text, would ultimately really love for their couple of choice to be legitimized by appearing explicitly in the text—even if they would reserve the right to critique the execution—and this sort of entertainment-website poll is one way toward that goal.
Certainly, the actors involved in the couples in question felt a need to respond to this desire on the part of the fans. E! posted
a little message we got from Misha Collins (who is in the final two) after his pairing (Dean and Castiel) beat out Community’s Jeff and Annie in the second-to-last round: “So often Hollywood and pop culture portray relationships that don’t reflect real life and relationships that lack a moral compass. I think it’s nice to see a stable couple with grounded values getting this attention over that perverse relationship between Joel McHale and that girl on that other show. I mean, look how they’re kissing. It’s disgusting—you can tell they’re not even using tongue.”
Quipping, “Just when you thought you couldn’t love him more.”
And then Agron tweeted this picture of herself and Michele,
captioned: “In honor of the voters! @luanarama: @DiannaAgron @msleamichele Faberry won the best couple on E! http://www.eonline.com/news/watch_with_kristin/tvs_top_couple_tournament_winner/294212 http://yfrog.com/es75gsknj“
So, you know, here’s another way in which fans may be powerful, though I say that with a sizeable grain of salt (perhaps even a salt-crystal boulder). By sheer dedication and time put in, they got to see what they wanted, even if only for a minute, and even if the (platonic) Faberry scene that appeared in promos was ultimately cut from February 21st‘s episode over their #DontCutFaberry trending topic objection.
And, if we’re thinking about the power of fan desire, it may be a total coincidence, but I’m quite suspicious about the timing of Agron publicly smooching the guy she supposedly broke up with in December the day those results came out. Maybe even straight girls need beards if people think they’ve got the gay. (Commenter Phil at this thread had the same suspicion)