SCENE: late weekday afternoon, my bedroom. I am minding my own business when C and T send each other a series of photos of Canadian ice-dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the group chat, utilising the tone of people who have been tired for a hundred years and wish their ship would kiss already.
5:11 pm, me, innocently: “Are they not dating?? My Tumblr loves them. Is this a Leo/Kate situation??”
5:48 pm, me, clutching a pillow and crying, having watched four Virtue/Moir YouTube videos: “I’m pacing around my room angrily overcome with emotion.”
5:49 pm, T, completely unapologetically: “I love this and I’m sorry.”
The thing about Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (click here to understand who they are and why you should care) is that they have this magical ability to turn people from Who? to yelling Did you see this video of them playing the Newlywed game??? at everyone within a five-meter radius in thirty minutes flat.
But how and why???
The reason I think Virtue and Moir are so shippable is because their narratives tap into a symbolic index of shipping that is instantly recognisable and extremely rewarding, especially for a particular subsection of fandom that immediately identifies and loves the kind of tropes that Virtue/Moir embody.
First, a disclaimer: I don’t condone shipping people, especially real people, at them, and write this with the understanding that I am discussing the public story that Virtue and Moir perform – their routines, their interviews, their staged photographs, their TV shows and so on. When I say “Virtue” and “Moir”, I don’t necessarily mean that I am engaging with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as people: I am engaging with the public images of Virtue and Moir.
I acknowledge that this is a tricky line to navigate. It is a separation that continually collapses in on itself, especially when Twitter has rendered public/private divisions extremely blurry, and I know RPF shippers take it too far all the time (like, please, do not put fanfic where your characters, who are also real-life people, can see it).
But I do believe that Virtue and Moir are a) cognisant of the frenzy that they have stoked among people who ship them, both casually and seriously; and b) in part have contributed to, whether actively or passively, this fanonical (and media-fuelled!) interpretation of their relationship through deliberate elision and coyness.
Shipping as textual approach
I argue that shipping is a way to read a text (h/t to the Fansplaining podcast for this framing), and to read the text of Virtue and Moir’s partnership through the lens of romance is an extremely attractive one. It turns a fan engagement with their relationship into something emotional and exciting, because we are constantly speculating about and invested in the imagined back stage of Virtue and Moir’s public partnerships.
When we ship, we are reading against the grain of staged performance. We are hunting for authenticity. This is classic shipping ontology – we are super accustomed to reading against canonical texts (for queerness, for romance, for queer romance), and so this is inevitably how we approach Virtue and Moir.
In Virtue and Moir’s story, this is so gripping because what constitutes “performance” in their case so multilayered. Unlike many other RPF ships, they are deliberately selling a story of passion and romance – at least on the ice. Behind that is a secondary layer of public performance – their interview selves, their television selves, their selves as public celebrities. And behind that is, of course, the selves that appear private to us – the Tessa and Scott we see in warm-ups, synced in soul-crushing hugs, or hanging out by the ice, waiting to skate.
This is why tiny moments like interview “slip-ups”, spontaneous hair tucks, the rice story, kissing during warm-up sessions, and the comment that Moir makes about Virtue’s sleeping habits drive fandom into something that imitates an overexcited beehive. These are unchoreographed revelations that allow us to read against the grain, the grain being: “Virtue and Moir are professional partners who sell romance”. They are fanonical toe-grips that spin into private imaginings of unrecorded and “truer” selves of “Virtue and Moir are in love”, and they are why we continually yell “THE FIC WRITES ITSELF.”
— tina 💓 (@theroyaImess) February 20, 2018
So, when we ship, we are primed to read romance; on top of that, shippers are primed to hunt for romance in the everydayness of casual interaction rather than the grandness of declared love, since showrunners and writers conventionally withhold the catharsis of the BIG DAMN KISS but hook us throughout their stories with throwaways, asides, and hints (see: queerbaiting for when this is done dishonestly).
Which means we say (and in fact we are used to saying), “OK, they haven’t said anything explicit about their romantic relationship, but look at these twelve ways Scott has said he loves Tessa without saying ‘I love you’, because love is real.”
And so Tessa and Scott tremble on the outside edge of resolution. For all intents and purposes, their grand story – the return to Olympic skating; retiring with a gold model – has ended. But narratively, if we have read their story through the lens of shipping, we want the romantic resolution as well – which is why so many of us were kind of cry-hoping that they would kiss on the podium.
Everyone sees it except you
The thing about shipping Virtue and Moir is that we’re all also kind of part of the canon. It’s hyper-metatextual.
More specifically, we are the yellin’, mutually-enablin’, Tweet-threadin’ embodiment of “EVERYONE CAN SEE IT”, which TV Tropes helpfully defines as:
This trope happens when two characters are just perfect for each other, but neither realizes it (or only one realizes it). However, everyone around them—their friends, family, and possibly even their enemies—can see their obvious feelings for each other.
We are the fish circling Ariel and Eric in their lagoon, warbling badly in Greek chorus. We want them to mash their faces together because we believe that we know them better than they know themselves (this is creepy and invasive, I know, but I think it helps to capture some of the collective effervescence that has surrounded #VirtueMoir).
Like, the following tweet is BASICALLY a glorious fourth-wall-breaking wish-fulfillment self-insert mini-fic about how Moir comes to his senses because of our Tweets and tears through the Olympic Village to find Virtue and declare his devotion to her.
I like to imagine Scott Moir trawling shipper twitter threads about him and Tessa Virtue and suddenly thinking, "Oh… my god… I DO love her. I… I have all along." And then racing through Olympic Village to tell her.
— carina adly mackenzie (@cadlymack) February 19, 2018
In conclusion: we are the worst.
Tropes, tropes, baby
My kink is Childhood Friends Turned Lovers, Everyone Can See It Except You, Old Married Couple, Best Friends, Absolute Trust In The Face of Death, Might Set Cities On Fire For Each Other, and Incredibly Intense But Makes Each Other Laugh.
I’m guessing yours is too.
Actually, research says that it is: Friends-To-Lovers and Slow Burn are listed as some of fandom’s favourite tropes.
T and I, personally, love the following trope:
Person A: Reserved, Calculated, Winner of the “Most Likely to Kill in Cold Blood if It Makes Logical Sense”
Person B: Warm-Hearted, Compassionate, Soft Person Made Slightly Cynical By the Fortunes of War but Still Harbours a Heart of Gold
Helpful examples: Mulder/Scully (X-Files), Bellamy/Clarke (The 100), Damen/Laurent (Captive Prince). We’re also all about subversions of this trope, such as Draco/Harry (Harry Potter) and Kahlan/Cara (Legend of the Seeker), where the person you think is Person A is actually Person B and vice-versa. We have abbreviated this as the Cat Woman Dog Boy trope. Do we get a TV Tropes entry yet?
I can’t believe I wrote over a thousand words about this
In conclusion, the Tessa and Scott story is super attractive to us shippers, because the tropes that structure this story resonate with us – and because, of course, we’re also primed to read male/female intimacy as romantic. It appeals to us because it is narratively and textually familiar, which means that we can go in knowing absolutely fuck-all about figure skating but emerge on the other side having mapped their careers all the way back to 1998.
Secondary conclusion: plz do not ship at Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and let them enjoy their Olympic medals in peace. I think we can all agree that the Virtue/Moir story as constructed by us and by them and by the media is super appealing without conflating that with assuming that we actually know how they want to lead their lives.
And, like, honestly, whether they’re romantic or best friends, watching them perform is transcendent even for people who aren’t conversant with ice-dancing. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are selling a story, and we’re sold.