Pop culture certainly has its fair share of controversies. Who doesn’t remember all the debates about whether Severus Snape was good or evil? Or the whole Captain America “Hail Hydra” fiasco? One of the surefire ways to get people arguing is through a scandalous romance. From the days of "Star Trek," fandoms have always been super passionate about their ships.
While these scandals may not always be pleasant, they sure can catch the attention of fans and reporters for long periods of time. They get us talking, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Groundbreaking representation can fuel necessary discussions about improving the pop culture industry for all its fans. On the other hand, sometimes a controversy can leave fans feeling hurt and excluded. Or just lead to a lot of pointless bickering. Here’s CBR’s list of the 15 most controversial ships of pop culture history -- for better or for worse.
Although Harley Quinn started out merely as a companion to the Joker in "Batman: The Animated Series," she quickly came into her own as a character. There have been multiple incarnations of Harley throughout Batman comics, video games and films, and she’s even got a widely successful spin-off series for herself. Of course, in most of these stories, Harley is characterized by her sad devotion to the Joker, a man who ignores her, physically harms her and sometimes even outright murders her.
In some sources, this love is something to be celebrated. For instance, the film "Suicide Squad" romanticizes their relationship, taking a scene from the comics where the Joker pushes Harley into a pit of acid and altering it so Harley goes willingly. However, many people have viewed Harley’s relationship with the Joker as abusive for years. Certainly, this has not been lost on DC, since Harley Quinn has ended things with the evil clown and has since gotten together with her longtime friend Poison Ivy. Although she will be forever marked by her time with the Joker, Harley Quinn has become an icon for abuse survivors everywhere, letting them know that things can get better.
From the moment word got out that there would be a black stormtrooper lead in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," John Boyega’s Finn has been a subject of controversy. While Finn has definitely warmed his way into the hearts of fans since the initial film release, new debates have emerged -- this time, about romance. At the start of "Episode VII," Finn rescues captured pilot Poe Dameron, who in turn frees Finn from servitude and gives him a real name and a cool jacket. The two are separated for most of the film, and Finn spends his time forming a close bond with the scavenger Rey.
Finn has not yet become romantically involved with either character, but fans feel strongly about the groundbreaking potential of either relationship. With Poe, "Star Wars" would have two gay men of color in love on the big screen. With Rey, "Star Wars" would be portraying a black man and a white woman falling in love (still a taboo) and treating each other with mutual respect as co-protagonists. Currently, FinnPoe may be winning the fight, since JJ Abrams has confirmed that upcoming films will have gay characters. However, only time will tell what happens.
In a series where... well, not a lot of happy things happen, Rick and Michonne’s budding relationship in Season 6 of "The Walking Dead" was definitely a surprise. The moment where this ship first becomes canon occurs when Rick and Michonne hook up on a couch, leading up to a naked confrontation with new character Jesus. Initially, there was concern that this was merely a stunt for the episode. However, writer Scott M. Gimple quickly clarified that this scene was intended to signify the start of a new relationship rather than a one-night-stand.
Fans have since welcomed Michonne and Rick’s relationship as a nice departure from the comics, where Michonne was only allowed to hook up with black men. However, there is growing fear that either Michonne or Rick will get killed off. After all, every one of Rick’s previous relationships has ended in disaster, and the recent episode “Say Yes” faked out viewers by almost killing off Rick. Love may be blooming, but everyone wants to know: is that love safe for these characters?
Whether you love the "Twilight" saga or hate it, everyone knows about the epic battle that was Team Edward versus Team Jacob. Clothing stores were literally selling t-shirts about it. The argument was simple: should human Bella Swan end up with her cold, calculating vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen? Or should she instead find romance with her hot-headed childhood friend, the werewolf Jacob Black?
Those against Edward pointed out how abusive he is to Bella -- telling her who she can and cannot visit, even ripping out her car engine at one point. The Team Jacob supporters say Jake is a much better choice, since he is there for Bella during the months after Edward abandoned her in the woods. However, those in favor of Team Edward counter that Edward is just doing what he thinks is best for Bella and that Jacob is just as controlling, forcing Bella to kiss him against her will. Of course, people outside this argument have pointed out that maybe both of them are terrible boyfriends. Eventually, Bella chooses Edward and has a child with him. Although the series has ended, to this day many people still debate the ethics of portraying Bella’s life with Edward as a happy ending.
In a similar vein, anyone who followed "Avatar: The Last Airbender" when it aired remembers the great shipping war that was Kataang versus Zutara. This was such a big fight that even people outside the fandom were aware of it. Here’s the basics: Aang, the hero of "Avatar," has had a huge crush on his caring and maternal yet powerful water-bender friend Katara since Day 1. And while Katara certainly loves Aang, the series is unclear as to whether this is platonic or romantic love on her part. Aang is a little younger than her, so some people feel that Katara and Aang should have more of a familial bond. Meanwhile, Zuko is closer to Katara’s age and has had such a noteworthy character arc that fans could easily see him compromising and putting real work into a relationship.
And so, the fandom was violently split down the middle on this one. Towards the end of the series, the writers tease at Zutara (angering Kataang fans) in the play episode. Then, during the series finale, they ultimately end with Katara choosing Aang (leaving the Zutara shippers incredibly bitter forever). Later on, in the sequel series "Legend of Korra," the children of Aang and Katara reveal that Aang was a terrible father, much as he was a great leader.
During its 2014 series finale, "Legend of Korra" became the first children’s cartoon to openly depict its protagonist in a lesbian relationship. After Korra and her once-romantic-rival/longtime bff Asami entered that spirit portal while clasping hands and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, the entire Internet blew up. Online news sources were declaring this a triumph for LGBT representation. Conservative writer John C. Wright decried the finale as “an ad for sexual aberration.”
Fans had a wide range of reactions. Some rejoiced at the confirmation of a ship they never expected to be canon. Others were disappointed, preferring Korra and Asami as friends. Still others felt there wasn’t enough buildup to the ending and found it too vague. "Korra" creator Bryan Konietzko agreed with some of the criticism, saying it’s not “a slam-dunk victory for queer representation,” but that he hopes it’s a “significant inching forward.” Regardless, Korra x Asami (aka Korrasami) is well-known for its groundbreaking nature, as well as its ramifications for Mako, ex-boyfriend to both characters. Korrasami is basically synonymous with that awkward moment when your exes start dating.
A few months after Korrasami’s big gay moment, "Steven Universe" broke new ground with a daring episode of its own. In the Season 1 finale “Jailbreak,” the alien Garnet reveals that she is a fusion between two female aliens (Ruby and Sapphire) who have decided to live life as one person. Triumphantly, Garnet raps about the power of Ruby and Sapphire’s love while beating the snot out of a villain who’s holding everybody hostage. Unlike in "Legend of Korra," there have been many episodes after this moment, so there’s much more focus on fleshing out this relationship. In some episodes, such as “Hit The Diamond” and “Keystone Motel,” Garnet un-fuses for plot reasons, allowing viewers a glimpse into Ruby and Sapphire as characters. Then there’s the famous episode “The Answer,” a visually stunning storybook-esque flashback episode depicting the first meeting between Garnet’s two halves.
Of course, Steven Universe didn’t get away with all of this without pushback. Countries such as Sweden and Malaysia have edited out a lot of the PDA in Ruby and Sapphire’s scenes. Plus, many countries refuse to air “The Answer” entirely. When fans complained about censorship of the queer scenes, Cartoon Network UK made the controversial statement that they want their content to be “suitable for kids of any age,” implying that same-sex romance is inappropriate for children. Despite this, Ruby and Sapphire continue to be a power couple in the original US version of the cartoon.
Back since the old days of the Trekkie fandom, Kirk/Spock was one of the first examples of slash shipping in American history. Although Captain Kirk and his right-hand man Spock obviously could never have been together in the 1966-1969 original "Star Trek" series, fans explored this potential relationship through zines and fanfics decades before the Internet became standard. People adored the idea of Kirk with Spock, since many scenes between the two characters had heavy homoerotic undertones. For instance, the most iconic moment of "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" occurs when Spock and Kirk clasp hands through a closed screen as Spock dies.
Despite the popularity of this ship with the fandom, the creators of "Star Trek" went out of their way to deny Kirk/Spock. For instance, creator Gene Roddenberry includes a footnote in his novelization of the first "Star Trek" film addressing Kirk/Spock. In this footnote, Kirk calls the idea of his attraction to Spock a bad rumor and says he prefers women. To this day, Kirk and Spock have never been lovers in canon.
When Disney was working on "The Princess and the Frog", there was a ton of pressure to get it absolutely right. After all, this would be Disney’s first black princess, and, considering the harmful depictions of African Americans in Disney’s past (lookin’ at you, "Dumbo!"), minority groups were deeply worried that the new film would be offensive. When Disney first revealed the design for Prince Naveen, love interest to Tiana, there was a great deal of discourse.
Some people were upset that Naveen is so light-skinned and racially ambiguous. They said they were hoping for an unambiguously black prince to go along with Princess Tiana. Others were happy with the design and felt that it allowed Tiana the potential to romance a wide variety of racial groups. Still, Tiana and Naveen’s growing relationship is definitely one of the highlights of "The Princess and the Frog," even if they are forced to be frogs for most of it.
In the '90s, the "Sailor Moon" English dub was a huge success in the U.S. For many Americans, "Sailor Moon" was a first introduction to anime. However, fans soon realized that the English dub was drastically different from the original Japanese series, due to censorship, line changes and edits. One of the most notable changes of the dub is that girlfriends Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune become cousins. However, the content of their scenes together was not changed too much, leading to some rather, erm, interesting implications.
These two “cousins” regularly hold hands, gaze at each other in bathing suits and just generally are wayyyyy too close together all the time. There was no way this subtext got lost on fans. In fact, it shattered a great deal of trust viewers had in English dubs of anime. Thankfully, the English dub of the 2014 remake "Sailor Moon Crystal" officially restored Sailors Uranus and Neptune back to girlfriend status.
One of the most divisive characters in the "Teen Titans" cartoon series -- hands down -- is Terra. The rock-powered blonde constantly switches sides, due to her own insecurities and the villainous Slade’s manipulation. And while most of the Titans did not trust her, poor Beast Boy was head-over-heels in love with Terra from the start. Over the course of the show, there is a deep bond between the two characters. Terra wants to open herself up to Beast Boy and repeatedly tries to save him even when working for Slade.
However, there’s a deep divide between the two. The typically comic-relief Beast Boy is way too trusting, getting his heart broken over and over by Terra. Meanwhile, Terra’s tendency to assume the worst leads her to be incapable of fully trusting Beast Boy. Ultimately, the couple was very sad to watch and provided Beast Boy’s character with some much-needed emotional depth. Those watching the show were unsure whether to hate Terra for her betrayal of the Titans or to admire the levels of depth to her character. Regardless, we can all agree the Terra arc certainly showed off the incredible storytelling prowess of the "Teen Titans" writers.
Speaking of weird incest-y couples, remember when Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were a thing? These twins are well-known in the Marvel universe due to their closeness and teamwork in battle. However, "Ultimates 3" -- which admittedly takes in the divergent Ultimate Marvel Universe -- takes their camaraderie to the next level. At one point in the comic, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have sex outside beneath the tree. To make matters worse, Wolverine watches them from the bushes and says nothing.
You’d think it couldn’t get worse than that, right? Well, we've got some bad news for you. See, usually Magneto is the father of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. However, the "Ultimates" universe hints that Wolverine might be the father, since he sleeps with the mother of the twins at one point. That means Wolverine may have just watched his two children have sex. Needless to say, nobody was really a fan of this move.
Another controversial move in the Marvel comic universe (MCU) was the decision for romance to bloom between The Hulk/Bruce Banner and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." This placed Romanoff (already repeatedly sidelined in merchandising and marketing for the "Avengers" films) in the position of motherly cooing to The Hulk to turn him back into Bruce Banner for the majority of the film. It also provided audiences with a bizarre scene where Natasha Romanoff compares Bruce Banner’s legitimate fears of becoming a monster to her own inability to birth some babies. Many fans raged over this turn of events for a number of reasons.
First off, there has been exactly zero buildup to this relationship. For most of the first "Avengers" movie, Agent Romanoff’s main concern is rescuing her close friend Hawkeye. As a result, Black Widow/Hawkeye was a significant ship within the fandom. Then, in "Captain America: Winter Soldier," Romanoff kisses Captain America. Secondly, arguments brewed over whether Black Widow’s character should be so focused on romance in the first place. It’s not really a major concern for her male counterparts, who are off, you know, saving the world. Constantly shoehorning Romanoff into romantic interactions with male superheroes reduces her from superhero to love interest.
The relationship between superheroes Luke Cage and Jessica Jones is definitely one of the more recent strongpoints of the MCU. The couple started out as a hookup that quickly dissolved, but upon realizing Jessica is pregnant with their child and bonding over a lot of superhero activity, Luke and Jessica work hard to build up the foundation for a long-lasting relationship. They struggle to balance their work with caring for a child and maintaining the relationship. It puts a whole new spin on superhero life.
However, in the Netflix series "Luke Cage," season one ends with Luke forming a relationship with Claire Temple instead. And honestly, for good reason. In the TV canon, Jessica Jones is responsible for the death of Luke’s wife Reva. And although Jessica believes Luke has forgiven her, it turns out to be Kilgrave’s words instead. Therefore, should Jessica and Luke Cage ever get together in the show, they’d have to deal with a whole lot of added baggage that wasn’t there in the comics.
Even before the days of Twilight shipping scream-fests over a middle school lunch table, there was the original vampire love triangle. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has been involved in quite a few romances, but most memorable are her relationships with Angel and Spike. Even though Angel’s a vampire who went on a murderous rampage upon losing his soul at one point, he and Buffy have a lot of chemistry. Angel’s been forever concerned over Buffy’s safety and worries that a life with him would lead to misery. He eventually leaves town, but visits her at prom before he goes to give her one last great night. After this, Angel returns whenever Buffy needs him.
On the other hand, there’s Spike, who starts out as a villain and ends up joining the good guys. He’s more emotionally troubled than Angel, which Buffy can relate to during her darker moments. Although Spike does start to better himself during his relationship with Buffy, he attempts to sexually assault her at one point, so he loses a lot of points with the fandom. Eventually, Spike sacrifices his life to stop an apocalypse, so the romance with him ends there. Fans have argued the pros and cons of both ships for two decades. However, just recently Buffy creator Joss Whedon announced that he prefers Buffy with Spike.
What is your favorite bit of fan shipping? Let us know in the comments!