First, take fandom’s gift at turning websites into characters and writing them into fanfiction romances. Combine with Tumblr’s propensity to create relationship pairings for absolutely everything. Add the infectious enthusiasm of Teen Wolf fandom, and finally, just a pinch of revenge.
Mix well, and you have the latest hot relationship pairing on Tumblr: VH1/After Elton. Or, as fans are calling it, “Vhelton.”
What began as a snub has become a crusade by fans of MTV series Teen Wolf to have same-sex pairings—known in fandom as slash pairings—acknowledged by the mainstream media. When queer pop culture website After Elton and TV network VH1 became inadvertent heroes of the battlefield, they found themselves starring as the romantic leads in an ensemble tale of shipping and social media.
It all began when Entertainment Weekly recognized that tapping into shipping, fandom’s universal pastime of rooting for characters to get together, would be a good idea. So they made a poll asking fans to nominate the “couple you’re shipping like crazy.”
But EW somehow missed the fact that fandom is teeming with slashers, thousands of whom flocked to the poll to nominate their favorite queer ships. By far, the most popular pairing nominated was the Teen Wolf pairing Derek/Stiles, universally dubbed “Sterek.”
Instead of letting fans nominate Sterek or any other queer pairing, however, EW balked and excused itself, claiming that these relationships weren’t part of the shows’ canonical storylines— even though “shipping” rarely has anything to do with whether or not a couple becomes canon. Fans were outraged.
Enter After Elton. When EW’s poll crashed and burned, After Elton and its sister site After Ellen created polls of their own, specifically for slash ships—i.e. queer, non-canonical pairings. The polls were huge hits with fans, and Sterek garnered over 250,000 votes in the first round.
Given all the fuss, it’s no surprise that when a fan on Tumblr, niallspumpedupkicks, asked VH1 who its favorite Teen Wolf character was, VH1 saucily replied, “[A]re we allowed to call Sterek a character?”
But no one, at least not the fans on Tumblr, expected the conversation that happened next:
- afterelton: Sterek would find it rude if you didn’t, VH1. Have you voted on the Ultimate Slash Madness Tournament yet?
- vh1: Oh don’t you worry, AfterElton. We’re voting until our fingers bleed.
- afterelton: Sterek is pleased with you, VH1. Very pleased.
- emony: Is anyone else starting to ship VH1/AfterElton? Or Vhelton, as I call it.
- vh1: Vhelton sounds delicious. We anxiously await the fanfic.
- afterelton: I wonder if Vhelton will make the tournament next year? Better make the slash hot!
- entertainmentweekly: we're blushing.
- afterelton: Like a proud matchmaker? After all, EW helped inspire all this shipping.
- teenwolf: BRB shipping Vhelton like there’s no tomorrow. So many feels.
- afterelton: now Teen Wolf is shipping Vhelton. I wonder if we can double date with Sterek?
The good-humored banter between AE and VH1 (“Let’s get lunch!”) is logical, if slightly incestuous, when you consider that Viacom owns not only both VH1 and AfterElton, but also MTV, the network behind Teen Wolf.
“The fans on tumblr totally ran with it. There’s fanfic, fanart, meta.” afterelton minimised the episode recap it’d been working on, bringing up tumblr. “Here, I’ll show you.”
vh1 peered over afterelton’s shoulder with interest. Its eyes widened. “Well, definitely great publicity.”
“You can say that again,” afterelton laughed, tipping its head to one side, probably trying to figure out the physics of the fanart on the screen the same way vh1 totally, totally wasn’t. Ahem.
AE and VH1 reblogged the fanfic with glee, and the Teen Wolf Tumblr weighed in with a playful rejoinder to EW: “This is pretty incredible. STAY OUT OF IT, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY.”
Tumblr began to churn out fanart and character descriptions for all of the players in the saga, including After Ellen, MTV, and, of course, EW. Sterek-based gifs weren’t far behind. VH1 and After Elton remained delighted by it all, as their fictional relationship progressed from buying lunch to buying puppies.
EW, recognizing its unfortunate part in all of this, tried to laugh along when Tumblr user suzvoy, the author of the Vhelton fic, made a photoset in which she cast EW as the aggressor in a remixed scene from Teen Wolf. (In case you’re wondering why one of the characters is Barack Obama, it’s because he and VH1 are besties. No, really.)
“We’re… flattered?” EW tried. When another fan pointed out that the photoset wasn’t a compliment, they tried again: “But hey, if this is a step toward repairing our relationship with the Teen Wolf fandom, so be it. #CantWeAllJustGetAlong.”
An apology might be a good place for the beleaguered website to start. But failing that, participating in a Tumblr shipping meme is definitely a plus.