Armitage stands in the back, or: Tropes Armitage fans live by
Bizarrely, in so many ways, this is post #1,001. Odd that it would fall today, precisely. As I publish this, I count 896,401 hits and 28,695 comments recording our mutual conversations. To everyone who reads this unusual patchwork text, thanks very much for your patient support of “me + richard armitage” over the last two and a half years, whether through reading, commenting, thinking, linking, writing your own responses elsewhere, agreeing, disagreeing, or praying. The latter is particularly valuable. It would be impossible for me to put in words, tonight, exactly what this blog has meant to me, but its meaning for me has been considerable and will likely grow in the next months. I’m very grateful to all of you for your amazing generosity and understanding.
The cast of The Hobbit on stage with audience members during Ian McKellen’s benefit performance for Isaac Theatre Royal, June 23rd, 2012, State Opera House, Wellington, NZ. Richard Armitage is circled in blue. Source: L’Amour, c’est mieux a deux
On the whole question of Richard Armitage’s alleged or potentially actual tendency to lurk in the background of publicity, given how many comments I wrote, you’ll have guessed that this is a relatively personal question for me, and I had pieces of this post drafted even before he showed up onstage in Wellington last weekend and moved to the side and then the back of the stage. Which actually made me think I should leave it.
I’ve also written about several aspects of this question before. For example, I’ve already written about the question of his career trajectory in many different forms: as a comment on the importance of projects with a higher culture component (part 1 and part 2) and also as comment on whether he should appear at fan convention events (so I am glad that the way he’s quoted in Total Film suggests that he’s taking this prospect with good humor, even if I suspect he’s clueless about Hobbit fanboys). I commented favorably on his openness about his conclusion, some time ago, that he needs not to worry about what his fans think. In response to the sudden Internet appearance of a marketer at UA, I’ve talked about my hopes that he focuses on what’s important to him, and tries to ignore the branding issue.
So I thought I had said most everything I had to say. But I thought of a new angle, and it preoccupied me while I was driving from office to office, and it’s turning out to be fruitful, because it may allow me to write about a topic I’ve been trying to broach for almost two years and haven’t been able to make myself.
I had actually planned to be writing about something else but there you have it. Maybe “fun” Servetus will come back soon, but I seem to be jinxed in that regard at the moment.
Mr. Reluctant Rented-Tux Red Carpet as was: Richard Armitage at the BAFTA TV Awards, London, England, May 20, 2007. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Caveats / assumptions. I shortened this section just because Pinup said a lot of things that I essentially agree with already.
- The information we lack for determining anything about Richard Armitage’s decisions on the issue of his relationship with putting himself forward for publicity prevents us from drawing any meaningful conclusions with real-world purchase. It’s all speculation. No less than what I say below. So I am not willing to say that fans can ever know best, in the conventional sense of that phrase, anyway. We know, at most, what we want best. It’s fine to discuss that and disagree — even in public — as long as we acknowledge it’s primarily about us and our desires.
- The evidence we have is problematic. I try to understand data I have about Armitage in good faith. But: Richard Armitage gets asked a question; he thinks about the actual answer; he negotiates in his mind what he can / should / must say; he tries to communicate the result of that negotiation to the interviewer; the interviewer writes about his answer; the interview is edited; I read it and you read it; you read what I’m saying about it. What a game of telephone. Humans misunderstand as much as we understand — sometimes accidentally (failure to consider certain perspectives may exist — hence my encouragement to would-be analysts to turn their perspectives inside out), sometimes on purpose (refusal to acknowledge that the world could differ from our perceptions). We have no choice but to reason via approximation, but while there are better or worse approximations of any evidence, all of them are inexact, including those we make about ourselves. (Think how often you’ve thought, “I can’t express exactly how I’m feeling” or made a statement that’s imprecise, but appropriate to a situation.) Certain of his behaviors and speech patterns look particularly recognizable to me — and some of those make up a big part of my attraction to him, frankly — but this recognition pertains to my frameworks, not about his behavior.
- Richard Armitage has some choices available to him about publicity but not all potential options. He can possibly say no to a particular venue but not determine which offers will be made to him. I would love to see him interviewed in the New York Review of Books about his reading habits, for instance, but that’s not likely. Mr. Armitage chooses from among options he has, whether these are offered or he works to make them available.
- Since his minor role in Captain America: The First Avenger garnered him two lengthy interviews in The Scotsman and the Daily Telegraph, there’s no reason to think that his options are not likely to continue to expand and improve.
- Right now, the publicity machine for The Hobbit makes most of Richard Armitage’s decisions about interviews, not Richard Armitage himself, and barring the announcement of a new major role for him with its own promotion apparatus, that will likely continue to be the case for quite a while. His past ongoing presence on British television meant that he had to be visible to remind potential audience members to tune in. The PR team for The Hobbit obviously has a different strategy. I expect Richard Armitage to continue to fulfill his contractual obligations in this regard, particular as regards any information embargoes that may be in force (see message of May 29, 2011).
The place where Pinup started on this theme had to do with materials that appeared on Richard Armitage Confessions about Armitage being crowded out by other actors and or not getting something he deserves from his work The Hobbit, or being less lucky than other actors with his publicity team. And that issue — the statements we make about Armitage’s retiring nature — has interested me for a long time. I imagine that most of this discussion has emerged in response to the “drought dynamic” we’re experiencing and from which some fans have been suffering intensely. In the place of data, our imaginations naturally jump in — unsurprisingly — to fill in the blanks. What’s interesting to me is that this particular discussion fills this particular blank — that in a situation where little to no publicity is appearing, one response is to discuss the possibility that Armitage is being accidentally or purposefully damaged by himself or others.
Of course, that conclusion is one reading of the evidence. The explanations that emerge to explain Armitage’s apparent reticence tend to follow relatively predictable patterns or tropes (topoi) that we use to describe Mr. Armitage. All of these tropes have evidential arguments available both for and against them, and because the evidence for them is so broad, they can be made to serve many purposes. We encounter a few of them quite regularly. The boundaries between them are not entirely clear, and they are not mutually exclusive, but they are all fascinating. In what I say below, while I link to evidentiary justifications for the tropes, I’m not linking to examples of the tropes as they appear among fans, because the point of this piece is emphatically not anything that might appear to be personal criticism, and I’m just as guilty of filling in the blanks following my own tastes and worries as anyone else. In short, if you recognize your own attitudes in some of what I write: I am not throwing stones. Rather, I want to explore the tropes and talk about why they appeal or don’t appeal and what that says about all of us as fans involved in the fascinating but futile project of trying to figure out who Mr. Armitage really is.
Richard Armitage, publicity photo, 2009. Source: Русскоязычный Cайт Pичардa Армитиджa
“I want to be [let] alone Armitage”
One possible explanation is that Mr. Armitage is actively staying out of publicity or avoiding public appearances for reasons of personality. This hypothesis relies on the assumption that Armitage is almost painfully personally shy or (in extreme readings) would prefer, in the best of all possible worlds, never to have to encounter fans or publicists. The latter reading relies heavily on evidence like newspaper reports that note his ambivalence about fan adoration, as well as, I assume, on an early message in which he mentioned liking Keane’s “Hamburg Song,” with its chorus, “I don’t want to be adored” (July 24, 2006). A variant reading that I occasionally encounter is the sentiment that at the beginning of his career he liked his fans, but has changed his mind about them either out of bad experiences referenced in his messages (e.g., 29 April 2007; 22 April 2008) or simply out of greater awareness that he can’t have an open level of involvement with us (or out of frustration with the press coverage and the career problems it generates — see below). Never having met him, I have no context for judging his personal behaviors, but it seems to me rational to conclude on the basis of statements made by interviewers in the press and reports of fan encounters that while it is sensible to preserve a space between oneself and fans, and while he is perhaps innately modest (or was socialized to be), mild-mannered, and / or introverted, he is not abnormally aversive of other humans, including fans who appear in appropriate venues and behave themselves. If we look at this report of a fan encounter last weekend, while Armitage was not shoving himself in people’s faces, there’s no indication that he was running away from attention, either, or consciously avoiding fans. He was there to aid in a fund-raising effort and did what was asked of him without exhibiting noticeable personal tics that indicated fear or distaste for the people around him. He regularly poses for pictures with fans and we see them and he never looks uncomfortable (or if he is, he hides it successfully for the purposes of the picture). Consequently, I admit that I’ve never been convinced that Richard Armitage is actually or consciously hiding from the limelight.
“Bloody Internet!” Richard Armitage as Lucas North in Spooks 8.2. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Another possibility is that Armitage actively avoids publicity because of distaste he feels for the press and / or reading opinions about himself. This position is supported by a statement about how he stopped reading his press because a single negative comment would stay with him. A frequent corollary of this position that emerges occasionally in discussions among fans (although he has never made this request, despite occasional comments on the honesty of his fans in evaluating his work) is that we shouldn’t say anything that risks offending him anywhere where he could read it, because it would hurt him. We also have speculated more than once that he hates answering certain questions over and over again (“the circus”; “the pants”), although his demeanor doesn’t strongly indicate impatience on his part (apart from one interview in which the impression of frustration was as much created by the reporter’s editorializing as it could be extrapolated from his own statements). If in fact he hates the press, however, it seems unlikely that he would have accepted quite so many interviews in the last eight years. He certainly had professional obligations to talk about his participation in certain projects, but he’s been interviewed beyond those demands. Transcripts of complete interviews don’t seem to indicate undue discomfort or hostility to members of the press when topics range beyond the immediate question of the project he’s promoting (example: David A Stephenson interview).
That Armitage fell into the purview of the press, initially, was due entirely to his fans of the first hour after North & South, who crashed the BBC message board and then created their own venues — a development that gave him a sudden visibility as a sort of seven-day wonder — an actor so amazing that he threatens the stability of the Internet! This phenomenon spurred at least one report on him before he’d done any other projects, merely because of an event that was a relative oddity at the time but would no longer surprise us in the least. Speaking from a media history perspective, he was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on that particular performance; but this means that a vital piece of his media presence was constituted by the very dynamic that we have speculated he might be frustrated about — the influence on the creation of his career by fans — a state of affairs that would reasonably foster a very bifurcated reaction. So I can imagine that, just as his relationship with fans has changed over its history and in light of various interactions he’s had, his attitude toward press as he went from being an actor who’d never had a press review before North & South to being able to read about himself regularly if he wants to remains a developing one. I can only guess what the elements of the development of his attitude toward press might be: curiosity, gratitude, appreciation, disgust, fear, fatigue, annoyance, self-doubt, rage, joy, anticipation? I don’t know. But in any interpretation, it’s hard for me to exclude his relatively early awareness that the press could do him good, as in a message of 11th September 2006, where he acknowledges the role of the press and that he’s going to have to figure out how to deal with it. That message included both an apology for apparent indiscretion on his part reflected in statements a newspaper reporter quoted about his sexual history in a press interview, and the intriguing comment: “the arena which I work in trades with this kind of information currency, I intend to be a spendthrift in future.”
A disguise Richard Armitage is thought to be using to hide from public view. Source: Me, My Thoughts, and Richard Armitage
The evidence already cited above suggests that Richard Armitage is neither an extrovert, an attention-seeker, nor a publicity hound. We’ve never had any indication that even once people started to know who he was, he ever exploited their awareness of him to appear in the spotlight, which suggests that he never sought to become a celebrity as opposed to an actor. So another question that we could ask ourselves is whether there’s something Richard Armitage doesn’t wish people to know about him. My impression is that the fans in my circles don’t raise this possibility, or at most rarely, not least because it conflicts with a very popular trope discussed below. Now, almost inevitably, the answer to this question is yes, in that we all have things we’d rather people didn’t know about us for any number of reasons; it’s almost a part of the human condition. (Servetus references her own admission that she’s done things that would have prevented her from being elected president, were they known, and her refusal to state what said actions were.) At the same time, however, given the wide range of things we’ve learned about him in interviews over the years — including things we’d never have had to have known, and which he has potentially regretted disclosing (the names of his parents and of his nephew, perhaps, or the neighborhood where he lives) — it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Armitage is actually rather willing to be talkative for whatever reason. He probably has the standard number of things to hide, as we all do, but it’s difficult to argue, particularly given the profession in which he works, that he’s unusually private. And in fact, the two things are not mutually exclusive. One can say a lot and still omit decisive information without necessarily having misrepresented oneself. Anyone who teaches for very long realizes this — one way to create connection with student audiences lies in the judicious release of harmless personal information.
Richard Armitage among the dwarfs in some kind of warm-up or preparation exercise for filming The Hobbit. Screencap from The Hobbit pre-production vlog #3. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
This reading of Mr. Armitage suggests that the reason he doesn’t push for publicity and moves to the back of the stage, both figuratively and literally, relates to his fundamental virtues. These virtues are read both as professional (after appearing on stage at least since he was a teenager, he knows that the tall man has to stand in the back row — an impression sustained by his discussion of his early stage training, which emphasized discipline) and personal (see, for example, the Zen poem he shared with fans on 29 April 2007; or his regular suggestions that fans should donate to charity rather than sending him gifts, or the reports of how extremely hard he works to prepare for roles, going so far as to be waterboarded to learn what it was like; or the univocal agreement of co-stars that it is a pleasure to work with him). When we see pictures of him preparing (as in The Hobbit vlogs, or the Hood Academy extras) he always appears to be working so hard. He stands on the set himself for lighting tests. Now, I personally like this reading a great deal and I also think there’s a great deal of evidence to support it — which always gratifies me when I read it. I like to be the fan of a class act. And long-time readers are familiar with my own positive relationship with work. I’m also leery of saying too much critical about this issue, because it’s a facet of the identity question that I broached two summers ago and which generated my first experience with trolling, but I’ll try and hint, without saying that Armitage is not virtuous, that just like vice, virtue is also a performance — it’s just one that some of us, presumably Richard Armitage among them, can live with more easily. I’m also not entirely convinced by depictions of Armitage as a “real artist” when they rely on comparisons to people who seek the public eye primarily for celebrity. Presumably most good to great actors put a lot of work into their performances — all acting is a team effort, and there’s not much room in an expensive production, where every minute of filming has to be apportioned carefully, for regularly clowning around. Finally, I want to ask the obvious question here about the possibility of false consequence — does he retreat to the rear of the stage because he is virtuous, or do we read him as virtuous because he retreats to the rear of the stage?
Richard Armitage, in his role in the powhiri to start off filming of The Hobbit, moves his left hand in a gesture frequently seen among singers, sometimes used to facilitate breathing and flow in nervous situations. Screencap from The Hobbit preproduction vlog #1. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
This trope would suggest that even if Armitage is not personally shy, fan-averse, or press- or publicity-averse, he may still experience stage fright or some sort of nervousness or performance anxiety when he appears on a live stage. This reading relies on his own statements in the press about wanting to perform as a teenager, but not wanting to be watched, about being worried that anyone who saw him would think he wasn’t very good (I’m thinking this statement was in an old Sunday Times article that’s now behind a pay wall?). I would argue that it is potentially also a consequence of statements he’s made about loving a rush while skiing, seeking loss of control even as he fears it, and the exhilaration of appearances on stage, insofar as all of these statements involve a component of relationship to one’s fears or exploitation of anxiety in particular kinds of situations. And we occasionally see behaviors or tics that may point at nervousness, such as the rocking back and forth on his legs in Wellington last weekend. I don’t want to apply that this state of affairs is either / or: most performers realize that a certain amount of adrenaline in the system affects a performance, and that the key to a good performance is putting oneself in the position to get the right amount of it. If we discard this reading, it tends to be on the grounds of implausibility; just as some people believe that a shy performer is a contradiction in terms, they may conclude that stage fright alone would not condition this kind of consistent behavior. As a final though, perhaps the acceptance of such a trope is contingent on the belief that Armitage is somehow being damaged by his own activities. This is the next trope.
Ian Macalwain (Richard Armitage) after being assassinated by his own team in Ultimate Force 2.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
“Armitage as victim”
So, as noted above, my reactions to the re-appearance of this trope in the discussions on Richard Armitage Confessions, as discussed by Pinup, was really the reason for this post. (So why did it take me 3,000 words to get here? I’m just trying to give equal time to the entire theme.)
“Armitage as victim” is prevalent enough as a feeling among some fans that its manifestations started to intrigue me some time ago, and I even created a category for it (see category cloud at right). It’s a really powerful sentiment at times, and I think the trope may gain power in his particular case because it so effectively combines a number of the ideas above, so that he can alternatively — depending on the reading — be victimized by almost anyone to whom he stands in professional relationship. The press (too much coverage of Armitage as male totty); his fans (we’re so crazy we make him want to avoid us — keyword — panties); script writers on the projects he works on (he starts off in a reasonably scripted series and then everything goes haywire, forestalling any criticisms we might find to make about his performances); actresses with insufficient charisma (so that if a screen love affair doesn’t strike our heart strings, we blame it on his co-star); his own good nature / virtue (he’s so modest that he steps on his own feet — a neat example being his response to the question in his red carpet interview at the Captain America premiere, that what he wanted people to know about the film concerned Chris Evans — but see “virtuous Armitage,” above) or, in, the specific case that prompted this post, his management or the management of other actors (his management misses opportunities for him; the management of other actors pushes those individuals to the front and doesn’t give Armitage the “credit” he deserves). Another reason we may like this trope is that it serves well the needs of fan-on-fan behavior policing (“if only you behave according to my standards, Mr. Armitage will be more forthcoming in his relationship to fans”), which involves an active-aggressive stance against other fans and a passive-aggressive one with regard to Armitage himself. In a situation where Armitage is supposed to have the control to give or withhold information or contact, fans disciplining each other becomes a (futile) way to attempt to exert influence over Mr. Armitage. It also takes the blame both off the policer and away from Armitage — it would not be the case that he would want to retreat from fans unless fans were being impossible, i.e., we were victimizing him.
[At left: The gently or not-so-gently bemused "why are you staring at me?" look: Richard Armitage on the red carpet for the Varekai Gala, January 5, 2010, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]
The frequency of complaints about Armitage’s victimization at the hands of poor management is clear, although I’ve never felt like he suffered for work or exposure. I tend to read such complaints as reflecting unease over the fact that his rise to prominence after North & South was not immediate in the way that some fans felt he deserved — so that espousals of this trope serve as a function of particularly intense faith in Armitage’s merits. But on the whole, I don’t think that eight years to the sort of prominence he has now is an unduly long time, and indications are that he doesn’t either, given statements that he feels like he’s on a roller coaster already. That he may occasionally be or have been professionally naive is supported by his own statements about the development of his capacity to understand what was happening in his career when he was struggling early on, particularly his concession that he has perhaps been a late bloomer and that he still feels younger than he is. (We could probably create a sub-division of this trope and call it “boyish Armitage,” but this post is already getting too long.) What’s interesting to me about “Armitage as victim” is that it is not heavily supported by press reports — except in its permutation as victimization by fans (and we all know that the press loves to make fun of us already and never eager to point an accusatory finger at itself, always justifying any of its own excesses in terms of people’s desires or rights to know).
At the same time, however, the response to this point about victimization is obvious. Armitage has worked in “show business” since he was seventeen, he has some idea of how the industry works, what the consequences of his decisions might be, and what he might have to do to get what he wants. A seventeen-year-old who takes a job in Budapest to get an Equity card is no shrinking violet personality. If he’s dissatisfied with his publicity profile or the roles he’s gotten, he’s forty years old and adult enough to fire whoever’s in charge of these things and engage someone else to work on his behalf! (Though I would concede that these decisions are complex. If I think about the people I’ve employed to work for me in the past, it’s always been a balancing act as one person does multiple tasks at which he may be more or less effective. So maybe he’s overly loyal to a management that stuck with him through some thin years — see “virtuous Armitage” above.) Mr. Armitage has also displayed evidence in the past that he has the capacity to change his behavior when he’s not getting what he wants, as regards the decision to go to his audition for Sparkhouse in character.
[At right: naive Armitage? A Cats-era photo. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]
So it’s hard for me to imagine that this trope bears much on actual circumstances now, if it ever did. It seems to me just as likely that — if indeed he has been a victim — he could have been the victim of fate, something over which no one can express any control, though I would be hard put to apply the adjective “unlucky” to Armitage, and so, it would seem, would he be. So the final sense in which I tend to read this trope as powerful lies in the realm of what it does for how we evaluate his career and how those evaluations relate to our choices. If Armitage didn’t get as much career energy from North & South as he should have, this reading goes, that’s not because of anything he did, but because of poor choices that were made outside of his control. Maybe good roles were being saved for actors with better-connected management. If roles were not immediately forthcoming, that scarcity did not stem from anything innate to Armitage. And finally — and I think this is really key for understanding this trope — if Armitage is the victim of poor management, then we are not crazy for cultivating an intense love of an actor who may not end up being the premiere actor of his generation. Thus “Armitage as victim” excuses not only any potential failures by Armitage — it also excuses us of any failures of taste for setting our fan bets on Armitage as opposed to any one of a group of talented actors who are poised at potentially joining the Hollywood A-list.
[At left: Authoritative Armitage? Richard Armitage at the NYC premiere of Captain America: The First Avenger, July 2011. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]
However, despite the strength of the case against “Armitage as victim,” I need to concede that for various reasons I am heavily invested in the notion of Armitage as adult as opposed to as victim. If I fall regularly into the “virtuous Armitage” trope, I admit that one of the things I admire most about him is that I’ve never read him blame anyone but himself (or fate) in any evaluative statement he’s made about his career. Men who take personal responsibility are hot. And I need badly, right now, to believe in the possibility of adult men. Additionally, insofar as I sympathize with the problem of too much work and limited energy, as well as the pressures of being someone for someone both professionally and personally, I resonate deeply with his statements about not wanting to appear as Richard Armitage on a reality show. He’s an actor, which involves pretending to be someone else for audiences — not being Richard Armitage for audiences, which is probably somewhat more difficult. In a situation where he does an incredibly physically and emotionally demanding job, as with the role he has right now, I conclude that he’s mostly focused on what he’s doing on a day-to-day basis. He probably focuses the limited time and energy he has available at present for future planning on auditions and role offers rather than doing interviews. And this prioritization, too, is a sign of adult decisionmaking and professional acumen that I admire.
Marching to the beat of his own drummer? Richard Armitage on the night before the Old Vic gala, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
So, in the absence of other knowledge, the surface reading of his allegedly publicity-light behavior that I prefer — whether it’s accurate or not, no one knows, see earlier caveats — is one that’s consonant with my own reading of his personality. This is the final trope to be discussed. I read Mr. Armitage as a strongly autotelic personality. (I am one, too, which underlines my point about how these tropes are all about us and only superficially about Richard Armitage.) Autotelic people are innerly-directed and focused primarily on their own, individual, independent definitions of quality, success, and reward. The reward for doing The Hobbit for him, I suspect, is going be having done The Hobbit, even more than the other career steps it might facilitate. This is the sense in which I understand his statement that he’d be satisfied if this were the last piece of work he’d ever do (a remark that I suspect is a potentially less accurate approximation of the intensity of his feelings about actually continuing to work, which he seems eager to do no matter what the work).
Signs of this attitude — that fulfilling the demands his inner life makes on him is the justification for his work — can be found throughout his work. His statements that the roots of his acting lie in his reading and in the imaginative world of a solitary child would substantiate this viewpoint, as would his move from a relatively successful career in the corps of musical theatre to drama school and into journeyman years in the background of Royal Shakespeare Company productions. His insistence that audience attraction to him is really about Mr. Thornton, for example, is usually read by interviewers as modesty (or as a way to embarrass fans, who are read as misunderstanding the actual relationship of actor to role), but the wording is interesting: “It’s a bit embarrassing because you don’t plan for that when you prepare for the part. I didn’t realise there would be an emotional reaction, or whatever that reaction is — a physical reaction? I value it, but at the same time, it’s only a character.” We could also understand this to mean — the reaction of the audience is secondary to my assumption of the character; I determine for myself what the successful creation of a character involves, and so ecstatic fan reaction is embarrassing not (only) because it means unsought adoration, but because it’s beside the point. And his point that working front of house in a period where he wasn’t getting roles also tends to go in this direction — he’s not looking at a performance primarily in terms of its effect (even if that is what others are looking at it for) but in terms of the character he becomes when he does it. (A similar divide can frequently be made, incidentally, between orchestra musicians who enjoy listening to orchestras, and those who primarily enjoy playing in them. I was the latter.) Getting to have the experience of rush as the endpoint of the process of working to come someone else, I would argue, is what’s at stake for him here — and why he thinks he may think about Thorin Oakenshield long after he’s done playing the role.
It’s hard to live with autotelic personalities. They want what they want and their motivations are thus not always legible to others because they occasionally read as irrational. So the objections to this viewpoint are manifested in questions like: “How could you not want the level of success we think you deserve?” or “how can you not see that doing the kind of publicity we demand is essential to you getting future roles of the kind you want?” or even “how could you be satisfied with roles that are below your caliber of artistry?” What’s confusing, on this view, is simply that being autotelic can look an awful lot like being ambitious — and a strong, openly displayed ambitious streak would interfere with the “virtuous Armitage” trope, if it were present. But critics of the autotelic trope must ask: Doesn’t wanting to do well in terms of one’s own goals require an important measure of ambition, and doesn’t ambition require certain sorts of compromises (publicity!) to fuel a career?
The answer is, of course, yes — but it also requires standards, and in Armitage’s case we might easily conclude, based on the roles he’s played, that these standards are inner (delivering a good performance) as opposed to outer (independent definitions of the value of art). But to demonstrate this point about being autotelic, we might consider that an appropriate subtitle for episode 2 of North & South could be “Mr. Thornton’s autotelic personality.” On this view, Mr. Armitage knows what he wants, works hard to get it, and does what he thinks he needs to get it — but the “what” is determined solely by him and not by anyone else, even if can use the help of others (management, fans, studio publicity machines) on his way there. If Armitage is giving himself credit himself for what he does, then it’s hard for me to share the worries on Richard Armitage Confessions about Armitage being crowded out by other actors and or not getting something he deserves from his work The Hobbit. I’m a firm subscriber to the “enough is as good as a feast” philosophy, and accept that my enough is probably different from his. If what Richard Armitage determines is the goal of his work is fulfilled — and I suspect that this is going to be the execution of the role to the best of his ability, as opposed to the achievement of the next role — then he’s going to use publicity mainly to that end, and not either as an end in itself or a means to an end that is not his.
And finally we get to the question of what the autotelic trope may do for those who embrace it. I would argue that, as it appears in dialectic with the “victim” trope, it serves a similar function. That is, if Armitage’s career does not ever reach the heights that an independent standard of high art might wish for it, this disappointment can be attributed to his personal standards. The autotelic Armitage trope says: he was always better than all that publicity.
OK. There would be a lot more to be said about this theme, including a lengthy discussion of why I personally am so invested in defending his right to make his decisions and skip publicity if that were his desire, but I’m at about 6,300 words. So I’ll leave that stuff for later posts, sometime. For now: Which tropes are you invested in, and why? What does the picture of Armitage tell you about your own preoccupations?
And thanks, as always, perhaps tonight more than ever, for reading.