Stay away from Armitage! The “C” reading and conclusion
The “B” reading was here. (Note that this is a series starting with the “A” reading — so if you’re seeing this post at the top of the blog, start with the beginning of the argument, two posts down. Thanks.)
Doesn’t he look a little sheepish? Not the behavior that we expect from a headliner. Richard Armitage, being interviewed at the Strike Back premiere, London, April 15th, 2010. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
It’s time for the “C” reading — finally, after only 4,500 words! Hopefully, you’re still with me.
The “C” reading shares with “B” its capacity to absorb the interpreter’s application of textual context(s), linguistic conventions, verbal and non-verbal cues, and common-sense experiences of interpreting conversations with everyday interlocutors, but it moves away from “B” in that it takes a more suspicious stance toward the unproblematic attribution of untarnished good faith to the interview subject. “C” readings acknowledge that everyone speaks for a reason, and that persuasion is a chief end of most speech. In particular, “C” incorporates the matter of audience. Affirmative statements, whether truthful or not, are never targeted at all possible spectators in all times and places — they are made for a particular group of interpreters at a particular time and place. In the case of this text snippet, this interpretive level is so overwhelming in its potential conditioning of Armitage’s statements that if I were willing to grant that this interview is a source about Armitage, and surrender my philosophical and generic convictions about the primacy of the “D” reading (the piece as the interviewer’s picture of Armitage), I would find it almost definitive.
So, first: where is the information being presented to us? Who is its audience?
The interview appeared in the print edition of The Stage — the primary print publication in the UK covering the theater scene (and some television, although apparently less than in the past). It has a circulation of about 34,000, and its primary readership is composed of people who work in the theater industry. This is not a publication for fans or audiences of television stars, but rather for readers seeking information about what’s happening on stage in the UK. It is read by people looking for work in theater — for whom it is considered a professional must-read — and similarly offers people who work in the theater or wish to do so an opportunity to present themselves to potential employers. One also imagines that people who really love theater but are not employed in it read it — especially avid theater audience members. The primary audience for this interview: directors, financers, actors, stage crews. Thus, we must assume that whatever Armitage is saying in this interview, he’s not saying it to fans or even people who will watch him act, but to readers interested in the theater scene, including especially people who might employ him or work with him in future. The “C” reading demands that question number one, with regard to our text snippet, should be: why would he tell an audience of theater insiders that he doesn’t like the recognition/attention that comes with television work, and he’s “not one for” signing autographs in the street? What is that statement intended to mean to them?
John Porter: the role that got him Heinz Kruger and not Willmore. Promotional image for series 1 of Strike Back as it appeared all over London, May 2010. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
And second: when did the interview appear?
It appeared in early May, 2010, just as Strike Back was premiering, and one anticipates the interview took place slightly earlier, as it’s a weekly publication. That this interview appeared in the venue described above at just that time is fascinating, and can hardly be seen as coincidental. Why would a periodical devoted mostly to insider theater news relevant to working professionals suddenly rush to cover the opinions of an actor who hadn’t been on a live stage in something approaching eight years at that point, who was a virtual unknown to stage employers and audiences even when he had been on stage, and who had most recently appeared in a pay television, shoot-’em-up spectacle with great production value but little sophistication — a piece that promised very little of interest to traditional practitioners and fans of theater at all?
In short: Everything about this interview screams “publicity op,” not necessarily for the sole purpose of promoting Strike Back, which we can assume to be of relatively low interest to the print readers of The Stage (although perhaps of greater interest to consumers of its TV blog — but this form of the interview ran in the print edition). At least as probable as a reason for the appearance of this interview in this place at this time is that someone (agent, publicist, friend) was hoping to help Armitage get something from the potential readership of the publication, and thus it’s reasonable to assume that Armitage is speaking on message here to communicate something to a particular group of people and persuade them of something. The question is what.
So the third question, which is essential to uncovering the substance of any “C” reading? Cui bono? Who benefits if we believe what Armitage is saying in this interview?
Answer: Quite obviously — Richard Armitage.
On the “C” reading, everything in this interview says, “Hire me for your stage production!” In a particularly charming way, of course, following British rules about putting yourself forward. In fact: nothing in it’s about what he thinks of fans. If we read the piece as an index of what he thinks about fans, as I did above, and we can see from my reading it’s hard to parse; if we read it as an argument for why Armitage should be treading the London boards regularly, it makes perfect sense — all the elements fall into place. Frankly, I suspect that Armitage would be surprised to hear that any fan would conclude from it that he wanted her to avoid him at all costs should she see him either accidentally or in a place where he might be expected to appear that was not an arranged setting. Because that wasn’t what he was saying. Not at all.
One of his more recent stage appearances: Richard Armitage with Imogen Butler-Cole in Use Me As Your Cardigan (2003). Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Seen from the perspective of the “C” reading, it’s a curious text, striking precisely because it doesn’t present us with all the promotional points that most of the other publicity did: “like three small feature film,” “experienced directors,” “great production values,” “beautiful panoramic shots,” “realistic,” “drawn directly from life via the writing of the authority, Chris Ryan,” “gripping stories about life and death.” Refresh your memory as to the first half of the piece if you need to; this interview doesn’t hit any of those talking points. Now, the promotion of Strike Back that is our first context for understanding Armitage’s statements definitely occurs, but it’s all directed to understanding that production as serious in the sense that theatrical work is supposed to be. Within this framework, Armitage is described as someone who actually doesn’t “belong” in this kind of production and / or resisted its popular, low-art demands. The interview depicts him as a pacifist playing an SAS operative, an artist seeking novelty in a conventional role by stretching the boundaries of the character with unanticipated complexity, playing a soldier who he’s working hard to make unsoldierly.
Once all Armitage’s creative attitudes toward participating in Strike Back are established, the piece then turns to Armitage’s preparation — first the physical toil he went through to create John Porter’s body, but then, and I think, significantly, for reasons that will become clearer in a moment, his emphasis on the creation of a character biography. The interview spends something like a quarter of its space on his creation of the John Porter character, concluding with a section that emphasizes how fully immersed in that identity he became. It continues by giving us a retrospective of his work in musical theater, his training at LAMDA, and his experience with the RSC and on professional stages in respected productions. Then, and only then, does it turn to his fan base and the text snippet cited as evidence of his dislike for spontaneous fan meetings.
A consistent message of Armitage’s interviews throughout 2010 from the Strike Back publicity blitz to the Spooks 9 publicity blitz and even after the announcement of his casting as Thorin Oakenshield, with the tweeting of his participation in a read-through for The Rover, was his desire to get back on UK stages; it appeared in at least three pieces I can think of offhand with varying justifications offered. Because of the clarity of that message here, and in light of this interview’s context, the usual audience of the publication it appeared in, the timing of its publication, and the rhetorical structure described above, this is what I understand Armitage to be implying or downright saying in and via this interview — to industry insiders such as people who might cast him in a play: “I’ve just appeared in a big budget pay television action project that you may be inclined to think is of doubtful cultural value. Although this professional choice might make you conclude that I’m just a hacker, in fact I’m a creative artist who’s trying to bring something new to a genre that many theater people might look down upon if they didn’t realize what a subtle, thoughtful individual I am. Richard Armitage may play John Porter, but that’s not my identity at all. Even if I am playing the lead in a major series that attracts millions of viewers every week, I’m not just a run-of-the-mill television actor cast because he looks good. I work really, really hard, and just like all of you, I find the creation of a character biography essential to doing my job, which I work on so intensely that I sometimes can forget my real identity. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again; I’m interested in professional variety. I have the necessary experience for a theater role, not just training in musical theater, but LAMDA and RSC training, as well experience in important productions in supporting roles. I’m interested in taking a role in a play that I’m already extremely familiar with, so I would be good at it.”
And then comes the discussion of fans, followed by the snippet in question. Re-read:
For me, the “C” reading tends to suggest that this quotation should be understood as a rhetorical defense against potential counter-arguments made by the speaker’s anticipated audience, usually accomplished via concession and rebuttal. What we don’t see here is the concession, either because the interviewer either assumes it, it was not articulated at the time, or Armitage didn’t offer it — but this statement reads to me as a clear rebuttal to an objection. In short form, the counter-argument in question is presented in the paragraph where the interviewer makes inferences about Armitage’s fans attitudes, and would be, “What about your fans?” In longer form, it might go something like this: “Sure, you maybe have the training for dramatic leads on the stage, but stage work is poorly paid and uncertain. Plus, you have an energetic group of fans, and theater actors tend not to receive the effusive fan love given to television actors, or at least not in the same quantities. It might even be a pain for the crew in a production to deal with swarms of fangirls running after you.” In response to this potential objection of his audience in The Stage, then, rather than saying he doesn’t like to meet fans spontaneously, I suspect Armitage is saying the following: “I know I get a lot of attention and fan recognition on television, but that’s the part I like least about the work. It’s not important to me; I feel no need for it. I am happiest when I am pursuing and concentrating on the work I have agreed to do, and I’m not one of those actors who looks forward to standing outside after a performance, signing autographs and receiving praise.” Implication of the statement: Not, I want fans to stay away, but rather — I’m wash-and-wear; I’m not going to encourage drama or create hassle or spend more time on feeding my ego by interacting with fans than on doing my actual work. It’s an ethical statement made for the purposes of selling himself as a good employee, not the expression of a preference.
Note the advantages of this reading from a purely syntactical standpoint. Via its recognition of the interview’s rhetorical structure, the “C” reading completely eliminates all confusion about the meaning of both the pronoun “it,” which Armitage “do[es]n’t really like,” and its referent, “recognition and attention.” We no longer need to scrape through the previous paragraph to try to elucidate what “recognition and attention” mean, because they are not related to an unintelligible implication about (potential) fan behaviors, but rather to the consequence of having fans, which is the heightened public awareness that might make a television actor feel important and which theater professionals are less likely to harvest — this being personified in the Internet presence of Armitage’s fans. Moreover, following the “C” reading, the ending of the interview makes Armitage seem very open to serious considerations from his audiences — exactly the self-image that many theater fans have of themselves — because he takes the time to respond to them, because his ethics (see data in optimistic “B” reading in previous post) require it. Finally, the ending makes a strong statement to a potential director. “Because I am polite” is both a rebuttal of possible aspersions (“Although I am more well known than many stage actors, I don’t have a big ego that you’ll have to caress; I am aware there are other people in the world and I consider their viewpoints”) and a statement of identity and work ethic (“I believe that it is important to display manners in all my dealings, even those that may make me feel uncomfortable”).
[As an aside that I'm just dropping here for now, primarily because I know at least one reader is thinking it -- if it's indeed true that there's a huge class divide on British stages, as some critics have alleged , and as I've wondered in the past in a Legenda that I am not finding, and most of the more successful actors come from a higher class or cultural background than Armitage's family, asserting that one is polite may also involve making an implication about one's capacity as a child of the middle classes to "fit in" among the (stage) patricians. I've been collecting data on this point for awhile, and this is not the place to discuss it, because this piece is getting long and I think I've made my case, but I'm bookmarking it here because it seems an obvious point to consider as an aspect of the "C" reading, not least because the whole piece in The Stage presents an argument about Armitage's deserved status as a beneficiary of the meritocracy of the industrious.]
Another point to be noted about the way this text works: If we return to my explanation at the very beginning about how meanings of a text work together, we can see easily how the “A” reading, the more optimistic “B” reading, and the “C” reading work together. The mere data points of the “A” reading (“attention / recognition,” “getting on with the job,” “signing autographs in the street”) fit together into a picture about work, modesty, and performance as features of Armitage’s character (the “B” reading I prefer), and in turn, Armitage’s statements about his character are transformed into an argument made via the interview about why he’d be a desirable actor to cast in your next stage production (the “C” reading). Indeed, it is the original “B” reading that alleges itself as an “A” reading (“When I am not at an official function to meet fans, please leave me alone”) that turns out to not to coincide with any of the other levels of the text without significant assumptions, contextual extrapolation, and twisting of internal referents, to make it fit.
Richard Armitage at an official autograph signing opportunity, ComicCon, San Diego, July 14, 2012. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
As I see it, this piece doesn’t have much to say about fans and what they should or shouldn’t do — it’s an interview about working in the theater, of which the presence of fans is a collateral point primarily intended to demonstrate that Armitage is not in his career for the fame he achieves thereby. Now, I stress again, because, like Armitage, I expect I’ll be misunderstood and imagine I’ll even start dreading not being misunderstood soon: taken together as I have explained, the “A”, “optimistic B,” and “C” readings here do not constitute an argument that Armitage does not dislike meeting fans unexpectedly. He might still feel that way. I am not arguing that he just loves meeting fans spontaneously. The evidence doesn’t sustain that view, either. Neither — emphatically! — do I argue all fans should run after Armitage in the street or at any other time they see him; I make no normative prescription as the consequence of my analysis. This analysis simply reveals that a snippet read out of context within an interview as if it were totally reliable as an independent aphorism — and, as a consequence, offered some moral principle equivalent to the Decalogue — does not constitute evidence for the standpoint articulated in the argument. If you, like me, disagree with it, you’re not dangerous, you’re not a sinner, you’re not reprehensible. Any shaming of anyone’s behavior that stems from any interpretation should not be accepted unless the arguments made can be credited and reproduced on an independent, textual basis that makes all the evidence — or at least as much as possible, because evidence rarely all points in one direction–, fit.
Am I riding off into the sunset here? Maybe. Still, this is important: We’re not children. We’re not in this to be made afraid of our own normal tendencies or scared that if we express some squee that someone else doesn’t appreciate, we’ll be hassled on the web or worse. No one who only reads what we write on the web understands our own intentions better than we do ourselves. This is true of you, me — and Richard Armitage. So let Richard Armitage deal with Richard Armitage’s problems. He’s a big boy; if he doesn’t want to be bothered by fans — he can say no! Meanwhile, I’m focusing on my problems, needs, joys, concerns. We’re in the Richard Armitage fandom to enjoy, laugh, smile, think, learn, and live out our creativity within the bounds of our own reasonable interpretations of the world around us — and we’re not all obliged to believe the same things, especially not about something so ultimately trivial in the cosmic sense. You may believe the argument I’m refuting is stronger and thus not accept my analysis — that’s okay. The fact that you disagree with my interpretation doesn’t force you to behave any differently than you might have otherwise. Nor should this interpretation be seen as legitimating anyone’s actions who hasn’t gone through the issues on her own, for herself, which is what everyone should do anyway. Even if you accept my reading, there still may be plenty of reasons not to approach Richard Armitage in the unlikely event that you encounter him spontaneously — it may not be the right moment, you may not be comfortable doing it, he may be standing at a urinal, you may be convinced out of your own convictions that this is not something you should do. This analysis still leaves you free to believe that and act on it by avoiding him.
Let every fan think for herself; let every fan have her own conscience. And most importantly: let us agree to let each and every other fan have her own conscience, as well.