Losing Armitage? or, Thorin aches and pains, part 2
Richard Armitage signs autographs at the BAFTA Television Awards, May 20, 2007, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
The first part of this post was here, and was written as a response to a fan “confession.” I’d like to remind everyone of the beginning of that post, in which I emphasize that this piece represents my opinion and that I fully respect those of others, which may differ — including those of friends, new and old.
This again got really long and I want it to be digestible, so against plan there will be a part 3, possibly Thursday.
So this piece concerns only my concerns and feelings about the fandom. And not yet my hopes.
Source: Richard Armitage Confessions
II. My own fears and feelings about the Richard Armitage fandom
Having urged previous fans not to be concerned about the potential growth of the fandom — I’d also be the first to admit to my own fears in that regard. My reaction relies on my perception (in contrast to the previous confession) that a significant piece of the larger question at stake also concerns us as fans, our self-concept (however constituted), and our concerns about each other.
Here’s a little history to demonstrate that point. In October, 2010, pi, beloved contrarian, articulated feelings like those in the “confession” above elegantly, in a really thoughtful post about her reaction to the news that Richard Armitage had been cast as Thorin:
I am impressed by the long and long-suffering loyalty of some of his admirers. So very long. The current euphoria for his sake is palpable. I feel it too. He has been a cherished treasure. Professionally and personally. A small lambent treasure, covert, undiscovered. And now he is discovered and has become big. One can’t stem the flow of events.
Good-bye to the secret treasure. It will never be the same again.
We will be inundated with something else. And it will be BIG.
So I salute all you diehard Richard Armitage admirers, all your sweet moments and all your adoring missives. I salute all your love and devotion, the wishing and the hoping. I salute all those who worried about his career (and I did, too). Your faith has borne fruit.
I feel ambivalent. I feel loss. It will never be the same again. I loved the small crowd. I don’t know how long I will hang around, now.
I, too, had mixed feelings, which I wrote about extensively. I thought the role would mean a significant shift in Armitage’s public perception and his “type” as an artist — one that might discomfit fans with commitments to more traditional notions of “artistic quality” (that I do not share). I thought a shift to film would mean seeing less of him — which many of us speculated could be desirable because of the way that series script writing blithely disrupts intensive characterization efforts by even the most assiduous actor (example: Spooks 9). In the end, however, this problem (“the drought,” as some have called it, another perception I didn’t develop) never really materialized for me.
One pronounced issue for me that fall was something that I barely glimpsed then — that fandom for me involves a kind of fantasy of self. I can see now that I was asking myself to stop thinking about the Armitage half of the equation. How does a change in Armitage’s public perception affect my identity as his fan? And at that point, I realized, as over-identified with the fellow as I was (and remain), I dreaded the possibility of experiencing an identity shift in response to his. Was having chosen to interpret Richard Armitage going to mean that I changed as his roles changed? And if so, how?
Quoting myself, now:
What is it I’m getting from this fandom? … a renewed confidence in my capacity to employ my interpretive gaze. Knowledge, authority, gratification, pleasure that comes from the ability to think and write creatively. And then the subject of the analysis turns the tables on me and insists on actually exercising the right to artistic growth that I’ve sketched out and tried to defend for him — and I am just a little bit shocked. …
… I think this is the problem: the Armitage I “know,” the elusive figure on whom I’ve been trying to put my rhetorical imprint on for over six months now, is going to be changing. [... H]e’s going to turn into much more of a challenge than I realized in February, when I thought that a few months of blogging about a bizarre obsession I seemed to be developing would serve as a way to figure out what was bugging me, and as a sidelight, as an entertaining diversion from my burgeoning personal problems. If he’s going to grow and take risks, I will have to do that, too — with all of the same hypothetical consequences. If he turns into a different interpretive object than I bargained for, I also run the risk of becoming a different interpreter than I realized I would be.
The story of The Hobbit seems on point here. It’s about a creature of comfort who sets out on a journey partly out of curiosity and partly out of feeling that he can’t avoid going along. I think we’re all going to find out — or at least all of us who remain signed on for the ride — a lot more about our commonalities with Bilbo Baggins in the next two years than we would have initially have thought possible.
That’s an important factor, still. Sticking with Armitage forced me to change an entire history of interests, to look closely at stuff I had ignored, and to question the intensifying but challenging associations that went along with it. But the plot of The Hobbit also points to another piece of the story — Bilbo has to go on a journey with people he doesn’t know, by whom he feels to some extent exploited. That’s indeed the only way for him to have the adventure.
The intrusion of The Hobbit into Armitage’s career brought this issue to the fore. I didn’t see myself as belonging either to the segment of fans who encountered Armitage via North & South because they loved historical romance (and wanted to see him in more of it, and in more “great art” roles) or to the group of fans who’d fallen in love with Guy of Gisborne (whom I was with on not being repulsed by lousy scripts, but with whom I didn’t share the total surrender to ogling with at the time). I found myself in the Strike Back-friendly group, but neither because I love action-adventure nor because Armitage disrobed in it with delicious frequency. And if I was struggling with my relationship to groups already in the Armitage universe, I was even more resistant to any change in my fan identity that would conflate me somehow with intense Tolkien fans, of whom I had, until approximately July 2012, a low opinion. Indeed, the only post I’ve ever retracted concerned an explosion on my part that related to the aftermath of their reaction to Armitage’s casting as Thorin.
This history, a few other things I’ve heard here and there, as well as my own recognition of hostility to being seen as “that kind of fan” — and something that pi said — “I loved the small crowd” — all taken together suggest to me that the aches and pains concern not only the impending loss of the Richard Armitage secret nobody knows about, nor even the persisting desire for recognition from our hero for loving him first and best, but also the prospective swamping of the smaller group with its tighter boundaries and the particular ways that we all constitute those boundaries in our own ways. Underlining that argument, it’s interesting to me in retrospect that that original post on subdued feelings of sadness about the Thorin role generated a wide-ranging discussion of which a significant proportion was devoted to the question of “how will we feel about / treat new fans?” It’s fascinating to re-read comments like this one today simply because I think, after two years, that the issues involved are clearer in our minds.
So, now, in order to address that question, I turn to “me and richard armitage’s fans.”
After an initial misstep in that direction, I’ve tried hard not to police other fans, except when a clear case of bullying occurs. When I say why I am doing or not doing something, it’s always intended as a rationale for me, not a rationale for others. And my understanding of what I’ve been doing myself, what I should or shouldn’t be doing, and the reasons why, have changed. In that light, I plead that what I have to say below is not intended as policing or a permanent moral document like the Decalogue. Readers should keep doing and thinking what makes them happiest as long as it’s not illegal. Because that’s what I plan to do.
What follows is a comment on behaviors in which I try to stress my feelings about things that have let me feel marginalized as a fan (as opposed to the behavior, none of which I found illegitimate per se.) A description of my direct impressions follows, musing on how I have felt at various points in the last two-and-a-half years, my attempts to address my feelings, and my miserable failures.
Source: Richard Armitage Confessions
So, now the hard part.
In order to justify my argument in part 3, I’m going to have to come out fully (I’ve hinted a few times before, elsewhere) as someone who wasn’t especially enamored of the Richard Armitage fandom at the beginning. I’m troubled by the “confession” above insofar as I’m now potentially one of its addressees, because I am now one of those people who’s always so positive about the fandom and thankful for what it brought me. Nonetheless, it expresses precisely a piece of how I felt when I started blogging.
My feelings have changed since then. I have solid fan friends now, including people whom I would never have guessed would have befriended me. I didn’t start writing expecting to find them. In fact, one reason to blog was that I figured it might be hard to find them in the most likely places. Now, I’m not a misanthrope. There are various reasons for my assumption that fan community might be problematic, some philosophical / practical and some of them situational. And even though I am sure some readers might think I am unnecessarily airing dirty laundry, in order to explain why I hope what I hope, I need to talk about them openly.
I discovered Richard Armitage, and his fandom, in January of 2010. Informational fan sites were truly helpful, exuberant, and encouraging, but even there, references to older disagreements between fans were visible in Armitage’s messages, one of the very first things I read about him. At just that moment, too, a strikingly visible disagreement was occurring between fans over alleged re-purposing of edited images and video clips. I didn’t understand the issues at stake then (though I do, now), but I felt frightened by the comments made and the dynamic I witnessed. (A year passed before I even tried to vid.) I saw a youtube comment about Armitage fans made by a non-fan: the writer expressed sarcastic surprise that fans hadn’t yet begun a cat-fight over a particular issue. All over the web one finds statements that the Armitage fandom is unusually defensive or aggressive. The moderated settings seemed safer, with a longer history, and likely to house people who’d be friendlier, I thought. Learning they were unlikely to be filled with what I initially experienced as cruelty or crudity, I started to lurk. While flame-prone topics were forbidden, however, I felt disheartened by some fan interactions there, too. Minority opinions were mobbed in the name of free opinion — simply with more decorum — and friends jumped in to support each other against dissidents. How possible it was to say anything controversial seemed contingent on how many friends one already had. My own attitude about what fostered good discussion was different. Above all, everyone already knew everyone else. I read some comments that made me feel like people were more interested in asserting their authority and superior knowledge as long-time fans than in meeting and welcoming newcomers. Even when something of interest was under discussion, I couldn’t figure out how to find my way “in,” and admittedly, that might have been because I didn’t try long or hard enough.
I’m not recording my perceptions to criticize the Armitage fandom or boards in particular. Blogs vs boards is a false dilemma, as they have different functions. I had never been an intense fan before, and experience has taught me that some of the things that troubled (and trouble) me are expected dynamics of fandoms. Spectators have an interest in ridiculing all fans, too, and I’ve learned to care much less about that. I continue to feel that the boards do and have done something particularly important for Armitage’s career (and when that topic becomes a little less filled with rhetorical traps, I may publish what I think about it specifically). I also know that many fans have found strong emotional connections by commenting on boards (here’s one example). After I started having to respond to my own comments, I gained respect for the patience of board moderators. Although I objected to topic limitations on the forums, and still do, my frustration in those days stemmed at least partly from my failure to understand exactly how much potential negativity lurked permeated particular issues, and why it might be in the interest of a board to forbid their mention.
I apologize to board-lovers and in fact to all Armitage fans for saying these things openly. I’ve been needled into eruption on this issue in the past elsewhere, but in order to make clear why I hope what I do, I needed to say it in my own words, clearly and sincerely, so that I can be understood as making a decision for particular affirmative reasons and not out of hurt feelings. I didn’t start to blog instead of becoming an active board participant solely because of things I saw about the fandom — but the concerns I felt played a role. Some interactions I saw, as I understood them at the time, taught me that the boards weren’t going to be for me.
So, as I had blogged before to vent and found a handful of interlocutors, I decided to try it again.
Source: Richard Armitage Confessions
As I said, my blogging was not all about the fandom; my emergence as an Armitage blogger (as opposed to a forum participant) was overdetermined. I struggle personally with the question of “tight-knit” communities, having grown up in one that created multiple problems for me. Blogging was serving the reconstruction of my identity and not discussion, per se — as witnessed in the title of the blog. I knew that my sheer verbiage could overwhelm discussions. Moreover, I wanted to muse about who Richard Armitage might be personally or about his relationships with people we see him with in public. And from the very beginning, I knew I would eventually want to write about my fantasy life without disguising it as anything else — since fantasies had invigorated my desire to write in the first place — and that such discussions would never be allowed on the moderated forums, not least because of their rules about sex in fanfic. When I started blogging, there weren’t many Armitage-exclusive blogs, and most of the active ones when I began were not posting about things I wanted to write about. So I thought I had found a niche to occupy. I wasn’t anticipating finding such a big audience, or so quickly. That that happened was partially due to the generosity of a fellow fan in including me in the first FanstRAvaganza — something I’m still trying to pay forward — and also to G*-gle alerts (I had no idea that the most avid fans would find me so immediately).
I won’t deny it — I have learned to derive a lot of pleasure from the writing I did here. Finding readers outside the academic world has made me feel powerful and creative; thousands more people have read what I’ve written here than have read my narrowly focused academic works. Blogging about Richard Armitage was and remains about my needs, and I still feel that when it’s going well, that’s what it’s serving. As time went on, one reason I gave myself to continue was a feeling of obligation to him that made me want to help keep people talking and reading about him in the interval between Captain America and the premiere of the first Hobbit film, but that phase has almost ended, and really, that was a story I was telling myself. Richard Armitage was more than well established enough due to all the venues that preceded this one to need my help in any way. Frankly, too, if the utility I derived from blogging were not greater than the associated expense of time and energy, I would stop. I’m no martyr. I’m immensely grateful to the guy, but I don’t love him that much.
So if it’s all about me and Richard Armitage (hence the blog title), what about the fandom? It sounds like I’m saying that the audience for this blog is irrelevant to the project, which is not true at all. I’m grateful for every comment — probably more today than I was at the beginning, since I have a better idea of what’s involved in climbing over that threshold. Audience was a concern, just not the first concern. I did want to talk to people — but on my terms. And, I admit, I thought I could address some of the discussion problems I perceived from the boards.
I was completely wrong about that.
By that, I don’t mean that I haven’t made friends or that we haven’t had good discussions. I have; we have. I also think that I’ve (mostly) managed to prevent both the active personal attacks and venomous, bitter exchanges of unmoderated settings — I don’t allow ad hominem comments — and to reign in the occasionally troubling group dynamics of some of the forum discussions. If I sense that someone is being mobbed in the comments, I try to come to her aid. And while I don’t always succeed, I try to follow a policy of “I only argue you with you if I think you can take it”; that is, I try on purpose to hold back my own power to silence if I think an interlocutor is in danger of feeling mobbed by having disagreed with me. I haven’t always succeeded; I have certainly been responsible for hurt feelings and I have tried to apologize for them when I have been in the wrong. I certainly try to be friendly and welcoming to every new commentator.
But. In the end, as I found my place in the fandom, I became precisely the fan who troubled me at the beginning. In terms of this confession, I switched positions, from the confessor to unwilling audience.
[How's that for a cliffhanger? I didn't want you to think I was just going to diss other fans without pointing at my own myriad failures. But this is too long, there are already another 3,000 words waiting, but / and I have to get ready for classes tomorrow. Bis bald.]