Losing Armitage? or, Thorin aches and pains, part 4
I can’t believe this was originally only supposed to be two posts. But this is definitely the last one on this topic! And it is much shorter. If you missed them, here are links to parts one and two and three.
Before I get to the main event — a Richard Armitage euphoria trigger for us all!
Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in a publicity photo for North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Feeling euphoric now?
In previous posts, I articulated my hope that fans of longer duration than me will enjoy their memories of a past with closer, more current contact with Richard Armitage, as well as my own sentiments about the problems I’ve perceived in the years I’ve been a fan, and the ways in which I fear that I have contributed to them. Now it’s time for recommendations for all of us, for me, too, and it’s a good time for them, because signs suggest that things are going to change in pure numeric terms. And as our demographic context changes, we have a chance to change ourselves, as well — if we want to.
And I want us to. I’ve been hoping desperately for the expansion of this fandom for at least a year, but no more intensely than I have in the months since the eruption within our ranks during the San Diego ComicCon and my response to it. The reason I am most optimistic about the possibilities for this change is that I am convinced — perhaps in contrast to the folks who like the small, tight-knit group of fans, or appreciate the “our little secret” quality of much of Richard Armitage appreciation as it’s been conducted heretofore — that our fandom is just too small.
Another euphoria pic.
Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) and Margaret (Daniela Denby-Ashe) in the final scene of episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Richard Armitage does not have enough fans.
I don’t mean that in the sense that I don’t love or am ungrateful for the closeness I feel to my fan friends — I do.
I don’t mean that in the sense that I think Richard Armitage deserves more fans, although it is also certainly true that the quality of his work merits more attention from wider audiences.
I don’t mean it in the sense that I think Richard Armitage wants more fans, either, as he appears to struggle to reconcile his personal modesty with the experience of unabashed adoration from us, and though he doesn’t express worry about related externalities, he seems to be neutral to negative on the increased notoriety that comes with having fans.
And, finally: No, I’m not trying to be difficult or oppositional. I think Armitage does not have enough fans because I think that many of our problems relate to our small size as a fandom. If Armitage had more fans, I theorize, the consequences of small size that regularly plague us could finally be alleviated.
Some more euphoria:
Richard Armitage in CBeebies. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
A grown man converses with a stuffed animal. Sweet enough for you? Are your cheeks red yet?
I’ve talked in previous posts about my feelings that certain decisions I’ve made seemed inevitable to me if I were to grow as a blogger, if I were to fulfill the tasks I’ve set for myself here. And yet, I was aware that those decisions would separate me from others. Although I remain sympathetic to the countervailing tendency — that as a fandom we are always better off when we stick together — philosophically, my practical faith in this possibility remains low. Not everyone is going to be able to suppress their needs in order to maintain the peace, a problem that I’ve had my own issues with. Nonetheless, historically speaking, I would hypothesize that it’s been important for Armitage fans to stick together simply because there are so few of us. It doesn’t make sense to have multiple centers of dedicated fandom when only so many people have been available to participate in discussions. By “dedicated fan,” I mean not so much people who know who Richard Armitage is and like to read about him from time to time, but people who really have him on their minds and want information or contact that relates to him very frequently — one or more times a week.
I don’t know what the numbers of fans who might meet that description are, specifically, though I could guess. For instance, the data I have suggest that this blog attracts something like a hundred devoted readers who are here every day, perhaps multiple times a day, who often or occasionally leave comments; another three hundred who come at regular intervals, but not every day, and occasionally or never leave comments; and another six hundred occasional vistors who come when they think of it, but have never left a comment. I’m also certain that some Armitage fans never come here and / or are completely unaware of this blog. And I’m completely in the dark about the membership size of the boards, or the regularity with which participants there leave comments or talk to each other.
I can’t speculate on what the exact proportions of “critical mass” for sustaining new venues in our fandom might be, although quality typically attracts attention. Nonetheless, n=1,000 is a useful number because it casts light on just how small the dedicated Richard Armitage fandom might be. Let’s say that the number of people who never come here is roughly equivalent to the number who have come here — even then it’s only 2,000 fans, total — or even if it’s three times that, it’s still only 3,000. If we take as a rule of thumb that only five to ten percent of any group will leave a comment or participate regularly in a conversation, at the large end of that spectrum, we’re talking something like 300 people to talk to. Let’s be generous and say it’s 500. Or, let’s be crazy and cite a figure that in my opinion is totally off the map — 10,000 dedicated fans, which would imply 1,000 people willing to be open about it on the web in any given week. That’s still not many people to sustain a fan universe that includes three major discussion boards in English plus a handful in other languages (such as German, Russian, French, Chinese, Spanish — another important caveat, because while many fans have mastered a second language, not all of us can talk to each other), another two major fansites without boards, about fifty blogs, I suspect at least as many tumblrs, and probably a dozen FB groups.
Another euphoria pic:
John Standring (Richard Armitage) comforts Carol (Sarah Smart) after their wedding in episode 3 of Sparkhouse. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Are you glowing yet?
Looking at these numbers explains not only why people can be tense when a new venue opens — it cuts into the audience for one’s own projects (many fewer long comment conversations take place here now than two years ago, for instance) — but also why people get so angry when a fan with a blog or a tumblr pushes at the margins of the envelope a little. The numbers makes the vehemence of the battles a lot more intelligible, because there just aren’t many of us. A single, powerful, dissident voice has a lot more power because diverse groups capable of espousing strongly differing opinions and still sustain themselves simply can’t populate themselves. A small disagreement gets a lot of attention and people line up to take sides. So if there are only three hundred people in a conversation, you have to have strong rules to keep those people together — not only to sustain the activity itself, but also to keep people from splintering off, because every disgruntled fan who leaves the fandom constitutes a significant loss.
And people in smaller groups, I would argue, are also potentially more likely to get disgruntled than people in larger ones, because the perception of being “tarred with the wrong brush” — whether accurate or not — is potentially greater. I am sure that some of the fans of longer duration, who have a picture of themselves that involves being in close contact with Richard Armitage, have asked themselves, “If Richard Armitage knows about this, what does he think? Does he think I endorse [that activity or style of conversation that I find disrespectful]?” Those are questions with which I have not much occupied myself, as I haven’t ever felt that blogging brings me closer to the real Richard Armitage, as tantalizing as that thought might be.
But even if Armitage isn’t listening or watching, there’s still the question of perception from outside. To put it from that perspective — what happens when you say, especially outside of the UK, that you’re a fan of Richard Armitage? Up till now, he’s been such a specialty taste that the likelihood any interlocutor would know what you’re talking about is relatively low. But if there are only “a few” other fans, then the possibility that one of them could embrace an attitude you can’t tolerate, that you would be made responsible for by an outsider who happened to be aware of it, is much greater and much more frightening than if there are hundreds and thousands of fans. In a small fandom, feeling close ties to others is important and that means to all or most other fans. In a large fandom, I would hypothesize, it becomes easier to shrug off behavior you’re troubled by because both you and the people around you who observe your fandom are likely to be aware that the fandom is large and involves large groups of differing constituencies. “I’m a Star Trek fan,” you might say, “but not like one of those fans.”
So, while it makes sense that a small fandom would cultivate a narrower notion of identity for both practical and identity-related reasons, the battles that come out of constituting it are vicious because the stakes are high and energy resources are scarce, and because everyone knows everyone else and every loss is incredibly painful. Because the fandom is small, too, there aren’t so many other places for people to go if they do differ. And, if a particular dynamic of fan policing takes form repeatedly in a particular setting, it’s also difficult to oppose it because the dissidents always leave, never to be heard from again. So the people who perpetuate the dynamic gain power.
Some more euphoria for many readers, I hope:
Harry Kennedy (Richard Armitage) tells Geraldine about his favorite books in Vicar of Dibley: The Handsome Stranger. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com
Are you suffused with happiness yet?
So what am I dreaming of? A situation where those battles don’t happen. A fandom where this blog (or others that take on problematic positions) doesn’t become the lightning rod for negative sentiment — because no single voice or tiny group of voices can be potent enough, in a vast sea of fans, to create such intense dissent within an influential small group. A situation where it is not possible for me to read the majority of what dedicated fans write about Armitage during a week and catalog my favorites, so that many people have to be involved in these activities, so that everyone is saying what their favorite blog post is this week. A situation where the world of fans of Richard Armitage is a sea that is impossible for any of us to grasp. And it seems likely that a step in the direction of this situation could be just around the corner. While it is understandable that people with a big investment in something feel a certain amount of frustration when others who don’t comprehend the extent of that investment start getting involved with it and doing their own thing, if the number of new fans is sufficient, the previously invested will not be able to enforce those concerns so easily any longer.
New fans will be coming to fan venues for Richard Armitage — not for us. Recognizing our prior investment or reproducing or conforming to our fan culture will not be among their first concerns. Indeed, only if we befriend them are they likely to develop any interest in our fan culture at all. If they find welcoming attitudes and venues, they may stay — or they may not. They may have different needs and form their own venues. And if we want to reduce the number of struggles in our own ranks, we should both be extremely welcoming to them, and also encourage them to constitute their own groups. Because the things that they do only create more options, and the potential for less tension.
Lucas North (Richard Armitage) reveals his delight in his fake fiancée, played by fellow agent Ros Myers (Hermione Norris) in Spooks 7.5. Soure: RichardArmitageNet.com
Why do I keep interspersing these “good feeling” pictures? As a reminder.
As we meet new fans, I think we have to keep our eyes on one main thing:
The cause of the euphoria.
Not: “respect for Richard Armitage,” whatever that means to each of us. Not: enforcing codes of behavior or rules of discourse on each other. Not: maintaining group identity against newcomers, or opening it to newcomers who are willing to accept our rules and adopt our culture.
What should we keep our eyes on? The thing that brought us here, whenever that happened. The thing that brings out our best qualities — our capacity to rejoice with those who are rejoicing (and the sympathy that that permits, which in turn allows us to mourn with those who are mourning in that season).
What brought us here? Enjoyment of Richard Armitage and his work. That is the main thing that unites all of us, even if we define that enjoyment in very diverse ways. And if we keep thinking about it as our paramount concern, reveling in that feeling of instantly activated love can make our world a better place. Because even if we disagree about all kinds of things — about what it is okay to say or do or think — we can agree that our motivation for speaking or doing or thinking is the immense amount of joy brought to us by this beautiful, talented, considerate, thoughtful guy.
I’ve been asking people for a year not to police each other, but I’m changing my question now, and this is my fan resolution for the next year:
The next time I feel some kind of irritation with fan behavior that leads me to feel the urge to police or disapprove, I am going to ask myself: even if I don’t happen to like this particular thing, what do I share with this fan? Why do I care about this person’s behavior in the first place? And the answer is going to be: I care because we both love Richard Armitage. That doesn’t mean that I have to approve innerly — but it does mean that I have to stop thinking about the outcome and start thinking about shared motivation. And I am going to remind myself of the euphoria I get from watching his work, looking at pictures of him, hearing what he says. And I am going to say — having the opportunity to share this euphoria is more than enough. I can easily grant that joy to someone else — even if I don’t like or even understand the specific thing she is doing. I have the joy, and she has the joy — and neither of us really needs anything more than that.
I’m not perfect and G-d knows I’m going to fail repeatedly. But I am going to ask myself that question; I’m going to tape it to my computer screen. I am going to remind myself of the love that Richard Armitage makes me feel – and what I share with other fans. And what we can build together out of that feeling of euphoria.
A flood of fans who are excited about Thorin Oakenshield should bring us a flood of new euphoria to enjoy, to share, to pass around, to multiply, to share with the world. It should allow us to see Richard Armitage through new eyes. Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but I still think that this expansion can do nothing but help us — if we remind ourselves why we are are here, if we remain open to the possibilities for diversity that can only increase the happiness we feel in the future.