me + Richard Armitage + Lee Pace, or: The ship that dare not speak its name [part 2, clothes sharing]
I last wrote about this topic here, an analysis of the thinking and argumentation behind what I called “Richlee realism.” I had intended to follow up immediately and then the TDOS premiere knocked me for a loop. Continuing this topic was on my agenda for 2014 and then processing the 92Y event occupied us all for a good two weeks.
Please read carefully and consider the previously stated caveats and the comments policy in the sidebar before commenting. I continue to believe that rational discussion of controversial topics is possible and in pursuance of that conviction I will continue to block people who ignore the discussion guidelines in the attempt to tank any calm discussion of the topic. I can’t say it enough: Life is so short. If you can’t tolerate any discussion of this topic, don’t read this post.
As for me: I’ve embraced the maxim taken from Terence, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am human, I consider nothing human foreign to me). Though its meaning differs now from that given in its original context (Terence’s character apparently used it sarcastically), the tradition of the West interpreted it to mean that learning about the ideas and lives of others is always a valid activity. I agree, even if I sometimes disagree or shake my head in incomprehension.
This is one of those moments for me — a sort of “half ways I don’t totally get that” element of all of this. I’ve been writing about my growing awareness of the Richlee ship chronologically, but I need to detour a bit from my narrative in order to incorporate an element that many enthusiastic shippers find meaningful, but which has never really drawn me: “clothes sharing.” Because it didn’t appeal to me that much, I didn’t notice the discussion when it started and I can’t find its origins.
I think the photos in this post show all the items I’m aware Armitage and Pace are alleged to have shared, with the exception of the “tie clip” — I’ve never seen a photo demonstration of that point, only references to the possibility that Armitage is publicly wearing Pace’s tie clip (or did a year ago, but has stopped doing so; the Richlee realists seem to have split between a group that believes the relationship to be over and another that believes it to be ongoing). I’m not saying there’s no photo evidence on the tie clip, just that I haven’t run across it. My ambivalent interest in this ship (Armitage / McTavish is my Hobbit RPF OTP — OMG, have you read this? So good!) means I don’t look for everything about it but wait for the evidence to find me, more or less. I think I noticed a comparison of the blue jeans shirt sometime in the spring of 2013, and the blue sweater juxtaposition about at the date of the end of Hobbit pickups. I saw them all first on tumblr.
If I’ve missed known items, please add a link in the comments. Source for these images was Dorotear.
The pictures of Armitage come from, in order from top to bottom: (a) end of pickups for The Hobbit, July 2013; (b) ComicCon 2012; (c) Spooks 7.3 (Armitage as Lucas North), so 2008, I believe; (d) Robert Ascroft photoshoot, sometime between August and November 2012. I’m uninformed about the images of Pace because this stuff never really convinced me as evidence for Richlee realism, nor did it appeal to me on an emotional level.
On the evidential problem — Like all of the evidence adduced for the reality of the ship, it runs aground of the necessary / sufficient problem. “Clothes sharing” neither proves that they are necessarily romantic partners, nor it is sufficient on its own to do so. It’s more evidence for the inductive / intuitive case that I discussed in the previous post. But just to note the evidential problem, because that’s my way, I’ll work my way through conventional arguments first before I start to parse its textual effects.
All of the clothing pictured is mass produced. I know realists say the pea coat in particular is distinctive, but it’s not that distinctive; it’s expensive but still something anyone could obtain in a high end department store. All of it can be purchased in multiple locations on at least two continents. In particular the shirts are of a style made by multiple manufacturers. I saw a lot of jeans shirts on men that winter that all looked more or less exactly the same from the distance we’re seeing these items. Moreover, we are dealing with two actors who are plausibly customers for the same range of casual menswear (trendy, urban, upmarket but not hyperfashionista — “fitting in” stylish but not “standing out” stylish). These articles of clothing were all on trend in 2011/12, so the most likely explanation is that they purchased them fully independently of each other. (I tend to shop in about three stores, and I can’t tell you how often I see someone wearing something I own. It’s a hazard of wearing mass-produced clothing.) We could also make a case that they bought them in conjunction. Pace and Armitage clearly knew each other because they worked together, they are certainly friends, they have lived in the same region since the fall of 2012, and because some men tend to unoriginality in their clothing choices, it would be entirely possible that they shopped together, shared a personal shopper, or saw the clothes on each other and said, oh, I like that, where did you get it? Armitage has stated that he lacks or has lost a strong fashion sense, and most recently [in Esquire, 2013] that he bought Lucas North’s wardrobe out of laziness, precisely because someone had decided it looked good on him. Shopping together still doesn’t prove the ship. Indeed, even if all of the pictured items on the actors were in fact the very same objects, the fact that they were both wearing them wouldn’t prove the ship real. I lend clothes to people myself. A real relationship is the least likely conclusion to be drawn from “clothes sharing” based on what I know about it. I could even construct a plausible argument for the position that “clothes sharing” proves they were never in a relationship at all, insofar as “clothes sharing” occasionally functions in Richlee realist arguments as a sign that the actors are speaking a “secret language” to others or fans. But if they were in a relationship, given the realities of their lives, why would they be sending secret messages to anyone? That would be the last thing they’d want to do.
I don’t really want to discuss the merits of the evidence, since the reasoning used to put them together is not susceptible to argument (I pointed this out last time — good or bad evidence is essentially irrelevant to all shippers, whether realist or not), but I feel like I had to point this stuff out in order to explain why it’s a part of the story that never interested me all that much as a consumer. Pieces of Richlee appeal to me deeply, as I’ll explain in the next post in this series, but this particular element so heavily strained my own notion of the bounds of semantic rationality that I couldn’t really construct a fantasy around it in the Richlee constellation.
Now — I’d be the first to admit that my own core Richard Armitage fantasies, the tame as well as the naughty, are far from rational or realistic. I’m never going to stumble over his feet in my local while he teaches me to two-step, let alone find him in my bed. But each has an element that appeals to me so forcefully that it sublimates or masters common-sense rationality — a kind of vivid-for-me “emotional realism” that allows me to ignore rationality and dream creatively. So when I say “clothes sharing” doesn’t appeal to me, it’s not enough to say, the evidence for it is poor — I also have to add that it carries little to no emotional appeal for me, or not enough to trump my allegiance to rational views of reality in the way that other fantasies do.
Summarizing up till now: The evidential case for “clothes sharing” is insubstantial and some strands of its argumentation border on preposterous.
Bridge to the next piece of the discussion: Rather, it’s the intuitive case that is interesting, not because of the nature of the reasoning (I talked about that last time) but rather because of the facets of the appeal of this kind of “emotional realism.”
Please remember: realism is not reality; rather, realism is the effect of seeming real. Something real is different from something that is realistic, and this is a key distinction in the Richlee ship — between constructing or depicting a kind of realism for the person who likes the ship, as opposed to proving that Richlee is real, which might be appealing, but can only be argued for intuitively on the basis of the evidence that’s available. Rhetorically, “clothes sharing” can be understood as a move toward creating “realism” whether or not it’s indicative of anything real. All fantasy [fangirl, shippers, straight, gay, trans, whatever] is by definition not real; but any fantasy could be more or less realistic based on criteria set up by the fantasizer or observers of the fantasy. And, as the clothes sharing example suggests, the realism of the fantasy bears no necessary relationship to the reality of the matter about which one fantasizes. The pictures included here all attempt to make the fantasy appear realistic to those who consume them, but they do not make the relationship real. In essence, for most viewers, they buoy or sustain an emotion rather than really seeking to convince. I realize that’s a complex series of assertions, but if the point is unclear, I’ll be happy to illustrate it in comments.
So let’s think a second about two questions: (a) why someone who’s not in severe economic need shares articles of clothing with someone else and (b) why a third party who observed that, or believed they observed it, would find such sharing an appealing thing to dream about.
I couldn’t have talked about the answers to those questions from my own perspective earlier. I have never felt the desire to wear the clothes of my own lovers; as I wrote above, it’s not my fantasy. Luckily, however, fantasies are available to examine that allow me to think further. The swapped clothes, it turns out, have gotten their own fanfics. For instance, Lee has to leave New Zealand but finds that Richard’s put the much-treasured coat in his luggage. Or in the same pairing of stories, Richard is uncertain about putting it in Lee’s luggage (I enjoy, and find convincing, the way the author of that story writes the tension and uncertainty and weariness of impending middle age into the Richard Armitage character).
In the latter story, which depicts the character Armitage pondering the hopes he felt behind putting his favorite coat in Pace’s luggage without Pace’s knowledge, sharing the coat becomes a way to say something that the men, particularly Armitage, had not been able to articulate in each other’s presences.
That was what [Richard] wanted: Lee in his life for the rest of it. [¶] So, maybe him putting his favorite coat in Lee’s luggage was a sign, one that Lee would appreciate and understand for what it meant. And maybe when Lee returned to New Zealand, to him, then he would
have gained the courage to let everything he felt spill forth and flood over the both of them.
The “secret language” trope of some Richlee realism here, displayed for the world in images of clothing, develops into a tongue shared solely between the lovers in the story, but it additionally becomes a language that is contested between them, a sign that one hopes, indeed, one is sure, will be interpreted correctly when one cannot speak oneself. And a sign that will ultimately be permanent. The trope thus speaks to the inner and the outer world at the same time.
In the former story, a much more familiar theme comes out, the piece of clothing as the carrier of the lover’s smell, but (perhaps because both of these stories were written by the same author) it also speaks poignantly of reassurance against doubt.
[Lee] retrieved his luggage, tossing it on the bed, and opening it. When he did, he froze.
Lying there, right on the top, neatly folded was a black coat. Large buttons, buckles, a very nice and warm coat. [...] It was Richard’s.
Taking it out of the suitcase, Lee sat down on the foot of the bed. The material felt warm, as if Richard had just taken it off after having worn it. It smelled of him, an intoxicating fragrance, one Lee knew so damn well [...]
There was only one explanation: Richard had put the coat in here. Had neatly folded it and snuck it in while Lee was not paying attention.
The thought brought a smile to Lee’s face [...] Richard was letting him borrow his coat. Borrow so that Lee could return it to him.
This meant something. Something so much more.
The coat becomes the synecdoche for the presence of the giver, the gift telling the recipient he is loved, its texture maintaining the warmth, along with the scent, of the absent lover. And the intentionality of the act means that all these messages are willed ones to the recipient and that the sign should be read as commitment. There’s an element of shared clothing as security blanket here that seems less prevalent in Richlee realist discussions, which sometimes view shared clothing (the tie clip in particular) as potential signs of possession or statements of allegiance.
I have two additional observations about this trope: the first is that, although I didn’t find a story that articulated this theme specifically, I found myself wondering if it also had something to do with the fantasy of being entirely subsumed in, drowned in, surrounded by the lover in the way that one could wrap oneself up in his coat. When one puts his coat on, one is surrounded not only by the smell but the intention of sharing and the protective shielding of the relationship.
The other observation that popped into my head, again and again, is not something I’m willing to assert more than tentatively, because I can think of too many exceptions, but I want to broach it anyway — namely, that no matter the sign being articulated through the clothes sharing fantasy, the trope itself struck me as intensely sentimental both on the part of the characters sketched in the fantasy and on the part of the people who articulated it. I find myself inevitably wondering about the whole question of most slash RPF being written by straight women, because while I can’t presume to know anything reliable or generalize even vaguely about the romantic fantasies of people I don’t know, or indeed entire groups of them, this sort of thing, the move from coat to reassurance, protection, and possibly shielding or dissolution in the personality of the other, strikes me as fairly abstract and conceptual for a male fantasy. It’s clear to me that men also exchange tokens of love with each other — I’m not saying that “clothes sharing” couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be a male fantasy as well — but in the intensity of its sentimentality it reads to me as fairly strikingly female and, relatively speaking, a young fantasy. I’m not sure that older lovers desire the loosening of boundaries in such a demonstrative way. Or perhaps they do, in which case “clothes sharing” might also take on valences of recollection or nostalgic.
What I see in these fantasies is certainly not the whole story — there must be elements that appear to others, or that I am neglecting.
What did I get from this look at Richlee clothes sharing — and by turning over in my mind the consideration that it doesn’t appeal to me?
Sometimes a fantasy that one doesn’t share is just as illuminating as one that one falls into, ass over teakettle. This one can’t surmount the obstacles for what I called “emotional realism” above, for me as consumer. I don’t think of myself as a romantic. While I’m sentimental about the clothing of family members (I have some clothing from each of my deceased close relatives) and some of my own past clothing, I would not normally wear clothing that belongs to a lover except out of necessity (like if I got soaked or was freezing or something). I don’t find the whole “I lounge around in his shirt after sex” thing attractive — I want to be naked or to have my own clothes on — and my personal physical boundaries are high. In encounters with lovers, I am sometimes oblivious, but when I am aware, I am relatively direct (I think?) about my needs and feelings. I don’t speak in the language of symbols and I don’t necessarily find it attractive to do so.
“Emotional realism” for me is somewhere else. I read from my own reaction to what I see in these fantasies that my relationship dreams don’t play around the boundary of a encounters in which certain elements can’t be spoken, or in which the partners are wrestling with fears about articulating their feelings (and then rejoice, or are at least comforted about) managing to do so. Richlee clothes sharing seems to take the common theme of forbidden love in slash RPF and take it up a notch, with the love being not only socially forbidden, but the direct communication of the love between lovers hindered as well. The signaling of relationship, possession or allegiance to a lover, whether open or illicit, through clothing is not something I am eager to do. I derive no frisson from uncertainty. I don’t desire to wrap myself metaphorically in the affection of a lover or potential partner. I personally need too much autonomy for this particular phase of this fantasy to appeal fully.
The fact that this very sentimental trope did not appeal to me at all makes my growing personal interest in Richlee stories really counter-intuitive. Although I love slash, I am not, psychologically speaking, someone who should enjoy Richlee. More about that problem in the next piece.