Here. Filming in NYC, I guess.
If you wanted to know what Armitage and Pace were talking to with regard to Dorwinion Wine, a bottle was just auctioned. This is another gift that the Hobbit actors received, apparently. Listing has ended.
She’s not blogging about Armitage, but she’s already written some thoughtful posts. Say hi to her here!
Continued from here. So: will Richard Armitage bring us together in 2017?
pax pax et non erat pax
Short answer — No. Definitely not if we keep talking about politics the way we have. Which could be another reason for not talking much about politics in fandom spaces this year. As I said, I’m not sure.
Long answer follows.
Pax pax et non erat pax is a quote from the biblical prophet Jeremiah, in which he describes his conflicts with other prophets who are prophesying peace. But most Americans are probably more familiar with it as a line from a 1775 speech attributed to Patrick Henry, [discussion of attribution here], who’s become a conservative evangelical Christian icon, but when I was a kid was just a colonial anti-British patriot, and then afterwards an anti-Federalist who changed his mind when he saw what happened in France. “Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace, but there is no peace,” Henry is supposed to have said. The general thrust of both of these contexts suggests: people who insist on peace in the face of obvious evidence to the contrary endanger their societies. Israel was under threat of destruction from Babylon and the North American colonies were about to become embroiled in a revolution that would separate them from Great Britain.
To be honest, this is kind of how I’m feeling about what Richard Armitage said at Christmas. It wasn’t helpful; it might have been harmful. I was lucky that I had finally come to a place that very afternoon about how to deal with this stuff (subject of a forthcoming post). How I felt was mild in comparison to what I’ve heard from two fans who told me that they read this message and said in their hearts some version of “I’d be happy to thrown down with you any time about who does more to help those in need,” and/or “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, you know nothing about my life.” When we talk about celebrity endorsements having a negative impact, it seems to me that one piece of it must be that most people don’t care to be told how to feel or what to do by those who have no idea of what their lives are really like. On that level, what Armitage had to say was itself a failure of empathy.
gentlemen may cry empathy, empathy …
So I guess I’m being a bit of an indecisive moderate, yet again, in taking a less severe position than that and feeling that what he said was inadequate.
What this message said to me was something that Richard Armitage has said before. Based on what he’s said in public in the last few years, Richard Armitage definitely urges people to paper over trouble, who cries “peace, peace” when there is no peace. Here, it’s talk about having to accept isolation and division (news flash: whether we accept it or not, it’s not a narrative — it’s real) if we don’t act empathetically. There’s ample evidence of Armitage’s stance elsewhere, too. Don’t argue, don’t stand up to people who bully you, be empathetic, we’ve heard this all before from him. As blog readers know, my own position couldn’t be more different. Research is starting to show that people who could empathize are actually less sympathetic to people in situations they’ve experienced. I think it’s a fundamental cognitive and political mistake to conflate what actors do when trying to figure out how to play a character with empathy as it impacts actual social problems, and as I’ve said in regard to concrete issues in the fandom — fans don’t want to empathize with each other’s needs and I don’t fundamentally believe we want to take intellectual steps toward empathizing with what we might reasonably hypothesize Armitage’s needs might be.
And when understood politically, what Armitage typically says, has regularly been saying, is a reprise of the position that left me ambivalent before: Not talking about or confronting contemporary injustice reinforces the power of whoever benefits from the status quo. It really hasn’t been lost on me that everyone I’ve heard ask for unity and reconciliation in the wake of the election, for Americans to forget our differences, is some combination of either white and/or wealthy and/or male. Which makes it seem appropriate, given the holiday, to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963).
To be fair to Armitage, of course, despite the near sainthood that King has taken on lately among people who seem to have no idea of what he actually did or said during his career, it seems to me that most Americans I know would disagree with King (the debates over Colin Kaepernick seem to exemplify exactly what King was talking about), and there are all kinds of people arguing at the moment that what we need is less protest and more empathy. In my circles, President Obama’s quotation of Harper Lee’s character, Atticus Finch, on climbing into someone else’s skin and walking around with it was the moment of his farewell address cited with the most approval overall. Now, it’s to Obama’s advantage to lean as far to the center as he can make himself lean, and he’s been criticized by me and other liberals for that choice, even as Fox News seems not even to notice now desperately toward the right he occasionally contorts himself from our perspective. But what no one seems to talk about is where the empathy is supposed to come from.
[understanding as the basis for empathy]
Common notions about the sources of empathy seem to include elements something about information as the basis for understanding. This is the purpose of a recent book by one of the more prominent proponents of empathy, Arlie Russell Hochschild, a UC-Berkeley sociologist whose book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (2016), is getting a lot of press right now as the book that’s going to make liberals empathize with all the angry Trump voters out there. Of course, she was researching it when that position seemed like a dwindling minority and not the compass for the political future of the U.S.; perhaps she’d argue differently if she published the book now. It’s an okay book — not as tightly argued as Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker (2016), which makes the same points, but it’s more accessibly written.
Hochschild’s book presents the results of her study of the attitudes and political stances, and (sometimes counterfactual) beliefs about society among conservatives in the state of Louisiana in the last five years or so — the state with the highest allotment of federal subsidies, the worst or second worst schools in the U.S., one of the most segregated societies, and the site of numerous notorious catastrophic environmental disasters in the last decade, from hurricanes to oil spills to earthquakes. She wanted to try to overcome her (reader’s) “empathy wall” against people who live in places like this and continually vote for strict conservative politicians who fail to protect them, against their rational interests:
An empathy wall is an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those who hold different beliefs or whose childhood is rooted in different circumstances. […] But is it possible, without changing our beliefs, to know others from the inside, to see reality through their eyes, to understand the links between life, feeling, and politics; that is, to cross the empathy wall? I thought it was.
Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York: Free Press, 2016), p. 5.
To explain politics in Louisiana (and by synecdoche, for the rest of the “red state” voters in the U.S. — this recent change has confused me — “red” now means conservative and not Communist), she develops a “deep story” that reflects the attitudes of this social segment. They have been working hard forever to attain the American Dream, which is simultaneously ever receding; other people who are not like them and don’t share their values “cut in line” with the support of the federal government (women, Blacks, refugees, immigrants, even endangered species); transformations in the economy mean that aging people have a hard time adjusting and the federal government exacerbates their difficulties by increasing giveaways and transfers, which they resist supporting (even if they accept them in practice) because they refuse to see themselves as victims. To top it all off, they feel that liberals make fun of them by calling them “rednecks” and worse, see them as stupid and uneducated and look down on them or harass them because they are Christian. Hochschild’s book illustrates the effects of this “deep story” in the lives and political choices of some of her informants, shows how it explains the Trump phenomenon, and then concludes that all we need to do to tear down the empathy wall is think about each other’s experiences. (She also describes a liberal deep story, but she doesn’t spend much time on it, and frankly, while it may be the deep story of a Berkeley liberal, it has almost nothing to do with my deep story, but whatever, this wasn’t a book about liberals.)
I learned some things I didn’t know about Louisiana by reading this book; I’ve only been there twice, as a tourist. A lot of historical and political perspective that could have been helpful in understanding Louisiana was simply left out of the book (what is the pattern of populist movements in the U.S.? what is the difference between far-Right conservatism [Mike Pence] and demagoguery [Donald Trump]?) There were analytical points I agreed with or disagreed with, and one major political argument about big business / small business alliances that I was unfamiliar with (although that apparently came from Robert Reich). But the purpose of the book — tearing down the empathy wall? — well, I found it kind of condescending. Maybe I wasn’t in her core audience. Maybe Hochschild (or Armitage?) really lives in a bubble where there are no conservatives at all and everyone thinks the U.S. should take in all the refugees and normalize immigration and absolutely everyone was totally horrified by the results of the last presidential election and so on. But you know, that’s not my real-life political world. I know exactly two people who I see, face to face, on a regular basis, who I know for sure didn’t vote GOP in the November election. I know I am the only person in my nuclear family who voted Democrat. Wisconsin was a state subject to recount with a GOP margin of only ca. 22,000 votes, so I know theoretically there must be people around me who also voted for Clinton, but I’m damned if I know who they are. Most of them live in Madison or Milwaukee, I guess. So the features of Hochschild’s “deep story” are familiar to me, even if the way it impacts Wisconsin is naturally different than what happens in Louisiana. And I’m not a liberal who looks down on Christians because they are Christian, or calls people who eat wild game or fish “rednecks.”
Another applauded moment in President Obama’s farewell address came when he admonished, “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.” With all due respect to our soon-to-be former president: I don’t need to talk to strangers to get exposure to a different political view. I can talk to practically anyone I meet here. Strangers in their own land, Professor Hochschild? I’m just as much a stranger as anyone else. Maybe more of one.
Tout comprendre n’est pas tout pardonner, as I’ve said before. Knowing why people behave as the way they do doesn’t make their behavior acceptable to me. Especially when it has a grave impact on my well-being, as the results of this last election will unless something hugely unexpected happens. I’m not normalizing something that has started to show significant signs of fascism.
I understand why these people made these choices from their own frame of reference. I still don’t agree. And I don’t think I was the one who was isolating or dividing others in all this. When does the obligation start on the other side not to isolate me? Every single economic factor that affects Hochschild’s Louisianans also affects me. I also live on the same planet. When do I get to say, have some empathy for my position that we shouldn’t let big oil destroy the planet?
… but there is no empathy
So, yeah. Will Richard Armitage bring us together this year?
Richard Armitage has certainly been influential on my life — one might say decisive — but not in the sense that he’s affected my political views or actions. I suppose it comes down to the fact that I think there are things that Armitage knows way more about than I do, and I’d like to learn about those things from him, and there are things that I think he’s got nothing to teach me about and so, while I’m curious about what he has to say and support his right to say it, I don’t find it motivational or think that it has any necessary normative value. There are some things he’s demonstrably wrong about, which doesn’t separate him from the rest of the human race, including me. I’ve made a concrete decision about how to deal with this recently that I hope will have me spending less time angry about his tweets and FB statements. One of my best friends would call this: managing expectations. (forthcoming post.)
Even if I grant that empathy is possible, despite my skepticism, I honestly do not believe that empathy can be taught, at least not to adults. If you’ve read The Chosen, you may remember that a significant plot point revolves around the question of whether a brilliant child can be taught compassion — and that the price of teaching empathy is emotional abuse. As my favorite bartender used to say: “I can teach you how to be a faster, more efficient waiter — but I can’t teach you how to genuinely want people to have a good time at your table or your bar.” It’s a feature of good (successful) bartenders that they have both this interest in other humans and a capacity to manage it effectively (I’ve got the former but not the latter). My personal preference would be to encourage people to be more self-critical about their notions of equity — to think, rather than to feel. The politics of emotion are (as Hochschild’s book implies, correctly, in my view) a big piece of what got us Trump.
But in terms of Armitage’s Christmas sermon: no. I don’t hate anyone who voted for Donald Trump and I am certainly not afraid of them. I know at first hand that GOP voters are a diverse bunch (even when I look just at my own family, each of them voted GOP for an entirely different reason, some of which make more sense to me than others — and Flower’s vote is the only one that is really explained by Hochschild’s theory). I’ll help people as I always have; I’ll seek to understand them as I always have, my entire life. Incidentally, these are values I learned from my very politically and religiously conservative parents. But I’m not someone who’s going to paper over problems. I won’t cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace, and I’m not up for being cured slightly (to cite Jeremiah more accurately than Patrick Henry did). I think we have to acknowledge that we are divided and that a lot of us are isolated for various reasons, long before we can even talk about empathy. I don’t think empathy is really on the table. First of all, it hasn’t been offered to me, but more importantly, trying to understand the circumstances and needs of the majority of Americans who voted against the GOP Presidential ticket is clearly not where this governmental transition is going, as the political news reveals in more disturbing detail every day.
In the end — if I want anything in the world to change, I have to deal first with the world as it is. It doesn’t help me to lie about the empathy of others, and I don’t see why I should grant others something they have already indicated they will not grant to me. I’m not going to politicize everything in fandom. But I plan to continue as I’ve been. When there’s something to say I will say it, whether another person finds that “empathetic” or not. Let every woman have her own conscience — particularly while the law still allows us to do so.
OK, I think I’ve said what I wanted to say about politics. I promise the next post will be friendlier and Armitagier. It’s time.
[As I realized that I’ve been obsessively rereading my favorite fanfics all week to comfort myself because of the distressing political news, I guess I’ll finish up this post draft first.]
Warning: politics! But not a rant. More of a ramble, about politics and the Richard Armitage fandom. And my feelings. Skip to the heading you’re interested in. This is the prelude of assumptions on my mind. The part I really care about is in the subsequent post.
me + boycotting vs. consuming things I love
Not long ago, I was reading an article about what happens when breweries favored by beer fans (or their owners) make political statements. I used to live about two miles as the crow flies from the Yuengling facility in Tampa, but I was never a Yuengling drinker, so if you’re asking, I can now cite a political reason for continuing not to buy a mediocre beer. Aren’t I virtuous? [sarcasm] My favorite Wisconsin brewery is explicitly liberally positioned and was so well before it became my favorite brewery. But although it doesn’t hurt that all its employees have health insurance, I buy the beer because I think it’s excellent, to taunt my out-of-state friends (they only distribute here, intentionally), and occasionally, to deliver a six-pack to my poor, exiled cousin The Architect, who lives in Minneapolis. Like most liberals who are willing to boycott via consumption, I’m not very consistent (I had a paragraph of examples here that I’ve deleted). My general feeling is that a successful boycott is probably more useful as a long term negative public relations measure than as a technique for immediately hitting a company in the pocketbook. The grape boycott is probably the major thing I associate with Cesar Chavez and the UFW, for instance, and it was over almost before I was born. I will be permanently suspicious of produce picking conditions in the U.S. because of them. In a similar way, PETA drew the question of animal testing into my view, even if I don’t endorse or agree with everything the group has done. Although I still use some problematic products, I do think about the question now.
But I’m off track. What I found interesting in the article was the guy who said, essentially, we drink your beer to forget politics, so stop talking about politics. Implication of the beer guy: we just want to buy your beer and drink it, we don’t want to hear your politics (Or perhaps: pay for them or seen to be implicated in them because we drink your beer. For something that’s a true hipster signifier, craft beer has an awful lot of libertarian and conservative consumers as well.)
confrontations with politics while consuming something you love
Similar views (by extension) have been expressed in the Richard Armitage fandom (more recent examples are available on Twitter) — people argue that we participate in fandom for fun, and life is horrible enough without making fandom about all the horrible things, among which many would include politics. The first piece of this question — how much Richard Armitage should talk about politics — is familiar terrain for us. Some commentators are generally averse to Armitage making political statements, and others (like me) are more positive about it. Armitage said almost nothing political until 2013; it was so surprising to some fans that there was a tussle at the time over whether the journalist tricked him into doing it. After that he was still quiet until 2016, when he had quite a bit to say about the refugee question and about Brexit. It was unlikely that Armitage would influence many previously held opinions. Current political science research tends to demonstrate that celebrity endorsements of any kind often negatively impact a candidate’s or position’s attractiveness in the general electorate as opposed to niche groups that already appreciate either the celebrity or the candidate/position endorsed. But it fills in my knowledge of Armitage, which is a plus, and which is important for the emotional project behind this blog, even when what he says bothers or enrages me.
Naturally: I certainly agree that celebrities have the right to share their political convictions. Equally: when they do so, it opens up new cans of worms for their fandoms. Because it’s a bit like the beer guy. I’m really there for the beer, whoops, I mean, the acting and the learning and the creativity and the fun, and so on, and not for the politics.
how much fandom time do I want to spend on politics?
As I have been, so most fans, I suspect. One clear transformation in the Armitage fandom that’s been visible in 2016 has been the amount of time many of us have spent talking about politics in fandom venues. From the beginning, I felt that the Armitage fandom had a limited interest in open political discussion. While people may have had intense political commitments in private, as I do, most did not carry them into the fandom. When Armitage took on his first projects with heavy and inescapable political relevance this year (Love, Love, Love and Berlin Station), after the Brexit discussions of the summer, fans proved that we can and do have political positions, but it’s my impression that only very few fans truly wanted to engage on that level for very long. They’d state an opinion, but they didn’t want to negotiate (although that effect also has something to do with how FB and Twitter work). Interest petered out quickly; I saw people saying that they were bored by these discussions.
In the past, such discussions occurred on some of the fan forums, but were mostly fenced off; other forums prohibited them from occurring. There is / was one blogger who was very explicitly political and that became one reason for me to stay away from that blog. I did disagree with the political position, but I read a lot of stuff that I disagree with in the course of a day. It was more that, like the guy in the beer article, I didn’t need Armitageworld for politics, I had plenty of it elsewhere, and for me fandom was for fun and creative self-actualization and not for political discussion. I didn’t want my comments or sentiments turned into fodder for a political program and definitely not one I disagreed with. When I wrote things that could be understood as political, and I certainly did, I often tried to keep them on the emotional rather than on the political level, written as things about shared values even when policy in response might be contentious.
Admittedly, the atmosphere changed a bit with the eruption of the tumblr fandom, because it’s important on tumblr to be woke and the political disagreements there are legendary. Even so, the specific political issue most of the tumblr fans I saw addressing was directly related to questions in the fandom. The issues involved were not usually extraneous, as the ones we are confronted with lately are. But there is a compulsion to discuss politics on tumblr that always made me uncomfortable. I understand, and under particular circumstances endorse, the typical tumblr argument that refusal to acknowledge or discuss a political issue is itself a political stance, that refusal to engage supports the position of whoever benefits from the status quo. At the same time, however, the insistence that absolutely everything be political and/or politicized is a typical feature of a totalitarian society. From the 1960s, some historians made the influential argument that in some cases, Germans supported National Socialism externally, in a situation where everything from school to work to rabbit breeding clubs was politicized, in hopes of preserving a non-politicized private sphere. It seems to me that in a liberal society, people should have access to the freedom not to care about politics. In a liberal fandom, similarly, fans should have the freedom not to care about the political issues that affect the fandom or political discussions that go on inside it.
In practical terms, it doesn’t matter, because the way that our current social media constitute the fandom makes it very hard to avoid exposure to political discussion; all one can do is not participate. My feelings about it remain mixed because while I agree that people who want to talk about politics should do so, in my own experience, it’s not productive to have political discussions with total strangers or over the Internet. In any case, decisions about that particular question have been ended for three reasons — first, because Richard Armitage has started tweeting and FBing about politics, of course fans are going to (and should) respond to him. Second, there are fans who have “Armitage” in their Twitter handles and also tweet frequently about politics, which automatically puts anything they say into the Armitage tag on Twitter and makes it unavoidable for anyone who uses that tag as a source of Armitage-related news. (Over long or short, admittedly, this makes the tag useless, as people ultimately retreat into their own conversations.) Finally, unlike me, many fans don’t separate their fan and real life personas online, and so increased levels of political discussion by those people in light of the current atmosphere mean we’ll generally be exposed to more of it. When the fandom left the moderated discussion forums behind, stopping certain conversations became impossible.
So, again, my feelings are not especially consistent. I’ve occasionally talked about politics on blog (more so in 2016 than ever before). I support the rights of others, including Richard Armitage, to discuss politics within the fandom if that’s what they want to do. I’ve generally preferred the possibility of uncomfortable discussions that ensued over the doldrums of what I felt was a stifling atmosphere before. At the same time, I admit to feeling like the beer guy: I don’t always want to talk about politics. I particularly don’t want to do it all the time in this setting, where the preconditions for a productive political conversation are often lacking. At certain moments, in fact, I really don’t want to; I also want that refuge where I can just enjoy the pretty or my feelings or cultivate my creativity, independently of reality. So if I were in control of the world, I would choose a fandom that didn’t talk about politics all that much. But I don’t control the world and I don’t see a consensus for that emerging among “us” anytime soon.
On top of that, lately the problems created by the politicization of all space (referred to above) have really been on my mind. The situation might be really critical just now. If political opinions I find objectionable come to dominate in the public sphere, what is the role I play in that state of affairs if I don’t object at every opportunity? Germany had a word for that, too: inner emigration. So did East Germany: Eigensinn. What James C. Scott called “weapons of the weak.” I’m not sure it’s enough.
I guess we’ll see what’s about to unfold. My intuitive feeling is that, particularly for the next two years, those of us who really care not just about the generally accepted social protections of modern industrialized states that have been in place for over three generations, but also about basic civil rights supposedly guaranteed to us in the U.S. Constitution since 1789, are going to have to engage like never before in support of them or they will be ripped away from us.
In which case, blogging here, or saying anything political at all in this space, may fall victim to forces beyond my control.
Though we’re not there yet.
Two years ago, I blogged one of my favorite songs in honor of the day. Lately, I don’t feel like singing. Since this weekend, I’ve been thinking we’ve been forgetting our history.
I am no fan of the idea that once someone does something praiseworthy, they can never be criticized after that. I’ve been critical of things that Rep. John Lewis has said and done on the national political scene. I have qualms about saying that Donald Trump is “not my president” (although my reservations are probably too complicated to be appropriate for airing this space).
However, anyone who calls John Lewis “all talk” badly needs a history lesson. This son of sharecroppers (he has nine siblings) who practiced public speaking by preaching to his chickens as a child got himself an education (running away from the fields sometimes to go to school instead) and joined the sit-in movements in the 1950s, getting arrested on behalf of his cause, inaugurating the Freedom Rides, organizing the March on Washington. In the universe that we used to live in until the last few months, Lewis was the personification of what you’d want a political leader to be, no matter your politics. He exemplifies the idea that with the support of a community, people can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and change the world.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with his life story and would like an easy introduction to it, this last fall, the final volume in the graphic novel trilogy, March, appeared. It’s a memoir of Lewis’ participation in the U.S. civil rights movement. I’ve gotten a lot from reading these (it seems wrong, in this case, to say that I’ve enjoyed them). I learned a lot about Lewis and a few things about the movement that I didn’t know — and the drawings make clear just how much Lewis and people like him sacrificed to force our country to start to live up to its promise that “all men are created equal” and that “no State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The books have won numerous awards, have been on the national bestseller lists for months, and are written at a level appropriate for a beginning high school reader.
There are so many other books that I’d recommend: my standard recommendation is Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi, a memoir of one of Lewis’ contemporaries, that gets clearly at conditions for African-Americans in Mississippi at that time. Or Carlotta Wall’s Lanier’s memoir of crossing the picket lines to attend high school at Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, A Mighty Long Way. Or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, which recounts how difficult things still are (he’s about my brother’s age). I just read Hidden Figures, the story of how African-American women math specialists aided in NASA’s effort to put men on the moon, and will be seeing the movie this week; again readers can see how hard these people worked to improve not only their own lives, but also those of others, and how many obstacles our society — we — put in their way, both in past and at present.
Today, I am thanking all of those people, including John Lewis, who definitely were not “all talk” in situations where it really counted.