Richard Armitage responds

•March 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

So maybe he did have backend on that film

•March 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Richard Armitage tangentially related

•March 24, 2018 • 8 Comments

Current (?) projects:

Past projects:

Collateral attractions / degrees of separation:

Preaching to the choir: A new book on cyberbullying

•March 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I read this book late last year and postponed a review because I thought I’d write more about the topic. I still may do that, but right now, in the face of an increased barrage of stuff from Cybersmile (which is mentioned in the book), I thought I would just mention what is useful about the book for those who want actual tools for dealing with bullying as opposed to the hypersmarm approach they use on Twitter (some of which is found in this book as well, unfortunately).

Shame Nation

The book is Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate (2017), by Sue Scheff and Melissa Schorr. Scheff is an advocate in the business of helping parents with children who need residential therapy or residential care, with a reputation built on the stance of opposing so-called “tough love” programs. She became the object of a defamation campaign after a dissatisfied customer of her service began posting criticisms on various Internet forums and social media sites. These criticisms proliferated and took on a life of their own, with an organized plan by her opponents to make sure that the charges were constantly visible. Eventually Scheff won a landmark $11.3 million settlement against her harasser. This case was not uncontroversial. Some observers have pointed out that the business area in which Scheff works (referral of troubled children to residential therapy centers) is one of questionable ethics, which in turn touches upon the credibility of Scheff’s claims. Scheff herself had been sued a few years earlier during a media / Internet tangle she initiated with an organization called WWASPS, and been upheld. While it is illegal in the U.S. to make false claims about business competitors, Scheff was able to show that her claims about WWASPS were true. She has also used some of the same “defense” tactics against her opponents on the Internet that she charges them with using (and she recommends this strategy in this book and elsewhere). All of this to say that while Scheff is an expert on the matters she’s discussing in this book, she’s not neutral. A quick scan of this book makes it clear that the act of defending against Internet defamation has become just as much of an industry as the organization of a defamation attack can be. Despite my reservations about the neutrality of the author, however, due her to extensive personal experience with the topic, I found parts of this book worthwhile.

I would advise readers of this blog to skip over the introduction by Monica Lewinsky (which, although Lewinsky claims to be the first victim of cyberbullying, clouds the issue, given the question of the political circumstances that surrounded her situation). Unless you’re completely out of it on this topic, skip part one (about 100 pages) as well; it’s a long description of horrible things that bulliers and shamers have done to people on the Internet. An important thing to note about this section is that Scheff more often uses the term “shaming” as opposed to “bullying.” This facilitates her general prescription for dealing with the problem, which is as follows:

Sue Scheff with Melissa Schorr, Shame Nation (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2017), pp. xxix-xxx. (This snippet is from Google Books).

Internet or shame culture?

If the problem is that the Internet magnifies the shame culture in which we live, for Scheff, the solution is to revisit our relationship with shaming and with our Internet behavior. On p. 58, she alleges that the majority of people want a “tamer digital culture.” I’m skeptical of this assertion on several grounds, not least because I think there is a difference between shaming and bullying, and because I think there are lines that need to be drawn around illegal behaviors vs. those that I or a group of people merely find distasteful. I also think that given the global nature of the Internet, we will never arrive at anything like a universal standard of what kind of Internet behavior is acceptable. Nor, in my opinion, would we want to. When I look at the stuff that Cybersmile tweets, I am often revolted by the sweetness. I honestly do not want people like that determining what the norms are for the Internet. I’m sure they feel the same way about me. I love the German cultural tendency to nitpick the heck out of everything; I find it tremendously productive; but I know that a lot of people don’t get it. Both Richard Armitage and Cybersmile left the fandom with a situation where the second anyone’s feelings are hurt, someone cries bullying. The current standard seems to be “bullying is conversational behavior that makes me uncomfortable.” Yet while I can try not to be mean according to my own ethics, I can never control how other people feel. And given that fandom is so heavily grounded in identity, we’re in a situation where people feel uniquely vulnerable. So we’re at an impasse. Laws can regulate illegal behavior, but we’re not going to eliminate cultural or behavioral conflict simply by “being nicer” or “taming digital culture.”

I similarly think the beginning part two of the book is not especially useful unless you are completely unfamiliar with this topic. One is that again there’s a difference between things that should be matters of Internet security (not revealing your birthdate or social security number) and those that are related to the actual topic of cyberbullying or shaming. It’s true that making errors in the former can come back to haunt you if you become the object of cyberbullying, but these matters are much more inflexible issues than the latter question (what kind of statement you’re making about yourself on the Internet). The second is that a lot of the advice will be out of date in six months. Social media changes its terms of service all the time and things you didn’t know were being shared are now suddenly available. Not sharing pictures of your kids publicly is great advice, except of course that depending on which photo hosting service you use they may become property of the host anyway the second you post them and the only way to avoid this will be not to put them anywhere in the Internet. No, don’t share nudes of yourself, even with a lover. But be aware that it’s easy nowadays to photoshop a picture of your head onto someone else’s naked body anyway. And the third is that some of the behavior she advocates — only sharing positive news about yourself (p. 151) — is part of what makes social media so aggravating. I’ve blocked or muted more than one real-life friend on FB for “facebragging,” which is part of her solution to making the Internet a more positive place. Om, no. More about this in a bit.

What is to be done?

However, and this is the reason I am blogging about the book, chapters 7 and 8 of the book are an interesting read and probably the best discussion I’ve read of what to do if you’re being trolled or cybershamed. This is something Armitage fans have discussed with varying results — most prefer the “playground advice” of ignoring harassment, but simultaneously, many if not most targets of cybershaming in the fandom have not been able to keep quiet about the opprobrium aimed in their direction, either. In chapter 7, Scheff makes the crucial (and in my opinion, correct) point that the optimal response strategy depends not just on the quality of the harassment, but also on the personality of the target. She details six possible responses: ignoring / muting / blocking; activism (talking about the experience to others); fighting (actively responding to harassment); flouncing (leaving the platform entirely); humanizing / explaining yourself to the harasser; empathizing with the harasser; and apologizing (if you’re the aggressor and are getting blowback). No single strategy is going to suit everyone (and when I think back to my own experiences as target, I used a combination of some of these rather than any single one, based on my own priorities and ethics).

In chapter 8, Scheff discusses legal remedies and ways to use the Internet against one’s attackers (online reputation management), as well as mentioning some resources in the U.S. for gaining assistance (this is where she mentions Cybersmile). However, we still have no solid information on its financials. Similarly, she recommends Crash Override Network, founded by some Gamergate survivors, but there is some evidence that CON is not what it seems to be. So, always be sure to check if you’re going to donate to these organizations or even get on their bandwagon on social media, for, as Scheff stresses, the Internet can be permanent. I liked one approach suggested by the Tyler Clementi Foundation, mentioned in chapter 9 (here’s a link, for those unfamiliar with this horrifying story): intervene when you see others truly being bullied. (And it doesn’t cost any money; this foundation is not rated by Charity Navigator.) This can be tricky, because I’ve more than once observed real bullying in our fandom occur among people who acted in the name of exposing a bully. However, something I was told a long time ago was that even if you can’t physically intervene in an incident of physical abuse, you can witness it and this sometimes gets the abuser to stop.

To me, that section ended the utility of the book, mostly because the remainder is devoted to more prescriptions about behavior. I don’t object to recommendations as such, or to anyone responding in positive or restorative ways to their experience as a target, but this section reinforces the impression I have that the only people who will read this book are those who feel themselves victimized by the Internet “shame culture” or the “global epidemic of online hate.” The people who actually commit the crimes and misdemeanors described in this book (as one of Scheff’s own chapters demonstrates) don’t think they need to change the behavior. And my experiences with the fringe cases (people who are shaming but don’t realize it — in the Armitage fandom this is the fan police) suggests that the moment they realize or are told what they are doing, they become defensive and go on the offensive. I’ve had this experience again and again. As I’ve said before many times: no one thinks SHE is the problem. I’d prefer a simpler approach: let everyone have his own conscience. And I’d prefer stronger privacy regulations in the U.S., and perhaps an enhancement of the enforcement of the defamation rules.

Nonetheless: chapters 7, 8 and 9 are worth your time, should you run across this book.

Thoughts on NT Live: Julius Caesar

•March 23, 2018 • 3 Comments

This is mostly random — I wanted to put something down here about what I was thinking, but I don’t really want to write a formal review. After seeing Hamlet recently, I realized that just seeing theater really invigorates me and have resolved to see more. So I bought a ticket to the next NT Live transmission, Julius Caesar, directed by Nicholas Hytner, with Ben Whishaw as Brutus and David Morrisey as Marc Anthony. If you don’t know the story of the Shakespeare play, you can read a synopsis here.

The play: This is [cough] not my favorite Shakespeare play, as I, like millions of U.S. Americans, was herded through it in ninth grade, uch. I am not that interested in the Romans, and the main thing I took away from it in grad school was that we need to look at it as an Elizabethan play about government, and in that situation, democracy was not the heroic stance that it seems like to us. Early moderns were quite suspicious of democracy. The theme of the play originally was probably “the risks of what could happen when the governmental system becomes unstable and no one’s sure who’s in charge,” not “democracy vs. empire: democracy is worth dying for” which is how it’s usually understood today. I occasionally talk about this play in a western civ course, and did so again this fall after last summer’s Shakespeare in the Park performance became an object of such vehement discussion, but mostly to point out how Roman culture has become a touchstone of various kinds for our own concerns (architecture, literature, political values, arts, etc.). Despite the bloodiness of the action, I’ve always seen this play as a political set piece. But the blood is important: it says something about the Romans that they engaged in this kind of thing, primarily that there were things at stake to them beyond the intellectual. This aspect was important to Shakespeare, too — not just because Elizabethan audiences were bloodthirsty, but also because of the tumultuous age in which he lived.

This play: The staging puts us in a contemporary setting that is somewhere between rock concert and 2016 GOP political rally. This worked for me most of the time except (unfortunately) at the very beginning, where the crowd “warm up” with a cover band was too long and not compelling. The play — two hours long without intermission — was described in the reviews as “taut” and “pared down,” but not very much has been cut beyond parts of the battle scenes; it’s one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays anyway. Like the controversial 2017 NYC production, Caesar is labeled quite obviously as Donald Trump, with the corresponding baseball cap; there’s also a reference to Stalin. I find this kind of thing heavy-handed unless the production has correspondingly thoughtful (non-obvious) insights to offer, and I didn’t find them here. Apart from the moving levels of the stage, which sped the action quite a bit, this was a very standard modern reading of the play. Everyone’s wearing contemporary clothing and instead of knives they have guns. That choice emphatically does not work for me; the ease of killing with a handgun stands in no relationship to the frighteningly bloody and in-your-face brutality of political assassinations and suicides accomplished with knives and swords and the visceral, physical reality of those deeds. Every death on this stage looked obviously like it was being mimed. Smearing your hands with fake blood as a gesture in that direction is largely meaningless. Summary: Nothing about the staging was bad but nothing about it made me view the play in a new light, either, or think any thoughts I hadn’t had before.

The performances: There was a time delay in the transmission of about a second or second-and-a-half between the film and the sound. (Kudos to non-native speakers who sat through this: it decreases comprehensibility for me and I can’t imagine what this would have been like in a foreign language.) All of the performances were fine, but the big standout for me was Michelle Fairley as Cassius, who combined her excellent delivery with palpable emotion and fear. It was the only performance that really drew me in to thinking about the emotional investments of the characters in what I usually see as a relatively abstract political play. I thought David Morrissey was excellent and his delivery of the “Brutus is an honorable man” speech moved me as well. Adjoa Andoh was fantastic as Casca, building something important out of a minor role, although the snappiness and humor of her work was the element of the play most noticeably and negatively impacted by the sound delay. Whishaw was fine (and yes, I noticed they were trying to make him a liberal intellectual / egghead revolutionary) but mostly a mild disappointment. He can’t seem to do anything about his comical walk, and his Aspergery gestures and expressions were completely at odds with my picture of the virtuous Roman. I couldn’t figure out how this Brutus could get his nerve together enough to actually murder anyone. It didn’t help that he visibly flinched when his wife jumped on his lap. The only point at which he was truly convincing to me in the role were in the scenes at Act Four, Scene Three and following, where he’d been roughed up enough with makeup that he seemed something like a general, but even there his hand gestures were a distraction.

Question I have: I found myself thinking, comparing this play to the Hamlet I saw last time, that you can totally tell which of these actors regularly does theater and regularly does Shakespeare (or has done a lot of it in the past) and which does not. Whishaw is definitely in the later crowd and it’s noticeable. So it made me wonder whether it that was noticeable to non-fan spectators of The Crucible in 2014 that Armitage hadn’t been on stage in a while? I have to say that the actor who seemed most “polished” in that production, the guy who played Danforth, also seemed to be phoning it in half the time. I didn’t notice such a gap between Armitage and the rest of the company as I have noticed between Whishaw and Cumberbatch and the rest of the cast in these plays.

Summary: It was all fine. Not sure $18 worth of fine, but this kind of cultural exposure and the provocation of thinking about it still makes it worth it. I’ll probably buy a ticket to this year’s last play, which is the much-disapproved-of Macbeth with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff. I was also intrigued by the announcement of Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo for later in the year.

Esther’s going to see Richard Armitage at the Newcastle film festival!

•March 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Cool! Here’s her post. You can also follow her on Twitter here.

Some Richard Armitage fans are loving Wolverine: The Long Night

•March 22, 2018 • 8 Comments

Here are two fellow fans’ reactions: Stacks and Ranges and I’m Feeling This.

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