Here‘s a story at the BBC about the consequences of the bombings, ten years ago today.
Continued from here.
For approaching five and a half years, I’ve been writing almost daily about the work, activities, and personality of Richard Armitage, a person I don’t know and whom I have seen in person seven times from the distance of the Old Vic stage or in a crowd, who has walked past me very rapidly a few times on a London sidewalk while I remained in a euphoric stupor after watching him act.
Despite that distance, putting together a picture of Richard Armitage has been the central focus of this blog in all that time (much more so than the aspect of news provision that I have undertaken with increasingly mixed feelings). All of the posts — the biographical ones, the psychological ones, the analytical ones, the fanciful ones, the joking ones, the sexy ones, the hypothetical ones, the speculative ones, the supportive ones — all involved assembling a version of Richard Armitage.
It’s hard enough to describe accurately the people whom we see and talk to every day, whom we’ve known for years. How does anyone write reasonably about a crush — about someone they don’t know, will never know, and moreover, about someone for whom practically all of the available information comes from sources designed to build him up as an attractive illusion for mass consumption?
All of us build our pictures of the people we don’t know (and sometimes of people we do know) on the basis of assumptions and inaccurate information (as far as the entertainment press goes, well, one has to try to use what one gets). These assumptions come out of the information that we receive, our critical engagement with that information (“don’t believe everything you read / hear,” as I was told as a child), how we read that information in light of our own contexts, and the way that we fill in the holes that the information leaves us with, based on our own common sense reactions and experiences.
So all of us make assumptions. You do, too — even if you don’t think you do. Today I am going to talk about some of mine and where they come from. I think it’s necessary to do this to explain why the Cybersmile pieces have struck me in such a negative fashion.
Many of my assumptions are based on the fact that Armitage and I are rough age-mates and that, although we grew up in different countries, we have similar social backgrounds. We have also both worked (I have quit; he is still working) in highly competitive professions — such that I can at least grasp the outlines of the sorts of pressures that may be brought to bear on him, and have observed how men around me have dealt with similar pressures. I am aware of, and do not discount, both differences in professions (acting is not the same as academia) and cultural differences (the American petit bourgeois family is not the same as its British counterpart), and accept that these issues may be read differently across cultures.
So here are some assumptions that have grounded my writing about Richard Armitage over the years. I would categorize these as “reasonable assumptions about ambitious men in their forties who come from a petit bourgeois family background, possess and actively pursue artistic aspirations on a professional level, and have enjoyed a comparatively large measure of success in that pursuit.” I’m not articulating every assumption I’ve made over the years, but these are some of the more important ones.
- On the whole, humans try during their lives to maximize personal utility (happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, rewards) and minimize disutility (suffering, disappointment, sadness) within the constraints that they feel operating on them. Constraints may include things such as family assumption, personality features with varying capacity for change, political circumstances, level of talent, and so on. If they can change the constraints to increase their utility without paying too high of a cost, they will. It is up to the individual to know when the cost of changing a constraint is too high to be borne. They may also choose to prioritize one of these factors (ambition) over another (say, a personality feature), and the calculus is, in each case, personal.
- One basic constraint that operates on most humans is family background and history. It is both the supporting framework for one’s choices and the structure with which one initially wrestles in building a self.
- Someone who comes from a petit bourgeois family, especially one where the parents are the generation who attained that status, will have “not getting above yourself” or “modesty” as an important value in his socialization, just as much as “honesty” and “industry.”
- Still, since one doesn’t precisely share the social experience of one’s parents, the rationale behind certain parts of their creed will remain opaque, and one may still squirm a bit due to that divergence in personal social framework, even when one agrees with them. Even when such parents are supportive of one’s own desires, and many are, still certain worldview conflicts will emerge.
- Value-breaking with one’s parents in this kind of family — no matter how necessary it might be, or even done in the sake of family support for one’s goals — is fraught precisely because one is aware of how many sacrifices one’s parents have made, their entire lives. Still, certain kinds of personalities are bound to value-break with their families of origin when life goals diverge.
- In general, highly competitive careers require their practitioners to be ambitious. Roughly 90 percent of actors are unemployed at any given time. The actor who wishes to be continually employed must thus be both industrious and ambitious, in that he must want to be doing better than 90 of his fellows on any given day and work harder than those people in hopes of achieving that goal.
- The pursuit of ambition often comes into conflict with “modesty,” and as this conflict is not easy to resolve, at times it behooves one to prioritize or display more prominently one’s equally important value (from childhood) of “modesty.” This does not make either the value or its performance a lie; this move is simply a strategic one that protects the self from harm.
- For the person who wants to achieve a great deal professionally, saying that one doesn’t want much is a way to keep oneself from being disappointed. This stance is not a lie, precisely, insofar as an artistic profession generally involves a calling, and one wouldn’t do what one is doing were one not genuinely interested in it. Equally, however, professional rewards are important both personally, professionally, and because of the sacrifices that have been made on one’s behalf.
- At some point, such people realize they will have farther to go than people who grew up with certain advantages. It’s primarily love of the activity (or, at times, the related realization that the love of the activity makes it impossible for one to compromise by doing something less rewarding) that makes it worth continuing and working even harder, despite the obstacles. One accepts that one may be behind schedule on certain things.
- Men in this group who have made it to the age of forty without marrying and putting offspring in the world are not typically in that position because they lacked opportunities to do those things. While they may regret their family status to some extent, still such regret about personal matters and family stands behind their awareness that other things have been more important. In the case of the ambitious man, “other things” often include career matters and/or the desire to remain unencumbered or not to take on responsibilities that would stand in the way of their ambitions. They may also rationalize the decision in light of their lengthier reproductive viability (“I’ll get around to that someday, when I’m ready / more secure / have more time” is a common statement), and they may develop closer relationships with nieces, nephews, or friends’ children as a result.
- Because ambitious men who are childless and/or single realize that they have chosen this path more or less on their own terms, or that they have sacrificed some things for the pursuit of something else very important to them, they do not experience undue anxiety about their relational status or their romantic relationships.
- Men in their forties have had enough life experiences and relationships that they behave differently from men in their twenties. Romantic or relational urgency, if it appears, has a different quality. Drama is unattractive.
- Single men in their forties tend to become the object of unsolicited “mothering,” and are often hostile toward it when they experience it.
- Getting back to the background issue, children who stand out from the norm in any way will become the target of (at times brutal) disciplining behavior (“bullying”) in their peer group. Such disciplining may take on extreme intensity in very homogeneous communities, where the unusual child somehow functions as a problematic challenge to the integrity of the whole community (school, town, church, etc.) body, one that must be suppressed at all costs. Petit bourgeois society in particular tends to be hostile toward difference. The child who is different must consistently defend himself as long as he wishes to maintain that difference or cannot hide or change it.
- At the same time, despite all the self-doubt created by intra-community disciplining, the child’s awareness of difference that can sustain him/her if he can find a way to use and develop it as a source of strength. This process takes time and may require a change of context to work fully; it certainly requires a capacity for change and risk-taking.
- In order to move on from wherever they find themselves, humans have to take some risks; at the same time, the petit bourgeois family tends to value security, if not above other matters, then certainly very highly.
- The child of such a family who engages in risk-taking behavior, even if he has the support of his parents to do so, is to some extent working against type or rebelling against shared values merely by engaging in behavior that subordinates security to other factors. Such children fight the battle for mental toughness early often because they must master their own fears, but also any fears accruing to them from others.
- There is always residue from childhood; the adult decides how to regard that residue and develop strategies for using or addressing it.
- Art that rises above the pedestrian involves risk(s).
- The ambitious person has taken many, many risks by the time he has become an adult, and more if he becomes a successful artist. In particular, those who work in artistic careers expose themselves to rejection time after time and to the thought that they are being rejected in situations where they are not even aware they are being considered. Over time, people who offer themselves for rejection become — if not accustomed to it — able to deal with the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that they will be rejected, often for factors beyond their control. They develop coping mechanisms for processing this ongoing rejection.
- People who are aware that they will not always be first choice or not always loved are capable of understanding different kinds of responses — whether critical or laudatory — for what they are in each case. They are capable of assimilating useful, constructive comment on their work, and ignoring useless feedback and concentrating on the main points.
- They are neither crushed or held down by criticism, nor are they emotionally dependent on personal praise.
- A truly successful artist pursues his own telos — his own artistic ends — while keeping sight of useful criticism but still prioritizing his own ends within the structural constraints of his professional sector. He makes the best choices he can of those offered to him, in line with his values, ambitions, desires, and needs.
Next: I want to read this against the way the Cybersmile data struck me.
What assumptions do you make about Richard Armitage? What do you write into the picture that isn’t explicitly there?