Really smart post – and a plea for moderation

As a preface to what I am about to say: first and foremost, I think that Richard Armitage bears no responsibility to any fan beyond staying true to his own artistic vision and doing what is best for himself professionally and personally (which includes considering the impact of his actions on those closest to him). I believe strongly in the moral force of commitments, but I also believe–the energies of his fans in making him a success notwithstanding–that he has made absolutely no implicit or explicit commitment to any of us as regards his career. If he decides that he wants to build up a career reading the works of Georgette Heyer, I’ll support that, or if he wants to become a director, I’ll watch those shows/films in order to look at the world through his eyes from a different perspective. Or if he wants to dig ditches and fade into obscurity, I won’t be chasing him. That is his right, too.

If you are following the Fanstravaganza, though, you will already have noticed this really smart post [link updated after Skully deleted her blog] and plea for temperance by Skully at the Spooks Fan Blog. It concerns the question of the nature and intensity of Mr. Armitage’s fan base, and it ends with the expressed fear that fans who are concentrating on the wrong things and letting their obsessions get away from them will eventually push him out from in front of the camera to behind it for some relief. She makes the explicit comparison to the Beatles. Among other tensions that affected their relationship, chief was their perception that people were ignoring their creative work just to gawk at them.

I’ve had this fear for Mr. Armitage, too, not least because my own experience in creative work of a different kind is that it requires so much effort that when it stops being fun, you just want to run away and never come back. And it’s often not the work or the content itself, but the annoying people who surround you, that make you want to stop. One says to oneself, “I could just earn a living in some less stressful way.” I hope that Mr. Armitage never feels that way about his acting, but if he does, I hope that the need to deflate the energies of crazy fans is not one of the reasons. Given the storms that emerge periodically on the unregulated discussion boards over his intimate life, whether over the identity or the gender of his partner, I think this fear is rational. I’ve been surprised by the explosion of voiceover work he’s done recently, and while I enjoy it, I’ve been speculating (in private) about the possibility that for a variety of potential reasons, he may be trying to create a regular income base that doesn’t require his body to be the focus of hundreds of thousands of salivating women. I can’t help but think if people did know who his partner was, that might calm them down, but it would also expose the partner to an uncomfortable amount of unpleasant public attention. Fear of this sort of thing in light of the well-known excesses of the UK boulevard press is also realistic.

The topic has been raised before by Mulubinba, another Fanstravaganza blogger. The only possible conclusion that we as fans (and as human beings) need to look more critically at ourselves. So indeed, I’m glad to see this topic broached again precisely during the Fanstravaganza. As a new fan of Mr. Armitage, I don’t have a sense of the history of his fan base, though I am trying to learn more. My perceptions are as follows: he seems to have been completely overwhelmed and surprised by the response to “North & South” and to have been feeling his way since then, including giving some interviews that may have been too revealing of his personal life and a move from frequent expressed gratitude to his fan base to occasional expressions of frustration. I have read his remark that he hates the word “fan” in his message of August 3, 2009. Indeed, the message in which he wrote that suggests that he seems to get punished by his fans precisely for the attempts he makes to deal with them genuinely and humanely. Quite recently, he’s stated that he envies the production crews and wishes to move behind the camera.

This is a really hard topic for me, because it’s impossible to separate his acting from his body, since he acts with his body. Discussing how he acts involves discussing how he uses his body to convey ideas, perceptions, moods. Similarly, given the multilevel and often subliminal nature of his acting, it’s fun to speculate about the person behind the roles, who appears to hide oceans of complexity under these characterizations. So I indulge in speculations about his personal life, too, I hope tastefully, and nowhere near as often as I’d like. Indeed, I’m writing this blog partially because I am trying to understand my own fascination with his work and with him, and it’s hard to separate those things. I will admit that I’m not a discussion board participant mostly because they restrict discussion of actors’ personal lives and while I think that is a wise decision if you’re trying to have a disciplined discussion among hundreds of people who don’t know each other and can easily take offense, given my reasons for writing I didn’t want to accept those restrictions for myself. I started this blog because I wasn’t reading the kind of analysis about his work that I wanted to be reading and thought I might have something unique to offer. But this blog is also one huge fan letter to Mr. Armitage, in a form that would be much too bulky for him to read or process and would probably embarrass him if he did/could. So the genres (analysis of actor vs examination of the man) merge, and this is the source of the problem.

What do I think fans can do?

I think a lot of his long-term fans are already doing what they can; that is, the better boards discourage personal discussion and participants of the boards speak up rationally when discussions become stupid elsewhere. There are some strong analytical contributions on his work on various boards and blogs, and indeed, since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been alerted to more of them. The sites that archive his work and press commentaries on them are responsible and stay away from speculation: in this regard I have to mention RichardArmitageOnline, which is almost scholarly in its approach and a delight to read.

A lot of the frenzy over his body is whipped up by the press, though, which continues to give us bland interviews that cover the same things with the occasionally weird little tidbit thrown in to make us think we’re learning something neat about his personal life. I assume that his publicists also have something to do with this, and if they are trying to build the energy for a big screen career for him, this is the way to go: it’s an attempt to mobilize the energy of female romance pornography to create excitement. But the Daily Mail interview linked above shows that it is also possible for him to get more intelligent coverage, as does the Vulpes Libris interview, which (despite its faults–the interviewer appears to have wrongfooted him at the beginning), makes clear that he’s obviously a creative artist. Thus, his publicists seem to be doing a better job of keeping him on message, but also of getting him better interviewers.

My one suggestion–besides trying to calm down the crazies when you meet them–is to ask better questions when we can. Signal to both journalists and to his handlers that we want to read a higher quality product and that we expect more from the media. With our contributions and questions, we should try to create the impression that the “RA fan base” is a sea of incisive, critical viewers who are curious about everything that goes into making a dramatic role work–and that we’ll deal with the exploding ovaries off screen, on our own time.

~ by Servetus on March 20, 2010.

12 Responses to “Really smart post – and a plea for moderation”

  1. Exploding ovaries! – Hilarious!

    Thanks for expanding on the things I raised in my post. It’s good I know I’m not the only one thinking about this issue. I agree with what you said re: self-criticism. I think some self-criticism or self-awareness at least, in relation to how people “do” fandom, is a good idea.

    Thanks for pointing out Mulubinba’s post, too, I hadn’t seen it – it’s great!

    I think for me I find some aspects of fan fervor baffling and difficult to relate to because I come from the world of punk rock – where artists aren’t really put on the same kind of pedestal you see in the celebrity world. In this world, you say g’day to the band after the gig and share a beer. There is no us (fans) and them (artists), everyone in the community has an equal footing, whether you take the stage or not. So to me, RA is just an ordinary bloke. I find it hard to understand why someone would cry and hyperventilate over receiving a reply to their letter from RA.

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  2. Thanks for your persistence in commenting, Skully!

    “Exploding ovaries” wasn’t my term, but something someone said on a discussion board that got picked up in a couple of newspaper articles.

    I wouldn’t sob in joy over a letter from Mr. Armitage, but I understand the impulse. 🙂 He plays roles that easily allow women of the care-ridden middle class to escape into fantasy lives that involve him. (It’s hard for me in general to imagine swooning over a punk rocker, but most of them are not objects of admiration for the same social segment.) There is also practically no chance that most of his fans *would* ever meet him and have the chance to share a beer. He can’t be on equal footing, or he’d be overwhelmed. So his mystique increases, not least because the stuff one hears about him when he does respond to fans F2F or in letters is so positive.

    [edited out]

    Back on topic: I think of Mr. Armitage and imagine it must be a thousand times worse for him. He is doing an intensely personal art form, and his way of doing it requires significant drawing on personal reserves given his acting style. He works hard at it. And then you have the crazies who watch it and are unable to see beyond the surface or realize that the things they assume about him are entirely fantasies on their part.

    The core issue, I suppose, is that as observers who want to stand in relationship to Mr. Armitage, we have to realize that we have obligations to him as well. One of those is maturity.

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  3. Oh, there is punk rock swooning, believe me! Maybe I’ve been working with artists too long to be able to relate to the way some folk view celebs. It’s a mind set I probably inhabited when I was 14, but it is completely foreign to me now – which I guess is what makes the phenomenon of RA fandom all the more fascinating to me. Obviously I’m an enthusiastic fan too, but just not in the same way.

    Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect maturity when there’s all that “squeeing” going on! 😉 I’d be really interested in doing a study on fans, but from the perspective of those on the receiving end of fan interest. What kind of fan experiences they’ve had, how they deal with it, how it affects them.

    I’ve had one bad experience of being on the receiving end, it was difficult to deal with (so I can relate to what you said). I wonder that if some fans (at the crazy end of the spectrum) could have the experience of being on the receiving end of fan fervor, they might “do” fandom differently and see folks like RA in more grounded/realistic terms.

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  4. Skully, that would be a great idea — studying fans from the perspective of the celebrity. I imagine it would be hard to find informants, though. People would be afraid of alienating their fan bases, I suppose.

    Perhaps another helpful experience: getting a concrete opportunity to see how your adoration actually affects the object IN PERSON. Early in my career, I got a fellowship working with a central person in my area. It is no exaggeration to say that this person wrote the research that made me decide to go into this field. I made the mistake of telling him that. It took our relationship months to get past that.

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  5. I think it would have to be done anonymously, if it all that were possible. Getting it passed an ethics committee would be one thing – getting it past the celebs lawyers would be quite another! I think it would make a great book.

    Sounds like you had a nerdy rockstar moment there! All the big influences on me from my field have long passed away. Recently though, I learned that a person I’ve known for about 10 years was in a relationship with one of my heroes (before we met). I had to do a bit of Lucas North regression memory magic to try and remember if I’d said anything that would be mortifyingly embarrassing in light of this new information!

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  6. Yeah, my adoration for this person just burst out of me. Now that I am a more mature scholar myself I can understand better how that would either trouble me or make me think poorly of the person who said it …

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  7. […] a big statement that I just have to redact seems silly. I've written before to say, essentially, "don't objectify," but I want to explore the dynamics that feed into my desire to and my horror of doing so myself. […]

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  8. […] first, I was charmed, as I was by his appearances in Vicar of Dibley. As previously noted, I wish him all the best and whatever he wants from life insofar as he can get it without […]

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  9. […] but as the hits soared I started to feel less intimate about what I was writing. At that point I also embraced a stance common among Mr. Armitage’s more thoughtful fans: that we should back off because […]

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  10. […] he likes what well-disposed fans write, he can’t ever count on us treating him as if he were. The artist must remain free to make his own choices, free of duress, if he’s to grow in skill and spirit, just as the critical (in the sense of […]

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  11. […] I want to apologize for steps in the direction of prescription of others’ behavior that I have made in the past, because I really don’t know better than others how they should behave. I believe that on […]

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  12. […] an initial misstep in that direction, I’ve tried hard not to police other fans, except when a clear case of bullying occurs. When […]

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