Armitage pudens?

[Another apology: My discipline teaches one to structure arguments by thinking for a long time about evidence, formulating a general thesis, and then offering examples to support it. This strategy is great for persuasion but it slows down any writer who is not entirely convinced by the big argument she’s formulating or doesn’t have all the pieces together. It also has a tendency to obscure or obliterate conflicting evidence. I’ve written some big building blocks of arguments here in the past, for example, on my position as reader, or on Armitage equilibrium, but on these issues — objectification and “why Armitage?”– I am going to take the opposite approach and offer fragments before formulating anything general, if I ever do so. I’m making this decision because of the extreme (intellectual, physical) discomfort I felt looking at pictures of Mr. Armitage that appeared this week in conjunction with the Strike Back publicity. I’m too conflicted to write something general at the moment, so I am going to work on this issue in pieces. Also I don’t want to discard the possibility that my position will change as I talk with you all about it, so formulating 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. And ironically, in order to do that I am going to have to objectify Mr. Armitage, in the same ways that I have been doing since I started writing this blog.]

The big question here could be: “why do we find Armitage beautiful?”

One way to get at the question of beauty is to treat it as a phenomenon subject to tropological representations. Art historians of the Western tradition are well-versed in the visual topoi or representative conventions of Western imagery. Topoi play an important role in making the meaning of such representations; they provide clues that enhance our comprehension of the images we see. An example that many are familiar with are the visual conventions in the representations of the saints in Roman Catholic religious art, especially before modernity: St. Peter always has a key, for example, and St. Bartholomew is always displaying his flayed-off skin. One of the things that artists do to be “original” without abandoning the comprehensibility of their product is to play with these conventions. An “original” piece of work in the West thus typically involves a novel (or at least surprising) employment of familiar topoi. Our response to these employments is also related to our experience of the topoi in a range of settings. If you’re interested in how such devices work in television, you should look at this fantastic site, which a friend introduced me to recently. They use the similar term “tropes,” which is usually applied to literary works, defined as “storytelling devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in audience members’ minds and expectations.” Hence, the original is never really original; we judge the beautiful always in light of conventions of beauty that we’ve participated in before.

A familiar representative convention of beauty in the West is the figural pose of the Venus pudica (“modest Venus”). Although this representative convention goes back at least as far as the Greeks, who used it for Aphrodite (the Roman Capitoline Venus, like so many things Roman, is a derivative work), the example with which most of us are familiar — studying it was how I learned the term — is the famous Botticelli Venus:

Sandro Botticelli, “La nascita de Venere” (c. 1486), tempera on canvas, housed in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Venus pudica is a representation of beauty in which the beautiful object exposes most of her body to the gaze of the viewer, nonetheless concealing some aspects of it with her hands, usually the breasts and genitals. Note that commentators on this particular example of the convention note that the work does not seek to arouse lust in the viewer. When I was in college (we read Helen Gardner’s Art through the Ages, 8th ed., and I still regularly refer to this text when writing lectures, it’s very reliable and readable) Botticelli’s Venus was understood as a neo-Platonic allegory, with the dissonant sign of the seashell as a frequent representative device for the vulva; variant readings nowadays suggest that the allegorical program has more to do with recommended behavior in marital relationships. Nonetheless, the Venus pudica trope usually has the effect of drawing the eyes to the concealed bits — one source makes this tendency an effect of the unavoidable asymmetricality of the pose — thus at least gesturing to the concealment / revelation dynamic of pornographic visual conventions. Interestingly, that same source claims that this pose is not applicable to the male form, one supposes because Western notions of modesty do not require the concealment of the male breast.

I’ve been hinting here and there that I find my reaction to some of the Strike Back publicity embarrassing. This morning, in response to the new photos I mentioned previously, I figured out one dynamic that feeds into this response. That is, I think that some of these pictures show Mr. Armitage as Venus pudens (I choose the present progressive here intentionally), and they thus seek to move us by means of our cultural reactions to this particular trope of modesty. To wit:

Photographs of Richard Armitage by David Venni that appeared on the Internet recently, date uncertain, but probably after October, 2009. Source: Русскоязычный Cайт Pичардa Армитиджa

The figure in these photos places both hands in front of the (covered) genitals, apparently to balance his posture on the stool. That signal of instability draws us in — makes us think that in a frame in which parts of the structure are in play, we might catch something as viewers that we wouldn’t otherwise see. So we look closely. Next, the contours of the body are heavily shielded by a very dark suit, so visual attention is focused on the light parts of the picture: the face, the shirt, the hands. So it’s precisely the whiteness of the hands that draws the viewer’s attention to the shielding of the hips. The whiteness of the face against the dark suit draws our attention as well, but the figure shields his gaze (as opposed to his breast) from the viewer. If we read this pose in light of the Venus pudens trope (the verb form emphasizes the performance of the trope — not modest Venus, but Venus being modest), we can conclude that much of what is being performed here is modesty. Whatever it is, it’s sweet. In my mode of projecting overempathy on my subjects, I even have a tendency to read it as embarrassment. In the first photo to the left, above, the modesty comes from the inclined, contemplative, apparently measured, gaze of the figure, and in the second, it’s amplified by the impression that the figure is lost in his thoughts or laughing at his own secret joke or pleasurable memory. Whatever it is, as viewers, we can’t see it, and that’s precisely what draws us into the picture: clues suggest that we should be able to see things that the picture ultimately denies us.

Emphasizing that I have no evidence about the sequence in which these photos were taken (the position of the camera in relationship to the subject suggests that the first above and the one on the right here (–>) stand in closer chronological relationship to each other than the second above), nonetheless, I am inclined to read the one on the right as the last one. We always look for the eyes to diagnose the genuine smile, and the musculature of Mr. Armitage’s face tends to pull the tip of his nose down as well when he appears to be “really” smiling. I’d argue that to the extent that the smile seems genuine, it’s because there’s a tiny little tinge of embarrassment about it. Pudendus means not only genitals, but also shame.

To conclude, for now:

A. Thinking of these photos through the framework of the Venus pudica topos makes evident something I’ve noted elsewhere as part of a really interesting discussion started by Skully and RAFrenzy. I speculate that Mr. Armitage draws such a peculiar reaction from his fans due to the “can almost touch but not quite” dynamic evident in some of his oeuvre, especially North and South,  and in his interactions with the press. We want to relate to the subject but are not quite able to, a tension that seems evident in my reading of these pictures. Venus pudica / Venus pudens draws us in by making us think we will be offered a glimpse of something that is actually denied to us. That’s what makes them like crack for me. And I am seriously uncomfortable with that reaction — not only the fact of it occurring in response to someone whom I will only ever experience via visual media, but the intensity with which it hits when something new about Mr. Armitage pops up. Inter alia, some of which I will not mention here for reasons of discretion: my face flushes, my heart beats faster, my stomach becomes queasy, a broad grin bursts out on my face. If this is the uncontrollable physiological reaction that men have when suddenly glimpsing a woman they find attractive, I want to sympathize more with them than I ever have in the past. Don’t understand me as a gender essentialist: I don’t want to say that only men experience such sudden visual reactions. I certainly have had physiological reactions to attractive men in the past. But only to men I knew. I have only ever had a reaction of similar intensity to this one when viewing men with whom I have been emotionally, intellectually, and/or physically intimate — and I am willing to accept it on those terms because it makes sense. This instance bothers the heck out of me, because it does not. Mr. Armitage is really just a picture for me. So a next step in this discussion for me probably needs to be “how does Armitage succeed in creating a relationship of intimacy with the viewer?” And in this case, one must add, even when he’s not speaking.

B. Assuming the gaze is what the female viewer wishes to see in the case of Armitage — or any other man — Armitage’s frequent use of the repositioning of his head to reveal his gaze after it’s been turned away or somehow concealed must be a key weapon in his acting arsenal. It enhances his employment of microexpressions, many of which are vested in the eyes. Repeatedly in North & South, for example, we see his gaze concealed and then revealed. Even if we can only assume what he’s thinking, it’s the revelation that’s key. Ditto for the bowed head and the sudden stare from under the eyebrows. The fact that he is able to open his eyes wide enough to make sure that we see the whites under the pupils enhances this effect as it makes the stare more piercing. It explains why Guy has to have such long bangs but also the eyeshadow — it enhances Armitage’s ability to conceal and reveal what we most wish to see.

C. I was always puzzled in art history when I was instructed that Venus pudica was erotic. After this example I understand that the eroticism lies not in the concealment of the genitals per se, but the genitals as an aspect of the thing the (male) viewer wishes to see but cannot — the point of the trope is its particular performance of concealment and hint at revelation that becomes impossible, not the genitals or the breast(s), i.e., what is concealed. Performances (or apparent performances, as above) of concealment heighten the effect.

~ by Servetus on May 2, 2010.

55 Responses to “Armitage pudens?”

  1. This is too thought-provoking for any quick response. It requires printing out and studying.

    A thing that I find a learning curve, is the effect of the immediacy of e-mail/internet/blogs, that one feels almost driven to a quick response. Presently concentrating on restraining this urge.

    Completely irrelevently – just have to tell someone: received my copy of Sunne in Splendour Thursday! Currently reading a Richard III treatment by, of all things, an American entertainment lawyer! Whaaat!? Interesting legalistic treatment, though. Princes in the Tower and all that…


  2. No worries, fitzg. This piece is really too big for the blog format anyway. If I were a better marketer, I’d have organized it in pieces. I’m happy to get your response whenever you care to give it!

    I have to get back to Sunne in Splendour. I am almost sure I read it in high school, because it’s in the public library in my hometown. But I don’t have a real clear memory.


  3. Couldn’t it be because he is not only handsome, but a fantastic actor and seems like a nice enough fellow you could have an interesting and intelligent chat with?

    P.S. Sunne in Splendor (along with all the Sharon Kay Penman’s works on the Plantagenets) is a fantastic read. Not only a story well told, but her historical research is meticulous. Though I favor Jospehine Tey’s theory on what happened to the Princes in the Tower.


  4. Anon: yup. I am trying to analyze why he seems that way, i.e., what factors condition us to react in that way. This is one of the “scholar tries to figure out why she is having this bizarre reaction” posts as opposed to the “scholar admits she is human and has bizarre reactions like everyone else: isn’t he adorable, smart, talented!!” posts. I oscillate between those two poles. 🙂

    I love Tey, have used it in classes.


  5. I have read your post slowly and thoroughly and studied the pictures in question. I think I understand your point about being drawn in, but ultimately knowing that the object looked at only exists in this context. I am also taken aback and puzzled by my reaction to Richard. I normally just glance at pictures of handsome actors, even the ones whose acting I admire, but Richard elicits a whole range of emotions and physiological responses. It feels ridiculous at times and most enjoyable at others. Sometimes I think I must get back to RL, other times, enjoy it while it lasts.


    • Yes!!!! Thank you for understanding!

      This is the problem I have too. RL is important. Richard Armitage *as I experience him* is not real. What to do?


  6. Agreed, Anon. Tey (and Anya Seton) drew me into a life-long study of mediaeval history. We’re off the central topic here, but do you suppose that Richard III was a “victim” of “who shall rid me of this troublesome priest” circumstances? Tey was one of the classic mystery/character writers. Died too soon. I hate it when a writer is so inconsiderate as to kick the bucket, when you’ve already read all their output. At least, the output bears re-reading over and over. As with watching N&S, RH, Spooks etc over, discovering new perspectives and aspects….

    And now back to central theme, and much more organising of thoughts. We’re lapping over to the “dork” vulnerability.

    As one who has always found an actor to “crush” over, and don’t even worry about that tendency (though I’m loving the analysis of “why”?) I want my actor to be intelligent. And have some concern that projecting that onto them might be unrealistic. And dumb…


  7. I hope to find time to give this a proper read tomorrow. Just wanted to add to the question of ‘why’ and suggest that part (just part) of his physical appeal may be a simple matter of symmetry. His face has it, and we humans are wired to respond to it. Just throwin’ it out there!


  8. Skully – we are wired. How do you define symmetry? For me, there is both symmetry and asymmetry in Mr. Armitage’s face. My female screen icon was always Audrey Hepburn, whose face was not Grace Kelly picture perfect. A combination of unconventional elements, which somehow meld. Always wanted to look like her – but she got there first!

    Do “flaws” somehow contribute to that “wired” response, do you think?

    And now I must go clean out the car port, and winter kill of twigs all over the lawn….


    • Defining symmetry is beyond my expertise! And hard to do without pictures. Most of us have some symmetry, but some have perfect symmetry. We also loose symmetry with age. I haven’t studied RA’s face close enough to see whether he falls in the “perfect” category, but on cursory appraisal he seems to. Apparently researchers have come up with a “science” of physical attraction. One team developed a “formula” for rating facial attractiveness (symmetry is part of the formula). I wonder how RA’s face would rate? Brad Pitt scored pretty high, apparently.


      • And yet I don’t find Brad Pitt in the least attractive! 🙂

        This symmetry point is excellent and I was thinking about it yesterday — in conjunction with the arthistory glossary statement that Venus pudica fascinates because of her asymmetry.

        If you don’t mind I am going to put this on my list of possible future post topics.


  9. Fitzig, Re: RIII, I doubt it. A. Richard was devoted to Edward, who had been the one steady presence in his very personally and politically tumultuous upbringing. They had a surprisingly close relationship for a pair of noble sons. And he was close to all of Edward’s children. 2. When Richard’s son and Anne died, the Edward’s children were the strongest guarantee of a smooth succession. Until he remarried and begot another heir, Richard needed those boys. If worse came to worse, he could push through a parliamentary act legitimizing them (as Elizabeth I would later be re-legitimized) and they could be his heirs. 3. As Tey points out, Elizabeth Grey signed over her daughters to Richard as wards and remained at Richard’s court. Not the acts of an aggrieved mother.

    The one who really needed, who had the most motive, to get the princes out of the way in his clean sweep of Yorkist support was Henry VII. Henry came of a bastard line of the Lancasters, he had to legitimize his rule and sweep away all possible contenders. To do so he had to first-re-legitimate Edward IV’s chidlren so he could marry Elizabeth of York as a princess. But by legitimizing her, he re-legitimized her brothers who became contenders for the throne once again. He had to get rid of them, as he was getting rid of every other possible Yorkist heir to the throne. It is interesting that the first draft of the Titus Regulus lists many crimes that Richard supposedly did, but not the murder of the boys. That was not added until over a year after Henry took power. Henry was an excellent king for England, extremely able administrator. He was also incredibly ruthless.

    Re: Armitage. I think we can all agree that there are many, many physically attractive men in the entertainment industry. I think his personal allure comes not from his physicality, which is very attractive is a uniquely handsome way that balances a strong masculinity and chiseled beauty) so much as his demeanor and…for lack of a better term, aura.

    He is not only sexually desirable, he engenders trust. He projects a strong masculine presence, yet in interviews he is not only intelligent, he projects gentleness, warmth, humor, thoughtfulness, perceptiveness, and…frankly, he’s demure.

    He’s the best of both worlds projecting the safe haven women want in the strong man we also want.

    I would be wary of putting too much “blame” on Armitage for our feelings. He is just doing his job and I get the impression that he is not comfortable with the level of personal attention he gets. What we feel about him is our responsibility, not his.


    • I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was blaming him, Anon. What I am trying to do is figure out how the dynamic works so that I can defuse it for myself.

      At the same time, I am becoming increasingly skeptical about an argument that I was willing to accept and advance several weeks ago, that Mr. Armitage is mostly the victim of his fans. It’s definitely a two-way street.

      And I think that his quality of being “demure” was what I was trying to explain in this post. Venni picture number 2 above could be in the dictionary under “demure.” The question is how that happens.


      • Posed pictures like that you really can’t tell because it is combination of the person being photographed and what the photographer it telling them to do and when the photographer chooses the snap the shutter. (And you picked out three out of over 40, what about the rest of them? Do they all fall into this pattern?) It’s team effort, so I would put more stock in an interview with Armitage than I would in a photograph. (And from his interviews, he seems like an intelligent, thoughtful, well-read person. He’s not Stephen Fry, but he definitely has a brain and more importantly, knows how to use it.) I would especially not pay much attention to what he is doing with his hands here since, it seems like, a lot of the time if he can’t jam them into his pockets (like when he is wearing a suit or tuxedo) or grab onto something (like an actress’ waist *chuckle*) it often seems like Armtiage doesn’t know quite what to do with his hands. Take a look at the pictures from the red carpet of the last BAFTAS he attended, they just kind of hang awkwardly at his sides.

        I don’t think Armitage is courting our attention any more than any other actor has to as part of the business, and compared to many, he is doing it rather less. He only comes out to do publicity for specific performances/shows he is involved in, and then he only seems to do as much as demanded and no more. He does not do as many interviews, he does not have as many photo shoots, he does not make as many TV appearances. For all of the dozens of not hundreds of fanvids of him on YouTube, there are very few interviews of his on there. I think only four or five. (Compare how much publicity Armitage does compared to someone like David Tennant who, Gawd love the adorable little Scot, but I have never seen anyone so aware of a camera in my life.) In one interview Armitage said (and I paraphrase) “I’m very leery of putting any personal information out there because I want people to see the character on screen, not me. But unfortunately, I work in an industry that trades on that type of information in it’s publicity.”

        And remember that quote from Mary Baker Eddy he included in one of his messages:

        “To live and let live, without clamour for distinction or recognition; to wait on divine love; to write truth first on the tablet of one’s own heart – this is the sanity and perfection of living.”

        We’re all seeing the same images, the same guy, and while his fanbase is very devoted and has a strong presence, it is not massive. So there are more people that look at him and think, “Good actor, seems like a nice egg” and move on than there is, well, us.

        So the real question is not “What is he doing to us?” But “What is it in us that he is stirring by doing his thing/being who he is?”

        I put two general answers to that question up, but I know for myself the answer to that question, “Why does Armitage effect me?”, is I find him very admirable because there are qualities he possesses (self discipline, gentleness, grace, etc.) that I wish I had and so address that issue, I’m working on developing those qualities, or at least my own versions of them, in myself.


  10. Too much for me to take in all at once….but for me it was his role as Gisborne that did it for me beecause of my fascination with medieval history.


    • Which is totally legitimate, Avalon. Thanks for the comment. My reasons don’t have to be anyone else’s!


  11. Well said, Anon. Having for years argued all sides of the question regarding the Other Richard, everything Tey brought out ia arguably so accurate. But, those two years were turbulent times, following the civil war. In a final analysis, Richard was guardian and custodian of his nephews’ welfare. From one perspective, morally, the buck stops – where? We can, and would love to, go on. A significant aspect is that he was “the Lord of North”, an exceptional leader and administrator…

    Agreed, also, on our responses to this Richard. All the interviews, etc. strengthen the perception of a very intelligent, perceptive and sensitive person. Viz reactions of fellow actors, etc. in the industry. I’m just a bit cautious of projecting too much of what I wish to see, on an unsuspecting subject, who is doing his job (more than a “job”) It should be enough that he is DDG and a consummate actor. But, we’re human, after all…


    • I think that in the past it has been ok for fans to think that they have some kind of mediated personal relationship with Mr. Armitage. He sent those charming Christmas messages, for instance, and his roles were often small. Knowing about Armitage was like knowing about a particularly good vintage wine or an indie band that not everyone knew about. It was a rare, elite taste. I have the strong feeling, giving the intensity of media we’re being bombarded with here, that that’s about to change. Sky has a lot more money to burn on marketing its product than any of the media conglomerates Mr. Armitage has worked for before, and it’s throwing its machine behind him. That’s why I want to figure out what the mechanisms of attraction are, because I am pretty sure that the publicity is going to try to push all of our buttons in the next few weeks.


  12. Hi, everyone! Just one quick notice (sorry, English is not my native language and it’s sometimes hard for me to express myself fully). I think it’s Richard’s personality that shines through all his work and pictures as well. And I believe it’s not my imagination. Have you heard what Orla Brandy said about Richard:”…he’s great, lovely and generous to work with…”? And Hermione Norris said that Richard ”is fantastic. He’s absolutely gorgeous, funny, charming and gentle, as well as being a great actor.” No further questions…
    Great blog by the way! Love reading it.


  13. As a side note, one neat aspect of living in a globalized world is going to bed having made a big statement and waking up to find all kinds of reactions to it. 🙂


  14. Brad Pitt – ouch. Asymmetry works for me…

    Well, servetus, if you insist on introducing these subjects – only yourself to blame. (giggle) Fun, isn’t it. Fodder for the brain. And I fear the publicity machine and its effects. We’ve been having fun, casting ourselves as educated and discriminating ladies, discovering a very true talent. And I don’t think that’s altogether untrue. I like this blog.

    Olietta, you are right; colleagues are universally admiring of the actor in real life.


    • yes (hits head).

      I think one reason that this has been on my mind lately is that I fear that the Armitage fandom may be about to explode. He’s not going to be “our little secret” anymore. And I wonder how that will affect not only him, but more crucially, maybe, the fandom itself. I am at the very margins of it — intentionally so — but if he becomes the next big thing, we’ll all be affected by it.


      • I suppose we devotees have seemed quite a cosy bunch. In Richard’s own words in today’s Sunday Express, “mostly middle-aged, quite well-educated Radio 4 listeners (with a penchant for the odd pants-throwing!)” He seems to think that this lot will disapprove of SB. We’ll lap it up along with everything else he’s done!

        But I guess that Sky is thrusting open the door to all manner of new audiences. Surely the dilemma for an actor such as Richard is that artistic success entails reaching wider and wider audiences and the ensuing renown carries a certain price in terms of preserving your own intergrity and privacy.

        The fact that you’ve had so many responses to your posting, servetus, means that you’ve started a discussion that many of us find fascinating.


  15. Anon, thanks for your comment and for continuing the conversation. I feel a bit as if I am being misunderstood here, or being charged with making statements that I did not make, or undertaking an analytical activity that is somehow inappropriate. I am not sure why either of those should be the case.

    I also admire him, or I wouldn’t spend hours of my week analyzing why. I’m *not* blaming him for anything. Or his photographer. Or anyone else. If anyone, I am blaming myself for my susceptibility. I’m trying to analyze a mechanism by which a dynamic arises in hopes that I can be aware of that mechanism’s effect on me. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that there are particular ways of representing beauty in the West and pictures of Armitage like the ones above play on those in interesting ways. I also didn’t say that *every* picture of Armitage does this. There are many conventions of beauty in the West, and this was the one that I happened to notice yesterday morning. I’ve noticed at least one other things morning, and if I get a chance I will continue the discussion. Finally, I also did not say that because he allows photographs of himself that exploit a classic trope of modesty to be disseminated, that he is not personally or actually modest himself, either in his professional or his personal life. Olietta’s comment takes that up, and as it occurred to me yesterday, too, I’ll eventually take that up. His own statements about modesty, as well as the many statements of others about his modesty, play into our perception of these photos as depicting modesty. My point here is *only* about the photos as an exemplification of the trope. I believe that the only statement I made about the actual Mr. Armitage and his intentions in the original post was to note that his acting exploits the trope.

    In essence, then, I actually think this post answers your question — but as a “how” rather than a “what” question. Not “what does Armitage stir in me?” but rather “how do pictures of Armitage function in light of Western tropes to stir things in me?”

    I do think, though, that our significant points of disagreement are further below the surface, that is, they are interpretive.

    Specifically, there’s the question of accident vs intention. You seem to be saying, if I understand you correctly, that Mr. Armitage at least would not have posed himself in this classic figural tradition intentionally. At most, his photographer might have done so, which you also find unlikely. You comment in essence, “Armitage doesn’t know what to do with his hands.” As a statement about him that is more than plausible, and I would potentially accept that if it’s candid footage or shots that we were watching. But these are posed photos that were ostensibly signed off on by Armitage. A photographer in a setting like this makes hundreds of shots, and we are seeing perhaps three dozen of them. That we can see these photos at all is absolutely intentional on the part of some combination of Mr. Armitage, his photographer, and his agents. The effect on us may not be intentional, but the dissemination of images with this composition is. Also, for my argument to work, it is not necessary for anyone involved to have said, “please pose in this particular way” (although photographers do this all the time, as you probably know, since you have looked at many pictures of Mr. Armitage), or even for Armitage to have done so consciously. Tropes/topoi work mostly at the unconscious level — the creators of art expect them to be in the minds of the audience, and the artist himself is part of that audience. No one has to say “let’s play out this trope in this picture” for the trope to be working on all of us: Armitage, his photographer, his publicists, us as viewers. In short, it doesn’t matter why the hands are in the place he puts them; it only matters that they are there and that viewers can potentially experience them as conforming to the modesty trope.

    A second point in the accident vs. intention spectrum, though, is why we are suddenly seeing all these photos. Presumably they were taken in preparation for the SB publicity. So it hardly seem controversial that someone out there is trying to push our buttons. And so it hardly seems controversial to me to analyze the content in order to figure out which buttons they are pushing and why.


  16. Uhm..I think I made the specific statement that professional photography *is* a collaborative effort and that the photographer possibly *did* tell him to pose this way. They did provide the stool for him to sit on after all.

    I just made the extra point that Armitage tends to want to hang onto something in order to have something to do with his hands. You are perceiving modesty, but he could just be hanging onto something as is his habit.

    As far as the pictures they chose to keep from the shoot, I take the point in so much that they did choose certain shots in which he looked appealing, some of which were “modest”, some were not.

    And A. given that 99% of these photos are posted on a private Russian fansite without copyright permission and B. given that the wide-tie tuxedo shot with the shimmer background is a part of this photoshoot, and that pic has been around since last year (you have it as part of your page) these pictures were not taken specifically for “Strike Back”.

    And I think if his agents wanted to get these pics out there, they could have found a more profitable outlet than this. For a viral campaign, this is not the most effective way. Even the big fansites are ignoring these pictures because they are being used without permission.

    As for someone trying to push your buttons in advertising, I would say “Welcome to the 20th century”, but we’re a little late for that.

    But the point I am making is I see nothing in your posts about how YOU are responding to these images other than they make your heart pound. If this is about your susceptibility to these images, why are you spending your time talking about what they are doing to you. There is nothing about why his modesty affects you so much.

    For instance, those are not my favorite pictures of this photo shoot. These are:

    Pure bedroom eyes.

    Or this:

    Which looks like someone caught him in a casual moment mulling something over.

    Ditto this shot, which also highlights his hand:

    Same group of images, but I did not react to the same ones you did. The ones with modesty, or what you perceived as modesty, had a greatest affect on you.

    Yes, these is a trope in play, you make that point well, but if you want to get to the root of your Armitage obsession, you have to look within yourself and ask why are you so affected.


    • I imagine that everyone has different ways of analyzing how or why something affects them, Anon! 🙂 This is my way. As I said at the beginning of the original, it’s also not the whole story: this was one piece. Some people make fanvids, other people make wallpapers, or write fanfics, or squee with their friends. I have no objection to any of those responses to Mr. Armitage. But I am a historian by profession, and I analyze my reactions in relationship to historical patterns and tropes. Again, this may be an interpretive issue. The methodological schools in history that I follow tend to emphasize that our reactions are not our own; they are culturally conditioned and shared.

      But in general, this blog is one whole long list of reasons why I respond to Mr. Armitage the way I do, and it will be getting longer, so maybe you will be more convinced by some of the earlier explanations (gestures, for example) or ones I have yet to write.

      I like the hands shots, too, although I see something slightly different in them. I’d say that my reaction to them is heavily conditioned by the way that the camera followed

      The “bedroom eyes” theme also can be linked to modesty, though I felt that post was long enough before.

      In any case, I look forward to reading more of your perspective.


      • I’m a historian too (history major at any rate), but I tend to balance structure with agency. Each provides only a part of the story. One can make an argument that the Peloponnesean War ultimately created the environment in which Alexander the Great thrived, but it was Alex that pushed the Empire to the limit.

        I wold say if you wanted to look at Armitage’s appeal purely from a cultural standpoint (which is problematic since, again, millions of people watch him and do not develop a crush on him), then it might be useful to consider the re-definition of the post modern male in Generation X.


  17. Well, someone, who shall be nameless (you know who you are, servetus) has started a firestorm here.

    Everything said by everyone on this site is so relevant and apposite to the questions raised. I do fear the firestorm of publicity, probably because I want to keep Mr. Armitage to ourselves. Didn’t we discover him?

    E-mail to long-time friend in England, asking just how “big” IS Richard Armitage over there?


  18. Well, to repeat: I seem to remember pointing out that I *did* say that professional photography was a collaborative effort and that the photographer quite possible *did* ask Mr. Armitage to pose in this way. The photographer did provide the stool for Armitage to sit on after all.

    I just made the additional point that Armitage tends to want to grab onto things in order to have something for his hands to do, so one should be careful of reading “modesty” into the pose.

    I take the point that Armitage and his agents chose specific pictures in which he looked the most appealing, and you make the excellent point that there is a trope at work here.

    I am simply saying that if you really want to get to the root of why Richard Armitage affects you so much, you need to take the examination a step further and look at yourself and ask “Why does his modesty affect *me* so much?”

    You and I looked at the same set of pictures, yet the ones you chose to analyze are not the ones that I preferred. My favorite is the one where he has his hands behind his neck and he is looking at the camera with his amazing bedroom eyes. There is nothing modest about that pose. That is pure sexual appeal. One could easily imagine him in that pose laying on his back, which places the viewer above him (ie. straddling him). The other two would be the ones where he is wearing that blue v-necked long sleeve T-shirt and in one his hand is scrubbing his jaw and the other one in which he is rubbing his eyebrow. Both shots look like he was caught in a casual moment mulling over something. I would not call those shots “modest” so much as “pensive”.

    I’m reacting to his sexuality and intelligence.

    But you reacted, rather strongly, to the modesty you saw in these shots that you posted. Have you asked yourself what it is about modesty in an attractive man that affects you so much?

    Again, you are very right that there is a trope at work. Using trope of beauty has been fair game in adverting since at least the Victorian era. There is nothing new in this. The question you have to ask yourself to really understand its affect, and Armitage’s affect on you is why does his modesty make your heart pound. You understand the outer mechanism of what they are doing, but you aren’t asking yourself why it is affecting you.

    Also, the wide-tie tuxedo shot with the shimmering backdrop is a part of this photo shoot, and that pic has been floating around since last year, before he even started filming Strike Back. So these pictures were taken last year.

    As to the timing of their release, if this is an attempt at a viral campaign it has failed rather miserably. Most of these photos are copied without permission and showed up on a Russian fansite. None of the large fansites like the Army or RichardArimtageOnline have picked them up because they are staying away from the copyright infringement. So if this release is deliberate, “they choose poorly” and could have found a much more active and integrated venue to send out the pics without the watermark over them in order to spread them faster through the fan base.

    I doubt this was intentional on Mr. Armitage’s or U.A. part.


    • (I should say rather I am reacting to what I perceive to be visual displays of his sexuality and his intelligence.)


  19. Whoops, sorry for the repeat post. There was a delay in the first one showing up.


  20. As to Mr. Armitage’s impending fame, we don’t own him and he deserves to be as successful in his career as he wants to be.


    • Agreed, and I have said this before as well, e.g., in the first post about objectification, which begins with a paragraph on that. This blog is only tangentially about him 🙂


  21. Do you think, Anon, that we are all asking similar questions, and attempting to analyse in the context of our individual reactions, and cultural influences? viz different perceptions regarding “modest”/”pensive”. As those reactions are bound to vary, the debate is interesting and stimulating. We’ll all interpret in ways relevant to ourselves.


  22. I think that is what Servetus is trying to do, but I’m just pointing out she is still focusing the discussion outward, on what *they* are doing to *her* and not looking at why it is affecting her so much. If she really wants to understand why she reacts this way to Richard Armitage and specifically to his modesty, she has to look at herself because we’re all looking at the same thing, and I’m not having this ration to his modesty, and there are millions of people who watch Armitage on the telly who do not develop a crush on him no matter how modest he may appear. So we are not just dealing in cultural universals here.

    Just sayin’.


    • No, the point of tropes is not that they work on us all, but that we participate in them to a greater or a lesser extent. Not all tropes speak to everyone in the same way. However, I believe I did explain that the conceal/reveal trope is erotic to me under the first point in the conclusion.

      And I don’t disagree about the Gen X redefinition of the male — but again, the post was already too long for most readers. I can only deal with one issue at a time at this level of analysis.


  23. Nevertheless, the “pudens”/”modesty” interpretation is as valid as any which any of us expresses. As is a thesis of what “they” are doing to “her”. Perhaps,engaging in this debate, we’re all looking at the issues from more than one side? Including, into ourselves? And, inevitably, we will interpret within our own personal contexts. Which is what stimulates the debate.

    Just see how many comments have been posted! Vive les differences! And keep posting them!

    And servetus, point taken about this blog being tangentially about Mr. Armitage. Those who comment here and on one or two other sites are drawn physiologically, obviously, to the actor, but that does not obviate the “Why Richard Armitage”/”What is fandom” issues.

    I’m not an academic, just a humble librarian, with strong history study background. So…my comments accepted, or not. But debate stimulating.


    • I’m interested in reading anything that will help me explain this phenomenon in a way that I find convincing, fitzg, be it from academic or anyone else!

      But I am a professor, so I am an arguer by trade!


  24. Anon, admittedly, I am not a big fan of the agency approach to history; the debate went nowhere in early modern history and has fizzled out without us making any big interpretive gains. But that may just be my generation of historians, who were heartily tired of social history/agency and very heavily interested (perhaps a consequence) in the cultural/linguistic turn.

    Believe me, this blog is one long frightening look at myself. It may not be obvious to you from reading it, but it would be to anyone who knows me. I’ve been wrestling with the question of writing more about myself, but since I just made a long post about that last week, I decided to take a breather. 🙂

    Thanks for continuing the discussion.


  25. Servetus – symmetry, go for it!


  26. All perspectives fascinating, servetus. Even mild-mannered and Canadian eh! librarians can get heated over classification! Giggle. Good discussion all around.


  27. thanks to all for their thoughtful comments. I’ve got plenty to think about again now, and this is not going away. For another reference to classical themes in photography of Mr. Armitage, please see Skully’s post on Spooks 7.2 and its echoes of Rembrandt:


  28. […] I’ll take the risk of connecting to an earlier, apparently controversial post I made here about the discourse of modesty as it plays out in images of Mr. Armitage, because it connects to […]


  29. […] The pudens discourse operates successfully only between (B) and (C). That is, the hide / reveal dynamic that also […]


  30. […] to perform sometimes take them to unexpected places. As his audience, we’re drawn in by the pudens discourse – expecting to see, but ultimately not being able to see the thing we want to see most. He […]


  31. […] relationalities. Yes, she was a rogue CIA agent and she was supposed to be mysterious. But just as pudens functions by pointing to the hidden, paradoxically, mystery is created by the judicious disclosure […]


  32. […] have been patently transparent. As I’ve noted, the hide/reveal dynamic at the foundation of pudens depends on most interpreters of a text taking a position between B and C, and the resulting […]


  33. Oh wow. All I can say is thanks for giving me another perspective on these pics Servetus.

    You see things that I’d not even notice from an intellectual point of view.

    I do find his modesty very attractive…as well as respecting the fact that he keeps such a lot back.

    There are too many celeb magazines where you can see on the front covers details that really ought to be kept private.

    As for wondering about about my reaction to him. I’ve stopped doing it and am just enjoying the experience.

    It brings so much joy and brightness into life. Not least of which is the fact that I’ve found lots of new friends all over the world as a result of it.


    • Thanks for making your way all the way back here to read this. There are a few things I might say differently now. But the modesty theme is still paramount — and there’s a way in which a modest man using a troped pose for modesty just intensifies the effect.

      He’s just a gift who keeps on giving. Like you, I’m grateful to have met so many wonderful people online. Not what one expects from the “dangerous” internet …


  34. […] in the context of a frequent trope of western art, in a post I wrote about a year ago entitled Armitage pudens. Shortly thereafter I discussed how this trope applied in a particular case to John Porter. Of […]


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