Performing Richard Armitage, performing Dr. Servetus — parts I and II

[Three things. ONE: I’m still waffling about the second half of this post, but have decided to publish the first half as is. Hopefully I’ll get over my inhibitions about the rest of it soon. TWO: I realize this argument will anger some people. Additional points, grounded argument about the views expressed here, disagreement and suggestions of other data and perspectives to consider are welcome. If you’re inclined to attack me, though, please just stop reading; I’m done writing apologias for my interpretive strategies. As a consequence of heavy exposure to debates in philosophy of language as they apply to the reliability of historical evidence, my position on the nature of what we can know reliably may have developed differently than yours. I, too, an only a human. By stating my perspective, I am not saying you shouldn’t think what you want to think about Mr. Armitage based on your notion of reality. THREE, I want to defang immediately the inevitable objection that I am saying everything about Mr. Armitage is “only a performance.” My argument is twofold. First, as I discussed extensively two days ago, even if there is a distinction between “reality” and “performance,” conventional evidential techniques fail us in locating it. Thus, I don’t see how we as audience members can reliably separate “performance” from “reality.” Secondly, though, and more importantly, what I will say below should make clear my conviction that performance is one of the most important things a self-aware person can do. Performance turns the often narcissistic process of self-exploration into an action that benefits others. As I conclude: much more than the cultivation of “being real,” performance changes the world. The world could stand to see a few more performances of self like the ones Richard Armitage is giving.]

A recent candid shot of Richard Armitage taken during the publicity storm for Strike Back. I don’t remember where I downloaded it from, but markings on the file date it to May 4, 2010, and credit it to Oliver at Goff Photos. Doesn’t he have an impressive thumb? Den Mann hab’ ich zum Fressen gern.

***

If you are not subscribed to that discussion you might want to look at some recent comments on “The dorktastic past” by RAFrenzy and grerp that get to the question raised by RAFrenzy on the extent of the realness of Mr. Armitage which I didn’t respond to at the time because of final exams, but thought a lot about. (The “dorktastic past” post has had a curiously long life; it is one of the most viewed on this blog.)

I. The Problem & the Assertion

My instinctive response to the problem at the basis of RAFrenzy’s only superficially rhetorical question was to develop an Armitage epistemology in order to determine what it is possible to know about him. There, I suggested our fascination with him strands us at the mid-point between (B) and (C), or between the optimistic and skeptical common senses stances about what we can know based on information he offers in interviews. I referred to the possibility of (D) — that we can know nothing about him based on his statements about himself — but suggested that most fans wouldn’t go there. (And the discussion of the post has sustained that hypothesis so far; look at jane’s very incisive posts in particular, in addition to grerp‘s.) Quoting myself:

(D) could encompass a spectrum of possibilities: first, that the conditions affecting the possibility of knowledge created under (C) are so severely limiting that our knowledge of Mr. Armitage is inevitably indeterminate — we know what Armitage has said, but not whether it is credible information about him; second, that everything Mr. Armitage says about himself in interviews is a lie and that he seeks to mislead us for reasons that we could guess or that are entirely unknown to us; or the possibility that Mr. Armitage is doing something other than speaking about himself when he makes statements about himself in an interview.

This post is a sustained argument for (D). I want to begin by connecting it to grerp’s comment that “if I were him and able to control my reactions and didn’t enjoy a spotlight on my personal life, I would make up an alternate RA and be him in all interviews and appearances. He would certainly be capable of it, and I doubt anyone would be the wiser.” (grerp writes a lot more there that is thought-provoking and worthy of discussion, too, but we’ll stick with that for now.) I also want to make clear that that may not be her whole position, as she writes on the epistemology post, “I think even an accomplished liar will leave the occasional fingerprint. It’s hard to rubber glove your entire persona. … The consistency of his interview personality across time and regardless of interviewer does also offer data.” As grerp notes, the jury is out on whether Mr. Armitage is performing “an alternate RA” in order to protect himself from media scrutiny, but that it is only one of the options under (D). I am arguing for (D) here via the final hypothesis — that Mr. Armitage is doing something other than speaking about himself in interviews.

What is he doing, then? I will argue below that in his interviews he is performing the role of Richard Armitage. I want to distinguish this position both from implying that what he performs bears a 1:1 relationship to his “real” self (A), or even a selective version of that self, as if it were possible for humans to communicate without self-interpretation, and from claiming that he is lying to or misleading us in order to hide or protect something (the most troubling version of [D] and the one no one, including me, wants to believe). Though I can’t exclude those possibilities, I want to suggest instead that the line between “real” and “public” Armitage that is alluring to us and draws us in as viewers –between the things that we can and cannot see– may be equally unclear to him at times, and that playing with that line via performance is a means of self-exploration carried on for mutual benefit.

Indeed, as various statements Armitage himself has made affirm, the roles humans set out 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 is trying to draw that line every time he gets asked a personal question. But the act of performing his many different roles, including the role of Richard Armitage, is almost certainly also changing him and affecting his own perception of himself. It strikes me, too, that changes in his messages to fans also reflect his conception of the line between public and private and his capacity to perform himself in a particular setting. His initial performance of self in this space was more intimate and bore the signals of genuinity; he realized he could not sustain this kind of performance, perhaps due to the demands it generated precisely because of the pudens dynamic; and yet he occasionally wished to continue to do so in the form of the “spokesperson.” He is still figuring out what to do and say, how to be Richard Armitage to his fans in response to the various pressures he places upon himself and those brought to bear on him. (So no, I don’t think we’ve seen the last turn in Mr. Armitage’s relationship to his fandom.)

Richard Armitage being interviewed on GMTV by Lorraine Kelly, May 4, 2010, and a really successful performance of Richard Armitage, I think, as I felt more comfortable watching him being interviewed here than I often have in the past. What I especially love about this screencap is how it shows the way in which his cheek musculature moves the bottom of his nose when he’s smiling. Source: Richard Armitage Net

II. Theoretical Underpinnings

Identity has been highly contested in the West at least since the Greeks. We can’t prove anything about our own identities, much less those of others. As we can never really know what is true about others, only what we observe, anything we think about them is projection, without which we would have no knowledge of them at all. For skeptics of philosophy of language debates, however, I offer the following disclaimer: I don’t know anything about Mr. Armitage’s experiences beyond what I have read in the press or observed in video or his performances — a chain of evidence at the level of (B). Some of what I will say is based on my own experiences of performance, which is also a level (B) interpretive strategy, though I will try to point out the holes in my argumentation as/if I notice them. I am also using interpretive strategies drawn from the critiques of knowledge provided by questions posed at levels (C) and (D). Any interpretive act is dangerous; anything I say about him is only guessing. That doesn’t separate me from any other observer of him, incidentally, and on the most skeptical view, it may also be true of anything I say about myself.

As a professor, probably my most important role is that of Dr. Servetus, a role I play, after a decade, ever more successfully in its own performative space, but one that has made me ever more reserved outside of it when I have to encounter people who know me as that role. Performing the self is unavoidable as soon as we come in contact with others, and I don’t think that my struggle with this issue distinguishes me much from other humans. Friends who are mothers, for instance, often tell me about the fragmentation of self they experience in interactions with their children — some feel as if they are losing pieces of themselves. Conversely, I was substantially jarred this week when I left key pieces of Dr. Servetus behind for the summer and experienced an unmediated re-entry into the role of Daughter Servetus. Of course, if you endorse the notion of the decentered self, you think identity is not unitary; on this view, it is constructed primarily through language anyway, so that it in the attempt to find ourselves we only end up exchanging one signifier for another. Since I’ve been aware of it I’ve found this a grand description for the sort of problems people find in explaining who they are. 

Still, I feel the dilemma between the unitary, essential, and the constructed, fragmented self acutely, perhaps because of my position as a person with a heavy, indeed, neo-pietist religious socialization who lives her intellectual life on the cusp of poststructuralism. The notion that the self should not be identifiable was crushing for me, even as I acknowledge its validity in my own experience and in my observations of others. I was taught as a child to seek G-d out through the cultivation and practice of self-searching honesty that was then extended out into the world as a strategy of being, but my life experiences and education have tended to suggest that honesty itself is a stance among others that we embrace for one reason or another. In particular, in order to be successful at honesty, we must choose not only to be honest, but also to appear honest. (I notice this issue every semester in encounters with students who turn in late papers.) What I have concluded from this contradiction in my life is that the fact of performance interferes unavoidably with sincerity even as it draws upon it.

(Pedantic detour: If it interests you, this problem was set up in the Enlightenment debates about sincerity and rationality and played out in discussions of acting conducted by Diderot and others. In the wake of the Enlightenment, the focus in acting on an actor/audience interface where the actors were assumed to be like the audience changed to a separation between actors and audience. A “fourth wall” appeared in theatres that emphasized the role of actors as only seeming to be what they were; in short, a shift in performance from being to seeming occurred. Let me know if you need bibliography.)

I define sincerity here as “being real” or “being oneself,” in contrast to something else: acting / pretending/ performing — professing? What I mean by performance is different from “pretending,” in the sense that we might pretend to feel a certain way in order to please other people but do not let the act of pretending change who we are or what we feel, as when we tell a white lie or attend a social event that we’d rather not. Mr. Armitage makes this distinction himself when asked about his acting style: “In a way it’s slightly lazy because it means you don’t have to pretend – you just have to believe. As much as it’s possible to be like that I suppose I kind of do step in and out, I’m not one of these people that can’t talk to other people because I’m in my character, but I kind of do stay with the character, yeah. He’s always there. It’s like marinating something – you’re sitting in a marinade the whole time.” Given his professional training, Mr. Armitage no doubt finds it easier to “believe” he is these characters than I would. He performs many roles for a living; while I have multiple selves, in essence I mainly see myself performing one role that takes most of my energy and which I try hard not to see as fictional even as I acknowledge that it must be. While it is my means of earning a living, as well, it was not initially constructed as an act of believing. Until just a year or two ago, indeed, I did not think that I had to believe that I am Dr. Servetus. Now I find myself struggling to do so.

Still, I disagree with Armitage here insofar as I don’t think the problem with pretending is that it’s harder than performing, although it may be; rather, it’s less convincing because it is “only acting” and noticeable as such. Pretending –according to Webster, “fr. Latin, to tender as an excuse, literally, to stretch in front as a curtain”– changes nothing; it only hides something. Performing (fr. old French: per — thoroughly; fournir — to complete) changes something, it brings something to a close; you stop being the thing you were before and start becoming something else. In contrast to pretending, as with any kind of effective performance, performing the self involves a relationship between conviction and action that seeks a particular goal. This end may or may not correspond to the conviction with which one has started, but it in turn pushes you into certain kinds of convictions or actions. Thus, performing is more like developing an ethic of affability that you perform and the performance changes you, permanently or temporarily, for worse or for better. What comes out in turn comes back to challenge who you thought you were. Some people might call this “fake it till you make it,” although that phrase tends to suggest both a more ambivalent relationship on the part of the performer to the desired outcome than I mean, and also a much more definite outcome defined in advance. I am usually performing myself as something I already feel, and in turn I am often surprised by the outcome. Anyway, I find that performance changes me. I am never quite the same after a semester of performances. I wonder if there is something here akin to what Armitage has noted he experiences while acting. He’s quoted in a 2006 interview as having said: “You can spend a bit of yourself when you give yourself to a character. At the end of a job, you have to remind yourself who and what you are.

~ by Servetus on June 3, 2010.

70 Responses to “Performing Richard Armitage, performing Dr. Servetus — parts I and II”

  1. You’re just not going to let me stay with my schtick. LOL!!

    Love this. If I weren’t so flippant on my blog, this is what I really want to talk about. Anxious to read the rest of your thought.

    Oh, and I guess you know most of the time I’m between C and D. Probably leaning toward D simply so I don’t have to think about things I don’t have time to think about. 😀 However, I think people can reveal things about themselves without intending to. If I haven’t learned anything else in 12 years of listening to people talk about themselves, I’ve learned that. If they say enough, you’ll figure something out beyond the surface, and Richard Armitage is no exception. Did I just talk myself out of C and D? LOL!

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    • Yeah, well, this is why I would NOT be an ideal mate for Mr. Armitage, as (as he said of himself at some point) “I am SO not funny.” I wish I had your verve!

      One thing that interests me about this question is that it seems to me you could embrace D for a variety of reasons, as your comment points out. You could decide nothing about him is real just to slow your brain down. Or you could opt for D because you could see that position emerging from his various statements and interviews, i.e., as the result of trying the other options and coming to the hard-won conclusion that it is the only option.

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  2. Nothing wrong with examining the issues from both C and D perspectives!

    @servetus, can’t comprehend being “angry” with your views. You’ve made a safe environment here.

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    • Thanks, fitzg, and you’re right that there’s nothing wrong with thinking about the different options. Most of my published research operates epistemologically around (C). I think part of why I am writing about this issue is that I am considering myself moving to (D) as an actual stance, rather than just as a thought experiment.

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  3. I figure if someone, somewhere gets angry, then you must be doing something right. Not that you’re trying to make people angry, but hey, someone’s going to get their knickers in a twist about something. If you walked on water, someone would not like the way you parted your hair. That’s just a fact of life. So whoever gets angry, they need to just get over it; otherwise, we can’t talk! LOL!

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  4. […] had to make this post. I just couldn’t help myself. I’m so anxious to hear the rest of her thoughts on the subject of identity and how it’s derived by us or others who observe us. Yes, I’ll revisit Diderot. […]

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  5. BTW, that’s the perfect picture of him for this post!! Love it! Now I’ll shut up and listen.

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    • Back from lunch, the only double espresso in 50 miles (watery), and an attempt to save my parents from a financial scam, will get right back on it. Your reaction both here and on your blog has really energized me; thanks.

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  6. I’ve read your post, but as I’m rather tired after a train trip to another town, I won’t comment just yet.

    I was very intrigued by your German phrase. I did French at school so I had to enlist hubby’s help in translating. servetus, it’s nice to know you have a naughty side. The same phrase in Norwegian: Denne mannen ville jeg gjerne nyte!

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    • Norwegian sounds so beautiful when spoken. If I were younger I would invest a lot more time in Scandinavian languages. Interesting, it’s really similar. I wonder how you say it in Danish or plattdeutsch.

      Naughty=yeah, except I am so repressed that I can only be that way in foreign languages. 🙂

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      • LOL! People use French for that purpose, so you’re probably not alone there! I thought you might be amused to see that a computer translation of your German phrase reads: “I have the man for eating gladly.” haha!

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        • Just to be clear: “ich habe gern” means “I really like” (“gern” or its variant “gerne” are etymologilly related through the tree of German languages to the modern English word “yearn.”) “Fressen” is the verb used for animals eating (as opposed to “essen,” which is only for humans. Ein Mensch ißt, ein Tier frißt). So you could translate it the phrase as just intense liking (I like him enough to eat him!) or perhaps somewhat sloppily, “I’d like to gobble him up!” Most Germans wouldn’t use it or understand it in an off-color way — it’s something that’s frequently said about babies, for instance, and perhaps reflects the apparent impulse of many humans when they are holding an infant to put various parts of it (ears, nose, fingers, etc.) in their mouths. I say apparent because I’ve never wanted to gobble up an infant. Only Mr. Armitage, LOL!

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          • Hearing your own explanation of the German phrase, servetus,I would adjust the Norwegian to: Denne mannen er til å spise opp! because you then get the flavour of adoring someone and eating/ and gobbling something like a cute baby. I’m gaga over babies, so I completely understand the urge to nibble/nuzzle/kiss them. And yes, Richard awakens the same reaction!

            The Scandinavian languages are incredibly interesting. Morway was under Denmark for 400 years so written Norwegian is almost identical to Danish. Of the spoken languages, Swedish is considered the most melodious, though my boys have said they think of it as very feminine. Danish is spoken far back in the throat and the other nations consider it a disease of the throat (no offence, Danes, just referencing what others ahve said). After 20 years I still find it hard to understand spoken Danish, but have no problems with Swedish.

            You’d think that Norway’s history with Denmark would lead to an uneasy relationship, but no, the Danes are considered jovial, laid-back and great fun, whilst the main rivalry is reserved for the Swedes. The two countries have awful jokes about each other and Norwegians don’t mind not doing well in an international competition as long as they have beaten the Swedes!

            Back on topic, I love the different themes you address and your more than capable posters’ responses and further analyses. This is really what makes this fandom so interesting. I can’t imagine this occurs that much with other actors, making Richard unique.

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            • Typos galore (not great at typing), but I hope you get my drift!

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            • I’ve learnt some Swedish for professional reasons, but it’s mostly just to be able to read some sermons I was interested in and related secondary literature. In the period I study, the Danish and Swedish elites were all in command of Low German because of the Hanseatic league, so it’s not a big priority for me. I don’t have a good grasp on the pronunciation. I have a good friend who’s Danish, though, and I am always amazed at how few consonants I hear in a language that seems to have a surplus of consonants!

              I think the uniqueness of the Armitage fandom is something I want to think more about. I never dreamed when I started writing this blog that there’d be people who’d want to engage this topic on such an abstract level as I usually think. It’s been really gratifying. I can’t imagine Russell Crowe fans are doing this sort of thing.

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          • Thanks. The computer translation was crude but I caught your drift 🙂

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  7. Wow! There is a lot to take in here, but I would just mention that I have, in my own experience, struggled with having to adopt several different identites or personas in my life. I remember years ago talking about how I had a professional persona, a persona at home with my housemates, a persona when I was with my boyfriend (now my husband) and a persona when with my parents/siblings. My life was such that at no point were these all reconciled with each other, in fact I was almost always in a different physical environment for each one. I also had (still have) a job where I am required at times to ‘perform’ in front of other people (giving presentations, etc) and have always struggled to give a convincing performance, I feel. I have sought and received professional training over the years from my company to help me overcome my difficulties and this has helped a little, but never completely satisfactorily. So recently, funnily enough, having struggled once again with the ‘role play’ I was forced to take part in on a course, I decided to take matters into my own hands and try something a bit different, In my own time. So I have become a member of a local acting group (for mature people) and I have to confess that I am really enjoying it! It’s run by some lovely ladies and I am having a great time. Just once a week but such fun. And having been a few times, a colleague at work actually remarked to me that he could see a difference!

    So to get back to the topic in hand it does not at all seem unlikely that Mr A is to some extent, ‘performing’ in interviews.

    I’ll be back when I’ve thought some more on this.

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    • It occurred to me that there was one occasion when all my personas / lives collided and that was on my wedding day! Family, friends, colleagues, they were all there…I think that was one of the reasons I felt so nervous!!!

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      • Yes! Such an occasion can be weird like that. We have multiple ‘selves’ that we present to different people/groups, so when all those people/groups are in the one place our mind is unclear about which self to present!

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        • I have the same experience, kaprekar, because I’ve moved so far away in so many ways from my family of origin. (Whom I am visiting at the moment …). I feel constantly torn between lying and giving something away that my family would find unpleasant.

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          • I can relate to this. I had a worldview shift over the last decade related to a personal problem but have not discussed it with my family because it would not resolve anything and would needlessly distress them.

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            • (((grerp))). For me family is the arena in which I most want to be honest and have to work hardest not to hurt people with my honesty.

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              • Yes, this can be very hard. You want the people you love the most to know you the best and love all your selves back. And sometimes life gets in the way. (((servetus)))

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    • I think that thinking of oneself as performing different selves can ease the discomfort of such situations, assuming it doesn’t create other discomforts.

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      • Yes the only downside is that it is quite exhausting / draining! It also challenges the common notion that we have one coherent self – some people might find that perplexing, especially those concerned with the question of ‘who am i?’ in the fixed, organic sense.

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        • if I had to make a prophylactic suggestion I’d be for having selves that were mostly coherent but with slight variations … so that the performances are not as strenuous. But in practice this is really hard to do, as the inevitable failure of sockpuppeting always seems to show.

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          • Yes, that would be the best strategy for more coherent and less strenuous performances. I think this is particularly had for the introvert who is expected to act like an extrovert in certain situations. So the persona in this circumstance will be inevitably strenuous.

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            • I think we may understand “introvert” and “extrovert” in different ways. I don’t think it would be possible for an introvert to perform extroversion, while it might be possible for a shy person to perform being outgoing. If Meyers-Briggs is right, I am severely introverted, but in fact I am not in the least shy.

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              • Although that in turn implies that I understand the self as having some essential characteristics …

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  8. It’s been fascinating to read this and the previous one related, heck all your posts are food for thought. I tend to lean toward D but in fanmode I am obviously leaning toward C. I find character projection also fascinating as much as I am aware of it, I believe subconciously it’s hard to separate the person from the performance from an audience point of view. Then again like you point out that might be same for the performer.

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    • Thanks, iz4spunk, and yes, it’s hard for the audience to separate the person from the performance. I think this is why Mr. Armitage keeps saying, now with both Guy of Gisborne and John Porter, that these are roles that will make people squirm / uncomfortable. He is somehow trying to keep people from making this identification (in the way that they appear to have done with Mr. Thornton). But I think he misunderstands something there. We are capable of seeing him as a performer — and so, indeed, the more varied the roles he takes on, the more we will be attracted to watching him, as the complexity of the roles points to an intriguing complexity of character.

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      • Yes, I agree. I think he assumes we will conflate him with the morally reprehensible onscreen persona. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself it’s easy to feel affection for an enjoyable to watch baddie. “Enjoyable to watch” is the key there. Another example – as enjoyable as Alan Rickman is a Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, I love him even more as Hans Gruber in Die Hard because he is so deliciously bad in that.

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        • Armitage and Rickman (to me anyway) share a sort of unconventional handsomeness that adds to the pleasure of watching them, I guess. Agree Gruber is a wonderful villain, though I wanted to marry Brandon in Sense & Sensibility. Now, if Armitage could make a character truly reprehensible (Guy only manages that for about the first season of RH) and truly ugly, he might have a shot at making me squirm. But his focus on characterizations with duality means that we will somehow always find something to sympathize with about his baddies.

          The only Armitage role that really makes me squirm is Monet, and that’s not his achievement; it’s the fault of the script …

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          • My day off, so I have time to read and post.

            I like Monet for two reasons: I was never into art when young, but have become interested recently so this was a pleasant journey into the world of the Impressionist painters.

            Richard plays an almost unreservedly sunny-natured character, apart from the struggles and family tragedies, and it’s lovely to see him in a role where he’s not always conflicted. Like Harry Kennedy, it shows his versatility and lightheartedness. I looked away from hair and beard and concentrated on his handsome features, azure eyes and the intense colours used, so the shoddy script passed me by.

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            • I so much agree with this. When I saw it the first time I was delighted to see him smiling so much. Though I also like the brown hair.

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          • I’ve never thought Rickman was handsome, but he is mesmerizing and sexy as all get out. Fantastic voice too. I wonder if Armitage would ever do a character with absolutely no chance of redemption – I mean, there’s evil and then there’s evil. For instance, I think that Ralph Fiennes’s portrayal of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List was very multi-dimensional, but he was still a monster and I was happy to see him hang. Same with Jeffrey DeMunn’s Andrei Chikatilo in Citizen X. Both fantastic pieces of acting that leaves the viewer feeling like they are covered in slime just knowing these people actually existed.

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            • That’s a great question and I wonder it, too. Amon Goeth is a good example of a role that would be hard to realize if one insisted on applying the duality scheme that Armitage did in RH, for example. We are willing to believe that Guy has good moments because the script allows him a few, and because his good moments relieve what Armitage called the “pantomime” qualities of the production. Goeth was a historical figure, it’s hard to find any moments of redemption for him in the historical record (although he was married and had a daughter, so somebody loved him, I guess), and the moral issues around the Holocaust are already complex enough that we are not troubled rhetorically by a “pure” villain in the way that would be if it were RH, as all good Holocaust drama abounds with moral dilemma. I suppose if I were Mr. Armitage I’d look for some fodder in Goeth’s apparent madness, attested to by some of his contemporaries, but to me a big problem would be that Armitage’s ideas about the character being shaped by interactions with others would tend to make the character even more onesidedly evil; that is, Goeth had a lot of power and the inmates of the institutions he worked at were genuinely frightened of him for rational reasons.

              I admit that one thing that bugs me about “Between the Sheets” is that Armitage’s realization of the dual sides of Paul Andrews is so successful that it makes him likable in a way that is IMO confusing for the production. Of course, there were big script problems there, too.

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  9. Identity and how one presents to the world is terribly complicated and constantly shifting. I know that I take on certain personas to deal with the requirements of different situations, and I tailor those personas to meet the needs of various audiences and also to diffuse hostility/engender good feeling. I dress and behave a certain way at church, for example, that isn’t necessarily inconsistent with my whole persona, but that highlights what other people might expect. Since our lives in modernity are often so fragmented, our varying personas may come to feel, in some small way, like multiple personalities without or without the psychosis. So few people see the whole that the need for a whole seems less pressing. Add to that what people project onto you and it becomes even more complex. For instance, introduce politics or morals (which I pray RA never does, please please), and you have a sudden shift in people’s perceptions of you which may not have any validity at all.

    I recently opened my mouth and said something off topic and quasi-political among a group of women (online) which resulted in them making all kinds of personal judgments about me and my life that they felt completely justified in making. Yet if they actually knew me in real life I do not think this would have been so. Because I have routinely interacted with people who do not share the same convictions and very peacefully so. I can feel strongly about something and yet deal capably/compassionately/objectively/apathetically with a less ideal reality. I can know that my nearest neighbor and I are utterly politically different and yet still give her transplants from my flower garden and snowblow her driveway in a blizzard and give her son a ride to the doctor in a pinch without doing some kind of bizarre mental calculus as to whether she “deserves” my neighborliness given her political beliefs. In other words I can act humanly with all kinds of people and be more human because of it – and yet still feel that there is some kind of objective moral truth out there that isn’t being realized in our current society.

    And, being human, I am not always going to be consistent. I may laugh at this dirty joke and frown at another. I might hold high ideals of motherhood and completely lose it with my kid. I may condemn objectification and [cough, cough] occasionally fall into it from time to time under, er, more trying circumstances such as Guy of Gisborne photo ops.

    All of this is to say that even if RA is being entirely truthful in his dealings with the media we can never know 95% of who he is – his mother’s son, his nephew’s uncle, his employer’s employee, his landlord’s tenant, his government’s citizen, his girlfriend’s boyfriend, his girlfriend’s ex. And all of what he is today will have shifted slightly tomorrow as he reacts and processes new information about himself and his environment, just as we all do.

    I know for a fact that I am not the same woman I was 15 years ago. I have the journals to prove it (although you can’t make me read them).

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    • @grerp,

      Excellent assessment!

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      • Indeed, grerp. If you have the patience to read the next post, I will be eager to hear what you think, as it seems to me that Christianity really pushes humans in the direction of what you call “the need for the whole.”

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  10. Oh my goodness! As a sociologist preoccupied with self/identity there is so much I would love to say here but I am bound to PhD writing duties so I’ll try to keep it brief. I appreciate we come from different disciplines, thus my conceptualisation of the self/identity is more sociological in nature, but there is a branch of sociological thought that would be perfect for exploring some of the things you raise re the performance of the self/identity and our knowledge of the other. I encourage you/those interested take a look at Erving Goffman’s dramaturgy sociology (if you haven’t already. His book ‘The Presentation of the Self in everyday life’ is fabulous!). The associated concepts such as multiple selves, interaction rituals, front stage / back stage and impression management in particular are very relevant and useful.

    An observation from the perspective of dramaturgy – In respect to RA, outside of the roles he performs, viewers only see his self/identity performed in the context of media/PR ‘interaction rituals’ (a Goffman term). These are highly structured interactions in the domain of the ‘front stage’ in which impression management is at the forefront of the performance (in other words the performance is more self-conscious). ‘Behind the scenes’ footage provides a glimpse of RA outside of the front stage, but the viewer will never see him “backstage”, therefore the viewers knowledge of him comes almost entirely from front stage contexts.

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    • I studied Goffman for my Postgrad Certificate of Education in the ’80s and I’m pleased to find that he’s still relevant today.

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      • I’m pleased that you’re pleased, MillyMe! Some would debate his relevancy today (not me, I’m a devotee). He was out of favor for a while but has enjoyed a renewed interest of late. Several of my post-grad colleagues are using Goffman quite heavily in their work.

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        • I need to look at this stuff again. I had read it and entirely forgotten it until you mentioned it again — it may be useful to me in my real life work. Thanks for the tip.

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    • Hope the writing is going well.

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  11. Fascinating!

    @ Skully – I must check out Goffman.

    I’m interested in the different personas people have for various social and work contexts. I’m a notorious people watcher and this is why the RA fandom interests me so much. I definitely think we see glimpses of the real RA in TV, radio and print interviews, but only glimpses. I have a professional persona for work and rarely allow my patients or their parents any insight into my home life. Then again I am q trifle anti-social. I think RA has mentioned he enjoys solitude and space in one of the many past interviews he has given which is quite in contrast to being in the eye of the public. I therefore definitely think he has a public persona for media events. Did I see any mention of body language above? If you can stand it, take a look at the BAFTA amateur footage of him on the red carpet signing autographs last year. I thought he looked terribly uncomfortable as he was made to interact with the fans by the ushers. Much easier to give a thumbs up to them when they are at a safe distance as in the photo above. I’ve also noticed he takes a deep breath in when he is about to be asked a question on the TV interviews. It doesn’t happen all the time but mainly at the beginning .. almost as if he is psyching himself up. His posture (usually a leg crossed) and arm across the back of the chair belies this … acting? Yeah, I think he is. I don’t think there is anything wrong in this – I sense he has been told that the publicity machine is part of the job … maybe doing interviews before a show goes to air is in the contract. How much is rehearsed in his own mind beforehand and how much is the “real” person is what we are debating. Even if we were to meet him, I’m not sure we will ever know. Still sitting with (C) 🙂

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    • I’m interested in those different personas too. I’m a tad anti-social as well (probably better described as non-social). I find some of the personas I need to ‘perform’ to be very exhausting. Consequently, although I was well received by students, I no longer teach – it just took to much out of me. To those who find performing these personas draining, solitude is essential for renewal and recuperation. So I would appreciate why RA might enjoy/need his own space.

      There’s a good description on Wikipedia of Goffman’s dramaturgy:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dramaturgy_%28sociology%29

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      • Yes, that’s the classic definition of introversion. People seem surprised that an actor would be introverted, but I don’t find it surprising at all — I think performing is potentially a (flawed) attempt to protect / cordon off the private sphere.

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    • Great comment about the breathing. It’s also somewhat noticeable in certain of his roles, esp. Harry Kennedy.

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  12. I can’t help but think of a scene from that old film, “Bull Durham,” in which the old-guy bush leagues baseball player, Kevin Costner, teaches the young-turk Tim Robbins how to talk to the press. Never seem cocky or fearful, he advised, and use nothing but cliches — “I’m just happy to be here,” “I’m just trying to give 110%”, etc. The subtext is that these interviews are yet another stage for the performance of a modest sincerity required by fans who are otherwise waiting for their heroes to get back out onto the field, or the screen.

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    • I think this is a good point. I wonder if the anger of which I’ve been the recipient here has something to do with feelings that we just want Mr. Armitage to be who we think he is so we can continue believing in his performances. You and I have discussed aspects of this problem before for his particular case. If we move to (d), we run the risk of implying either that he is intentionally hiding something, which we don’t want to believe because we don’t want to consider the possibility that he is disingenuous — that conflicts with the role of Armitage as it is currently constructed, and thus with our admiration of him — or the possibility that something that he is hiding is something we wouldn’t want to know about him. In order to avoid those possibilities we insist on standing on the morass of optimistic vs skeptical belief in the reality of what he says about himself.

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  13. Can I just say that this post (& all the comments) is why I am thankful & grateful for the RA fan blogsphere world I have discovered?
    And not just this one post – there have been others on different sites as well that engage other parts of my brain that have sometimes been neglected – critical thinking & analysis. And though I may not be commenting on the topic being discussed, I still enjoy the conversations that occur. So keep up the fantastic “work” and thank you!

    Now the *squeeing* part of my brain needs a fix…

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    • Thanks for the kind words, tyme4t. I agree we need more squee! Hopefully we will get some with pics from the BAFTAs.

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  14. Trying to absorb the challenges of your premises, servetus. Yes, challenges, or so many of us would not return to this site.

    Mr. A was was once quoted to the effect that he had “a fast mind, and fast metabolism”. I have neither. Slow and deliberate. Though I do keep my weight to middle-aged slim, and appropriately vertically-challenged level!

    Some observations: can’t see how we can possibly go through life without “performance”. We appear to every family member, friend, colleague, as THEY see us. I’ve been a granddaughter, daughter, Big Sister to younger brother and sister, wife, mother and all the rest. Fledgling librarian and librarian-in-charge. And “presenter of presentations”.

    Each person will see us, according to the way in which we respond to each individually. (And sometimes we’re surprised by the feedback. “What, me – self-confident?!” “What me – stoical?!”)

    If we are just average neurotic 🙂 or slightly more introverted than extroverted, there is an irrestible desire to play a role “pleasing” in any given circumsatance. From both an egoistic urge, and a human response to the other’s situation.

    So, preamble over. How does this relate in any way to Richard Armitage, and the way we interpret (or wish to see) the man behind the performances?

    How can an actor, who has attained some celebrity status, not perform in interviews? Especially one with the training and experience of this actor? (What “performance” does any of us project at a job interview, or during a presentation?) What is premeditated, what is instinctive to training, what is owed to a basic desire for honesty, or more cautious, through experienece?

    So, I might just explore option D for bit, turn a more cynical eye on Mr. A the man. Just to try to disengage a little from what I want to see in him as a person behind the actor/performer.

    Please don’t drop a bookcase on my head, yet. Just working the process through….

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    • I would disagree on the “celebrity status” and that’s why I’m not convinced that he is performing more than everyone else does when interacting with various people. He has choosen not to become a celebrity. He only does interviews when he has to. He hates the red carpet. He said he will never appear on TV as himself, e.g. in a dancing show. His actions are consistent with his words, he is not one of those who say they hate the limelight but are everywhere nonetheless. His “public persona” is little more than none-existent.

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      • You have got it right, Jane, I never thought of it like that before…he has chosen not to be a celebrity (or at least to minimise being one). I like that way of putting it. Of course to some people just being a successful actor makes you a celebrity no matter what, but I think that there is more to it than that. At the other end of the spectrum there are plenty untalented people out there who actively seek to be a celebrity after all.

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  15. @Rafrenzy -addemdum here: absolutely, this is a site for discussion and disagreement! I just meant, it’s super that this, and others promote and encourage polite? disagreement. Not an invitation to personal attacks…

    Love your site. Flippant? It’s funny, and smart, “flippant” appeals to me too! Can’t have got through life without a sense of humour!

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  16. @”jane”, who said he’s “performing” more than does everyone else else in life situations?

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    • This is an interesting point. I agree that he’s not a celebrity in the sense of (say) Jude Law, and that his statements that he does not want to be one are plausible in their original sense (i.e., that they are not false modesty). On the other hand, he’s not completely absent from the red carpet, either. He’s presenting an award at the BAFTAs on Sunday, for instance. Presumably that is not a required appearance (in the sense, say, that participating in the publicity for Strike Back was). We could deduce that he does that sort of thing because he realizes that a certain amount of “being seen” is good for him professionally. Similarly, presumably he could turn down interviews in which personal questions are asked and stick to only answering questions about his roles. No one is making him answer questions about his preferences in women, his state of mind, his confidence, etc., etc. I would conclude from those statements that he realizes that having a certain amount of this sort of information available about him is good for him professionally.

      If I am concluding correctly, am fairly sympathetic to him in taking this stance because in teaching history of Christianity in a U.S. public university, I’ve abandoned the position of the generation of people who taught me, which was to hide as completely as possible their own religious stances. I’ve concluded that the students get more from the class if they know something about my own religious opinions. But nothing I tell them is ever really complete; I give them snippets that bear on my opinions based on what they need to hear in a particular setting. This is a performance of my religious convictions; it’s not actual exposure to them. And yet I am not lying, either. What happens is somewhere in between, and, as fitzg’s question implies, this sort of response to questions is a normal aspect of life situations. It would be strange if he weren’t performing some kind of role for our consumption when he talks about himself, I think.

      In short, we can understand “not being a celebrity” as one element of the role of Richard Armitage as played by Richard Armitage. Hope that’s not too convoluted to understand.

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  17. Them is a lot of big words a small town gal ain’t used to readin’ Sev. (Just teasing… but you do always sound so darn intelligent! 🙂 )

    I guess only Richard’s close friends & fam know who he really is behind all the cameras and flashes and such. For now, I’m just happy to get glimpses, if that’s what he gives us. 🙂

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    • Hi, Nat. It’s an act, something one learns to do in grad school. I’m a small town girl, too (see fish post above). Just today my mom was saying to me, “can you believe a thousand people live here now?” (snort)

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  18. […] the Servetus narrative, skip the long middle section from the picture of me to the picture of Clio. Strictures TWO and THREE from the previous post should be taken as read here. Remember that as a description of me, this […]

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  19. […] of any “Lucas and Sarah” chemistry not only because of what I understand about the constitution of a self, i.e., that we become different selves with different people, but also particularly because of how Mr. Armitage puts together his characters — to […]

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  20. […] Even as I wrote them, I was horrified in June and July by the number of words I generated regarding questions of identity, Armitage’s formal clothing and on the problems around Genevieve O’Reilly in Spooks 8. […]

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  21. […] and “whither,” and I’ve commented on things like how we can know “who he is” and my own identification with Mr. Armitage that get to content issues, but even these posts […]

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  22. […] “Performing Richard Armitage, Performing Dr. Servetus, Parts I and II.” June 3, 2010. The first place where I argued something that would become an ongoing theme […]

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  23. […] the beginning, this blog has addressed identity in different ways. Who am you, who am I, what is being, what is performance, what is the difference? Mr. Armitage, the upshot of my second viewing of North & South was that something you did […]

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  24. […] of who Richard Armitage is, with all the ups and downs associated with that. I wrote a bit about how we can know about identity, and my surprise at how controversial that turned out to be led me to outline a series of levels of […]

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