F3, Day Six! One voice to thrill them all, and Armitage to bind them!

Welcome to Day Six of FanstRAvaganza 3, with sixteen new posts planned for you to enjoy!

Some posts are scheduled to appear automatically, while others will be posted manually. Not every link may be live until the end of the event day at 23:59, London time. Links to all FanstRA 3 posts appear here at the end of each day, too!


In the tagteams, Day Six: It’s almost over, oh noes!

In fandom, Phylly3 celebrates her second blogiversary! In the Hobbit chain, Antonia Romera compares trailers for An Unexpected Journey in three languages CDoart‘s the King Richard Armitage blogger, writing on the relevance of the character in times of questionable justice In fanfic, Jo Ann finishes her story of love and turmoil in the post-Civil War West fedoralady interviews Guy of Gisborne the evolution of her “sloth fic” series In freeform, Gratiana Lovelace rescreens her Armitage birthday vid Fabo casts Armitage in Hollywood musical remakes C.S. Winchester takes on Armitage in period costumes from N&S and Miss Marie Lloyd Links to all FanstRA 3 posts appear here at the end of each day!

and in the core:

Mary guests at Richard Armitage Fan Blog with “What’s Wrong with Me?!” Traxy on “Stayin’ Alive” and In Divine Proportion Fanny interviews Wattpad author Womblingfree Jonia researches the anatomy of Richard Armitage’s feetmulubinba discusses the physical training component of Armitage’s role preparation bccmee on “Standring Room Only” RAFrenzy on Telling Stories • and Guy’s outbreaks at judiang’s therapy sessions come to a crashing dénoument! Links to all FanstRA 3 posts appear here at the end of each day!


Day Six at “me + richard armitage”? I’m calling it:

Another Kind of Creativity: Getting Your Analytical On.

I get asked a lot about how to be a better or more penetrating analytical thinker. I don’t talk about it much, since (a) I teach people to think more stringently for a living, and this blog is supposed to not be work; (b) I’m no expert on the conceptual aspect of analysis — I study history and not logic or analysis or pedagogy; (c) the stuff I write here is tempered for an audience not in the habit of reading academic writing, so I’m not sure that an explanation of how I really “do” what I do will be all that useful to readers; and (c) although I’m mostly happy with my own brain and the way it works, I’m uncertain that the average person is made a great deal happier by looking more deeply into things. The general desire in the U.S. at the moment seems to be clearly directed at achieving less complexity rather than more (something that has made me wonder more than once if we’re replaying the cultural dynamics of the late fifteenth century). And frequently the comment, “I never realized it was that complicated,” offers cover for an actual sentiment that’s more like “you’re making it (much) more complicated than it is.”

Decisive reasons point many of us to think in the other direction, however. From my standpoint, for instance, complexity explains more about the world I see around me. In particular, too, Mr. Armitage seems to be a fan of complexity — something that endears him to me no end, whether it’s his self-description as a “detailed actor” or his insistence on finding the contradictions in the personalities of the characters he plays. And if you needed any other reason: I’d pretty much take any excuse to look at what Richard Armitage is doing, and I bet you would, too. So if analyzing it lets us do that, I’m there! And, as we’ve learned with anatomy and vocabulary, mathematics and history, Armitage can be used to teach and learn a lot of things.

So, if you would like to think more analytically, about Richard Armitage or anything else, here are ten modest tips of techniques I find helpful.


The detail that sold me on Richard Armitage very early on, from episode 1 of North & South.

1. Notice things. I frequently get asked, “how did you notice that?” The answer: I was taught the habit as a child. My dad would drive down a country road at 55 mph and shout out, “Hey, kids, look at that grouse!” So I had early training in looking for small things against a big landscape. One can go about acquiring this habit in several ways, but the best of them is to be drawn in by a detail that you’ve already noticed and really love. Case in point: one of my favorite detailed acting moments from North & South happens when Margaret enters the Lyceum Hall and Thornton glimpses her from across the street. He stares down at her, and it’s not clear, from that distance, how much they can see of each other’s expressions, but it’s clear from the movement of his chin after 0:20 that he’s affected (even if the glance reminds him of his wounded pride). What slays me about this scene is the way Armitage moves Mr. Thornton’s left eye. It narrows very, very slightly at approximately 0:31. (You may need to watch in full screen mode to see it.) Impressive and beyond subtle. (Imagine how much more impressed I was when I learned that he wasn’t even looking at her while performing the scene!) That detail got me drawn into looking at all kinds of other situations where Armitage used his eyes in North & South.

The things you notice don’t need to be visual — they can be aural, or even internal: a certain emotion you feel in response to a certain gesture. The point is to look at your reactions with a view to seeing the components of it, which can be examined, discussed, analyzed. It means learning to notice the sort of thing that causes you want to unravel a particular problem. And once you get in the habit of noticing details, you’ll notice more and more of them.

It worked for Lucas: Pull your “text” into memory over and over again and watch it until you’re positive you’ve noticed everything. Then write it down. Clip from Spooks 7.2.

2. Play it again, Sam. Once you’ve established an interest in anything, the next step is becoming as familiar as possible with the data you’ll use to make your case. This familiarity can only be achieved by re-“reading” of the “texts” you’ll use. Fortunately, in the case of Richard Armitage, this isn’t onerous — we like to look at him again and again. His performances, even the very small ones, repay replaying and close attention. Look at different times of day, in different contexts, with different friends, when you’re in different moods. I found, for example, that I got a lot more from several of Mr. Armitage’s performances on a larger, television, as opposed to a smaller, laptop, screen; that certain scenes affected me more when I was happy, others when I was tired; that he used certain gestures that are common in many of his roles in different ways in each of them. I would not have noticed these things if I hadn’t taken the time to look again and again. Use all the buttons available to you: rewind, replay, slomo, frame by frame, reverse. You’ll be amazed at what you see!

3. Write it down. It pays, when something strikes your attention, even if you think, “I’ll never forget that,” to jot it down. Because you will forget it, or you’ll forget some essential aspect of it, or you’ll forget that word you had for describing it that you thought was so perfect, and you’ll always think to yourself, oh, I had that great thought — but what was it? Noting your reactions to things on paper (or on your laptop, or wherever) also makes step 6 below a lot easier.

A tiny little piece of a problem can harvest a lot of data: While masquerading as a wealthy Russian, Lucas North (Richard Armitage) replaces a computer component to bypass a bank security system in Spooks 8.6. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

4. Think small and speak precisely. A common first impulse when thinking analytically is to take on a big question. Now: it’s not wrong to let big questions control the things you’re interested in — no one wants to analyze a theme that has no larger significance. Still, it can be really hard to come to any conclusion about a big question or to feel to that your perspective on it has anything to add. Small analytical projects are much easier to complete because it’s easier to control all the necessary data and contexts. Small frame analyses also reveal more of you as a thinker, because the small details that intrigue you are not always going to be the same ones that catch someone else’s attention — so thinking small makes it easier to be analytically original. You can create a smaller analysis by narrowing the sort of questions you use to create it. Another tip toward successful thinking small: try to use the most precise language possible when you note your reactions. Precision in language trains precision in thinking, and it makes the sort of pattern analysis I recommend in step 6 a lot easier, as well.

In case you’re worried about triviality or irrelevance: small analyses are still significant — even if they don’t directly attack big questions. The trick is to find a small issue that illuminates a larger one or serves as an example that might provide an answer to a particular question, a rhetorical strategy that relies on metaphor and carries names like synecdoche, metonymy, or (for historians) microhistory. These strategies all work by analogy — so precisely because they don’t completely dominate a topic, they spur even more discussion, further comparisons, the generation of even more perspectives.

5. Take a position. An effective analysis can’t and won’t answer every question you have about a particular matter. It can answer a limited one (see point 4, above), however. It usually does this by “factoring out” issues it won’t address. One way to simplify the process of figuring out which questions to answer (and which to neglect, at least temporarily) is by explicitly articulating your own stance in advance of your analysis. IngeD3 did this in a particularly effective way just this week for F3 when she wrote about why and how a particular image encapsulates her appreciation of Mr. Armitage. Note her effective “factoring out” at the beginning — she concedes the points about his talent and his personality as playing a role in his attractiveness at the beginning as a means of pushing them aside to concentrate on the main theme of the analysis. Then she moves to the implicit position from which she views this particular picture: the elegant visual aspects of Armitage’s appearance in the screencap. Because she clarified her stance in advance, she knows exactly which elements of the picture she needs to explain to us in order to convince. And because we as readers know where she’s standing to view the picture, we can follow every aspect of her description and explanation of it with ease.

From the files of Armitage anatomy: occipitofrontalis.

6. Trace patterns.Once you’ve got those details jotted down, put them into groups. Try different groupings, because the more systems of categories you develop, the more axes you find on which to analyze a particular issue. Something I’ve been brooding over for years: under which circumstances does Richard Armitage put his hands on his face? Data for this question can be assembled according to multiple systems — by role, for instance, or by emotion, or according to my perception of these moments, or by comparison to similar or contrasting moments when he doesn’t put his hands on his face, and so on. Putting data in groups is called making a taxonomy. Sometimes taxonomies are interesting themselves, without any further explanation. Taxonomy is the fundamental principle for many tumblr sites — Richard Armitage on the phone, Richard Armitage drinks things, and so on — that entertain and amuse us. But the taxonomies can lead us to further questions, as well.

7. Excavate the context. If you notice a pattern or a detail you really like, it makes sense to try to place it into a context. Any detail is going to have multiple contexts that influence both its presentation and our perception of it. Digging into one or more of these can be very analytically productive. For instance, one thing that fascinated me about Armitage’s appearance was the pronounced ridge at the right side of his forehead that appears in almost every photo. It turns out to be a muscle: epicranius or occipitofrontalis. Exploring this detail led me to another question (one I’m still working on — will let you know when I get there) that got me into a discussion of muscles of the face. One thing always leads to another — but a great deal can be done to explain details by integrating them into systems into which they fit. Sometimes the system explains the detail (a muscle creates that ridge), but at other times it raises other questions that are worthy of exploration (why is Armitage’s forehead so muscular?).

8. Look for explanations.  All of the categories we’re discussed so far work together: details, patterns, taxonomies, contexts — to provide explanations, which tell us why or how something we are trying to explain happens. Ultimately, explaining why anything happens is going to mean prioritizing some details and some contexts over others. Some of us like certain kinds of explanations more than others — economic ones, or philosophical ones, or practical ones, or ideological ones. But once you have all your data together and organized, you’re in a better place to explain the process of anything. This task is the hardest part of analysis, however, and it’s rare that a single explanation covers every data point that you have documented. On the whole, it’s considered more sophisticated to concede problems with your explanations, rather than insisting that your explanation covers everything, or hiding things it doesn’t cover.

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) turns the army rucksack inside out to find the vital detail that explains why Dean’s being pursued, in Spooks 7.6. I put this here mostly because of the thumbshot, though. (My cap.)

9. Turn your explanation inside out. If you’re having a hard time getting your mind about something, or even if you’re not, and you’re convinced your explanation is the correct one, don’t stop either out of frustration or conviction. Look for other alternatives. This step is easier if you’ve followed rule 5 above — explicitly taking a stance in your analysis — because taking a particular position allows you also to see which position(s) you are not observing a question from — and then to ask questions about that position. Dialectic (confronting a position with the arguments against it) can be very useful in this process. If you are convinced that the explanation for anything is “a,” take a few minutes to consider that the explanation might be “not a,” or the complete opposite of your own argument. Even if you find the possibility ludicrous, the thought exercise will almost always generate details that need to be accounted for in your argument, or ideas that are worth further exploration.

10. Risk overreading. You always put yourself on the line when you analyze anything — because you could be wrong. Always. Even experts make mistakes, although they are often in a better position to offer judgments than novices. Publishing an analysis means taking the risk of being wrong in a very public way. (And analysis, like fanfic writing, is not something you can do for long without developing a thicker skin and a greater capacity to withstand disagreement or quitting.) It’s almost always the case that occasionally, when sharing an analysis you find convincing, you will establish a pattern and an explanation for it and a reader will come along with a much simpler explanation for something that you’ve complicated. Many times in the blogosphere this will happen as a result of insecurity, or a commentator’s desire to deflate an author using a misunderstanding of Occam’s Razor: why explain something in complex terms when I can do so in simple ones? It’s so tantalizing to want to be “right,” and commentators are no less immune to the temptations of this stance than bloggers. The answer to misapplications of Occam’s Razor (which doesn’t prefer simpler explanations inherently, but only simpler explanations that account for all the same data adequately) is that under certain circumstances, a complex explanation is better than a simple one, but also that a particular analysis that may be convincing to some readers does not have to exclude the validity of other alternatives. Almost every interesting problem is overdetermined, which means that multiple explanations could account for it. Most truly interesting themes have multiple explanations or multiple interpretations, and exploring the conflicts between these is, in turn, stimulating. Some of the most valuable explanations of certain phenomena have been found to be incorrect. But that hasn’t decreased their value. If incorrect conclusions bring up new data, they are valuable in themselves.

As a final encouragement to espouse analysis as a way of thinking, then, let me suggest that the point of analyzing or writing an analysis is not always or even primarily to be correct — although it is certainly gratifying when that happens. It’s to expose important perspectives, reveal important details, encourage discussion. It’s to make it easier and more productive for other people to think about things that matter to them. That’s what makes it truly creative.


My favorite of the charities Richard Armitage has raised money for on JustGiving is Childline. If you liked this post or appreciate Armitage’s work, please consider making a donation of yourself. Demand for the service in most of the UK is up, and in some places only a portion of calls can be answered. As always, many worthy causes deserve our support, but this week I’m blogging to draw attention to this one. Thanks for listening.


To continue the penultimate day of F3 reading: In fandom, Phylly3 celebrates her second blogiversary! In the Hobbit chain, Antonia Romera compares trailers for An Unexpected Journey in three languages CDoart‘s the King Richard Armitage blogger, writing on the relevance of the character in times of questionable justice In fanfic, Jo Ann finishes her story of love and turmoil in the post-Civil War West fedoralady interviews Guy of Gisborne the evolution of her “sloth fic” series In freeform, Gratiana Lovelace rescreens her Armitage birthday vid Fabo casts Armitage in Hollywood musical remakes C.S. Winchester takes on Armitage in period costumes from N&S and Miss Marie Lloyd Links to all FanstRA 3 posts appear here at the end of each day!

~ by Servetus on March 17, 2012.

29 Responses to “F3, Day Six! One voice to thrill them all, and Armitage to bind them!”

  1. Your post answered a question I’ve been pondering for quite awhile which is how an analytical mind works — specifically complex analysis vs simple analysis. I veer toward simple analysis myself and have found that even though I’m a detailed oriented person, I don’t pay much attention to details. That seems ironic but I believe we’re all basically a jumble of contradictions — something RA hones in his character analysis. I appreciate the timeliness of your post and plan to put it to good use as I blame my simple-mindedness on mental laziness and you’ve provided quite a workout.

    • Thanks. I worried this was a bit too abstruse for this week, so I’m glad it was helpful to you.

      Your comment raises the problem of whether explanations are real in some sense, or if they are simply valid / useful. A simple analysis / explanation can be more useful in some circumstances. People tend to gravitate to the kind of explanation they need in particular setting. For instance, if you seek out a therapist for a particular problem (let’s say you’re unable to move for emotional reasons), you might want someone who would tell you how to address the specific problem (here are steps you can take to get yourself moving), or you might want someone who can help you explore why it is that you’re feeling so motionless.

      So when I look at Armitage, I gravitate to complex analysis and corresponding explanations. To some extent I feel that attitude is justified because his behavior seems complex to me, and also because various statements he’s made suggest that he thinks about his roles in complex ways (one thinks of his statement that more is going on under the surface than you might see in his acting). Other people might prefer simple explanations and find them completely sufficient. Both of those strategies fall into the “an explanation is valid / useful” category. It’s not clear that either of them is “real” in the sense that they explain something “real” about Armitage himself.

      (I think I do this because of the circumstances in which I was raised, but that’s another question — whether analysis is an inherent habit or whether it can be trained. I tend to think both, i.e., that some people are more inclined to be analytical, but also that if you’re not there are techniques you can learn and internalize.)

      • I tend to think people make things more complicated than they need to be and simplicity is a better approach especially in practical situations. But that’s not the case when you’re dealing with feelings and watching RA certainly causes feelings. For me it’s a feeling of calmness and one of the reasons your post is so relevant is because, as you said, I’m gravitating toward a more complex explanation of why I feel this way in this situation.

        • Also — if you look hard for a (more) complex explanation and don’t find one, then you always know for certain that it wasn’t complex. If you don’t look and establish that nothing is there, then you’ll never know.

  2. Analyzing psycho-social behavior is a lot of what I do. I think it was innate initially, and then I trained for more of it. I know that by some of my “pervy” comments, one would think not. However,what I love about you is that you do the analyzing here and I can just have an emotional reaction to it. It is really very helpful to me because it allows me to think and feel at the same time.

    • Wow, thanks!

      I won’t say that I don’t get emotional jolts from the analytical things I write. I wouldn’t write them in the first place if the topics didn’t fascinate me.

  3. Servetus, how do you do it, to get RA in such a heavy stuff and make it wonderful to read in the process? That’s not only RA at work here! I really admire your step by step separation of analytical processes and your illustrations of your points. I am quite interested, how you shape and influence the future fangirl-articles in the fandom with your instructions ;o)
    What I like best is your final conclusion ;o)

    • I don’t think I have that much influence. It’s not like a dozen heavily analytical blogs appeared in the last two years. Which is fine. People should find their own voices, and I’ve always been an outlier.

  4. Very thought-provoking and mind-stretching, Servetus. It’s interesting to note the techniques that are natural to you, as well as to consider the ones you often omit. I’m forever tracing patterns, and placing things in context. I’ve always found keeping the ‘big picture’ in mind when digesting details helps me organize my thoughts.
    I love it when I remember to turn things inside out as it often brings clarity to an otherwise vague conclusion.
    I’ve immensely enjoyed analyzing and discussing ‘North and South’ two chapters a week for the past 20 weeks on the C19 group read. I never tire of studying Thornton.

    • yeah, this was very elementary. The language question in particular should have been (cough) complicated and expanded 🙂

      I know that many people enjoy the group reads / watches on C19 and if I were informed of when they were happening I would try to publicize them! But, since group reading of significant texts from the western tradition constitutes 2/3 of my teaching load, I just don’t find the energy to do that in my spare time. Writing this post was already a lot like work. 🙂

  5. I’m waking up with thought,”let’s see what Servetus complicate today”. 🙂
    I love it,thank you!

  6. Interesting post. A huge amount of my work is analysis of movement, and i unconsciously use many of the steps you describe when trying to work out which components are missing in a child’s motor abilities and what I might have to do in order to rectify the problems they are encountering. I will also use my observation skills to analyse what could potentially cause an injury. I’m guilty of watching Richard Armitage’s posture and worrying about injury/muscle imbalances etc. I love watching his walking and running pattern. Having read your post, I’ll be looking at more of his expressions and other nuances 🙂

    • Yeah — process description is really important in any kind of analysis (when I used to teach English composition we spent three weeks on it) — especiallys tuff that involves movements.

  7. Feel free to let work invade any time here. : D

  8. Hi Serv,
    Thanks for your lovely post on critical thinking and RA.

    And it’s a timely one for me since I’m working on narrowing down my dissertation research problem. Would you giggle if I said that some of your analytical categories above also came out of my doctoral advisor’s mouth this week? There are no coincidences of timing on topics of interest to us. The fates are telling me that I must buckle down and get cracking on my dissertation proposal. Ha!
    But thanks for making our appreciation of Richard Armitage a fun lesson in expanding our understanding.
    Cheers! Grati ;->

  9. Occam’s Razor can be such a comfort! 😀 Keeping this day 6 piece to read in more detail

    • hmm, that’s sort of the opposite of what I am arguing here, so I am not sure how to understand your emoticon, but I look forward to your comments, of course.

  10. It’s definitely fun to look for patterns and that’s my favorite approach in the RA community! 😀

    • yeah, I had meant to link to one of your essay exam questions from last year and then didn’t — lost internet halfway through writing this and then had to recompose at breaknet pace. But that pattern of thing was obvious in your exam, esp the Harry Kennedy related posts 🙂

  11. […] conversation about Richard Armitage, and again, you would be pleased by checking out the rest of it here (yes, I’m cheating again […]

  12. Finally got round to reading some more FanstrRA stuff today and this one is a real treat! Thanks for mentioning my post about the Ricky Deeming picture – I’m not really a very analytical mind at all, so I feel very honoured to be named as an example in one of your articles.
    Thanks again for a wonderful FanstRA week!!

  13. […] would be to be one of her students, and in a way I am already. Certainly when she deigns to share something of how she does what she does, I […]

  14. […] mentioned recently that I had asked myself why Armitage has such a well-developed frontalis. I had wondered whether it was due to genetics or if […]

  15. […] — sometimes accidentally (failure to consider certain perspectives may exist — hence my encouragement to would-be analysts to turn their perspectives inside out), sometimes on purpose (refusal to acknowledge that the world could differ from our perceptions). […]

  16. […] question of this exercise, and the answers I offer. You may also want to consider the relevance of these analytical tools in your interpretive work. Quiz question: What can we know about Mr. Armitage based on what he says […]

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