Are we humiliated or ennobled by our desires?

I’ve been dancing around this problem, I think, ever since I wrote that what Armitage’s portrayals of desire make me feel is not a desire to be desired so much as a desire to desire — when I see him wanting, I want not to be wanted, but rather, I want to want with the intensity that he appears to want. For me Armitagemania is partially about the legitimation of my desire, and, quite frankly, the freedom to desire what I desire as opposed to what others think I should, and to say that I desire it. To say: I want this, and not that.

In light of that conclusion, I’ve been trying to think about why we assume there’s something necessarily or potentially humiliating about intense fandom and what it does to us — our display of admiration or, let’s admit it, desire, for Richard Armitage or someone like him. Why would I be assumed to be humiliated if someone from my real life who doesn’t already know about this blog discovered it? Why am I not supposed to publish anything that would humiliate me?

In the humiliation column: fandom is tempestuous, it makes us feel as if we are out of control, it causes (some of) us to behave (or fear behaving, or fear that others will behave) as if we are out of control, and, I suppose, it’s like unrequited love. It involves an imbalance that — when seen from the outside — makes the lover look ridiculous and has the potential to embarrass the beloved. I don’t want to minimize here the potential negative outcomes of unrequited love, though that’s not the subject of this post specifically. I do want to point out, however, that most of its significant positive outcomes accrue to the benefit of the lover. In that sense, it seems to me, the threat of humiliation is a tool for disciplining the would-be lover, for keeping her love within certain socially-agreed-upon bounds. This component of humiliation is ultimately viewer-steered. In such a circumstance, one assumes, I am embarrassed not necessarily because of what I feel — I enjoy what I feel! — but I am embarrassed that other people see me feeling it and, due to their differing frame of reference for evaluating my feelings or behaviors, judge me because of it. It seems to me that humiliation is a kind of meta-embarrassment, just as rage is a kind of meta-anger; it occurs as a reaction to an emotion — how I feel about feeling something. Humiliation that I might feel as a consequence of writing this blog is thus an effect that occurs when I legitimate for myself a particular kind of response to someone else’s reactions to what I write.

I think, for most of us, the list of items that potentially fill the “ennoblement” column is rather small, and this is part of why some of us are embarrassed. A lot of people legitimate their fandom in terms of a coping mechanism or escapism, and while I don’t want to delegitimate that as a reason for fangirling, as it certainly applies to me, too, it doesn’t quite meet my best definition of ennoblement. In the ennoblement column, we could put feelings of community we derive from participating in a fandom, I think, or aesthetic appreciation for a particular talent, or the resulting creativity, a factor that has been important to a number of fans I’ve interviewed, or — and this is decisive for me — euphoria. I wouldn’t be writing here if I weren’t given a feeling of euphoria by this entire experience. I experience euphoria in response to watching Richard Armitage, and I relive that euphoria by writing about him, and the flow that I experience while writing extends both to other writing experiences I have and other segments of my life. I thus tend to read this particular desire as ennobling me, in that the kind of feelings I experience make me better, more effective, more human and humane, more whole. And I seek to continue that experience because it continues to promise those possibilities. Fandom offers me a path to feeling something I had lost the capacity to feel otherwise at the time when it appeared. It allows me to want to want, and to see that desire influence me positively.

Fandom thus occupies a weird position between humiliation and ennoblement, especially with regard to one’s rationally calculated potential for embarrassment. If one were so unbelievably embarrassed by the strength of what one were feeling, I assume, or afraid that it could redound to one’s disadvantage, one wouldn’t admit to feeling anything at all. No fan has to come clean. No one forces us to expose ourselves to humiliation at the hands of people who don’t understand. Instead, in fandom, we determine our own responses to things with which we are confronted — and which we choose to confront.

In this light, I found myself thinking about a quote that was making its way around facebook this week. Banksy is a well-known pseudonymous graffiti maker, widely acknowledged both as an artist and as a cultural critic.

I’m particularly interested in the first, third, and fourth paragraphs here as a recommended strategy for dealing with the things that we are being confronted with as fans. (Not so much the second, although it would have a lot to say to people like fanvidders.) Aside from discussing one major source of opinions about how one “should” react to anything one encounters in the world, it incorporates the commodification aspect of all of what we are doing into the discussion. What we “should” or “shouldn’t” do in any particular fan setting, a primary component of determining whether other people feel justified in subjecting us to humiliation and we feel forced to accept it, is not something that the people who see us as humiliated determine all on their own. Of course, in fandom we are both manipulated and courted in our role as consumers. But we are also laughed at in public because we fall prey to such manipulation and courting. In that sense, the extent to which someone on the outside of fandom might decide to attempt to subject a fan to humiliation is a technique that gets us, as fans, both coming and going. We are supposed to love things that are marketed to us as lovable according to whatever standard, but we are also not supposed to love them too much, or in the “wrong” way, because that kind of love would be “humiliating.” Advertisers sell us things, and then, when we buy or get attached to what they sell, they organize mechanisms for laughing at us for the consumption of onlookers who are just as manipulated as we are. They sell us and our compatriots not only the potential source of our embarrassment, but also the effect of our meta-embarrassment, and profit on both counts.

In essence, one problem Banksy’s statement points out is that it’s not really possible these days simply to use the most obvious means of resistance, which is to opt out of a world that makes a commodity out of our reactions both for the sake of selling something and then for the sake of selling our reactions to that something for the entertainment of others. As soon as we consume Mr. Armitage on screen, and react to it — and our reaction is the source of advertising money that keeps Mr. Armitage on screen — we become the potential source of ridicule, precisely because our behavior generates the ridicule that keeps the money flowing. He (or others like him) would not be there in the first place, were we not also putting ourselves out there for potential ridicule. In some sense our potential humiliation is thus a necessary consequence of the success of his career, a commodity for sale that we provide for free.

I think a lot of arguments about a second possible choice as a response to avoid this problem from the fan side would essentially tell us to hide our reactions — the sort of emotional equivalent of refusing to put ourselves on display for reality tv. Don’t risk humiliation by doing anything people will judge you for. It’s hard to see how we could do that and still be able to consume what he’s doing; it would negate advertising revenue — and the list of things to be avoided would be mighty long. But even if it were possible, in our world, as soon as we start communicating in any way about what we love, as soon as we move outside ourselves to find community or to experience euphoria in a shared setting, we are on that screen already. If we refuse to communicate because some things we feel or want to say are too humiliating, we will effectively be silenced before we even start. Yes, we will not be humiliated for the sake of producing a spectacle; in the words of Kipling, we will not see our honest words “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” But we will also say nothing of meaning. On some level, misunderstanding is the price of communication; we just live in an age in which misunderstanding is also a commodity for the consumption of the masses — a point demonstrated amply every day in the U.S. political press. And in an ironic media world, the mere fact of love for anything at all displayed in any way at all — is a potential source of ridicule.

So where do these considerations fit into my life as a fan? How can I navigate between the axes of humiliation and ennoblement in a situation in which ennoblement is commodified as culture for sale to generate advertising and humiliation is commodified as something like reality tv to do the same? I don’t know, completely. I don’t have an answer. I may be humiliated. Maybe I already am humiliated. But I do know that staying silent because I fear humiliation is no longer an acceptable alternative, if it ever was. And I do know that the only way to sanity as an adult for me is to decide what my experiences mean for myself. I am the one who decides if my love for anything, my reactions to it, the euphoria I experience, is pure or not. Asking permission, or allowing a needed permission to determine my responses to matters and what I say about them is, in Banksy’s words, is like “asking someone to keep the rock someone just threw at your head.”

I may have no chance of understanding or controlling what’s going on around me. But, humiliated or not, commodified or not, I am damn well going to maintain control over understanding — and speaking about — what’s going on in my own soul. I am going to do what I have to to maintain the possibility of sustaining a kind of euphoria that allows me to feel love for myself and the world around me. To come back to the beginning: in writing, I am legitimating my desire to desire. If my priorities are in order, my desire, in the end, should be more ennobling than anyone’s ridicule is humiliating.

~ by Servetus on April 16, 2012.

48 Responses to “Are we humiliated or ennobled by our desires?”

  1. Firstly I think desire is misrespresented or misinterpreted as sexual desire which is not what this is. For me, I look at it as an adoration for his talent, looks, creativity. Richard is one of those amazing actors that can change you mood, make you personally interested and involved with his characters.

    One of my first crushes was Richard Dean Anderson of Macgyver and Stargate fame. I have watched his stuff since I was 12 and just adore him. 2 years ago I actually got to meet him. I was in awe, I was so proud to meet him and talk with him, even if for a few minutes. I certainly did not want to drool, kiss or fawn all over him like a cheap tramp. I marvelled at his ability to treat everyone like he was only there for them.

    So back to my new Richard. I cannot get enough of him right now, but this does not mean I want to have his Baby! I just appreciate great talent. That is for me what being a fan is. Respecting the talent and accepting he is a oerson who derser es privacy and a life outside his work.

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    • Thanks for the comment. I think it’s different for different people. In my case it has a sexual component which is, however, not purely sexual. But I don’t see that my sexual desire really impacts him.

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  2. “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” ― Bernard M. Baruch
    “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ― Oscar Wilde
    “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
    “…be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” ― Henry David Thoreau
    “A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself-and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.” ― Jim Morrison

    Some of my favorite quotes. Idk, I thought they worked. It’s amazing how afraid we (in the general sense) are afraid of being ourselves. People tell us it’s ok to be ourselves, but those around us and the media tell us it’s most definitely NOT ok because we are horrid creatures in need of fixing, as Banksy points out (hadn’t seen that, thanks for sharing).
    I’m fairly new to tumblr but those girls have no shame for the fangurling, especially the fans of Dr. Who/Supernatural/Sherlock. I’ve actually found it all very refreshing. Granted, most of them are teenagers, but it has made me rethink my outlook.
    If I have to live, I may as well enjoy it. There are the haters out there who, for whatever reason (maybe low self-esteem and self-loathing or something along those lines), feel the need to think less of others for trivial things and make themselves feel superior. Shouldn’t allow their opinions prevent us (any of us) from our happiness.
    I find sharing desires and dreams makes them seem more real. So, servetus, please, enjoy your desires and enjoy sharing them. In answer to the title question, I would like you to feel ennobled by your desires.

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    • @Snicker’s Mom, I don’t really have a complete grip on tumblr yet, but if it’s honest and authentic and from what you imply, also uninhibited, I say thank heavens for that!!

      I do love the indefatigable energy of youth!! I think it’s also a wonderful reminder actually – that every young generation will find a way to embrace something that members of the generation before will find positively abhorrent or shameful or morally reprehensible (e.g., Elvis Presley, Rap music, etc). In the long run, who gets the final word, I wonder? 😉

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      • I think that spending a lot of time with 18-24 year olds really bends my perception of certain things. I tend to have to accept certain aspects of their lives to work with them.

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      • Tumblr is a crazy world but i’m getting sucked into it!!!! 🙂

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    • Snicker’s Mom, you touched on a lot of things that I think, too. Servetus, this is one of the best posts you’ve wrtten. Bravo!

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    • I think what’s involved for me now is looking at certain kinds of fantasies (some of them intersect with Armitage fantasies) that I had always been told were inappropriate, to see what they mean (as opposed to just assuming they mean I am strange). So I am definitely working back in that direction.

      Yeah, tumblr makes me look mild.

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      • LOL. Wave your freak flag! I’m sure your fantasies are super mild compared to tumblr (even if they’re not, it’s ok). It’s going to be interesting to hear your fantasies, your reaction to them and what you think they may mean.

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  3. To tell the truth,I still feel humiliated by my feelings but I think that the more world would knew RA “talent and good looks” the more I will feel enobled.
    I know,I don’t issue myself a certificate of a “good fangirl”.

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    • This post originally had a chunk in it how we can know that a certain kind of desire is legitimate or not, and “general social approbation or acceptance” was one piece of that. Luckily for us, however, there is no central certificate-granting authority.

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  4. Reblogged this on melmessenger.

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  5. Today, your article exactly hits my own musings and the way I see my being a fan. I am often confronted with the legal aspects of property rights at work and more and more feel that my sense of justice and my imagination how a world could work do not agree with the legal and established structures. (Little CD-revolution ;o) In large parts I try to close myself down against those marketing attacks as a way of protest and observe their effect on others. RA caught me anyway and slipped through the defense shield ;o)
    Thank you for sharing the Banksy quote. It is fantastic and I would have overlooked it otherwise.
    Your way of getting these aspects into words absolutely fascinates me, Servetus!

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    • I thought you might be interested specifically in the paragraph about property rights. In essence, we’re getting to a place where certain kinds of commodities don’t have value in themselves anymore — and everyone is wrestling with that.

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  6. Thank you, again, Servetus for your words. Yet again you have set things straight in my head.

    I still feel fairly new to fangurling; I’ve only been a member of the RA community since August 2011 and I have come a long way from the early days. I joined a board and didn’t mention it to my family or friends and now, well, now I shout to the world about the wonderful friends I have made all because of my adoration for a lovely, talented man.

    And, yes, it has affected my RL. For example, I had two friends at work. One I trust fully and the other I liked but could never totally trust due to her personal insecurities. So when I revealed my venture into RA fandom an interesting thing happened. One friend has stuck by me, constantly remarking about how I seem happier, freer and more confident, while the other one has taken my revelation and now uses it against me, trying to humiliate me in front of others. As a result she has lost my friendship and, due to my steadfast manner, other people see her actions as wrong and have chastised her for her actions (interestingly she is obsessed with Jon Bon Jovi so she should have understood ).

    So, yes, there are people who will use this to humiliate but I have been lucky enough to find that most people accept my judgement and actively want me to continue fangurling as it long as it makes me happy. My faith in humanity has been renewed.

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    • It’s always rough to lose a friend, and I’m sorry that this ended up being the trigger. However, I like you feel that I am becoming freer and more confident, and that’s been an important development. Love that you mentioned your faith in humanity.

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  7. When we’re kids we do things unabashedly. Young children aren’t embarrassed to ask questions and are curious about their surroundings. They’re eager to explore and do everything with exuberance/enthusiasm. Teenage girls scream at the sight of their teen idols. But somehow along the way we’re taught these things are embarrassing or humiliating and so we become inhibited. Maybe it’s as simple as becoming more child-like in exploring what makes us happy and gives us joy…or ennobles us.

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  8. Thank you, magwi, for sharing your story.

    I have long appreciated Servetus’s journey of healing and integration. It is quite a process to learn to accept traits of ourselves that, well, we may not really understand or judge to be unattractive (not to mention not understood by those around us), so we try to suppress those traits or keep them separate from how we think we should be. But in doing so, we are not fully accepting (much less celebrating!) who we already really are.

    As for your Bon Jovi co-worker, a quote from the trial of Socrates comes to mind … I wouldn’t want to be quite so harsh … but I guess it comes down to each of us choosing to examine our own lives and actions.

    Yes, faith in humanity … we can learn to evolve! 😉

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    • I think that not just knowing, but also accepting, the uncomfortable pieces of myself makes it easier for me to do so with others.

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  9. I do not feel guilty or embarassed by my RA love. Initially I was a little worried about what it meant about me, but i have since gone public. Just ask my friends and family. lol. I do not want to feel like I have this terrible secret to hide. This is about fangurling, having fun, enjoying an easy form of escape from the stressors of my RL and job. Oh sure I get the rolls of the eyes, but I also get the cute question, “so what is new what that actor guy of yours?” lol

    However, there have been plenty of times when I have felt guilty or humiliated because that is what others have wanted me to feel. I sometimes feel that I internalize other people’s baggage instead of feeling my feelings. I believe that sometimes when we are good to ourselves and try to live openly and authentically, others who may not feel as good in their skin or they themselves may be struggling, do not know what to do with us. They attempt to throw things at us until we allow something to stick. I am learning to ask myself, is this internal voice mine or someone else’s?

    I have really enjoyed this piece. It has been a reflection piece for me.

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    • This is a nicely balanced comment, thanks.

      A lot of people I know IRL know about this. Some of them read occasionally; my ex-SO has even left comments here from time to time. But not everyone knows, and I admit that sometimes my decision not to tell is not just about thinking it wouldn’t mean anything to them, but my fear that I wouldn’t hold up to attempts to humiliate me. (Although it’s not always what you would expect — i.e., if my mother would find this blog for some reason and associate it with me, it wouldn’t be the sex discussion that would trouble her, not in the least. It would be the discussion of religion. And it’s interesting that I don’t think anyone would question my right to blog about my religious issues.) I have learned a lot through blogging about which fears are my fears — the ones I have to own — and which are not.

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  10. I’ve been mulling this over. I don’t feel guilty about my RA love, but I feel not admitting to it has its roots in embarassment. Not to its existence so much, I’ve commented a few times that I think he’s gorgeous and very talented, and enjoy his work. For me it’s about the sheer intensity of how I feel, and I think a lot of it has to do with my age. I’m super-crushing on an actor fifteen and a bit years younger than me and spending a lot of time on activities where I can look at him, read and write about him and listen to him. I grew up worrying about what people thought of me, and I had very high expectations of myself. I care less so now, being much more comfortable in my own skin, but old habits die hard.

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    • This point about age really underlines that our reasons for feeling embarrassment are related to our individual contexts. I don’t have your particular worry, being roughly the same age, but I have other ones that relate to my context. The whole trope of “undignified” plays out in so many different ways. And I sympathize with the problem of caring what other people think.

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      • “Undignified” is certainly the word that comes to mind when I worry about how I may appear to others in my fangirliness.

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  11. Hi Serv,
    This is a wonderfully reflective and thought provoking essay–especially for me. I have said over on my own blog that writing my essays, stories, poems, etc.–about RA or life in general–are a way for me to “claim” the multiple facets of who I am. And my blog serves, in part, as my exploration of who I am.

    For so long, I have been the “good girl”–doing what is expected of me, being a help to others (whether or not they are a help to me), and most importantly squashing my “voice”.

    Well, my writing is a way for me to explore and nurture my voice. And delightfully, Richard Armitage as inspiration–via his talented storytelling and his sexy smoulder–is my creative muse at the moment.

    I am “out” to my wonderful hubby–the Sir Guy screen cap as my desktop display would have been a big clue anyway. Ha! But, I am still “in” with my academic colleagues–mostly because my interactions with them are for me playing a certain “role”.

    However, I “slipped” at a luncheon this past January where several of us–lady faculty from art, and history and sociology, and sciences–were talking about our creativity. The previous day, I had had an uncharacteristic spike in my readership (times 3!) with people reading my various IP or completed love stories on my blog. I was giddy, I was perplexed, I was amused. I joked that it looked like a teacher had assigned story reading assignments because all day long subsequent chapters in my various love stories posted to date were being read. Ha! So naturally, one of the women I had been on a women’s studies strategic planning committee with–and whom I knew only tangentially–was instantly intrigued and wanted to read my blog. I back peddled, I demurred, I declined to share my nom de plume and blog address with her. She persisted nicely, and she left her interest in what I had to say via my blog open should I wish to share them with her in the future.

    And actually, my reticence to come out to her as a creative amateur writer wasn’t about my RA related essays. It was more about my sensual poems and love stories. Ha! And, I wondered if I “knew” that someone I knew in RL was reading me, would it change how I would write in the future? Would I try to write more “safe” good girl kinds of things? And I didn’t and I don’t want to go back to hiding behind Miss Prim and Proper anymore. Yes, Miss Prim and Proper will always be a part of me. But, my sexy sensuous side is also me–very much me. And one of these days, I will be able to be “out” as my creative writing persona and tell people who might look askance at me–deal with it!

    Cheers! Grati ;->

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  12. This is a really important post and concept, and by no means just in relation to fandom. I need to read it again and think about it a lot more, but there’s something in the idea that we moderate our public expressions of our passions – be they for people, causes, values, whatever – to avoid humiliation, that has been troubling me for some time in respect of my own professional and personal responses. As always, you’ve articulated the issue in a way I’ve been unable to do, even in my own head, so thank you!

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    • Thanks for the comment; I’m always pleased if something I say is helpful.

      What I was thinking after I read it was that, of course, Richard Armitage is in the exact same situation.

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  13. […] I add to myself: like so much reality tv, Hoarders enforces market notions of bourgeois prejudice. I could watch that show and feel proud of my control of my life, or I could watch it and think, there but for the grace of G-d, but either way, my thoughts legitimate the show’s moralistic vision about the correct roles of consumption and cleanliness in capitalist society. Because in our world I can’t say: wow, good for people who try to hang onto every object that has any sort of meaning to them at all. Can you imagine it? What optimism hoarders have that they could establish some sort of control over all of it, that they can save everything, that they can live without losing pieces of themselves! What a triumph of the capitalist message that we can replace missing pieces of ourselves with objects! These people are champs! If we consume or don’t, if we de-clutter or don’t, our actions illustrate somebody’s morality. The question is: whose? As usual, I think with bitterness, the media have us coming and going. We buy stuff; then we have to buy more stuff and advice to rid ourselves of it. We’re sold feelings and then if we act on them in way that doesn’t reflect market ration… […]

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  14. […] reading for our purposes means I won’t explore. One strong possibility is that the journalist is participating in the typical cultural vilification of fans — we make a cheap…. (In this light, I found Peter Jackson’s statements at ComicCon, or in vblog #8, I […]

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  15. […] is what is dealt with in the way best suited to my own creative capacities. It let me see that what I desire is legitimate — not something shameful in need of discipline — and that writing is the way to harness […]

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  16. […] seen from the perspective of the world, is told: don’t make yourself a source of ridicule, even if the entire commercial structure of distribution of fan information is set up to commodify yo…! Stop admitting that you feel intensely. Against that, I argued last April that desire is not […]

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  17. […] taught me that some of the things that troubled (and trouble) me are expected dynamics of fandoms. Spectators have an interest in ridiculing all fans, too, and I’ve learned to care much less about that. I continue to feel that the boards do […]

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  18. […] it is enraging to read that kind of thing. Yes, movie folks and industry critics, we know you’ve got us coming and going. Maybe that’s why we’ve become reluctant to pay your […]

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  19. […] with both journalists and marketers. I don’t expect anything at all from journalists — as I’ve noted before, they have us coming and going and while they may occasionally make the bubbles more transparent and provide interesting […]

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  20. […] numbers, and then diss us in conversations with people whom we’ve come to really care about, like Banksy says, they’ve got us coming and going. As I continued to watch, my friend and I got to talking, and I said to my friend, he surely knows […]

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  21. […] you everything else — my extreme loyalty to your product being first and foremost, but also my willingness to be humiliated every time any media outlet says anything derogatory toward fans — for free as […]

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  22. […] rule seemed meaningless because Armitage had played the role he’s always played for me. It wasn’t so much that he made me want, but rather that he made me want to want things. And he did it in his […]

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