me + richard armitage relics

[This got frighteningly long again, but there’s no good way to split it up. If you’re mostly interested in Armitage fandom, skip the middle section with all the pictures of medieval artifacts. The history lesson is central, but perhaps not essential, to what turned out to be a surprisingly personal story. And, if you want the funny part of this, go here. In fact, go there first.]


[At right: A scan of Servetus’ Captain America ticket stub, retouched to blur the name of the theatre where I saw it.]


Flashback: June and July 2011. The first Captain America poster appears — with Richard Armitage’s name on it. Servetus moves home for a life makeover. Against expectations, however, she is offered and then takes a job that she is not really sure she wants. Fans of Richard Armitage eagerly await the premiere of Captain America. The movie premieres. We see him on the red carpet. Savvier fans than I point out the manufacturer of collectible Captain America merchandise, including trading cards and something called a costume card. I see some of this stuff in bookstores, and even buy some of the publications. July 2011 saw not only the Captain America premiere, but also Hobbit vlog #4. A big month for Armitage; a big week for this blog, with its highest single-hit day ever. Those who worried about the “drought” were not suffering intensely, not quite yet. That’s where this story starts.


I didn’t write about it at the time because it made me feel ashamed. Thanks to the lighthearted ItsJSforMe for giving me the incentive and creating the necessary emotional atmosphere to explore this theme. And thanks to everyone who’s been on this journey with me.


The setting: Armitageworld chat, late July 2011. Six or seven regulars. Someone says: there’s this thing called a costume card with a piece of fabric from Heinz Kruger’s costume in it. There’s one for sale on ebay. Opening bid: $75. Consensus: it’s a lot of money. What is a costume card? It has a piece of cloth in it from the costume used in the production of the film. Is it just as much fun to collect the trading cards? How many will Armitage be on, with such a small role? Would you want the whole collection, or just the Heinz Kruger cards? Some have collected trading cards, others have not. Discussion ensues about wanting things that you know are frivolous, about the joys of collecting, about the feeling of having to have something, and the relief that comes once you own it.

[At left: the bookshelves of a hoarder. Not my office. Truly.]

Speaking of collectors, someone notes: A&E is running back-to-back episodes of Hoarders, evenings. A sad show. I find it hard to watch people drown in their stuff, in rotting food, in animals they believe they are protecting. Some of us know hoarders, some admit tendencies toward collecting that trouble us a little. I say, mindful of the hundreds of books I sold or purged because of the move, and how much it hurt: I could be that person. I know: moving a lot means tossing things one might otherwise keep; stored things, neglected long enough, change in meaning, too. After the most recent two-year stint in Germany, moving into a new U.S. apartment made me wonder why I saved much of what I retrieved from storage. I say: the psychologists on the show claim that hoarding is often a response to certain kinds of trauma relating to spatial dislocation or personal loss. We all wonder: to what extent does this show serve to reassure viewers that other people are not as virtuous as they?

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 rationality, we’re ridiculed.

Wherever they come from, though, as I realize as chat peters out and people sign off, my feelings are clear. Whether pathology or rebellion or falling into the trap of merchandisers, I want that card. It’s late at night and I’m sitting in the office in my parents’ silent house and everyone is asleep, but I hear my mother’s voice: that’s nonsense. So strong is the morality on this issue that I hear even the voices of the dead: my grandmother chimes in with a chirpy Quatsch.

But I want it, I think, perversely. I took the job, I think, and this is my consolation prize. $75 US is not so bad. I have a little debt, but not much; my conscience is reasonably clear with regard to my responsibilities to others near and far; it’s okay to buy this crap for my own pleasure if it makes me feel good. I click on the link to the auction that appeared in the chatroom, and I bid. $75.

Something deep in my gut kicks when I click. It just feels right.

Kind of. Because while I didn’t express any disdain for collectors in chat, I didn’t tell any of the chatters what I was thinking of doing, either.

I see the bid receipt in my email and wonder if I’ll win. I wonder what my maximum bid will be, on this tiny scrap of cardboard that makes me feel calm when I look at the picture in the ebay listing. I ask: couldn’t I just save the picture? Wouldn’t that be enough? I think of my hostility to pictures as indices of recollections. Nah. A picture won’t do it. I need the object. But what if other people want it? I think, I guess I’ll think about the price again if I get outbid. I think: if I’m supposed to win the auction, I will. I wonder why I want a scrap of a piece of clothing that Richard Armitage wore, but not an autograph. I turn off the computer and go to bed.


[At right: an Outlook dialog box. Not precisely the one I saw.]

I mustn’t neglect to record that reconstructing the details of this story accurately requires me to delve into the archive of my email. It includes tens of thousands of messages and dates from the beginning of my first tenure track job, in 1999. There’s a name for this kind of collecting, too. But when I open Outlook, it informs me, inimitably, peremptorily, that it’s “upgrading my identity” and that I may not force quit the application or turn off my computer until it’s done. I have five identities stored in Outlook. Already, last summer, the tech guy who set up my laptop needed two days to figure out how to import and integrate all the different data.

Upgrading my identity takes Outlook a long time. Unsurprisingly. Or perhaps I should be surprised at how quickly it happens.

I ask, as I write this post: Will I remember my whole personal history, if I just save every single piece of email?

I ask: Will I put this whole story together accurately again, if I just link to every place in the blog archive where a piece of it appears?

I ask: What if I can’t find a piece? What if I didn’t write it down?

Do you see how this goes? How all the pieces we collect are never enough? How we have to make a single piece stand in for a multitude of things?

I worry that this part of the story seems less authentic to the reader because I didn’t save a screenshot of the actual dialog box I saw. Writing this, I spend twenty minutes googling for an image of it and give up. But here’s a discussion that includes the text of the message. If someone else experiences it, and writes it down, it is still real.


[At left: the cast card from the Captain America: The First Avenger trading card set. Looks like I cut off the scan. Armitage is the last name — just as he was the last featured name in the credits.]

This isn’t the first time I am desperate to possess something I find on ebay that attracts little attention. No one else even bids. I win the card. The day before I am about to leave. I don’t tell any of my fellow chatters that I now own it, even when the fact that the card was sold at the initial bid price comes up — with some wonderment: who would pay that? I log into ebay, pay, and change my profile details. I don’t have an apartment or a home address in my new city, so I ask the seller to wait a few days before sending it to my new office address. Ebay informs me that I am not entering the address correctly and suggests an alternative.

Does ebay know better than I do where I will work? It could be. Since I can’t find a way to reject ebay’s suggestion, I agree to it. I drive to the new city.

As a result, the item goes back to the seller twice before the postal service succeeds in delivering it. The merchant who sells me the complete package of trading cards has an easier time; by then I’m hep to the problem, and those arrive much more quickly. Five regular cards have Armitage on them: four story cards, and the card with the cast list. Slick, glossy, high resolution. They leave me cold. Maybe, in several decades, should my nieces find them in my effects, they’ll be able to sell them for something. If I haven’t purged them by then as signs of an attempt to consume that didn’t fill in the necessary holes in my identity after all.


[At right: my Heinz Kruger costume card M-8, grey variant, front.]

Another thing I don’t tell anyone: A reason that made it seem safe to take the job is the official start date of the contract. It’s August 22 — and the intersection of that date with Richard Armitage’s birthday seems auspicious to me in just the way Richard Armitage’s sudden appearance in full beard on my birthday that year appeared. The package, sent yet again by a very patient seller, arrives on August 19. It’s the grey card. It’s packed very carefully, since its value for the typical collector consists in its pristinity. The card is taped into a bubble wrap sleeve, then housed underneath in a soft cellophane sleeve that sandwiches the card between two stiff plastic trading card sleeves, which rest atop another soft sleeve that’s in direct contact with the card.

The packaging warns me of the care I should take, but I know what I want, and I’m so eager. My fingers tremble as I pull it off, piece by piece. I know just where I want to put them, but first I take off my glasses and hold the card by its margins with the pads of my fingers, positioning it at point blank range from my face. I take in every detail.

The cardboard of this costume card is much stiffer and thicker than the other trading cards in the set, to provide adequate support for the fabric watch. The snippet is a 2:1 (or 1:2?) twill, mostly of black and white strands, with regular red strands and doubling of the black and white pattern in order to create a subtle plaid. It’s a very light-weight fabric, which explains why the lines of the suit Heinz Kruger wore draped on Armitage’s body so well. It must have been very easy to move in, and not especially warm, both of which might have been advantages in a costume. There’s a very slight darkening or discoloration in the center of the fabric swatch, and while my fantasy would like to think this is Armitage sweat, rationality interjects to observe that this must be the glue that holds the swatch to the card.

[Left: same as above, rear view.]

My hands still shake. This little scrap is a piece of a costume worn by Richard Armitage! Maybe his finger touched it! Right on this part! I shouldn’t touch it because I risk marring it. I don’t care. The feeling of euphoria is just too great. I wipe the tip of my index finger off on my denim shorts and trace it gently over the swatch. I get a ridiculous smile on my face. I grin. I giggle. I can’t stop giggling! The grad student in the office next door comes over to find out what’s so funny, and I jerk my hand and the card under the desk. When he goes, again, having seen a very different side of the dour faculty member he met a few days earlier, I take it back out, and I look at the whole card a little bit longer. I wipe a few giggly tears from the corners of my eyes. Then I put my Richard Armitage relic back into its various sleeves and protections, and tuck it into the top right-hand drawer of my desk, where I will at least be able to touch the packaging as needed.

A proximity relic. It says it right on the card. This is “as close as you can get[.]”


[At right: Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage), dead after chewing a cyanide capsule secreted in a canine tooth, as Captain America (Chris Evans) looks on, in Captain America: The First Avenger. Source:]

Given everything bad that could have happened in a situation like the one I’ve put myself into, I’m actually optimistic about the new campus, but I’m still leary about the career, how it seems to have destroyed me, how exhausted I am. Teaching is not the worst part of the knot I’ve tied myself into, but it’s one piece, the piece that impinges most on my daily life, the piece where failure would most quickly become obvious. I’m not looking forward to instruction, which begins a few days later — to the extent of telling my new graduate assistant the basic outlines of my story. I inform her about my priorities for dealing with students: because I provide demanding instruction and stringent corrections, they need always not only to hear the message but also see concrete behavior from both of us that demonstrates that effort counts and that we will help everyone who asks and works hard. But I also tell her that if I seem checked out, my story explains why. She’s survived working for a number of temporary faculty on this particular campus already (as I learn later, some even more burnt out than I) and I can tell she’s worried. But I’ve vowed, this time, not to worry about graduate students, not to get involved with undergraduates, not to make friends with colleagues — all in all, I’ve decided, I’m going to keep my emotional distance. Think my own thoughts. I also swear, that since I’ve given all the lectures I’m scheduled to give this semester a minimum of ten times in the last decade, that I’m not going to revise them drastically or prepare with any intensity. I know this stuff backwards and forwards, after all. No review of new monographs on the topics of the lectures to make sure students get state-of-the-art analysis that most aren’t informed enough to care about anyway. No more minimum four hours of preparation per lecture just to be sharp and snappy in answering questions.

[At left: Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage), third from left, above, listens to the beginning of the demonstration of the serum project, in Captain America: The First Avenger. Another trading card pic, another cut-off scan.]

This vow turns out to be impossible to keep. I’ve been an overprepared professor since I started and that’s not changing now, it seems. I plan to screw around but my mind itches. The night before, despite my firm resolution to become a professorial slacker, I obtain the requisite selection of new monographs from the campus library, read them, revisit my outline and old notes and revise the PowerPoint I’ll be using based on the new information I’m adding and what I’m guessing about the respective educational preparation of the students on this campus.

On one level, I’m relieved to recognize myself. I truly didn’t want this to be the first fall since 1973 that I didn’t look forward to the start of school. But on the other, I’m frightened by very familiarity of these preparations.

Am I just going to reproduce everything I did wrong in the last job?

I go to bed early, and sleep badly.


[Right: Richard Armitage, interviewed during production of Captain America: The First Avenger, Fall 2010. Source:]

Too soon it’s the next day. I put on my professorial drag for the first day of school. I purchase and consume the requisite triple espresso. I walk through the office suite to thank the secretaries for their help in the transition, I greet my department chair and receive again his good wishes, I chat with other faculty who are there. I make the necessary copies of the syllabus, which I’ve proofread. I upload my PowerPoint to the university network. I check my bag: I have a copy of the PowerPoint on a memory stick just in case, in addition to the copy loaded on my laptop. I have dry erase markers and an eraser for white boards. I compose myself and think about my objectives and what I want to have said by the end of class and the questions I will ask them during the period.

But my core feeling remains: a strange, queasy combination of fear and avoidance and downright not wanting to go into that classroom.

Twenty minutes before class, I shut my door.

I cry for several minutes. What the hell did I think I was doing, taking this job? Putting myself in this position — again?

The only panacea I know for this mood is Armitage pictures, but my laptop is packed up for class, and I don’t have hard copies. And then it hits me. The relic.

I pull it out of the desk drawer. It will be a pain to unwrap the whole thing again, but I do it, and again I trail my finger over the tiny piece of fabric, bring it up to my face and examine it closely. The tears stop. My heart rate slows.

[Left: Richard Armitage as Heinz Kruger in trading card scan. Not sure if the ding over his left eye is on the card or merely a fleck on my scanner.]

And I know, again, suddenly, with the same certainty I had on the night I bid on the thing, what I’m going to do. I rewrap the costume card. I rise, raise my bag to my shoulder, make sure I have my keys — and finally, I slip the wrapped card into the left pocket of my blazer. I hold on to it as I walk down the stairs and down the hall. I pause before I open the door of the classroom and give the pocket a pat as I take my hand out. I breathe deeply, put a smile on my face, my hand on the door, and push my way firmly into the classroom. My TA comes to get the syllabus and I can tell she’s looking at me carefully for cues. I smile at her, say, “I’m happy that you’re so prompt. I think this will be a good semester,”  and take out a marker. I write my name, the course title, and the computer number of the section on the board in big characters. I touch the blazer pocket. I go to the computer to set up my slides.

Precisely at 2 p.m., I turn from the computer, breathe deeply again, and flash the class a brilliant smile. I slide my hand into my left pocket once more. I remember the two jokes with which I always start every semester. “Hello, everyone. I’m Michaela Servetus and this is part one of the European history survey. If your plans for the semester don’t include European history, this would be a good time to go.” Inevitably someone’s in the wrong room and exits clumsily and with apologies, but this always makes everyone else smile. I say, “I know you’re all wondering how to pronounce my last name: here’s how.” There’s a good pun that I make use of. When they’ve all tried it out, I say, “Great. Now you can all go back to mispronouncing it.” They laugh. We’ve started.

My left hand is still in my pocket. The performance of my lecture identity is integrated and working just as it should, but with substantially more energy than I was able to show all last year. I’m Servetus, with brio, even. Where is this coming from? I lose track of time. Seventy-five minutes go by quickly, with plenty of discussion.

Who is this I am being for them? The old Servetus? A new Servetus?

At the end of class, the TA comes up to me to say, “If you call that burnt out, I would have liked to have seen your regular lectures.”

My left hand verges back into the blazer pocket. Focus.

The first day sets the tone.


At an early term dinner party, one of my new colleagues, someone ten years younger, fresh out of graduate school, and already skeptical about the rewards of academic life, talks to the table about Richard Armitage — without me having raised the topic first. I tell her I’m a big fan.

A few days later, over a cup of a coffee, I tell her about the blog, and the effect it’s having on my life. She says: there’s so much more to life than academia. Why should you assume what you study is the key to explaining how you should assemble the puzzle? Why shouldn’t writing something like that help you put all the pieces of your life in order?

I thought I had blogged about this conversation but I can’t find it if I did. A missing piece, one that I cover over with this writing. And the sense memory of the Kenyan coffee.


Second week of September, Tuesday. My long lecture course. The evening’s topic: practices, significance, and social and cultural place of piety in fifteenth-century Europe. I illustrate this lesson with a detailed examination of surviving sources relating to the pilgrimage to Aachen, Maastricht and Cornelimünster, which was proclaimed three times in the later fifteenth century. I have a copy of the broadsheet created as an advertisement to potential pilgrims, which is a combination of images and text, and I put the students to work deciphering the images, since, like approximately 90 percent of Europeans at the time, they can’t read or understand the text.

The Shrine of the Virgin Mary (ca. 1220-1239), housed in the choir of Aachen Cathedral. Source: wikipedia.

As the broadsheet will tell you if you have the patience to decipher its contents, at Cornelimünster, the faithful could see a cloth with an image of Christ’s face on it, and the head of the martyred Pope Cornelius. At Maastricht, the relics of St. Servatius were on view, including his crozier, but also splinters of the True Cross. And at Aachen, pilgrims venerated the tunic of the Virgin Mary, the swaddling clothes of the Baby Jesus, the cloth in which the severed head of St. John the Baptist was caught, and Christ’s loincloth, all of which were taken out of the thirteenth-century shrine created to hold them and exposed to curious eyes approximately every seven years. I’ve always thought this pilgrimage must have been an interesting one. I went on it, in a way, when I was in Germany during graduate school. We didn’t walk from place to place or stay in pilgrimage churches, but the members of the research seminar I took rented a bus and stayed in hotels. We saw all the same stuff. The Church kept it all there for us.

[Left: a twenty-first century photo of the Virgin’s tunic, on display in Aachen Cathedral during a pilgrimage.]

I’m never more aware that the U.S. is a Protestant country than during this particular lesson. I debuted it that night at the third campus, but the student responses were entirely predictable, and even though this material speaks for the significance and vitality of the late medieval Latin Church, scoffing and disgust are almost always the result.

Q: Why would anyone want to look at a nasty piece of rotted bone?

A: It was a piece of something holy, a way to approach holiness that even the most ordinary person could undertake. Of course, not all relics were bones. The sudarium, for example, had touched Christ’s face and left an image behind. Items that had touched the body of Christ or the saints, were “second-class” relics. Many relics associated with Jesus were textiles or other objects, simply because the orthodox interpretation of the Nicene Creed after 451 taught that his human body was substantially inseparable from his divine body, and that both were alive and seated at the right hand of G-d. (Exceptions, which qualify as “first-class” relics: segments of his foreskin — because these were separated from his body before the resurrection.)

Q: What do you mean: “approach holiness”?

A: Holy objects let people “get close to” the divine. They connected the physical world with eternity. They were especially important in an age when the Church emphasized the absolute glory and majesty of G-d (as opposed to G-d’s approachability). Relics were thought to be powerful in that they allowed people who venerated or used them correctly to receive divine favors. It was not the object that was important; rather, veneration of the object allowed G-d, the Virgin, or the saints to work the effect. The cult of the saints, of which veneration of relics was an important element, was sustained because the saints often performed miracles through relics — not through the physical objects themselves, but through the piety that the objects inspired. Pilgrims who experienced miracles — miraculous healing, perhaps, or pregnancy after years of infertility — sometimes returned to the site of veneration to give thanks, and their stories were recorded by clerics in manuscripts called “miracle books” that list the deeds attributed to a particular saint, relic, or apparition.

Q: Isn’t that magic instead of Christian religion?

A: Though it’s hard to define the difference, and this is a big question, we usually say that magic involves an attempt to manipulate the natural world to one’s own ends, while religion involves an attempt by people to conform to divine will and ends with the hope of good effect along the way. Veneration of relics was an attempt by the faithful to appeal to the powerful, but in a way that conformed human behavior to divine demands. If magic fails, the failure is attributed to the incompetence of the practitioner. In contrast, if the practice of religion fails to achieve a positive outcome, this failure is usually attributed to the will of the deity.

[At right: A late twelfth-century arm reliquary from Braunschweig-Lüneburg, probably meant to hold a relic of one of the apostles. X-rays revealed bones inside. Now located in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Read more about the reliquary and its contents here.]

Q: Did people really worship these relics?

A: No. They venerated them as evidence of the activities of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people with whom they were associated. Which is slightly different action. (Teachable moment: difference between latria and dulia, an essential distinction for understanding not just what pilgrims did, but also a later lecture on views of the saints as opposed to G-d.)

Q: Didn’t people realize they had to be fake?

A: Some did. Some medieval scholars of the church were downright skeptical about their authenticity as the actual remnants they purported to be, though not of their effect as magnifiers of piety or lenses for divine action. As it became safer to travel long distances, moreover, and particularly to undertake the Jerusalem pilgrimage, fifteenth-century laypeople also became more skeptical. A few travelers’ diaries survive that ask whether all the relics the author has seen can be true ones. (Something like thirty different nails from the True Cross were visible in medieval Europe, and long pilgrimage routes might bring an industrious traveler past several of them.) Of course, contemporaries knew that some relics they might be exposed to (like those available for sale in Jerusalem) were certainly false; but the falseness of some relics did not equate to the falseness of all of them. The point is that relics were authentic if they worked — and plenty of evidence suggested that they did. It wasn’t the reality of the object at stake so much as the reality of the contact with the holy that the object provided.

Q: People sold them?

A: Yes, although not legally; the Church always prohibited their sale, even if not with great effect. But there were certainly relic dealers or merchants. Fascination with relics and the role of the saints in legitimating the holiness of a new foundation meant that new churches always needed to obtain them, whether legally or illegally. A newly founded church might receive gifts of ancient relics from its founder. New saints could also be created, though the shortage of new martyrs after the ninth century made that harder, and objects associated with them carried to a new church. But a larger problem than sale of intentionally faked relics for a broad consumership that could afford them was probably the theft of relics already in place and the doubt that such thefts cast on the authenticity of all relics. Numerous important religious centers obtained their key relics by having them stolen from somewhere else. The choice of a relic theft related to its legitimating value for the person who ended up with it, so entire narratives were written around these thefts. Their authors argued that relics could only be stolen if they wanted to be; the saints involved thus wanted their relics to go to their new homes. But again, it’s not so much about the object itself as the aura the object created. Given how these objects were used, the reality of an object was clearly only an incidental part of its appeal, and indeed, the Church never pronounced on the authenticity of any relic. The point was the piety it inspired and the response of G-d and the saints to this piety. Relics were authentic when they did what they were supposed to do.

[Pilgrim badge — an item a pilgrim collected as a memento of a pilgrimage — with an image of St. George from fifteenth-century England. Held by the British Museum.]

Q: So if it’s not about the object, why did so many people go to see them? Couldn’t they be pious on their own, without relics to focus their attentions?

A: For all kinds of reasons. Some certainly did believe in the reality of the objects, and in an age where most people were illiterate, an image or concrete object might do a great deal to focus conceptual thinking about the divine. The churches that possessed relics, like those in Aachen, Maastricht, and Cornelimünster, made indulgences available to pilgrims who came and performed the suggested venerations. The popularity of the cult of saints and indulgence piety suggest that late medieval Europeans certainly believed in the divine actions and miracles associated with relics even if they were sometimes suspicious of their authenticity. And we should not exclude less elevated motives. Most Europeans traveled by foot. Rough terrain, lack of roads, and poor footwear made it hard to walk more than three miles an hour, so many people rarely traveled beyond thirty-five miles or so from their homes. Pilgrimages offered a particular sort of organized sociability with a planned route, known roads, stations to sleep and eat, and thus a journey where one could talk and enjoy the company of one’s fellows while engaged in a shared activity. And if the pilgrim experienced difficulties on the journey, people with the same goal were all around to help.

Q: If all those people touched relics, how were they preserved over the years?

A: Most were kept in containers designed to display them, called reliquaries, which could sometimes be touched, and the sight or touch of the often-ornate reliquaries  and shrines was as impressive to the viewer as the relics themselves. One didn’t have to touch the relic in order for it to be effective. Of course, we regularly encounter relics and reliquaries with spots that reflect the touches of the viewer. That the objects appear “worn out” to us is a sign of their success — if they are worn out, that means the piety associated with the relic was efficacious and people wanted to venerate it.


[Right: scan of trading card 29, Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage) in his remote controlled submarine. Back of card.]

Late October. Armitageworld chat again. The only person I’ve told that I purchased the first costume card is ItsJSforMe. Another has appeared on ebay: this time with a red fabric swatch. Offered for $250 U.S., but set up in a way that a customer can counter-offer. Discussion circles the price of the first — more than the participants would have paid. Wondering who would have paid that. Then: where does the red come from? Someone thinks: Kruger’s tie. I think: why am I ashamed? I can afford it. I hint, obliquely, that I bought the first card, but the new price of $250 is so flabbergasting that my hint disappears into the ether. Why so much? The seller believes it’s a rare variant of the M-8, as he’s only seen grey cards up till now. We talk again about wanting things we know are silly to want.

Again, it’s obvious what I’m going to do. I don’t even let the voices of reproach creep in this time. I counter-offer, half. I know it won’t come to me if it wasn’t supposed to be. After a short exchange with the seller — the same guy who sold me the first card — I agree to pay $150 U.S., a number that will also be discussed with some surprise in Armitageworld chat when it becomes public. I ask him how many of these cards he thinks there are. He doesn’t know — because the producer doesn’t publicize such exact information, beyond the probability of getting a certain genre of card — but in his opinion, after opening 30 cases of material for repackaging and resale to collectors, M-8 is the third hardest card to find.

“Keep it in good shape,” he advises me. “I think this is going to be a valuable one someday.” He has to say that, of course, to reassure me over just spending $150 for a piece of cardboard with a sketchy fabric swatch on it that’s not even an inch square.

I don’t tell him that it’s already valuable. And not because no one’s going to touch it.

[Left: Richard Armitage as Heinz Kruger on Captain America: The First Avenger costume card M-8, red variant, front view. Another one of my own cutoff scans]

This time I have an actual address where I live, and the priority envelope comes in two days. Inside it, the card is packed in the same convoluted way, to protect the value of the card. I unpack it with the same glee. It’s definitely a piece of the red tie.

Then I think of all of the pictures I’ve seen of Richard Armitage fiddling with an uncomfortable collar or adjusting a tie. I wipe my finger off, and trace it over the red fabric. I grin ridiculously. I kiss the swatch lightly. And then I pack it up, and put it in the drawer of my living room table.

[Scrupulosity demands that I note for readers that the reconstruction of this particular dialogue was not possible with my Outlook email archive. I had to go to my German yahoo account, an identity that is not included in my Outlook profiles.]


[At right: Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage) dashes from the taxi in order to escape in his submarine, in Captain America: The First Avenger. Source:]

The husband of one of my new colleagues is a cinematographer, teaching adjunct classes in film at a neighboring university. He’s seen Captain America and remembers the Heinz Kruger action sequence. I tell him I’m a fan of Richard Armitage’s and what a costume card is and that I’ve bought not only one, but two. I ask him whether he thinks the scrap of clothing could come from an actual costume. He says: why not? For a role like that they usually make several identical costumes, especially if the costume is likely to be damaged during filming.

He asks: is it important to you that he wore it?

I say: I’m not sure why it’s important to me to have it. But it is. Having it makes me happy.

He says: That’s the main thing, then.

I don’t tell him about the lecture.


December: Term is over. My new colleagues and I are out for one of our periodic Belgian beer extravaganzas. The conversation strays to silly ways we entertain ourselves when the seriousness of the semester ends. I tell one of them about my Captain America costume cards. He tells me that his kid is a big fan of sports memorabilia, but that he won’t let said kid spend money on materials that involve “authentic” jerseys, because there have been so many scandals with falsified memorabilia.

“Not that I want to disappoint you,” he says, “but I’d be awfully suspicious.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. “But there’s something about having the cards.”

“That’s what my kid says about the jersey,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of discussions about it.”

“Why do you think he wants it?” I ask.

“Well, he likes [the team.] All his friends are fans, too. And there’s a particular player involved who he almost worships. He knows everything about him.”

“So it would be really cool for him to have a jersey, then,” I say.

“Sure, but it’s expensive, and who knows if it’s really been worn by the guy, anyway.”

“Would that matter to your son?”

“Well, he has plain team jerseys like the ones you can buy anywhere. Just not the ‘authentic’ one worn in the game or whatever. Plus, it’s not like he’d be able to wear it.”

“Why not?” I ask.

“Well, because it’s only valuable if you keep it in perfect condition. Frame it and keep it under soft light and so on.”

“I guess that’s true,” I say. Though I wonder. “Capitalism does multiply the things and then the effort to create things that are more valuable means they end up being worth less and less in monetary terms.”

“Yeah,” he says, “Probably a lot of that stuff isn’t really worth that much, even if people collect it for its cash value. If nobody wants it, it’s not worth anything. “

I consider this. But your son wants it, I think. I suppose it’s true that no rational parent who’s worried about paying for college would spend hundreds of dollars for a signed jersey worn by a basketball player and then let his kid wear it. It would wear out, and you’d only have the memory, which you couldn’t discard or resell if it changed meaning for you. I don’t ask him my next question, which is: if the proliferation of things means that individual ones lose their value, why insist on maintaining value derived from collecting things whose value is dubious anyway? Stuff that tells us who we are but just piles up. Isn’t that the hoarder’s problem in a nutshell?

I wonder: what’s better, if your dad did buy you the jersey? Having it in great shape on the wall when you’re fifty, and having that piece of your youth intact and available to dust off every month as evidence of who you were, and show your kids? Or knowing you wore it out, snuggling with it on bad nights as a teen or wearing it under your shirt for good luck on the SAT, and having the memory as evidence of who you were? What would make you remember your dad more? Yourself?

I guess the answer depends on how your life works out, what the relic did for you when you needed it, what the story ends up meaning to you. It depends on your skill in knowing what the necessary pieces are, in determining which emails you can abandon without sifting through them, and in a situation where you can’t keep track of every single piece, whether you develop the strength to identify and hang onto the pieces that give you focus, those objects that tie all the pieces of your identity together. If you find the piece that makes you full of fire when you see it. And whether you can eventually let go of the piece — the belief that you need every piece of data in order to put things together — and just feel the fire. All on your own.

“In a way,” he continues, “you must know a lot about this kind of thing already. It’s kind of like a relic.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It is.” Spot on.

“Bunch of bunk, if you ask me,” he says. “And I grew up Catholic.”

“Why do you say it’s bunk?” I ask.

“None of that stuff is real,” he says. “Look what they found out about the Shroud of Turin.”

“Probably not,” I agree. “It would be odd if it were. But it’s an approved Catholic devotion.”

“Which makes the Church look ridiculous,” he says. “They know better. And if they don’t, they’re idiots.”

“Really?” I say. “They don’t require anyone to believe in it. And anyway, the Church has never authenticated any of that stuff. The teaching is that the preservation and veneration of relics of bona fide saints is neither necessary for, nor harmful to, salvation. And that veneration of relics involves a veneration of the people with whom they are associated as witnesses to divine grace. They do go so far as to verify the status of the saints, of course. If you venerate the relic of a saint, the saint may work a miracle. So the point isn’t whether or not the relic is authentic, it’s in the belief and practice of piety that you extend via the relic to the saint and, by extension, the divine.”

“Never thought I’d hear a Jew defending the Church,” he laughs. “So the point is the miracle, not the relic?”

“Exactly,” I say. “Though I might be an odd kind of Jew.”

“So why keep the relic around, then?”

“Because sometimes people need an object to help them focus. Seeing it, touching it, makes them feel better. It focuses the pieces of their faith that are fragmented inside of them when they can’t figure out how to do it otherwise.”

“Huh,” he says. “Well, whatever works, I guess.” He looks at his empty glass. “Next round’s on me.”

As he goes to get the beer, my feelings about the costume cards have not changed. But I do wonder: Will I keep these? Or will I declutter them someday, afraid of an overwhelming glut of things that define my identity? If I keep them, will my nieces find them in my effects someday? Will they still be packed in their bubble wrap and cellophane sleeves?

Or will I have rubbed the fabric swatch on the cards to oblivion?


Lastly: on the shame that kept me quiet in chat. Some of it was about the money. I paid $225 for these relics. I think the total cash cost of Armitagemania is now approaching something like $700 U.S. A lot for something stupid that no one cares about? Or just the right price for an object that reminds me who I am?

However I answer that question, though, the last thing I need to feel about the Richard Armitage relics is shame before my fellow fans. As I read through the posts that covered the fall of 2011 that are linked in this post, the first thing I noticed is how many people were on this pilgrimage right along with me, who stepped in with kind words and prayers and suggestions and support whenever I needed it, who caught my elbows when I stumbled on the path and set me upright on my feet. All the people who said you can make it, you can do it, just put one foot in front of the other. All the people who make plausible how it is that believing in the efficacy of something can make it so, and I’m not talking about relics, here.

To all the people who are still saying: you can figure out who you are and be that person. To all the people who say, just keep writing —

Thank you. For helping me feel the fire.


For another reaction to the costume cards, please go to Do I Have a Blog?

~ by Servetus on June 16, 2012.

79 Responses to “me + richard armitage relics”

  1. […] they came to me saying they were done with the laptop, Lil JS told me their search had led them to Me + Richard Armitage and a post by Servetus on Captain America trading cards and Armitage relics.  Definitely worth […]


  2. *smiling* Yes, I’d think it was impossible to live where I do, not far from the convent that enshrines a reliquary holding the hand of Saint Theresa of Avila, and not know the importance of relics. It truly is the miracle that is authentic, that demonstrates the power of faith and piety, not necessarily the authenticity of some bone, some trace of bodily fluid, or other physical bits and pieces. Relics were even more important, as were pilgrimages, in medieval times

    We all, I think, have our own relics, our own talismans that work our private miracles. As you say, “I guess the answer depends on how your life works out, what the relic did for you when you needed it, what the story ends up meaning to you.” I am glad you have your costume cards. I do not believe you paid too much, as their value to you is beyond price.


    • The grey one was really important on that day.

      I go round and round on this issue about price, mostly because I do know $225 could be spent on more objectively worthy items. However, the big lesson I learned from my childhood is not to be a 120 percenter. Donating to worthy causes regularly and generously is important but you don’t have to give all of your income to them.


      • True. I donate time and funds to worthy causes, but I have also seen that there are material things that are important to my sense of self and well-being. Their power is what matters, not the physical and chemical dross of their existence. They are transient, impermanent, but then so am I. These material tidbits help me maintain the wherewithal to give generously. If I give all, there is no “I” left to do the giving, as I learned the hard way. How many lives do you have to save, how many do you have to feed and support, before you are entitled to your own small miracles?


        • I also am starting to realize how the failure to nourish small needs in small ways as they arise tends toward a situation in which one ends up almost having to do something really selfish to even out the psychic balance …


  3. *UK Expat Cheshire Cat Grin floats invisibly in air*

    … Heinz Kruger grey swatch card – $75
    … Heinz Kruger red swatch card – $150
    … Having tangible touch point relic that wormholes you directly to the center and source of your power and divinity… PRICELESS



    • I agree. If it helps you get through the day and whatever difficulties, provides comfort and strength, it’s worth the price and more.


    • I couldn’t figure out at the time if it was that I was recovering something that was still there, that I lost, or giving me access to something new. I guess I’m still puzzled about that.


      • “It’s a mystery.” Yet I believe it’s always there, we’re just not always able to touch it or see it in the same way.


      • Servetus, I think it’s a little of all the above. The area under our consciousness which serves as energy source – is always there.

        I don’t know what portal / bridge you used in the past to access this energy (enough to function in your profession and as needed in the classroom), but it appears that in some previous battle, this old bridge / portal to your energy was destroyed.

        By way of substitution (the body energetic is hell bent on survival, it appears), Armitagemania helped construct a new portal for you to tap into this energy source. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s an even cleaner source of fuel, and your body certainly knows how to use it to function.

        If I oversimplified, I might guess you previously relied on your 3rd chakra to access this source energy. Having suffered a major wounding there, your 4th chakra spooled up to take its place and to keep you energetically alive – in fact, more alive than you’ve tapped into being for a great long while.

        I am simply thrilled you had the courage to follow through and buy those cards. I mean, not to get all Obi-Wan Kenobi on you, but you’ve successfully “stretched out with your feelings … let go your conscious self … and acted on instinct”.

        Bravo, Chiquita. 😉


        • This is intriguing to me and I haven’t replied because it’s so out of my usual realm of thinking (I need to read more scifi, I guess), but I wanted you to know I’m still thinking about this.


  4. Out of curiosity I just went to eBay to see how much the cards were going for now. A year later, the red Kruger card is $150 buy it now. It is the most expensive one–a third more than the hero, Captain America and twice the price for the Red Skull. You aren’t the only one to see the value of an Armitage relic. (Plus, you didn’t overpay!)


    • I think it depends a lot on when you look at ebay. I’ve been looking on and off and I’ve seen a wide range of prices from about $50 to $150 for the red card. I’m not sure what ItsJSforMe paid. However, we now do know where four of those cards are, so as long as we hang onto ours we probably jack up the price a little.


  5. Absolutely overwhelming, Servetus! How you can bring the meaning of history to life so wonderfully is miraculous in itself. If I were your student, I think you would have to push me out the door to get me to go home and sleep ;o)
    Growing up near a religious center with reliquiaries and lots of “Votiv-Gaben” (= something like signs or commitments of devotion?), I grew up with the doubt about their authenticity, the power they can hold and create for the believer and the unnecessity for them to being authentic.
    With the RA-cards, I must admit I suspected ;o) and that made me feel so mean, when I realised what I had done with my comment doubting the authenticity of the material ;o( Sorry for that ! It really was meant in a way to console those who did not have a chance to ever get them ;o)


    • It’s fine, I didn’t take it personally. It wasn’t like you weren’t asking questions I asked myself, especially since I grew up in a “the Catholic Church is evil and the Pope is the very Antichrist” atmosphere.

      The first time I saw a lot of ex votos in place was as a 20 year old in Mexico City when I went to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It impressed me that something could have that kind of power.


  6. I can’t help but to ask, pardon me if this is out of line, did you bid on/purchase the Heinz Kruger suit that was going up for auction? (you don’t have to answer). I debated about bidding on it. It looks like it went for $600, not bad. If I had known something like this brings you so much comfort I could have kicked in a few bucks for you.


    • Thanks for the offer! I didn’t bid on it because at the time I didn’t know if I was going to have a job in the fall. I did bid on that quilt, but stopped when the bids reached the level of a monthly rent, which is probably my upper border for frivolity.

      I also admit that there’s something I like about the compactness of the thing.

      Or maybe it’s that I kept a dirty t-shirt of my college boyfriend in a plastic bad when he went to Russia for a year of study abroad. After about 3 months it only smelled like plastic bag — maybe I have bad experiences with clothes?


      • Maybe. I recently took a nightgown out of the ziplock where I’d kept it unwashed for ten years. The scents were still there, more faint but just as evocative.


        • I probably picked the wrong kind of plastic. I’m sure there’s some kind of archival plastic for preserving scents. Though this makes me think of those forests of scent preserve jars discovered in the East German Stasi offices after 1989.


  7. This narrative, Servetus, was at the same time truly instructive and inspirational (and I find it impeccably composed). Bodies that matter, bodies that mean, bodies do authenticate our existence. Relic is the bodily trace or remnant of things holy or abstract. Being so, it is the space or point of contact, where two discriminate and sometimes incompatible entities meet, and I suppose it gives a sense of expansion of self. At the same time, the wide, overwhelming world shrinks:-) And of course, world in which the touch of Armitage is possible without any fret or discontent of banality must be good place to be in (locus amoenus, idyllic, heavenly – thus divine and holy?)
    On the other hand, our daily relics give us illusion that our tortured and fragmented self is identity, a whole, preservable in time, usable as a trigger or catalyst of recollection (as notorious Proust’s madelaine), but also a proof of us in le temps perdu.
    And all that for a couple of bucks! No Wall street broker or financial analyst could convincingly criticize the deal. (Not to mention that there is yet more history to be produced from those two cards).
    Of course, we are both aware of the irony (and paradox) in fact that entering territory of ultimate consumerism, capitalist exploitation, reproduction and objectification, simulation and simulacra, you found piece of holiness and of happiness (and luck, in the pocket). For me, it’s a kind of consolation – we can still beat the coldness and deceptiveness of the world by being ourselves (“being” understood as dynamics of trying to get to know ourselves in process of becoming who we are, that dynamics I see as a basis of this blog).


    • Thanks so much for this very thoughtful comment, belizec. You really got what I was trying to imply about finding a relic-like value in a mass-produced object that is produced precisely for the purpose of having a relic like value that it cannot help but self-undermine, and also my implicit fears about the rationality or acceptability of finding an idyll in something that inevitably appears banal. I ended up thinking that the reason I didn’t want an autograph (which would be *verifiably* created by Armitage) as opposed to a costume card (in which the connection was tenuous at best) was that I’d have to actually ask Armitage for his autograph, i.e., I’d have to expose myself to the source of the feeling I’m trying to channel as involved in this strangely banal pursuit. It would not just be embarrassing, it could incinerate the source of the power somehow. All the Bible stories say that if you look directly at the source of the holy, you can be destroyed. You have to tiptoe around it somehow. Or, if you believe the Wizard of Oz narrative, if you look at the holy you eventually discover it’s a charlatan and you should just have clicked your heels together three times in the first place.

      And also, nice point about the matter of discovering an identity in world where there are no identities. I think one bizarre contradiction that underlies this blog is frankly the fact that I more or less subscribe to the postmodern notions of identity in which it is not one thing, it can never be one thing, there is no essential self. My academic writing totally reflects that view. On the other hand, here I sit, trying to insist that I have an identity by writing it into existence with the help of the image and relics of a British actor.


  8. I loved that the card gave you courage (strength? serenity?) to face your first lecture of the term. Any different from those who wear/carry any other sort of object in order to produce a similar effect? If the cards bring you peace in your life, then the money was well spent. Enjoy them.


  9. Those cards sound like they were worth every penny you spent on them. Even if they end up monetarily worthless because of how you choose to use them, their value is priceless for the strength they gave you to get through that first day of class.


    • The first time I had to help pack up the household of a deceased relative I was fifteen and we found a bunch of beautiful tableware, pristine, in a cupboard. My mom said that these were her mother’s very precious things. So precious she never used them. I’ll never forget that.


  10. I love your writing Servetus, but today you blew me away. When reading I kept my fingers crossed hoping that the cards would end up being all that you needed them to be, your support in hard times. It’s good when we let go of the rational, the adult way of seeing lfe, and allow for a little leap of faith 🙂


    • Thanks, Pinup 🙂

      I work in a very rationalist profession, but I teach about a subject that is ultimately non-rational. It’s a hard gap to navigate sometimes!


  11. I find your writing compulsive reading and, as with this post, frequently moving. People carry all sorts of different things with them for different reasons – for luck, for strength, for comfort. Some carry pictures of loved ones, some might carry crosses or another symbol of their faith, some carry items that trigger a particular thought. For me it’s my grandmother’s engagement ring which I always wear and never take off. What we carry is irrelevant, it’s what it means to us that’s important. As others mentioned above, the value of these items, whether they be rings or costume cards, is priceless.


  12. How fascinating to relate memorabilia to relics! Perhaps it seems sacrireligious, yet it does have correlation, in the effect it has, at different times, in different ways, on the psyche.

    As for hoarding, must I root through the book boxes and ruthlessly discard?? No! No! 😀


    • I agree. I have had to sell off my library twice in my life. I am resolved not to do it again. Keep the books. Let your heirs deal with them.


      • I would never suggest getting ridding of anything that has a big, or even a slight, meaning to you, or even that you’re undecided about, just to simplify things for your heirs. On the other hand, as someone who’s dissolved or helped to dissolve four households of deceased relatives, if they are things that mean little to you and you know of a use for them in the present, it’s a charitable act to a lot of people to dispose of them now. We just finally got a pickup truckload of books that no one was reading out of my parents’ basement and mostly donated to a parochial school. I confess to feeling great relief about this.


        • That’s great. I, too, have dealt with estates. It was a great feeling to launder all the clothing and donate it, to give the unwanted books to Friends of the Library, and to give furnishings to those who needed them. The food bank was thrilled to get the cases of Ensure. I have tried to assure that I will not leave a mess when I go, but if the worst I leave is an eclectic library, they should be grateful.


    • Not if you love the books. If you were really a hoarder, you would know it.


    • There are important differences, too, between a relic and a piece of memorabilia — these Armitage objects are on the board, I think, in a lot of respects. But it seemed like the fall was trying to tell me a story.


  13. Ok. I skimmed this over really fast and had to dash out before I could finish reading. I was like trading cards, theater ticket stubs religious articfacts — where in the heck is she going with this??? But you tied it altogether!

    I think there is a difference btw mindless consumption and buying something that truly brings you pleasure. They aren’t on the same spectrum. I bet your neices will think it is pretty cool that their Auntie has some secrets! All girls, young and old need a few secrets!

    As for job burn out, there are so many factors that contributed to it and I bet that being in a new environment helped a bit. THese days most people stay at a job three to five years tops! So I can only imagine being at the same uni all those years! Good Gawd!

    As for lucky tailsmen, I read this article about the president — he carries lucky charms of all sorts in his pockets too.


    • and the goal in university life is actually to receive tenure so you never need to change jobs.

      of course there’s a difference between mindless consumption and mindful consumption, but I still think there’s a potential difference between mindful consumption that’s frivolous and certain kinds of charity. I ended up giving this to myself but it was and remains a serious concern.


  14. This piece on relics and how your “relic” comforts you is fascinating. Just yesterday I was walking through Wal-Mart (talk about materialism, capitalism, consumption, etc!!) and saw a set of Lord of the Ring Pez Heads which made me think that come December there will probably be a set of Hobbit Pez Heads. Every time I see these types of action figures in a store I look for the Gisborne figure but have yet to find one. Then I think to myself: What would you do with a set of Hobbit Pez Heads? How would you explain that to the family? But I’m still comforted by the thought that I can probably get a set this December.
    Of course that’s not quite the same as a piece of cloth that RA may or may not have worn. But it does fit in with your point about “finding a relic-like value in a mass-produced object that is produced precisely for the purpose of having a relic like value that it cannot help but self-undermine.”


    • It’s in line with the tradition of the scallop shells, sometimes silver ones, sold by vendors at Compostela to pilgrims. A “mass-produced object that is produced pecisely for the purpose of having relic-like value” — there’s a long tradition here. What matters is what each shell meant to the pilgrim who purchased it, not whence it came or the value to someone other than the purchaser. When you feel your touchstone, and tap into the strength it channels for you, is this not unique, the way your pilgrim’s souvenir might have been in a different century?


      • there’s a fairly important distinction there. Pilgrim’s badges weren’t mass produced (although certainly many of them were produced, they weren’t made by machines, they weren’t sold for profit, they weren’t made attractive via capitalist advertising campaigns, they weren’t sold on ebay, they had no value apart from the personal value).


      • Sorry, I should correct this because I worded it poorly. Of course they were made and sold with a profit in mind. But it’s not the same kind of operation as a mass-manufacturing one. And they weren’t expected to gain in value after you had them — they were valuable only to you. The point of a costume card is that it will gain in value. Otherwise — it being a totally non-rational object — it has no value. So for me to assign value to it as a relic is a little strange.


        • It doesn’t seem all that strange considering relics were used to get closer to a deity. Not that RA is a deity, but a lot of the language and some of the activities surrounding “fandom” mimic religion, i.e. terms like idol and worship. Also the healing or restorative sensation you get from watching RA.


          • yeah, and this is an interesting point (and I’m surprised no one raised it, actually) — he isn’t a deity, but features of fandom mimic certain religious activities and I think this is part of what people find so troubling about intense fandom (whereas they would be more reticent in expressing some objections to intense religious devotion).


      • Perhaps the way to put it is this: the more I assign value to it by using it as a relic (touching it) the greater the extent to which I detract from its intended value (as an object that gains in value because of rarity and pristine quality).


        • So, to buy a doll to play with it vs. to buy a doll to keep it untouched as an investment? A doll has no “use” except in the owner’s mind. Whether that aligns with the producer’s intended purpose seems unimportant.


          • but there’s an inherent gyp or, if you like to think of it this way, marketable self-deception involved in the capitalist product that’s not there for the pilgrim’s badge. Somebody made those badges in their hundreds or thousands and sold them for a pittance of a profit. People bought them because they had been there. Indeed, as objects, they had no value for someone who hadn’t been there — they are not relics, they weren’t sold on the basis of their rarity, but rather on the basis of commemorating an experience.

            In contrast: The costume card seeks to mimic a rarity that the pilgrim’s badge doesn’t have, although the relic might, but in fact the card’s rarity is only manifested as a function of its own creation by a mass manufacturer. It is rare not because there only *are* a few, but because the manufacturer intends only to create a few, although the manufacturer could create many more that are exactly the same. The manufacturer thus produces the rarity that is sold to us as a commodity. Moreover, the costume card sells itself as getting the person who buys it “close to” an event that odds are, he wouldn’t have been able to witness. In that sense it is a replacement for an experience, not a reminder of one that one has had; it seeks to create a feeling entirely from nothing, whereas the pilgrim’s badge recalls the experience. I haven’t *actually* touched Richard Armitage; this is a fantasy that exists only in my mind but it is supported by the presence of the card / relic. Of course, the capitalist product is sold precisely relying on that basis, on its capacity to produce something that never existed, which is totally spurious. Because we know how mass production works, and we understand the basic rules of supply and demand, moreover, we know exactly how that experience is being sold, and this undermines the experience. The manufacturer knows this and counts on manipulating this fact to his advantage. Since if we paused to think about it, buying something like that would appear either stupid (self-deceptive) or non-rational, the producer has to add some sort of rational justification for the consumption if he doesn’t want the buyer to run the risk of rejecting the worthless product on the basis of self-disgust. Hence the rarity of the costume card supports the value as long as the object is pristine, and you’re supposed to buy them not (just) because you like them, or because they remind you of something you haven’t experienced, but because someday it will be worth something. The value of the pilgrim’s badge is much less, and like the relic, its value is never suggested to be anything more than immediate — like most mass-manufactured souvenirs, it is at present worth as much as it will ever be — but it doesn’t attempt to lie about that fact to you.


            • Now I understand the argument more clearly. I still think you did the right thing to purchase the cards for yourself.


              • me, too, in the end. Shame was a big issue in all of this, of course. A lot of this blog is about overcoming shame, it turns out …


                • I feel that overcoming shame is a big issue for many of us because of our upbringing. I know that I struggled with being ashamed of wanting more, of not being content with less, of not giving enough, of having desires that others deem inappropriate, of not being what others wanted. There was guilt, too. It took me a long time to figure out that the guilt was just a way to fudge being nakedly accountable for myself.


                  • I’m being pushed inevitably in that direction, it seems, no matter what I might want. This is going to be an interesting year.


        • This is totally off the subject but what you’re describing when you write about rubbing the “relic” reminds me of when a child has their favorite blanket they use in times of stress. Most children will rub the blanket when they’re falling asleep. I was listening to a radio talk show and the discussion was about adults who still carry their baby blankets around with them. One woman said she carried her’s in her purse and rubbed it between her fingers to keep her calm. A friend who was also listening, said his grown children still had remnants of their blankets that they kept in their pillow cases.


          • yes, there’s even a word for that type of thing among psychologists: transitional object. It’s interesting that popular culture sees these items as signs of weakness and ridicule, while psychological research supports the conclusion that adults who use transitional objects tend to be more independent than those who don’t.


    • I saw those, too, sloan, a few months ago, I think, and was amused. There’s another distinction there, I suppose, in that a Pez dispenser has an ostensible use (the dispensing of Pez candies — although I don’t imagine that many people use them for that anymore). So many souvenirs masquerade as having self-justifying uses. I think of the frighteningly awful coasters my parents bought at the Knoxville Worlds Fair, which still “grace” their living room. Something like a costume card has no use.


      • My aunt collected toys from fast food restaurants. She would take them home and very carefully “document” the items and then place them in her china cabinet because she thought they would be valuable some day. I suppose you could keep the Pez Heads in pristine condition in hopes they would become more valuable too. Although if I’m actually collecting Pez Heads, I can see the potential for spiraling off into hoarding.


        • Sloan!! I love the image of these little toys sitting behind your aunt’s china cabinet! You’ve just reminded me that somewhere on one of my bookshelves in the US, I have a little ‘Yoda’ from one of these very same fast food restaurants!

          Interestingly, although I didn’t pay anything for him (he must have come free with one of my purchases), I have ALWAYS kept him in the plastic wrap he came in! I think I so cherished the sight of him protected in his wrapper, that I just never removed him from it (not because I thought there was any external future value to be hand of him in pristine condition).

          I love that little Yoda. It makes me grin just to think of him hanging out on my bookshelf. 😀


          • I have Alice and the Mad Hatter from McDonalds on my wardrobe. They’re Madame Alexander dolls and I thought it was amazing that McDonalds was giving away such nice dolls. Wonder if they’ll be giving away Hobbit memorabilia. Just think — very soon RA could be going from obscurity to having his image sold at the local McDonalds fast food restaurant.


            • Not too sure how to process that possibililty.


              • Do you remember the “Smurfs” drink glasses that Burger King gave away with a drink in the 1980s? It made me think of that. But I’d love to have his likeness on my glass. I’d definitely get them all. A glass (as opposed to a Pez head) is a useful object — I think this is one reason I have so many mugs. I get them and think, I can use this. And of course I am drowning in mugs …


          • Love this image, UK Expat. 🙂


        • re Pez Heads — their only function is to remind, assuming you’re not eating Pez candies. I suppose the question is, if you’re hoarding them, then you’re hoarding memories ?


          • That was just me trying to be funny/facetious again…if I’m in the mind set to collect pez heads, I’m probably prone to hoarding too. But I really don’t think hoarding is funny…it can be a bit disturbing. I think it must be a hereitary trait because several people in my family say they “collect” things but actully it borders on hoarding.


            • there are a lot of theories about the etiology of hoarding but afaik none of them involve inheritance 🙂 of course, nurture can be just as important as nature in the passing on of any trait


              • I agree re nurture vs nature, but one reason I say nature is this trait seems to have gone down the line in my family from one generation to another except for me. I’m exactly the opposite. If it’s not functional, I don’t want it in my house. I cannot stand clutter. It’s actually a running joke in my family how everybody else loves collecting and clutter, but not me. I’m a minimalist compared to the rest of the family. So maybe it’s the same disorder, just manifested in another way.


                • back in the day, I took a college class on genetics because I wanted one question answered: what was the likelihood that if I started drinking, I’d become an alcoholic like my father? I learned lots of other useful stuff in the class (esp a rational explanation of contemporary understanding of evolution — which I had been told was evil), but I got to write a research paper on genetic transmission of alcoholism which was very interesting if not wholly reassuring. One thing I remember from the paper was that some researchers postulated that alcoholism might skip generations in some cases because children of alcoholics were so negatively influenced by it that they didn’t allow themselves to be exposed to the necessary trigger. I drink, but I can’t stand alcoholics to this day.


                  • I fall into that category too. I come from a long line of alcoholics on both sides of the family, but so far I haven’t fallen prey to that disease. I’ve always thought it was for the same reason….I saw what it did to those around me so I was less susceptible. I drink occasionally, but that’s it.


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