Losing Armitage? or Thorin aches and pains, part 1

Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) looks after Margaret’s departing carriage in episode 4 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Since I’m treading onto terrain here that has the potential to offend people I’ve grown to care about in ways that I hadn’t anticipated would ever matter when I started blogging, I wish to emphasize that what I say here reflects my experiences as a fan, my perceptions of situations I’ve been involved in, and my reactions to them. As I wrote the last time this topic came up here, in October 2010:

My own reactions to [Armitage’s casting as Thorin] are based on an emotional investment much smaller than that of the core members of his fandom, the people who’ve been maintaining websites, aggregating news and creating an archival documentation of his entire career, voting in online polls, commenting on discussion boards, continuing to provide an internet buzz about him during periods where nothing of his was being broadcast, and defending him in the comments sections of blogs when reviews of his work have been critical. So the question is why I’d potentially have a bittersweet feeling, or other fans would, just at the point at which our fondest dreams are being realized — and, I assume, these dreams are of much longer duration and greater intensity among fans of longer standing than myself, so that aches and twinges may be more severe among those fans than they are for me.

Ymmv. You are and always will be entitled to your experiences, your perceptions of them, and your reactions.

And part of why I blog is that I’m interested in hearing about them.

In the meantime, almost two years later, my emotional investment in Richard Armitage and especially in his fandom has grown, and maybe I’ve shed my outsider status and joined the core, though such things are hard to measure, and my own sentiments and role are certainly still different from those of many people. Even so, I fully accept that from your perspective, I may be wrong about a great deal of this, or may not have the authority to speak in this way, and I declare: it is wonderfully legitimate for you to feel differently about things than I do.

This piece has two parts: one responding from my position to a “Richard Armitage confession” from a long-term fan that preoccupied me for quite a while, and a second on the question of how I think the expanding fandom will affect my own feelings and situation as blogger. In the second part, I also brazenly articulate my own hopes for the post-Hobbit Armitage fandom.

[OK. I just noticed that part 1 is over 2,000 words and part 2 is going to be at least 2,500, I suspect. So I’m going to publish the first part tonight and keep working on the second half. Between my usual weekend obligations (the Sabbath, Legenda, and Richard III), it might take me until Sunday. We’ll see.]

***

I. “Look Back at Us”

I shamelessly stole this post topic from a “Richard Armitage confession” of several weeks ago, which moved me immensely, but which the truncated comment system on tumblr prevented me from discussing at the time:

Source: Richard Armitage Confessions

Poignant; it aches, to read this. I don’t know the author, so as I spin out these thoughts, I’m not referring to her/him, but to the associations the statement raises for me, about the best guesses I can make about the allied cluster of feelings. I’ve been hearing variations on this sentiment for almost exactly two years, however, and I can imagine that they also emerged a few times before that as well. Jane has recounted one such moment from 2006. And they’ve come up again in the last few weeks and days here and there in different ways.

To the extent that I understand the sentiment, I feel the ache along with the reader. Here our guy is, moving on into a major new phase of public perception, and here we are — if I may be so bold as to insert myself briefly, for the purpose of interpretation, into that group despite the much shorter duration of my attraction — having been faithful followers and supporters and cheerleaders and prayers and hopers, and wondering how it is going to affect us. Will fans “matter” to Armitage in the way that they have in the past? How can they, if suddenly so many more of us are around? If the gradual expansion in the fandom has caused growing pains in the past, what will happen when the size of the group looks to become totally unmanageable?

[Left: Richard Armitage signs autographs, September 17, 2010, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

And what would a “look back at us” mean to the author? I can guess at best, but I might hypothesize: acknowledgement, consciousness expressed of a quality of a rarefied taste developed early, before others knew. Recognition of a path shared, vicariously, to be sure, but with a lot of concern and care and for some, very intense attention and emotional support and unquestioned loyalty through a period where almost no one knew who Richard Armitage was. I don’t have any idea what form that acknowledgement might take, but that seems to me to be the unstated request: In what’s likely to be a flood of sudden admiration from a broader base of humanity than has ever been present, please notice us — the ones who’ve been there the whole time — in a way that marks and esteems our emotional and time and other investments in particular, ones that have persisted over eight years at least.

A number of thoughts burst into my mind in response to that particular interpretation of the confession, and some of them I’m factoring out (the potential perspectives one could adduce from Armitage’s position, for example, or those from the perspective of fans who have been around for some time but not since North & South, like my own). Others I am skirting intentionally because they seem likely only to provoke the sort of self-righteous policing statements that I don’t care to entertain anymore — for instance, the whole question of the obligation, if any, Armitage has to fans and especially those of the first hour, which I’ve discussed before.

But if I wanted to comfort or console this fan on the level I understand the confession, which is primarily the level of anxiety or ambivalence in response to a universe that seems about to change drastically, I’d say three things.

[Right: Richard Armitage with two of my favorite fans, Oakland University, August 16, 2012. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

The first: I don’t think that legacy fans are losing Armitage or that he’s traveling on forward with any intention to leave his long-term fans behind. His behavior this summer at ComicCon and in Michigan suggests exactly the opposite in some ways — that in July 2012, at least, Richard Armitage was the same considerate, grateful individual who has always made the effort to be as kind as possible to people who seek him out; that he doesn’t see himself as a movie star; that he accepts the byproducts of his increasing fame not with arrogance but with gratitude, humility, and responsibility. I also don’t think that the impending fandom explosion means that he’s going to forget the nature of his relationship with fans in the past, and the benefits it brought him. He has recognized that relationship many times in his messages to fans and I can’t imagine his perception of that — whatever it happens to be — will change in any significant negative way only as the consequence of suddenly having many more fans. (And indeed, he may come to long for the days when his fandom was so small and comparatively homogeneous.)

Second, although this is an extrapolation, there’s the problem of those messages, the reactions they provoke, the desires they arouse. I occasionally catch wind of a sentiment that rues the infrequency of Armitage’s direct communications to fans these days, and I suppose one matter that may lay behind this confession is a desire for a return to those earlier days of frequent missives. Some may feel concern that a flood of fans may end the messages completely, because I also know, as it’s been said to me privately and publicly, that some people think that fan behavior is the primary reason that Mr. Armitage is less communicative with fans than he was in 2004-07. Reasons commonly cited for this conclusion include public fan disputes of which he became aware (or which fans alerted him about), the responses to which can be read in the same messages, and the response within the fandom to questions about the permissible boundaries of fandom discussions and/or fanfic.

Richard Armitage and a recently-hugged fan, Radio 1 Studios, September 17, 2010, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

To that I would respond that the very growth of his fandom means that the kind of messages he offered eight years ago are no longer possible. If fan behavior caused a retreat, it was a symptom of the growth of the fandom in the first place, which led to the situation that fostered the behavior. New fans who didn’t follow the previous conventions were thus a trigger rather than a true cause. The reason Mr. Armitage is less communicative now, from my perspective, is that he needs to be less communicative, and he needs to be less communicative because his fan base is larger and more diverse than ever — and when you say anything you need to have a good sense of your audience. The first messages he sent, from my perspective, were very “in group,” very jokey, and often very keyed to a British or British-aware audience (whose members would, inter alia, automatically get the jokes and cultural references). He knew, back then, who he thought he was speaking to; he is less certain, now. That disputes arose between fans was a natural progression of the fandom’s explosive birth and gradual expansion; most fandoms have them. But precisely that development, which was, after all, the manifestation of success, meant that Mr. Armitage couldn’t continue to be in relationship to his fans in the same way. Not because he wouldn’t have wanted to, perhaps — but because it was going to be practically impossible.

A screen projection of Richard Armitage interacting with a fan while signing autographs, ComicCon San Diego, July 14, 2012. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

And finally, I would say to the original fans of Armitage: I don’t know if he will look back in the way you might wish — but although I am not Richard Armitage and you have not asked for my appreciation —

I will look back.

I, Servetus, recognize and affirm your desire to be seen as special. You are special. You are special for having seized the moment, for noticing something that other people ignored in a production even the BBC wasn’t investing its usual energy in, for overwhelming the BBC into making the North & South DVD, for then buying extra copies of it to give to friends once it was available, for caring enough to flood message boards and set up websites and screencap and vid when these tasks were still unfamiliar. For all of your early, intense Armitage evangelization. For your detailed discussions. For crashing the BBC message board in a way that made the event pressworthy. For flooding internet polls with votes and moderating discussions and making t-shirts. For digging through archives of theater programs to document Armitage’s stage career before North & South and setting up websites and for both administering the various Amazon affiliates programs and for using those portals when buying things to make sure donations made in all our names are robust and continue to be so. You are special for all the other things you did which I haven’t mentioned here — for all the things that meant Armitage had a fandom presence on the web waiting for newcomers.

Moreover, I, Servetus, assert that you will always have something special, which people in my fan position will never have: your memories.

Those messages that everyone in the fandom loves and cites as evidence of what a great guy Armitage is were not written to later fans, or to people like me. Richard Armitage wrote those messages to and for you — as he developed from his identity as an actor who had struggled for years to make it, didn’t seem quite aware of or willing to admit what was happening when he had done so and so spoke with charming openness, was grateful to be appreciated, convinced that everyone who noticed him merited recognition and gratitude for their attention, and unfailingly gracious in his appreciation.

You will always have had that relationship. You will always will have been the first to know him when.

In December 2011, I wrote, “Thank you, Mr. Armitage, for allowing us to reach this season with you.” In December 2012, I am more conscious than ever that I should also repeat what I wrote on the last night of the old year and say, “Thank you, fellow Armitage fans, for allowing us to reach this season with you,” as well.

You are special, because when you chose Richard Armitage, you chose well. You have loved well, and you have given much to him and to the rest of us. And no true love that we give freely — whether to Armitage, or to our fellow fans — is ever wasted. Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost. Your love goes out into the world to meet its objects and it circulates and it makes the world a better place.

***

to part 2.

~ by Servetus on October 20, 2012.

36 Responses to “Losing Armitage? or Thorin aches and pains, part 1”

  1. Amen.

    Life does inevitably mean change, flux and metamorphosis to a certain degree. That doesn’t mean the fundamental core of a person also changes. His career may be very different and as you say, he may one day look back and long for the simpler days. But I think he will still be gracious, kind and appreciative of his fans, both the long-time and newer supporters.

    And I give thanks for all those who first discovered him and recognized the gem that he was. Hurray for all those with the Good Taste Gene. 😀

  2. Amen 🙂 Thanks Servetus !
    I would love to meet in “real life” so many of these people *sigh*…I must confess however that I’m bit jealous about the earliest fans 😉

  3. That’s an absolutely beautiful and brilliant post. Just one thing i wanted to mention: i think the majority of people, who are now apprehensive about the situation, might feel better about it if they consider the alternative.
    This success and recognition, which are almost certain now, might have SO easily NEVER come, no matter how much deserved…
    Yes, maybe it would feel nice for a while longer to sort of have him to ourselves, but the moment would come – and soon –
    when it would become likely that he’ll never be noticed as he deserves. Just imagine how painful that would be – for us, and, what is much worse, for him…. (sorry about my English – it’s not my first language).

    • I think that’s very true — and we have friends who hang around who’ve been fans of other actors where exactly that happened (or didn’t happen, if you want to put it that way), and it was really disappointing for them.

      There’s a weird dynamic in our commodified world, though — one I talk about a lot with my students — about how having a “rare” taste is considered special, so that (e.g.) you might love your favorite restaurant until everyone discovers it, at which point you get less interested even though the food is the same. That’s not the dynamic that’s happening here, I think — but yeah, in order for the career to continue to some extent we have to give up our illusions, too.

    • Very well said, rbb!!

  4. Well said – change is almost always difficult in some way, but it doesn’t have to be a mortal wound. It reminds me of the change in a family dynamic when a new child comes into the mix….we don’t love the older child less, just make room for the new one. Maybe we need the fandom equivalent of the “I’m a big sister” t-shirt 🙂

  5. Beautiful, Servetus. What a wonderful love letter to all Richard’s fans, especially the lucky ones who were with him from the start. I agree, they chose well! I hope those early fans never feel that their devotion is in any way diminished because a relative latecomer like myself has joined them. Love rewards the lover, and enriches our lives in ways we can’t even perceive.
    And thanks for the Walt Whitman poem–it’s a lovely grace note.

    • Glad you liked it. There was another poem I was looking for, too, but I couldn’t find it for some reason (grrr). And I think most of those fans would agree they’ve been enriched by their fan love.

  6. What a wonderful post servetus. Even as a relative newcomer to the fandom I have had my moments of wishing that things wouldn’t change, that “we” can “have” him to ourselves, so I can understand how the original fans might feel. However those thoughts don’t last very long when I think about the well-deserved success that is ahead of him and how happy I am for him.
    As rbb said, the alternative would be much more painful, especially for him.
    I’m just grateful that I climbed aboard the ride when I did so that I haven’t missed out on all the excitement brought about by his rising star. 😀

    • I think it’s almost too easy for me to write this kind of thing because I didn’t ever want to get any closer to Richard Armitage than I already am. But if what you wanted was closeness to the object of your crush, he really provided that at the beginning and now he’s getting further away.

      I edited out a paragraph of the original post here because it was getting too long — to the effect that I’m excited in a way I never have been before because I’m watching the hype over this *as it happens* and that it would have been neat to have had that experience more often than I have. The “older” fans have had more of that.

  7. *Gives you a big sloppy Covergirl Lipslicks Hipster smooch in the middle of your forehead.*

  8. well and beautifully said. Can’t wait to read the next installment

  9. I don’t think it matters when a person becomes an RA fan. However, I’m glad that I had a few more years to enjoy his work than the new Hobbit fans, and I wish I had discovered him even earlier.

    • I think it shouldn’t matter, but I do think it does / has mattered to a lot of people. (And is a common human problem, cf. Matthew 20). My next post discusses that problem a little in our context.

      • I do understand that it matters to some, and that’s okay with me. I’m just happy to be part of the throng. And I have enjoyed the earlier letters, etc. RA wrote. What an intelligent, fun, basically nice guy he appears to be. I wish him all the best and am enjoying the current Hobbit ride.

        • me too, I feel bad for people who won’t get to enjoy this particular roller coaster. Though who knows what’s coming in future 🙂

  10. With regards to messages we have “lost” him long ago but I don’t really mind. I have been around when they came frequently, I knew what they refer to and I understood why they became few and far in between (not the whole story but enough to understand) and as you have said, nothing can take away that. They are still there to read and I still know that this or that comment refers to a discussion I was part of (at that time he had a very good idea what was said on message boards). The messages were precious because it was such a rare thing and he didn’t do it because it was the thing to do but because he wanted it. At times it was even difficult for him to get them through because his official site (maintained by a fan) was often down and then disappeared. In this day and age everyone is on twitter and facebook and keeping in contact with fans is very common but if he would do that now I wouldn’t value it not nearly as much as the early messages.

    • I think that’s probably true for the early fans — the newer fans, i.e., the newer than me fans, are still eager for those messages and stuff they write seems to suggest they think they will keep coming. So they don’t feel “lost.” But this message was specifically directed at fans of longer duration than I.

  11. Hi Serv,
    A timely, insightful, and soothing essay. Well said, as always. Brava!
    Cheers! Grati ;->

  12. […] first part of this post was here, and was written as a response to a fan “confession.” I’d like to remind everyone […]

  13. […] anonymous fan confession regarding Armitage’s relationship with fans of longer duration was here; Part 2, in which I discussed my own reactions to fandom growth and my initial reaction to the fans […]

  14. […] Dwarf training for The Hobbit, from preproduction vlog #3, with Richard Armitage in foreground, about to slam down an exercise ball. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com […]

  15. […] the last one on this topic! And it is much shorter. If you missed them, here are links to parts one and two and […]

  16. Hear hear! You made me cry – I am such a sap! I loved what you wrote and why you wrote it!

    • Thanks. I wanted / want to start with positivity on these things as part of not passing on certain traumas.

  17. […] would be no Armitagemania without Richard Armitage, but there would be no fandom without you — without all of you, without all of […]

  18. […] Thanks to every fan who went before — and to all of the big fansites for making this blog possible, especially Richard Armitage Online and RichardArmitageNet.com, the two I use the most frequently. […]

  19. […] RA leading the singing of the “Misty Mountains” song. As far as I can see, other than some disquiet about how the RA fandom might change after the movie was released, Richard’s fans were generally thrilled that he had scored such a significant role, one that […]

  20. […] accounts are flying fast and furious. It’s an interesting variation on or combination with this attitude — the perception that things used to be better or at least easier when the fandom was […]

  21. […] and a lot of modesty and reserve that we deduce about his personality from his behavior, that, like the fans who came before us, “we chose well.” This guy who can shape himself professionally to play so many different roles, who can occupy so […]

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