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.
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.