me + Richard Armitage + Lee Pace, or: The ship that dare not speak its name [interlude]

The topic proceeds from here.

This morning while I was buying a sandwich I noticed yesterday’s USA Today posted on a wall, with Oliver Stone commenting on the Kennedy Assassination on the first page, which makes this topic ridiculously time-appropriate. I actually wasn’t planning on doing any “debunking” in this series. Comments, however, have suggested to me that opponents of Richlee or RPF shipping in general misunderstand the causality behind Richlee or the forms of arguments that Richlee proponents make, and since I’ve never seen this position articulated, I’ll take a minute to do it.

Opponents’ unwillingness to attempt to understand Richlee in terms of its style as a pattern of cognition means that if they wish to refute Richlee, they are focusing on the wrong arguments. The form that opponents’ stance takes in arguments against Richlee is: “Discussing these things, which are untrue or coincidental, gives rise to false rumors, which observers then believe and spread.” The oppositional stance thus argues that this ship results from faulty reasoning and that faulty reasoning is contagious. Because there is no vaccination against faulty reasoning (if you read rumors, you will believe them) but dangerous (if you believe rumors, you will spread them to others who will cause harm to Armitage or Pace), people in general and I in particular should never talk about Richlee in any terms other than absolute, utter condemnation. (Incidentally, that’s what Ignatius Loyola wrote about the permissibility of discussing predestination in the Spiritual Exercises — it confounds people to talk about it so don’t.) My point in mentioning this is solely to say that those who absolutely reject any discussion of Richlee need to consider the extent to which they are also promulgating or supporting a dogma when they forbid discussion of something.) I’ve said enough that I don’t think celebrity RPF shipping leads to concrete harm and so I’m not going to reiterate that point here. What I want to talk about is the extent to which talking about Richlee is likely to lead the otherwise uninformed or unconvinced to believe that Richlee is real. I hold that possibility for highly unlikely.

If I have stated their position correctly, opponents are committing a number of analytical errors. Even some opponents would (I hope) acknowledge that not even all Richlee shippers believe in the real existence of Richlee. (For the purposes of this argument, I will label Richlee shippers who believe that Richard Armitage and Lee Pace were or are in a real-life romantic relationship “Richlee realists.”) As a mild Richlee shipper (though it’s not my major ship, I enjoy what shippers produce), I have the impression that even within this subset, Richlee realists of absolute or even extremely strong conviction are in the minority. Those people are more visible because they are more likely to produce fiction, manips, or prompts — but realists are not the only Richlee or even most of the Richlee shippers. In any case, the position is possible. I am a Richlee shipper who believes that the realist position is an “unlikely possibility” that I can’t refute absolutely but for which the evidence on its own is not that compelling.

So the articulation of the next problem relies on another slippery slope argument, the possibility that entertaining or discussing Richlee fantasy will turn others not just into shippers but Richlee realists. I may be able to distinguish reality from fantasy, the argument goes, but others will not be able to. To me, this is incredibly condescending, along the lines of the implication that people who do something that bothers your moral barometer don’t have consciences, something I read all the time in these debates. But the real question is: is it true — are people likely to read Richlee discussion and become realists? If they become realists, are they likely to engage in snarky counterfactual gossip? (Admittedly, that last question is a little reductionist, in that I believe that some of the participants in snarky counterfactual gossip are not Richlee realists — they are trolls.)

In order to answer that question, I’d like to look at a Richlee realist explanation that popped up yesterday. It strikes me as typical of the genre and exceptionally well written both as an articulation of the author’s position and in terms of making the argument for something many people consider ridiculous. I hope that by linking to this post, I’m not directing a stream of invective against the author, especially because the tumblr is labeled “Things2MakeMeSmile” and that’s how I feel about Richlee, as well. I hope the presence of the post on tumblr will shield “her” (I’m calling the author a woman for the purpose of this post) at least a little.

The author begins by stating her conviction:

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While I wouldn’t advocate this opening move in formal writing, this is a strong strategy in a short, informal argument, as a blog post. The reader is immediately clear on what will be argued.

In western rhetoric, the author does best to articulate (or argue for) fundamental assumptions early on in the piece so they can’t be used to defuse the argument later on. In formal writing, the author would begin with shared assumptions and move to controversial ones. The author here doesn’t really have time for that strategy. Moreover, it’s hard to figure out what a shared assumption on this topic might be. But even so, she uses the place in her argument for explanation of grounding assumptions very effectively. She writes:

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The basic assumption on which she will ground her assumption is one that she makes about Richard Armitage’s sexual orientation. She acknowledges the relativism of that possibility (“some will point”), but she justifies her own in contrast to the evidence offered by others in terms of her perception (“to me I can feel”). She then puts another piece of strong evidence at the closing position of the paragraph (her argument about Lee Pace’s sexual orientation, which although still a rumor, is one of much longer standing).

What’s important to note about the paragraph above is that the author, in the most important position of her argument, presents her fundamental assumptions and they are intuition based (“to me I can feel”) rather than based on concrete data. She states immediately that her perceptions of the situation are grounded in her intuition.

Only after establishing the primacy of intuition in her argument does she move on to her account of data. She begins,

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Note here that she presents the first and second data points that I am aware of. She then presents the rational arguments against those data points and agrees with them. In other words, note well, she acknowledges that her data is not airtight. Not all people who go to the movies together also have a sexual relationship; standing next to someone is not evidence of a love affair. She knows of the deductive arguments against her position and acknowledges that they are correct. Pictures of two individuals next to each other do not convince her of an inherent relationship. (So I have to interject — if a Richlee realist says that these pictures are not evidence of anything, why are anti-shippers so insistent that the uninformed are vulnerable to being deceived by them? If even people who already believe are suspicious of such pictures, why should anyone who doesn’t believe be convinced by them? Whether they are real or manips?)

She then moves on to the position of self-defense, and I wonder if this is in part motivated by my post, which emphasized the ways in which I enjoyed Richlee fanfic. Or it may be a response to a more generalized critique of Richlee realists, which is that they read stories and uncritically believe they’re true. She writes:

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She concedes that she reads fanfic, but the implication of this statement is again an argument that discussion of Richlee by others in fantasy realms (fanfic) is not a reason for her to believe in the actuality of the relationship. In other words, she says, I was not caused or encouraged to believe in Richlee by fantasy of any kind. This is a reader who knows that fanfic is not real. (This reproduces my own reading of the situation as a critic — fantasy doesn’t cause Richlee realism; Richlee realism leads to fantasy.)

Before closing the evidential section of her post, the author returns to the barrage of more recent data:

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Here again, she admits the doubtfulness of believing that people are in a romantic relationship on the basis of wearing similar or the same clothing. Still, the data build a pattern for her (“but as the clothing items grew, my belief became cemented.”) And once the pattern begins to emerge, previous data (a trip to NYC) take on different meaning than they had had at the time they were revealed, so that “[i]t all just made sense.”

But the data are not the matter convincing her, as she says in her next, powerful sentence, which she draws out with an intensifier (“more than that”):

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She intersperses this explanation in the middle of a data paragraph, so that it serves to ground and explain her allegiance to her reading of the data, and this organization serves to remind us of the central assumption she started the argument with — her intuition. “N” is the MBTI designation for an intuitive thinker, someone who prefers to attribute meaning to an underlying structure or concept rather than to details. (Note that INFJs are not automatically Richlee realists. I have had four MBTIs since I was 23 at the hands of professionals, and I’ve always been an INFJ.) In other words, although the author cites her interpretation of data and what they mean, she notes just as firmly that it’s not the data points that make her believe, but rather that her argument relies on intuitive predispositions and rhetorical moves.

The conclusion of this piece then substantiates the argumentative strategy of the MBTI “N” by moving away from connective data points toward emphasizing more conceptual structures in the life of the crush that facilitate the intuitive pattern.

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And finally, the author makes a stunningly effective statement.

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This statement works really well, because it accomplishes two things at once. First, it defends Richlee realists against the charge that they are maliciously motivated (implication by negation: those who do not want Armitage to be happy and satisfied are probably not fans — something I would deduce about many of the counterfactual gossipers as well). Secondly, it notes a commonality between “probably all fans,” the desire for Armitage (and in this case, Pace) to lead happy lives, so that it closes its argument with a very harmonic gesture. We can all agree on something.

I don’t know who wrote this, but this is probably the best possible argument that a Richlee realist could make for herself. I have some minor style quibbles (“as an INFJ” needs to modify “I,” and not “my gut,” for instance), but I am really, really impressed by the skill with which this piece is written (and also by the author’s use of “signposting language” to move the reader from point to point — I wish my students understood as well as this author does that they have to state the connections between their thoughts explicitly, or the reader may not follow).

Note that even as an INFJ, I do not agree with the conclusion that Richlee is necessarily real. What I’m trying to point out here is that we learn something about human thought and belief by discussing the style of argumentation that its adherents tend to make, just as we learn something about ourselves by considering our fantasies seriously. Here I am trying to distinguish between the validity of an argument (which cannot be established definitely given this data — something upon which this Richlee realist and I agree) and the style of making it, the ways in which it might be persuasive or, if not persuasive, be refuted. While I agree that the intuitive pattern is suggestive, I am not convinced that Richlee is real. At the same time, however, I would give this piece 100% for argumentation for a position that much of its audience might be disinclined to agree with.

Finally, it points out for me the most important reason for me to write a rhetorical analysis much longer than the text it treats: arguments for Richlee realism are not susceptible to rational critiques of the significance of individual data. Indeed, proponents of Richlee realism like the one above will admit that the data do not prove their case. Establishing that Richlee realism is an intuitively based argument has two important implications for the way non-shippers understand both Richlee realism, and, to some extent, shipping.

First, it’s intuition, not data themselves, that makes the Richlee realist read her data in particular ways. If you wish to argue against Richlee, then, you must argue not against the data points, but against the proponent’s intuitive patterns. These are harder to isolate as substantial ideas, and also much less susceptible to rationalism as a critique, period, because you’re arguing against the subsconscious feelings, remembered experiences, and thought patterns of the author. As a subpoint, I read the frustration of non-shippers with Richlee realists as a response to these unarticulated feelings, experiences and thought patterns as things we are “not allowed” to discuss. Intuitions about the sexual orientation of a third party, for instance, or so-called “gaydar,” present huge rhetorical obstacles because they are so heavily conditioned by cultural and linguistic boundaries. How can you argue either for or against “gaydar”? Is U.S. “gaydar” applicable, or inapplicable, to British actors, for instance? Either you have “gaydar,” or you don’t; it’s an experientially-based kind of knowledge that we by definition can’t all share, as opposed to the rules of argumentation, which we teach in school. Moreover, intuition is highly personal.

Second, people who come to Richlee realism are already likely to be intuitive thinkers. They do not start off neutral and become Richlee realists solely because of bad, anomalous, insignificant data or failure to reason. Indeed, they often find themselves trying to argue themselves out of their intuition. As someone perceptively wrote in the last comments section, “RPF isn’t read by people with blank slates.” Indeed, given that RPF and shipping fics are always rather aggressively labeled as such, I would tend to assume that if you were not susceptible to their positions in the first place you either wouldn’t read them, or if you did, wouldn’t believe them.

[Comments closed, reluctantly, because the cognitive and rhetorical dimension of this topic fascinates me, but lately when I’ve made requests for people to stay off of certain topics I’ve been ignored and it’s made me suspicious. And I didn’t want to be writing about this, anyway. The next post will again be open for comments, however.]

~ by Servetus on November 23, 2013.

5 Responses to “me + Richard Armitage + Lee Pace, or: The ship that dare not speak its name [interlude]”

  1. […] [to next part /interlude]. […]

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  2. […] in some way, it would actually have no effect on those fans who did not wish to be influenced by us because our fundamental worldviews differ. It might also be worth a reflection that APM manifestations are one of the things that make us […]

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  3. […] last wrote about this topic here, an analysis of the thinking and argumentation behind what I called “Richlee realism.” […]

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  4. […] could not make a claim like that in biography — it’s a bit like the intuitive case of evidence interpretation I described for Richlee realism, and the genre of formal biography, while it permits of some speculation, requires that the author […]

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  5. […] I was only ever interested in understanding how evidence actually works in either case (as with the structure of intuitive arguments and the sort of evidence that fits into them). To take apart how an argument functions is neither […]

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