For documentation purposes, or: If Alexander Pope were part of the Armitage Army, he could rewrite The Rape of the Lock

1. Why is the mood so bad in certain places? Let me list the sequence, starting with shortly after the airing of the second trailer. We had “dog vs. cat,” followed by the photo removal hysteria and lots of fan-on-fan policing, and then a good solid week of that evil reporter + OMG RichardArmitagehaspolitics-gate. That was succeeded by a blowup over manips and RPF with associated fan-on-fan policing, and then the premieres started. Anger erupted in some quarters over particular aspects of the premieres in LA, Berlin, and Madrid, followed by what someone I was reading today has called “the nerdrage” over the content of The Desolation of Smaug, the dispute over the shape of Armitage’s nose, and now, of course, the things Armitage is saying or doing that don’t fit our views of him. Not enough consideration of / respect for the needs of fans.

1.5. OTOH, the APM hasn’t been as intense as usual this year, although it’s still there. Oh, and interviewers don’t know ahead of time who he is! What, they’ve never heard of him? And they are mispronouncing his name! The horror! (Admittedly, no one’s ever heard of me, either, and I practically never hear my name pronounced correctly in the U.S. so I may be undersympathetic on those points.) Then again, he’s really lucky his name’s not Fuchs or Caviezel.

2. Is there nothing to balance this negativity? Nope, pretty much nothing. Except lots of fun chatting during the premieres, dozens of new interviews and pictures from the press junket, three new formal and four or five new informal outfits to look at, love and analyze, all kinds of fan encounters and candids to read about and look at and enjoy. Oh, and a major feature film in which Richard Armitage appeared! After a  year of waiting to see Richard Armitage on screen again, it happened! And lots of people both in our ranks and out of it are actually are enjoying the film, which had the fourth biggest December opening in US history and is getting all kinds of praise from reviewers. No, there’s no reason to enjoy the fact that our guy is moving toward becoming more familiar to a worldwide audience, or able to put another great performance on his list of work, or growing as an actor and as a person.

3. Really, how one sees this mood is dependent on one’s own position as a fan and the part of the social media world that one inhabits. But it’s really true that there’s been something potentially offensive to someone on the table more or less since the beginning of November. I was talking to someone today and thinking that I don’t remember the mood being this way for this long at any time in the last four years or so. Then again the sheer amount of information we’ve had since Dec. 1 has either topped every previous experience or tied last year.

4. The mood is about the fans who have it. I.e., us. Armitage, i.e., the crush object, has been looking alternatively: excited, overwhelmed, tired, incredulous, embarrassed, rushed, professional, on top of things, amused, sarcastic, contemplative … but if his mood has been wildly bad, beyond his frustration with the mispronunciation of his name, I haven’t seen it. Though given everything he’s been through since roughly the beginning of December, no one should be surprised if he snarled a bit. If I were in his position, I’d be tempted.

5. Is this a new Armitage? — in my opinion, there are slight changes but we’re not seeing the drastic change that we saw last December when he stepped onto the red carpet in Wellington with that huge smile. That was a quantum leap and people called it, IMO correctly, Armitage 2.0. An Armitage for the world stage. Absolutely. This isn’t that. He’s thinner, calmer, more relaxed, and more open than he was last year. Not so concerned with the details, one might say, or worried about giving offense. But I think the argument that this is something new means that we’ve forgotten Sydney? My argument at that point was that boyfriend had decisively put paid to the “precious Richard” stereotype. There were a few murmurs at the corners then, about this or that, but no huge swell of outrage.

6. To me, this Armitage — the one we’ve been seeing the last three weeks — is a variation and extension on the Sydney Armitage. No, not a channeling of Martin Freeman, either, sorry. He’d have to go a long way to achieve that level of (however humorously Freeman intends it) adversarial encounter with the air around him. In my opinion, the development here isn’t an inconsistency with the person he’s been for the last year or so. The difference is that in Sydney in March, he revealed himself fully as silly and occasionally immature, something that was apparent in his press before about 2006 as well (click that link above about Sydney if you need that documentation) — the guy who hung from a tree in Regents Park, for example. North & South and the fandom he got from that meant that insofar as he was watching the fandom, he must have known how much the boyish Armitage was not really desired.  There were exceptions (things he said about Keith Allen, for instance) but they could be attributed to the “boys own” quality of Robin Hood. But in Sydney, Armitage outed himself as a fart-lighter and told stories about Jackson losing his trousers and alleged Thorin would beat Dwalin in a cagefight. Still, the “sweet,” even reticent piece of the boyishness was still there and perhaps predominant — so the Sydney appearance did not challenge a fundamentally important piece of our perception of Armitage for most fans; that is, the “virtuous Armitage” trope that is so popular among fans. There was someone else there, too, the guy who made jokes about “Richard freakin’ Armitage” and so on, but the sweet element was still predominant as opposed to the person willing to expose more facets of his sense of humor, particularly in “on the spot” situations.

What’s different now from what happened in March is that the “virtuous Armitage” trope (the belief that Armitage is fundamentally not just moral, ethical, and kind, but constantly and scupulously moral, ethical and kind at every single second of his life) has now been drawn — albeit, in my opinion, not very strongly — into question. [Please read the beginning of that post linked just above if you don’t know what I’m using trope to mean; I explain it there.]

What’s been going has not been so much about Armitage changing — although I would agree there have been a few subtle changes that point in intriguing directions — as it is about the relative inflexibility of fans to allow the expansion of the tropes by means of which we perceive our hero.

7. To be honest, whether we’ve noticed it or not, “virtuous Armitage” has been under assault for a while, precisely because Armitage is now in the spotlight rather than out of it. About that trope as one of many alternative means of explaining why he naturally moves to the back of every large group he’s pictured in, I wrote in the summer of 2012:

“Virtuous Armitage”

This reading of Mr. Armitage suggests that the reason he doesn’t push for publicity and moves to the back of the stage, both figuratively and literally, relates to his fundamental virtues. These virtues are read both as professional (after appearing on stage at least since he was a teenager, he knows that the tall man has to stand in the back row — an impression sustained by his discussion of his early stage training, which emphasized discipline) and personal (see, for example, the Zen poem he shared with fans on 29 April 2007; or his regular suggestions that fans should donate to charity rather than sending him gifts, or the reports of how extremely hard he works to prepare for roles, going so far as to be waterboarded to learn what it was like; or the univocal agreement of co-stars that it is a pleasure to work with him). When we see pictures of him preparing (as in The Hobbit vlogs, or the Hood Academy extras) he always appears to be working so hard. He stands on the set himself for lighting tests. Now, I personally like this reading a great deal and I also think there’s a great deal of evidence to support it — which always gratifies me when I read it. I like to be the fan of a class act. And long-time readers are familiar with my own positive relationship with work. I’m also leery of saying too much critical about this issue, because it’s a facet of the identity question that I broached two summers ago and which generated my first experience with trolling, but I’ll try and hint, without saying that Armitage is not virtuous, that just like vice, virtue is also a performance — it’s just one that some of us, presumably Richard Armitage among them, can live with more easily. I’m also not entirely convinced by depictions of Armitage as a “real artist” when they rely on comparisons to people who seek the public eye primarily for celebrity. Presumably most good to great actors put a lot of work into their performances — all acting is a team effort, and there’s not much room in an expensive production, where every minute of filming has to be apportioned carefully, for regularly clowning around. Finally, I want to ask the obvious question here about the possibility of false consequence — does he retreat to the rear of the stage because he is virtuous, or do we read him as virtuous because he retreats to the rear of the stage?

Now, please note: I AM NOT SAYING THAT RICHARD ARMITAGE IS NOT VIRTUOUS, or that at some point he was but now he’s changed. I’m pretty sure that in terms of ethics and morals he’s the same person that he’s always been. I am simply saying that one component in our perception of him as virtuous has always been that he appears to be so modest, reserved, even retiring — always tossing the ball to his partners in interviews, and so on. His lack of visibility has enhanced that perception insofar as the more he doesn’t appear in public, the freer we all are to cultivate our fantasies of him. But the level of invisibility that he had prior to December 2012 is not possible anymore because the work he’s doing requires him to appear front and center. Indeed, the publicity moments of his future career are going to be the places where that trope is likely to be most endangered.

So I am saying this: the very fact that he suddenly appears so much in public and on our screens means that we are going to have to rewrite central pieces of the “virtuous Armitage” trope if we want to keep it in our repertoire, because this is an Armitage who has become comfortable with speaking to interviewers without either cringing or overeager, put-on body languages that make it apparent that he’s acting the Richard Armitage character. We have had, since December 2012, an Armitage who can sit down and hold a conversation with a journalist on film and not look reluctant or embarrassed or even unusually shy. Thus, a key index of his modesty has been eliminated by the situations in which he will now regularly appear. He is going to seem more like a “regular” celebrity because he’s now constantly in those contexts. Insofar as his current performances of the character Richard Armitage stem from less nervousness, he’s going to be more open about what he says and perhaps more flexible in what he does.

8. So take the last two points together: 6 (he was already on the path to showing more of himself since Sydney, at least, if not earlier) and 7 (the more he shows himself, the greater the possibility that our perception of his qualities of virtue is somehow damaged, both because he’s not inhabiting the inherent sphere of modesty and because he’s going to be asked more questions than divert from his scripts about the film and his life and fans and so on.

8a. What that suggests for us is that (given an assumption I’ll articulate below, that what we think has little effect on Richard Armitage) we’re going to have to adapt our own receptivity to Armitage and change or abandon the “virtuous Armitage” trope as it applies to things like the acceptable bounds of humor or statements about fans or whether he changes features of his appearance or whatever the cause of outrage on any particular day might be. Richard Armitage is not going to be the person who never makes a statement that’s offensive and / or has no controversial opinions at all because he practically never expresses an opinion or makes a statement outside the bounds of a series of particular topics. I don’t think he ever really was that person, the man without qualities except those that we wrote on to him, but the fact of his increased visibility, which I think we all like and benefit from, means that even if he was, he won’t allowed to be now. He’s also no longer the person speaking to a small audience of fans with shared values and assumptions about them. If we don’t reset our barometers to account for these change, someone will be permanently offended.

Note — I’m not questioning anyone’s right to make individual statements of discomfort with things he does or says. If I don’t like something, I don’t like it; if it’s offensive to me, it’s offensive to me. De gustibus non est disputandum. There’s no need for me to pretend I feel differently than I do, and I think there’s an important component in fandom, in terms of engaging with the other, of figuring out exactly why certain things please or bother one. If something upsets me I should take the trouble to be honest enough with myself to figure out why and draw the appropriate consequences. What is starting to take on its own dynamic, however, is the extension of one’s personal reaction in order to cultivate or encourage negativity in others. If bad mood bleed is a problem in this fandom, we all have a responsibility to guard against it. I don’t mean that no writer should ever take the risk of offending anyone. I suspect that I’ll be more rather than less offensive in the next  months. But I do think I need to try to write in ways that make clear that my perspective relates solely to me and don’t require a kind of codependent mood sharing in order to make me happy. I don’t want to be someone who gets a dopamine surge out of being offended. I just don’t.

8b. The potential transgression or disappearance of the “virtuous” trope for Richard Armitage is, in my opinion, exciting in a lot of ways. If he is allowed to talk about things other than the circus, being the world’s tallest dwarf, or his reaction to prosthetics, we could see a whole new side of him, but more importantly and more interestingly for him, the kind of interviews he’s asked to do now with questions that are unanticipated open up new sorts of possibilities of being in public — and navigating that process — for him. Given that directors also cast based on their perceptions of artists in the public eye, dare I say — even roles? I’m on record as experiencing a fan journey as a path toward developing a self in which one is comfortable, albeit with the versions of that that are necessary in different settings. But I think this is true for Armitage, too. The problem with cultivating virtue is that it always runs the risk of (and is certainly perceived as) the encouragement of smarm. If Armitage were risktakinger in public, and less immediately worried about what the consequences of any statement would be, would there be any flowback in the direction either of his private persona OR, more importantly for us, the kind of roles he would be interested in, take, and show us? Honestly — if he is as risk-averse as he’s sometimes stated or implied — I’m happy about this subtle change. I’d like to see more of it, and I’m willing to risk being offended.

Making changes in the self, no matter how minor, will always have broader consequences. How well I’ve learned this lesson, precisely because of Richard Armitage. It’s something that I would wish him, as well.

~ by Servetus on December 18, 2013.

21 Responses to “For documentation purposes, or: If Alexander Pope were part of the Armitage Army, he could rewrite The Rape of the Lock”

  1. I kept thinking about Sydney this afternoon, actually. Proof he was a regular bloke in many ways for me, personally, and thus comforting. At times he’s so darned beautiful and disciplined and talented and versatile and generally wonderful I feel so unworthy as a fellow human being. I don’t think he’s channeling Martin Freeman, either. I think he’s just getting more and more comfortable in his own skin, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And the “nose job” ? Hey, had mine tweaked when I had to have sinus surgery to remove cysts beneath my eyes. Man got hit in the face with a big-ass sword. Things happen. Still looks and acts like RA to me.

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    • I purposely said nothing about that one, but I think the reason that the fights over it on tumblr were so nasty had precisely to do with “virtuous” Armitage and the problem of him receding from the everyman image (which I talked about a few weeks ago now). Dealing with the features you were born with is definitely a sign of virtue. So if you fiddle with that (for whatever reason), you throw that into question.

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      • While I truly hated my nose growing up (much like RA) I doubt I would ever have done anything about it if I hadn’t required the sinus surgery after months of repeated and serious sinus and ear infections. As it is, my “masculine” nose (as my surgeon put it) was only mildly tweaked while the surgery was performed. I still have a nose that reflects both my parents, and since I am, as it turns out, their only biological child together, I am very glad of that.

        I see no need to apologize to people for doing it, anymore than I feel a need to apologize for wearing makeup or coloring my hair. Nor should RA be made to feel guilty for what was done IMHO, no matter what the reason for it was. I don’t think he is going to turn into Plastic Man any more than I am going to follow in Joan Rivers’ footsteps.

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  2. Thank you for this post. Very much agree, re: “What is starting to take on its own dynamic, however, is the extension of one’s personal reaction in order to cultivate or encourage negativity in others. If bad mood bleed is a problem in this fandom, we all have a responsibility to guard against it.”

    There’s been a lot of stuff recently that’s made me roll my eyes and scroll past. Though I did get caught up in the photo removal thing a bit, mostly because I’m sort of really afraid of just being up and fined for something I uploaded out of love of fandoms. I absolutely cannot afford to pay what’s considered by US or British citizens as “hefty sums.” 😦 I’m just glad Weta seems to be fan-friendly.

    I think some people just don’t apply the concepts of living in a society to other aspects of their lives, and that actors have to be polished and shiny and not at all like that annoying neighbor next door who cusses about that overhanging branch from your side of the fence, but you still laugh with and invite over for every holiday. I personally tolerate an awful lot from the people I love, and that’s usually my measurestick with regard to things other people say and do, with a bit more leeway, ’cause I don’t personally know them and won’t even pretend to.

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    • All I am suggestion, lol, is that people own their own feelings in that they don’t blame them on someone else or try to make the case that their feelings are someone else’s fault. If I’m upset by Richard Armitage (or whatever) that is my reaction and I should look at it. Yes, he’s responsible for saying or doing or whatever, but my reaction to that is not his fault.

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  3. Jenkies. I seem to miss a lot of the really fierce dustups somehow, just by not being there or by being Captain Oblivious. I saw the edge of the nose thing (should I call it the Nose Thing?) but beyond casually wondering if he’d had a skin treatment done, I didn’t even really register it. :}

    I did get involved in nerd frustration, but I’ve been doing that since 2001 and LotR (and would love to stop… I was assuming the truly crazypants action-scene departure would come in the third film and just wasn’t ready for it this time out. I’ll be braced when I see this movie next time). It had zero to do with the Armitage and everything to do with the film. I’ll adjust and catch up, I always do. — Lord… actually, I’ve been frustrated with Tolkien adaptions since the Bakshi movie in 1978… so, yeah. (cough) It predates Richard, since he was 7 that year and I was 9. :}

    In any case… I hope things lighten up. I hope my grumpiness about the film hasn’t contributed in a concrete way to your heaviness. I can’t be less grumpy, but I can apologize. 😦

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    • you weren’t blaming your reactions on other people. 🙂

      From my perspective:

      the reason that’s important, IMO, is that if you say, this is how *I* feel for these reasons that have to do with me, I learn something about you. I’m not only free to take or leave, share or not share, your reaction, I think, hmmm, she’s looked at this piece of herself in writing this and that’s interesting. I feel like I know her better. In contrast, if you say, *I* feel this way because *Jackson* did something wrong, what I mainly harvest from that is irritation (whether or not I’m inclined to agree with your assessment of guilt) that I’m hearing a criticism that I’ve heard seven million times already. I think there are plenty of criticisms to be made of Jackson’s Middle Earth interpretations (and I am sure I don’t know remotely all of them), and if you say, that this change was made is important to me *because of this thing about me*, I again am free to agree or disagree with the critical point but I’ve learned something interesting about your honest statement of your perspective. The converse of that is the wholesale, Jackson is thumbing his nose at us perspective that states only the ways Jackson is wrong and tells us nothing about the fan’s own situation except that the fan is disgruntled. To be honest, and this doesn’t apply to you, I think, I’m starting feel a frustration that anyone who knew that much about the film in advance and all the reasons they were going to hate it would even bother. Why seek out a thing that you know would make so angry? Why put more money in Warner Bros.’ pockets? (something I ask myself a lot, lol)

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      • I found myself intentionally stepping back from watching all the trailers, vlogs, reading articles and reviews leading up to the film because I really didn’t want to know everything there was to know about it—a little surprise is nice—and that seems to be a common complaint among those who have viewed it. That they wished they hadn’t had such an overload of info before seeing it.

        I have to to wonder, too, if you are already bound and determined to hate a film before it’s even released, why would you bother to spend your money to go and see it and put yourself through that misery? Unless you just need something to kvetch over . . . WB hasn’t gotten as much money from me this year, because it just hasn’t been there to give, but I haven’t parted with any money I didn’t truly want to.

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      • Ah!! Very interesting distinction! I see what you mean. And yes, that sort of sneering disdainful – I’m sorry, but for lack of a better phrase – pissing contest (who can hate it the most vituperatively) reminds me of movie critics who pan movies just to see who can coin the most artful phrase. That’s what epitomizes everything negative about the word “fanboy” to me.

        It’s sort of the stereotype of the person who arms him or herself with all of the arguments in advance for their position and then goes looking for people to argue with. In short, a troll. Which is appropriate, given the material. 😉

        Well, the thing that I’m kind of enjoying is the “any publicity is good publicity” factor – the fact that the fan community has gone sonar over this, and that I think most people are standing back and having a good laugh at us (by which I mean all of “us” grumpy Tokienites who take things such as the line of descent from Isildur or Elrond’s style of underpants or whatever WAAAAAY too seriously) – that all translated to tremendous buzz, great box office, and a lot more eyeballs on our favorite actor. Hopefully approving eyeballs. Hopefully approving eyeballs connected to thinking brains contained within empowered skulls of casting directors for interesting projects. Possibly even Oscar-awarding eyeballs? My mouth to G_d’s ear. Although why Andy Serkis didn’t get one (make that two)!! Right?

        (fingers crossed)

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  4. First reaction (early morning): This post has been really useful for me, Serv, thanks for that. Maybe my defenses had been weakened by the whole Berlin experience, but for some reason I really struggled the last few days with what I perceived as changes. As much as I can rationally explain a lot of my reactions, it does take the outside view for me to cop on to my irrationality.
    Must re-read later.

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    • Glad if it helped!

      I think there are (subtle) changes. I wouldn’t say nothing has changed. But if you look at the course of his career, a lot of what we’re seeing now in terms of his personal statements and so on are strongly connected with the kind of things he said in the first years of his public awareness, before 2006 or so. There was a period from 2006-2009 where he said much less of this sort of thing — I think precisely because he was aware of how closely people were wtching him. Then he went to NZ and said almost nothing for a year and a half and I think that must have been really salutary for him — just in the sense that he *wasn’t* being watched and had time to prepare.

      In terms of styling, etc., what he’s doing now is perfectly consistent with what happened last December. A tweak here or there. The players are heavier, perhaps but the trajectory is not changing (note what I said in the “everyman” post about the “disciplined” qualities of dressing, quoting that article about Urbinati).

      I really think the problem lies in the fact that we suddenly see so much more of him and so our ideas of how he has to be are challenged, not only by the fact of what he says, but simply by virtue of the fact that certain notions of ours about him are based on the fact that we don’t see him all that much most of the time. On some level, precisely the fact that he is coping well presents a problem for certain parts of his image.

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  5. I ‘m saddened by the recent snarkiness in the fandom. Whatever happened to being “extra good”. ( or whatever that quote was from one of his messages)?

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  6. Thanks for summarizing all of this in your inimitable, cogently over-analyzed way. 🙂 It helps me get my head around the shifts and changes in the fandom, in the focus of our attention, and in myself as I respond to it all. I personally am not finding it difficult to hold in tension both the idea that he’s a “good” man and also that he’s got a sense of humor / political leanings / personal grooming choices that might offend somebody somewhere in the world (including me). I’m enjoying the bits where he’s loosening up a little and seeming less afraid of being himself. (However much of “himself” is truly on display, of course. 🙂

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  7. This is a fascinatng post, Serv. I’ve yet to catch up on blogs so am sorry to hear that some of RA’s fans have been snarky about “changes” in him. All I can see is a man who has become gracious in his stardom without being an arrogant tosser. He was so lovely in Sydney. For me, he stopped being a remote, almost imaginary figure and revealed himself as warm, amusing and generous … which of course intensified my fangirldom to an almost unbearable level 🙂
    Why do some people want him to be “virtuous Armitage”? Do they need a sort of messianic figure in their lives? Do they want to believe in human perfection and somehow this desire has found form in RA? This is an aspect of the RA fandom I have never understood.
    IMO, as long as RA stops short of molesting children or torturing animals, he can entertain all the vices he likes.

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    • I think along your lines, groovergreen. I don ‘t care if he likes dogs or cats, if he had a nose job, if he supports or opposes obamacare , or his views on gun control . He’s just a gorgeous man who I enjoy watching,

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      • He’s going to have to say or do something a WHOLE lot worse than anything we are aware of to stop me from being a fan. When I think of what some actors have gotten up to . . . *smh* As I said at my blog, my own husband and I don’t see eye to eye on everything, but I still love the man to pieces. Why should it be different in terms of my crush on the lovely Richard?

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        • I just read a news report about Orlando Bloom saying that Evangeline Lilly got drunk at a party and Lilly set him straight … we just don’t hear that kind of thing about Armitage. I’m sure he has moments of behaving badly but he apparently doesn’t do them in the presence of the boulevard press.

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          • Yes, I think Richard is both private enough and mature enough to not act out in a day and age where anybody with a camera phone can capture said misbehavior and have it on Twitter in seconds. I remember when Jonas Armstrong (Robin Hood) went on a drunken spree in his mum’s neighborhood in the middle of the night and was knocking on doors, yelling, “Let me in, I’m Robin Hood.” I guess I just can’t imagine Richard roaming the streets tanked up and roaring, “I’m the King Under the Mountain, I SHALL pass.” Oh, and dear Justin Beiber was on the stage recently with some rap artist, I think, and proceeded to yell, “I f**k b***hes” at the audience. Well, he’s also spit on them, too.

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    • IMO, one reason for “virtuous Armitage” is that it salves the fan conscience. “I may have gone totally overboard about this,” so the thinking might go, “but at least my crush is someone who can reasonably be admired.”

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  8. Except for your posts here talking about these issues, I haven’t encountered it. Obviously, I don’t get out enough.

    Speaking for myself, as long as he does good work, is a good person (no need for saintliness), and is okay with our collective ardent admiration, I will continue being a member of the Armitage Army.

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