me + the fourth wall, or: Richard Armitage (and his PR) are (still) not in the audience for this blog

Dear the person who wrote me the message today,

Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to write. It might help you to be aware of my recent exposition of why I write. The answer to your question is that I’m very serious about the fourth wall.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, fan audiences use the theatrical term, “fourth wall,” to refer to the separation between themselves and the things they are observing or enjoying. Audiences see through the fourth wall, while performers do not. It’s not that simple, of course. There are different understandings of this term, and of course some modern theater attempts to break down the fourth wall, but the term in general serves to define the demarcation of a boundary between performer and audience, wherever that occurs.

A major breach in the fourth wall occurred recently and caused a huge eruption last weekend in the Sherlock fandom. A new episode of Sherlock was screened at the BFI and both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were present for the viewing and a question and answer session afterwards. The host of the session came with an explicit slash fanfic she had found on the Internet, and maneuvered the actors into reading parts of it out loud to the audience (without the knowledge or permission of the author of the fiction). Someone present described the host’s intentions as clearly malicious (wanting to “to take the piss out of the fans, the show and the whole phenomenon in general”) and the actors as “uncomfortable.”

The author, oblivious to this stunt until after it happened, responded on her tumblr with statements for the actors, the host, and a clarification of her own position on what she was doing, what it does for her, and who the audience is. These are the parts I found most poignant and personally relevant to me:

To [the host:] Thank you for spoiling something I found joy in. Thank you for humiliating me, taking my writing out of context without permission, belittling it and using it to embarrass actors who I deeply admire. Thank you for tainting the one thing [that] sometimes that gets me through the day when I have two screaming kids, someone’s drawn on the walls in their own poo, and I have to drive through peak hour traffic yet again because my husband’s forgotten his glasses for work.

[…]

What gets me is that this is probably the only interaction I will ever have with those two actors. I’m not going to go to a premiere, I’m not going to go watch the filming, I probably won’t ever go to a convention, I’m not going to send fan mail […] I certainly don’t send them links to my fics and ask them read them.  I just want to sit here at home enjoying the show, buy the DVDs, pay to see their movies and share my love of it all with other fans, minding my own business. So that’s it, the one bit of contact I have with them, and it’s about humiliation and mockery.

The version of the “fourth wall” I observe is called the “bubble rule,” and it’s been in place since about the first year of the blog. It was explained to me by a fellow blogger and it’s the main thing that allows me to keep writing here. The bubble rule conceives of the real Richard Armitage and me as enclosed in separate, mostly opaque, fully sound-proof bubbles that move through the same universe but never collide and never become fully transparent or sound-capable. At times the bubbles may be closer in space or more transparent and we may be able to “see” each other, but we never speak to each other directly or are in any kind of contact at all. And, most importantly for me, I write and publish on the assumption that while I look to see what’s going on in the Armitage bubble when it slides into view, Armitage is not looking for the Servetus bubble. Servetus is a fan of Armitage; Armitage is not a fan of Servetus. Indeed, the Servetus bubble continues to exist because Armitage is not looking for it.

Of course, other people might be. I make the bubble transparent to fans because I find it useful to work on my self-development project in this way, and because I suspect that some of what I experience has resonance for fellow fans. Before you object that I sometimes write Armitage letters here — yeah, dude, that’s because I don’t send him actual letters and because I assume the audience for whom those thoughts have greater meaning is potentially one of fellow fans.

I really love how Jazzy put this: “I am not in community with Richard Armitage … I am, however, in community with you.” I’d add to the list of people I’m not in community with both journalists and marketers. I don’t expect anything at all from journalists — as I’ve noted before, they have us coming and going and while they may occasionally make the bubbles more transparent and provide interesting information, on the whole, they are not on my side or, I would say, the side of fans generally. While some marketing truly takes fan desires into account (Peter Jackson’s vlogs are a good example), most of it is all about the marketer (Sarah Dunn’s recent “I’ll give you another picture if you like my page a little more” campaign springs to mind). I am writing for me and the like-minded — observers who wish to think their own thoughts and draw their own conclusions about what’s happening.

My position reflects just that: my position. Plenty of Armitage bloggers feel differently. They are friendlier about disruptions of the fourth wall than I am, or would even like to tear it down. You might enjoy their writing more and I encourage you to seek them out.

Best wishes,

Serv

~ by Servetus on December 20, 2013.

35 Responses to “me + the fourth wall, or: Richard Armitage (and his PR) are (still) not in the audience for this blog”

  1. I just…holy crap. I had no idea about what happened with the Sherlock fandom recently, and I’m kind of trying to wrap my head around it right now. What a horrible thing to happen. Thanks for your thoughts on the matter, and for providing links as well.

    Like

  2. Hadn’t heard of the concept of the fourth wall. I like operating under that assumption. It seems logical and appropriate.
    Wow. I really love the slash author’s response. Can’t we all relate to that need to have our own realm that gives us escape from the tedium and stress of real life – time to create, ponder, connect or whatever? It’s life-saving or at least life-enhancing for many, not something to be denigrated.
    What is it about fanships that make it an easy target for those looking to feel superior? As if engaging in the captivating art and drama of certain performers is ridiculous and childish.

    Like

    • Trudy, seems it’s OK for people to completely go berserk over sports teams and get into ridiculous trash talking about sports competition all over social media–but it’s not acceptable to celebrate the artistry and power of dramatic performances. *smh* Now who’s truly being ridiculous and childish, I wonder?

      Like

    • This was a real faux pas insofar as the BBC hired the host. They must be kicking themselves now.

      Like

  3. What a rotten thing to do to that poor fanfic writer. 😦

    Like

  4. Hadn’t thought about that comparison. Hmm… I wonder if female fanships are even more open to scorn. Probably. Sports is traditionally male-dominated.
    But beyond that, I find interests focused on literature and drama to be more intellectually stimulating and more relevant to the human condition and the hope of rising ourselves higher.
    Sports? Not so much. Although athletics has it’s place and can foster some to personal achievements.

    Like

    • I think male fans of things like TH or comics, etc., come in for a fair share of abuse.

      Like

    • I follow a blog that reviews romance novels and the reviews are by readers. A perennial topic for discussion is the putting down of romance novel readers, who are predominantly women. So I think female fanships of whatever are open to even more scorn.

      Like

  5. What the host did was unprofessional and downright mean. the actors know that sort of thing exits, but to do that to someone AND put the actors through it simply says ‘unacceptable’.

    Whatever happened to having fun? Isn’t this supposed to be fun? Didn’t Richard’s message reflect on the community fans created? It just boggles my mind.

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment and welcome!

      I think it doesn’t help that people inside the community are divided about these things, which is occasionally an acute problem in the Armitage fandom.

      Like

  6. For me, that is the scary thing about sharing it on the internet. You put it out there for friends / fellow fans to enjoy but once it’s out there, it is out of your hands. I think the writer handled it beautifully…I would not have. I would have made Jason Bourne look like an amateur….just sayin.

    Like

    • yes, it’s an acute variation of what I was talking about a few days with regard to Jackson. You kind of have to figure out how to let go of reactions to your work. I think if I’d been the author I just wouldn’t have said anything. I would have tried to conduct business as usual … I think. After I cried for three months.

      Like

      • I would have absolutely denied it was mine. Then I would have had to find a way to send a groveling but anonymous apology to Sirs…then I’m not sure I could have ever written another word. Period. That doesn’t seem a very fitting end for a well-wisher. It does make one twitchy about certain pornographic endeavors.

        Like

        • that was where I sort of parted ways with the responder. It wasn’t *her* fault in any way, what happened. She didn’ tneed to apologize to them, IMO.

          Like

          • I don’t think it was the fan fic writer’s fault, either. It’s not as if she lobbied to have them pull that stunt. I place the blame on this Moran woman for acting in such a malicious manner in an effort to grab attention (well, she certainly accomplished that, didn’t she?). Whether or not you like/love/hate/read/write slash of any kind (and of course, I have written some of mine in the past), the way this journalist handled this reminds me of dodgy tabloid TV—just not what I would expect from the Beeb. It’s disappointing.

            Like

  7. Prominent lack of empathy 😦 Whether the media people are so different than the rest of the human race?

    Like

  8. I guess the thing that’s not clear to me is how Caitlin Moran isn’t being ROASTED by this by both her bosses & the producers of the program. Also, I don’t get how she ‘made’ them read it. Where were the publicists? That’s what’s stunning to me. That Moran would do this to a novice writer is appallingly bad form and she should be ashamed of herself. I freely admit slash & shipping aren’t really my things — but I know that others get a lot of enjoyment out of writing & reading it. It’s not a big deal & I don’t get tied up in knots over it. But this thing that Moran did to the writer–to say nothing of embarrassing a couple of pretty amazing actors–is pretty damned low.

    Like

    • Moran has gotten a lot of criticism but I don’t know what the concrete consequences to her will be (probably not being put in this position by the BBC again). She has a sort of big career apart from this as a tv and newspaper feminist / author. As to “making” them — I don’t know, either — I think I read that the BBC controller was there watching the whole thing, but I could be wrong about that. I suppose no one wanted to say, “I can’t do this” in the middle of the event. I can imagine if you’re the actor it’s hard to know what to do in that situation. If you refuse to read, who are you dissing? The fans? If you don’t know that the “script” was stolen w/o permission?

      To me, it would take an amazing amount of gall to push people to do something like this in the face of their clear discomfort …

      Like

      • You’re right Servetus — it’s that “curse of politeness” – so very English. And believe it or not 😉 I’ve been that person myself — the one who “doesn’t ant to be a bother” or “upset everyone.”
        More importantly, I forgot to say how much I enjoy your writing & the fact you share it as you travel on your journey. Your observations are always interesting. Thank you!

        Like

        • we might be able to see it because there was a live stream that was captured, but apparently the BBC took it down. Can’t say I blame them —

          thanks for the kind words!

          Like

          • I saw the incident, some fan filmed it. Benedict was clearly uncortable and he did stop reading after they came to a kiss. So atleast nothing explicit was read. Very mean and stupid stunt by Caitlin Moran even if she realised her mistake and apologised.

            Like

  9. That completely stinks. As a former journalist, it breaks my heart to know that one of my tribe was so cruel to a civilian. There’s no excuse for it, and I hope she knows she has the fan community’s support!

    Like

    • it sounds, from the person’s tumblr, like she’s gotten a lot of support from fellow fans as well as some wonderful flowers from her husband …

      Like

  10. Sounds like somebody wanted to make a name for themselves at the fan’s expense. I wonder why the actors didn’t refuse to participate….especially Martin Freeman — he doesn’t seem the type to shy away from confrontation. Just this past week RA refused to sing All I want for Christmas is You and I appreciated the fact he felt their were certain bondaries he wasn’t willing to cross.

    Like

    • she had a name already — but obviously she thought this wouldn’t hurt her, anyway.

      Yeah, I really respected Armitage at that moment. He wasn’t comfortable and he wasn’t going to do it. Good for him for find a way to make a joke about it.

      Like

  11. What a horrible story. It really give me the creeps!!! 😦

    Like

  12. […] and unhappy. OK. At least I know now what the problem is, even if I can’t fix it. All of my bubble rule issues are being severely provoked. I log on and chat for a while with a fellow fan in the U.S. who […]

    Like

  13. […] discomfort, and which I / we called “the bubble rule.” You can read about that more here. By the time the bubble rule became less tenable as a way of thinking about a framework for what I […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: