Speaking for himself, or: Why I like Richard Armitage tweeting

BvylQr4IQAAy_bK.jpg_largeIt’s not just that Richard Armitage is funny (although in my opinion he is — my opinion of meat beards here or there, not every joke needs to tickle my fancy), nor that it marks a real career caesura in terms of his publicity (although I think it does, from my long term perspective much more so than the Hobbit: TDOS 2013 publicity blitz did — to me the real break was 2012), nor that he’s used it to promote charitable endeavors. I like all of those things. We’ve always known he was funny. Look at those early messages to fans if you don’t believe me — the “serious Richard” trope which was created in the post-North & South publicity and which many fans jumped on wholeheartedly but in my opinion, mistakenly, and the “precious Richard” trope that predominated among many fans, notwithstanding. Developing more facility with the world of the media can’t hurt him. And my feelings about people with philanthropic sympathies who work actively to assist them are well-known. I could also add that it’s just plain fun to watch. It might be a generalization that younger fans are more comfortable with this means of communication that people my age and older, but so far I’ve gotten nothing but grins from reading his tweets and the fan reactions to them.

All those things are true. Still, the new and most important piece of this for me — and I may have to circle around this for a bit because it’s hard for me to put in a single declarative sentence — is that the decision to tweet, even apart from what he actually tweets, indicates Armitage has decided now to speak for himself, and presumably to do it more regularly.

Now, I’m not saying that what we get in these tweets is 100 percent pure Armitage, divorced from concerns about publicity. Of course it’s not. No one ever says everything about himself, certainly not in 140 characters, and his early adeptness with the medium suggests he’s clearly been advised about how to do this, as was wise. Getting advice on how to communicate is no different from taking an acting class, finding an agent, or getting a stylist; it’s how professionals work and it does not mean that what we read in his tweets is all “just” marketing. In order for marketing to succeed, it must draw on something authentic in order to appeal real. What’s key about this is that, even under advice from professionals or even if someone else is doing all the tweeting, Armitage will be speaking under his guise as himself.

BvmRymNIMAMLY4P.jpg_largeSocial media, or in this case a tweet, purports to say: “I am Richard Armitage and I approved this message.” Why is this important, and why should fans care?

We have to remember to distinguish between tweeting as something an actor does to make himself a more appealing media product, and as something he does to communicate to fans. To me, given Armitage’s longstanding reluctance to engage actively with fans via social media, the decision to tweet now clearly falls in the first category — tweeting because it’s something that the professional of today does to promote his career. It says: I care about communicating with the world around me. It says: I am a human and approachable and appealing. And although it’s early days, being able to say he has a certain number of followers is a concrete number that points to an audience that will support his career with money and feet.

In other words, his stated interest in interacting with fans acknowledged, Armitage is not tweeting for fans. It’s not a service he’s providing for us. It’s something — interacting with fans, supporting charities, and above all, supporting his career — something he does for himself. At the same time, however, once Armitage does tweet, fans (casual and serious) are the main audience for what he provides, so that even if tweeting is in itself a professional decision it also has the effect of communicating to us.

Tweeting, to make an obvious statement, is different from his previous strategy for that. Up till now, the once-or-twice-a-year message to fans was something that had no wider professional outcomes. That was something he indeed did mostly for fans, to acknowledge our support, and, I assume to fulfill his own perceived need to say “thank you” in situations where he was grateful for fan support of various kinds. And one only saw them if one was in the circle of people who was looking for them.

The relative brevity of these messages, although they always said something about the writer (and my, did we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what!) meant that despite any additional information about him that emerged in them, those messages always ultimately upheld Armitage’s mysterious qualities. After the first two or three years, the messages appeared quite seldom, and in the interval between messages (and interviews, which were a part of how fans understood what Armitage was saying), fans were free to remake Armitage into the person whom they wanted him to be. This act of remaking, and the incessant conversations that went on between fans in the spaces between messages and publicity, meant that fan constructions of Armitage could often take on a particular cast depending on the preferences of who was having the conversation. This action — of reinterpreting Armitage in light of statements in the spaces between statements he made — is, in fact, how the Richard Armitage tropes developed. Hence the angst and frustration and arguments that often appear right after a new interview — because fans were building a Richard Armitage that we preferred, and here he is, coming to destroy our picture. We have always made Richard Armitage in our own image(s); how dare he come and be his own person in conflict with that image we treasure so deeply? (If possible, let’s blame it on the interviewer rather than acknowledging that Armitage has facets that we haven’t seen or predicted.)

So I welcome Richard Armitage’s tweeting not only for the reasons I stated above — even if the action of doing it, or what he says, doesn’t please every fan who sees herself as an opinion maker, including me, and the potential for fan angst acknowledged — and not only because I think it will help or at least not hurt his career — but also because it potentially provides Armitage with an easier means of building his own construct of himself as opposed to those of him built by his fans.

Tweeting lets Armitage speak for himself, or at least for the image of himself, or the pieces of it, that he wishes to or is willing to show fans. It’s quick, it’s brief, and it can be done without the middleman function he’s used till now. It will give him the opportunity to demonstrate, as often as he chooses, selected facets of himself that go to show that he is who he is, apart from the pictures that we develop of him. Because the point for Armitage isn’t which fan was correct about which facet of his personality (is he more serious, or more lighthearted? in what combinations?), though those can be fun discussions, as we try to build headcanon to fill in spaces that his own statements don’t or can’t. I assume we will still have those discussions. I can’t imagine that he’ll ever tell us which side of the bed he prefers to sleep on, for instance. That is the point of those discussions for us.

For him, it’s different. The point for Armitage is rather that tweeting is a way for him to influence and take over public constructions of himself (of which fan images of him are one case). Tweeting may make him less mysterious, and fans here or there may learn things about him that turn us off or even displease us. As he populates his persona with content, we may discover that our constructs were mistaken or even wrong to a greater or lesser degree. This doesn’t mean that nothing changes in Armitage — and I suppose I should add here that growth only occurs through change, something that’s true for both him and us. But the point is that by tweeting, he’s taking the step of choosing to populate the construct with his own content.

In this sense, it seems, Armitage is planning to start to steer his identity in public in more active ways than before. To say: I am this person (and not that one). I, Richard Armitage, am going to take an active, visible role in shaping the public construction of who Richard Armitage is seen to be. I can think of multiple reasons why this was a good decision for him, both personally and professionally. But in my opinion, his decision to do this is also good for us — because it is a concrete reminder to us that as much as we might like to do so, we don’t decide who Richard Armitage really is.

Only he can do that. Only he has all the information. And him tweeting is a good reminder of that, in that it demonstrates that in the end, he is the one with the information. I applaud his decision to underline that both for himself and for us.

~ by Servetus on August 25, 2014.

43 Responses to “Speaking for himself, or: Why I like Richard Armitage tweeting”

  1. Agree on all counts. Vive Tweetitage.

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  2. As relative new fan I’m loving all facets of the Richard presented, I mean that’s why I’m still here. I’ve been curious about the “shy Richard” or “too serious Richard” because I’ve never picked up on those traits as dominant. He’s a private and seems to fall into the introvert spectrum but he’s not shy. And his tweets are personable and witty as if he’s sending all of us a personal text message. It’s quite lovely.

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    • I think to understand fully why fans have embraced those ideas you’d need to back and read all the publicity he got, piece by piece, and then try to imagine yourself into the demographic of his original fans (which is very different from its demographic now). (I did some of this and will do some more). You also have to keep in mind that we get about a thousand times as much information about him now than we used to — but that people tend to read new information in light of information they have already processed. So a new fan is going to see a new interview in a very different light than a longer-term fan, just because the vocabulary for understanding it is different.

      I think there are definitely indices / evidence for both shy and serious Richard. Those fans weren’t wrong. The problem was that there was (a) no source critique and (b) because information was so slow in coming, there was a lot of time to remake Armitage into one’s own image, and then get very invested in one’s own version of Armitage.

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      • I appreciate your analysis, Servetus. I’m learning so much about my fellow well-wishes. Maybe because I’m quite shy, I don’t find RA shy in comparison. At least not Viggo Morgensen, Harrison Ford or De Niro awkward shy. His earlier interviews from 2004 N&S promo shows a modest and humble actor, but not shy to me. I felt his thoughts engaging and revealing on what the role of John Thornton meant to him, in the same tone as when he spoke about what playing John Proctor means for him.

        But it’s true that many more interviews are available now, and we get a glimpse of more multi -faceted Richard. I’m reminded of Jung’s quote something about “I don’t want to be good, but whole,” [misquote]. What a great it is for all fans.

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        • The issue was that the main early 2005 interviews done for newspapers emphasized, in the words of the interviewer, his discomfort with the situation, his unwillingness to speak about certain subjects, and so on. I’m only saying this because those fans weren’t making stuff out of thin air — there was evidence for that opinion, and when he started appearing on vid (as opposed to radio) for a big physical discomfort with what was happening.

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  3. wonderful post! you’ve touched on all the things I’ve wanted to say in relation to this, but just couldn’t form the words to do so. I understand what he is doing and welcome it for the reasons you stated. it excites me to see/learn new things about him, even if they are things I may not like. it helps to form a more complete image of who I think he is.

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    • To some extent this post is an answer to your message — I’m a bit rushed at the moment 🙂

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      • no worries! you’ve answered my concerns above and beyond in this post, thank you 🙂

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        • I think that one component of responses to this development has definitely been fear — don’t turn out to be someone who I thought you weren’t. We’ve had that before, of course, but it could always remain speculative because he never said anything at all, or at least, close to nothing at all. If he tweeted only once a week, or let’s say once a month, we’d still potentially learn a great deal more about him.

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          • “If he tweeted only once a week, or let’s say once a month, we’d still potentially learn a great deal more about him.”
            Now that’s a fascinating statement. I wonder if / when the frequency will drop closer to that point.

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  4. Totally agree, this was a great decision for him. He’s in complete control of the message, no influence from middle-man interpretations (cough Ms. Gold cough). He seems to be eating up the direct feedback from the fans, based on sending out the beard contest even after all the fan pharmacy comments (i.e. not apparently overwhelmed). Of course, today is Monday with 8 more shows starting, so I imagine the pace can’t continue.

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    • well, he’s in complete control of the CONTENT of the message. And maybe somewhat of the subtext. Interpretation of the message still lies in the control of the audience. But yeah, he doesn’t have to simply accept journalistic interpretations of him anymore (although it won’t be in his interest to get involved in disputes).

      He probably has been given a schedule of what he should be doing to start off — and I can’t imagine he’s reading everything that gets tweeted at him.

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      • Sure, and controlling the content that goes through to the audience is at least a great starting point. Interpretation’s always up for grabs, and he’ll surely find that out.

        And you’re right, no way could he be reading everything! But we certainly don’t have to guess now that he “has people” who are.

        Hadn’t occurred to me that he’d be given a schedule, though that does make sense. In light of that, do you think the cover-the-beard contest was his idea? Or not? I assumed it clearly was, but I suppose more likely pre-conceived with his handlers…. The Proctor pharmacy pic perhaps more likely to be truly his initiative and/or off-the-cuff…..? (This is all interesting to me in light of your bringing up his ability to control subtext.)

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        • If I were doing that job, I would have told him — make the first post enigmatic. Make the next posts slice of life and/or funny, something that lets people see a glimpse of you and represents your sense of humor but is not in any way offensive. But I wouldn’t have told him what to do. The next step is serious. He’s not ever been off message.

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        • Gotcha. Clearly the tweets for his new JustGiving charities were aligned front /center with his stated purpose for being on Twitter. If they wanted to see what his capacity was to mobilize the “new army”, I guess the answer was “off the hook”, based on his “take my breath away” comment.

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          • well, I think he’ll never have the following of a Hiddleston or a Cumberbatch (unless the next role is crazily blockbusterish), but I don’t know that he needs to. He just needs to have a strong following.

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          • I guess I was thinking more narrowly, specifically re: fundraising power, since he stated (I think) that he’s on Twitter to help his charities more and connect with the fans. Development people would actually know if he had extraordinary %ile response to size of his following. Looks like TH has supported UNICEF. BC himself apparently not on Twitter unless he’s not verified.

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            • I don’t know that he seeks per se to be a fundraiser; i.e., I think that’s more simply an outcome of (a) charitable impulses — he’s at least twice done ads for charitable appeals at Xmas and (b) the fact that it makes tweeting look like an inherently less egotistical endeavor. (See, I am using my power for good!). It would be interesting to know if he’d ever be considered to have the star power to be a UN ambassador or if that would be an aspiration. We’ll have to wait and see. I am guessing some appeal or other on environmental matters may be coming.

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  5. The interesting thing, however, is how his career will benefit from that, if at all. And how long the novelty value lasts.

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    • Right, the novelty / dopamine rush must be great right now, as such a relief from the crucible of The Crucible, I imagine. How long is a good question.

      I think he’ll get megabenefit with under 30’s, which will megabenefit him with possible film roles especially. (Yes, I just made up a word 🙂 Probably even with under 40’s, which could well bleed into TV at least here in US. I bet he’d give his metaphorical eyeteeth for a TV gig over here.

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      • If it’s something he is interested in, I would love to see him in a good TV role over here. Honestly, some of the best roles right now for actors truly interested in characters with complexity and depth are on TV instead at the theater.

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      • Yes, I think all the options have raised the bar, in general, including streaming as well as cable/satellite.

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        • I wish we could take advantage of the streaming content, but our “high speed” is on the slow side. I am amazed at the plethora of original content in dramatic productions now available out there via basic cable/satellite and the premium channels.

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    • The novelty value for him or for us? 🙂 I wonder if he will tweet when he has a a dry spell (however brief) between roles? Will it make him more or less tweety? I would love to see him tweet from a chairlift or skiing down a mountain, although he set the bar pretty high with meat plastered to his beard.

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      • I think there is just enough of the mischief maker in him that I can imagine him stroking his beard (or stubble or jaw) with a twinkle in his eyes and saying, “Hmmm, how can I outdo myself this time . . .”

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    • I don’t think it’s going to be an earthshattering benefit but I think this addresses at least two of his pressing problems professionally. One of those is getting older. This makes him look/seem younger and hipper, which is something employers will want to see. And arguably it does that without damaging his appeal to his original demographic, since most of them / us are not tweeps.

      And I think anything he can do to show that he is paying attention to the spin on him from other quarters has to be of benefit in influencing the discourse.

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  6. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. Ultimately, as a fan, I love seeing him on Twitter simply because it entertains me. There is only one other celeb that I get excited about seeing on Twitter and that is someone who not only also shows us his quirky humour but shares a little of his life – it helps that he once tweeted me too but that’s besides the point. So far Armitage has elicited much the same feelings in me…I’m interested to see how he progresses.

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    • I think that’s a key quality of social media. You have to be willing to show glimpses of “who you really are” (and a lot of people tell me that they have lost their intense interest in Armitage but keep reading this blog because they got interested in me). Its standards for verisimilitude are different from those that work in traditional publicity.

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  7. I wasn’t overwhelmed when I realized RA had joined twitter but I have to admit his tweets have been fun so far and they appear genuine to me. I think he might even have some experience tweeting 😉 My twitter account is locked and I wouldn’t @ him anyway but I follow him now. I guess there’ll be a few tweets and longer periods of silence which is fine by me. He seems capable of handling twitter in all its aspects and it’s definitely a PR coup. I noticed his agent joined twitter a couple of weeks ago too. Coincidence? I don’t know…

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    • I haven’t tweeted him either, although I did follow his account, natch. I assume the point at the moment is to establish an audience and attract followers, and as you say, the frequency will drop somewhat.

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  8. Reblogged this on jollytr62.

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  9. Great post. He has said himself recently that he knows what he is selling and I think that coming into Twitter represents part of that. Now he can put himself out there as he is and choose what he wants known. He understands the power of his fans. As you say this is a professional move, taking control of his career in a different way. You said it all so much better. You have to feel too that he has looked at other actors who have put themselves out on Twitter and most likely talked with them about how it has worked for them. He has been seen using a lap top or iPad for some time so you know that he is somewhat adept at doing many things there and I agree with the comment that he may have been using social media in some form already. So far he has been quite funny and seems to be enjoying himself. We’ll have to wait and see what is next. I would suggest that from his comment recently about his charities that since he lives in N.Y. he will put him a charity centered in the U.S. that he supports as well.

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    • Speaking from the viewpoint of someone who keeps on trying to marshal energy to support his charitable fforts, the fact that they have always been UK only has been one of the more regular complaints. Charity does begin at home … so I hope he picks some stuff that is closer to the homes of more of his international fandom.

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  10. […] Armitage as he tweets is not fully congruent with “the real Richard,” but rather the Richard Armitage-approved version of Richard Armitage for public consumption. At the same time, his presence on Twitter is definitely intended to communicate some idea of […]

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  11. […] an instance of what I was talking about before — Richard Armitage showing Armitage-approved pieces of himself. Can I live with this? Yes, at least so far and with this […]

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  12. […] previous picture of him have further drawn that relationship into question. As we noted early on, the risk of sudden, unanticipated discoveries about him that didn’t fit with our previous pict… but if too much of his tweeting looks like self-promotion we are forced to conclude either that […]

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  13. […] publish it. But to me, the essential problem falls here. We said, when we got Armitage tweeting, we’d be seeing more of him “as he is,” or at least a version of that, and there wo…. The argument has been made that when Armitage tweets selfies, etc., we’re seeing a liberated […]

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  14. […] Armitage directly and enjoy the illusion of personally reaching him. Due to Twitter Q&As it increased both the actual and potential information available about him, in a form that looked li…, and his follows offered interesting, occasionally contradictory, information about him, although […]

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  15. […] niche groups that already appreciate either the celebrity or the candidate/position endorsed. But it fills in my knowledge of Armitage, which is a plus, and which is important for the emotional project behind this blog, even when what […]

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  16. […] Even as I support his right to tweet, I’ve always been ambivalent; torn between appreciating his speaking for himself (and what that means for my capacity to develop a fuller picture of him) and sympathy for what he’s saying and feelings of extreme alienation about the regular […]

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  17. […] the way, the CyberSmile thing being the most apparent and most serious. But there were others: the need to adjust to Armitage as tweep, the regular rounds of tweet/delete, and the (in my opinion deleterious) effects his illusory […]

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  18. […] important details, or (gasp) exchanged tweets with fans, he still wouldn’t be immanent. He would only be present in illusion. He still wouldn’t know everything that every fan had written — it’s just not […]

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