Interpretive problems in the Age of Google: Another reason Richard Armitage’s tweeting will be interesting to witness

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 4.14.50 PM Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 4.14.16 PMImages tweeted by @RCArmitage this afternoon, apparently as part of his promise to tweet production- and farewell-related material this week.

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To put it polemically: One reason that we contest education so hotly is that what we know constructs our world. We seem to be experiencing a shift about certain kinds of knowledge, however, as the Internet has drastically broadened the amount and types of information that’s at our fingertips. In our current atmosphere, how we know is gaining not a greater, but rather a more noticeable role, in what we know as a component of explanations of how we build our awareness of the world around us. This widespread ability of information has led some cultural critics that cultural literacy is easier to fake than ever before. If you don’t know a reference, or have an image, you can simply type something in a search engine and come up with a panoply of possibilities. This state of affairs has, in Servetus’ opinion, drastic consequences for higher education (that our often stodgy institutions may need a generation or more to catch up with): we simply have to redistribute the time currently spent on accumulation of information toward a greater focus on teaching students to excavate, criticize, and understand the mechanisms for obtaining information so they can be better consumers and users of it. While this focus on critical attitudes toward information has always been one purpose of higher education, it’s more true now than ever. Things that I spent weeks memorizing in undergrad (the timeline of modern English history, for instance) are now easily presented as data — but data is never neutral; it and its presentations always demand a strict, critical examination before they can simply be passed on.

Cough. Got a little off track there. Sorry, hopping back off soapbox. Right. Richard Armitage.

It’s interesting (and fits with what he’s said about himself as a visual thinker) that when Armitage asks for a response to his tweets, he asks for images as an element of them. Also suggestive: his own statements are often accompanied by (illustrative) images. And tempting to believe that the images in turn tell us something about him.

When Armitage tweeted these photos this afternoon, I thought “this looks like English rock group culture in the late 1960s or early 1970s” and I thought that might be Mick Jagger at right in the second photo. My visual and cultural literacy around this sort of music is limited — I enjoy the music casually, when it comes on the radio, but don’t seek it out or study its history or context. So I did a Google Image search, which yields the information that the first photo depicts a hotel room thrown on its ear by Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, and his groupies, and the second shows the Rolling Stones misbehaving by throwing food around at a Kensington hotel. Both photos are famous and likely to be known to viewers even slightly familiar with the histories of these groups, as well as to people who remember living through that period (I am a bit too young for that.). It’s an interesting joke given Armitage’s hashtag — simply because there are no farmers in these photos and this is not the sort of mess a farmer is likely to make.

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resA tweeted response to Armitage’s tweet (author anonymized by me). I loved this reply not just because of its assertion, but particularly because of the emoticon, which suggests the replyer understands exactly the game we’re all playing, i.e., the tweeter does not believe this (picture) represents Armitage’s true self, either.

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We’ve already considered the likelihood that 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 “who he really is.” His “follow” list is stocked with publications he “follows” (if you read The Economist and The Guardian, Mr. Armitage, suddenly I feel oddly akin to you) and political viewpoints and charitable institutions he supports interspersed with colleagues and advisers and journalists and a smattering of people one imagines are real-life acquaintances or friends. The people he tweets (Amanda Abbington, uch) and what he says in those tweets place him in the world in just the same way that any tweep’s activities do — just like doing the ALS Ice Bucket challenge was a way to belong to the large group of British actors / heartthrobs / fan magnets who did the same thing around the same time. Note that this position can co-exist with Armitage the philanthropist; they are not mutually exclusive. My point is solely that while they these choices may reflect reality or pretense or some combination of the two, they are not spontaneous and off the cuff. Tweeting offers Richard Armitage the tweep an opportunity to display identity markers that will say something to the people who follow him just as it does for any of us; some of those may be organic and others aspirational, but without personal knowledge of the man it will be hard to discern which is which.

So — the pictures one shares are a subset of this question, a case study. I’m particularly fascinated by Armitage’s visual vocabulary for telling a story — since the images one recognizes and uses to tell a story about oneself might be assumed to be part of one’s cultural literacy. The image chosen sends a message not just about what one wants to say in any given context, but also about the vocabulary one possesses to say it. This hypothesis seems particularly compelling for someone who asks for images and tweets images as part of his own statements. (Much more transparently, let’s say, than his views on history, which would do a similar thing.) One assumes, of course, that Armitage is referring to a real state of affairs in hyperbolic terms — a messy dressing room that must be vacated, probably by Sunday morning at the latest, given the tight time frame for Kristin Scott Thomas’ appearance in Electra on the 22nd. Given what we know about him already, it’s hard to imagine he means this literally, because we can’t imagine him trashing a room to the tune of thousands of pounds sterling, as Moon apparently did regularly. And the recharge of information about his sense of humor that his previous tweets have provided us with suggests that he wanted to make a joke about it.

And so the wheels start churning. What do they tell us as a representation of his sense of humor? Since Freud, no one’s considered jokes simply random — we assume the kinds of jokes one tells say something about the teller. What do they tell us as a representation of the sort of pictures Armitage is familiar with? Is he a fan of this period of British music? Or does his resort to these images reflect a more general level of cultural literacy in the UK about the period in question? Maybe Armitage is the sort of person who keeps this kind of photo stored on his phone, which would tell us something. There’s also the (remote) possibility that he searched for an image of messiness cold and paged through till he found these. What seems most likely to me, however, is that he knew the images he wanted to illustrate a joking attitude about the state of his dressing room and searched for them in particular. Which just raises more questions for me — humor? hyperbole? unfulfilled wishful thinking of someone who wishes he was wilder than he is? Or, it nags at my brain: entirely random? But selected with some sort of critical knowledge of what he wanted to say?

At any rate: as the images Richard Armitage tweets pile up, it will be interesting to think about what they say about his sense of humor, his visual world, and his hypothetical cultural literacy.

~ by Servetus on September 10, 2014.

32 Responses to “Interpretive problems in the Age of Google: Another reason Richard Armitage’s tweeting will be interesting to witness”

  1. Dude. You Googled? You could have asked me. 🙂

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    • Problems in cultural literacy 🙂 I figured you would know.

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    • See, if were going to try to make the joke I think he was making, I’d have picked this:

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      • LOL. Very descriptive – but not one “dressing room”? Maybe also not compatible with intended audience?

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        • well, the mess I’m concernd about at the moment isn’t a dressing room — it’s my dad’s house … and presumably my audience is different from his 🙂

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          • Oh, I misunderstood. I thought you meant what you would’ve tweeted if you were him…

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            • It’s hard for me to imagine that he’s all that familiar with this type of image (I could be wrong, of course). And it’s sort of hard for me to “correct” his own tweeting, insofar as I don’t know what his visual language vocabulary is — though I assume we will learn a lot more about that now. I am assuming that he and I have overlapping but not fully congruent cultural literacies …

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              • Well, RA has never indicated that he has a specific interest in photography, so it is safe to assume he was not aware this is a Leibovitz shot. OTOH it is an iconic photograph. And Keith Moon is a well-known figure from the heyday of rock hooliganism. Very tricky to draw any conclusions…

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            • I suppose the closest I come to the situation he was addressing was trying to move out of my own office …

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  2. Nice one, Serv. I was thinking along similar lines (even before I reminded him to credit the photographer. That, btw, is a recurring niggle I have – unattributed posting of pics… ah well, I am obviously obsessed with that issue.). I knew instantly that the image was Keith Moon (even though I am too young to have been their fan) because it was an iconic image by the mother of all music photographers… anyhow, I digress. But the point is that aside from the denotations in the image (messy room, half-naked women, one man) the associations can’t be avoided. Apart from the whole sex and drugs and rock’n’roll associations, you wonder what else is communicated. And then you wonder whether you are just over-analysing. Maybe there is nothing more to it than what we see in the pic – “Keith Moon, backstage, somewhere in California, 1976”? (Loved the humour, however. Very funny. Beginning to enjoy the whole tweeting thing…)

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    • Attribution — that’s Bosch, Christ in Limbo (just kidding).

      One thing that interested me about the associations that can’t be avoided is that the response tweets indicate that everyone’s associations are different. I know this isn’t necessarily a lesser problem with speech (false intertextuality), but the photo problem seems to me to very much expand the range of possible associations insofar as you recognize or don’t recognize an image (whereas the range of comprehension of words is a different thing).

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      • (Damn, just lost whole comment.)
        Yup. Now add to the equation the possibility that the sender also did not recognise the context or all possible associations. Visual communication? Tricky business.

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    • Like think of the dilemma over whether that Sarah Dunn photo had him imitating Elvis, or Michael Jackson …

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  3. I’m begining to worry 🙂

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  4. I recognized your image right away but neither of his, LOL! and it bothered me that there were no farmers in those pics. say what you mean, man! 😀

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  5. I just did a Google search of images for messy farmer or messy farmhouse and there isn’t anything I would consider appropriate or funny. There were a few pictures of destruction (twister style) but mostly just pictures of junk. I am realizing it is harder to express humor and/or thoughts in pictures than I would have imagined. Interesting topic Serv 🙂

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    • that’s an excellent point — and it happens to me a lot while blogging — I have an image in mind that I can’t find a way to steal via Google. Really true with blogging about The Crucible, for instance. Lots of things I’d mention simply weren’t captured by the photogs who did the June 26th shoot.

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  6. I like his sense of humor. The image he picked lets him poke fun at the still-possibly-staggering idea that he is sex god enough he could indeed have groupies and wild parties! Lol. He knows out of his 35k followers, he could easily get a room stashed with attractive women.
    That he thinks it’s hilarious suggests he couldn’t imagine himself in this exact predicament? (Even if there’s a side that may wonder what it’d be like…)

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    • someone pointed out to me that that cast is filled with late adolescent, young adult women — just the age that groupies used to be, back in the day … I often feel from his remarks that he feels a strong restraint about stuff like that but that he is a very curious onlooker.

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      • I’m insanely late to this party, but I did find these tweets funny & interesting. I agree with what you both said…. had the fleeting thought when they came through: “yeah, right, after you said you swore off drinking & were living like a monk”. Sort of an “I wish” thing, I imagine, with the grueling schedule he was bound to.

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  7. Sometimes, a messy room is just a messy room …

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  8. […] […]

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  9. I’m not convinced he’s the one tweeting….especially the promotional stuff.

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    • I think someone who was tweeting as a promotional assistant wouldn’t make so many mistakes with spaces and hashtags (or would at least correct them). He may be getting advice on what to tweet, but I am fairly sure he is tweeting himself.

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      • I agree, Servetus, I’m completely convinced that he’s doing it. For a few things someone may be feeding him the language, but it’s his fingers, for at least the reasons you mention.

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        • I’m assuming he doesn’t know how to write Thank You in Chinese, for instance. Interesting, though, that almost every other cast member has tweeted something publicity-related to the new Hobbit film (usu the tapestry) and he hasn’t — he did the selfie instead. I am not complaining, but that’s a choice, obvs.

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          • That is really interesting, as I hadn’t fully realized his was different from the others, it’s true…. I’ve noticed he likes to send out “teaser” tweets (or maybe his PR people like him to) & the selfie last night was sort of a “teaser” i.e. wait till you see this, I’m gobsmacked (“gobsmacked” lol pure Brit).

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