Autoloop Armitage liturgy, or: Musing about who wants repetitive questions and why

B3xMbvmCUAAmpFj.jpg_large[Richard Armitage before the beginning of the BOTFA press junket, December 1, 2014. Source: @RCArmitage]

At some point, we made a list on one of the blogs of questions we never want to hear Richard Armitage asked again, chief amongst them anything to do with his stint in the circus. Nonetheless, we hear that question again and again. He doesn’t appear to be going on autoloop when he answers, although he must be, on some level. He keeps looking the interviewer right in the face with friendly to intense attention, smiles every time, and answers as if sharing the information is a matter of vital interest to him. I can’t believe it is, though, beyond the attempt to appear personable. Maybe he thinks to himself when he hears it, whew, okay, already got an answer to that one and one reason that his interviews are becoming more polished is that he is rarely confronted with anything new. Watching this stuff from my perspective, I roll my eyes when someone says, “I know you’ve been asked this a thousand times, but …” because why ask it, then? If the questions have to be repetitive, then I do appreciate it, as I did this week, when someone who apparently couldn’t find a more novel question to ask finds a new way to ask it and the answer is at least at little teensy bit funny. And I wonder why no pictures from that phase have surfaced. Maybe he didn’t have friends there to take them, or perhaps they’re safely locked away in the same cabinet with the ones of him onstage as an elf when he was a child.

tumblr_ngretoUf1I1qbi6r6o1_1280[Another side effect of heavy press coverage: silly pictures. Photo of Richard by Genaro Molina, December 2014.]

A lot of us have been bored or frustrated with the flood of repetitive interviews in the press junket for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which has just ended. To my mind, the most interesting ones have been print pieces (LA Times and WSJ) by professionals who knew their craft, put their subject at ease enough to allow him to say something a bit revealing, and presented their encounters with elegance and style. The first, because it traversed a lot of familiar terrain with style and little additional illuminating fragments; the second, because in choosing a different perspective from which to talk about the film, the interviewer generated a lot of illumination about Richard Armitage as he wishes to present himself personally. Filling in the picture of what must have been in certain respects a challenging childhood adds substantially to his sympathy as an interviewee and to his ethos as an artist. Those interviews were not only suggestively revealing; on top of that, they made Armitage look good and made the film he was promoting look like more than it is, which is really the chief end of both mainstream outlet and informal social media entertainment journalism.

But mostly, that was not what we got. We got the same old questions about scale, and tall dwarves, and what did you think of Peter Jackson, and what is it like to shoot in green screen, and did you really vomit and what about Tolkien, and who do you miss from the shoot and what was it like to leave and what about New Zealand and how crazy was Thorin and did you use your Shakespeare background and what will you do next will you do another blockbuster and you’re so so so talented what a great performance and above all, aren’t the fans doing a great job and aren’t they just a little extreme and all this extra stuff they do, isn’t it just hilarious as heck and also seriously creepy? I’m sure every reader who watched these excerpts with me could add another shading of one of these questions but it was more or less all the same. It all goes without saying, and it all occupies a lot of our time as viewers — for me, hoping against hope that I’ll learn something new.

***

vlcsnap-2014-12-22-21h25m38s90Contemplative Armitage appears to take every question seriously, no matter how often it is asked and answered: cap from one of the recent repetitive BOTFA interviews.

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There are a lot of reasons that interviews look this way. Here are some that occur to me:

  • In essence, it lies in the media’s interest to create a stable brand (both from the point of the marketer selling the film and the interviewer, who also promotes him/herself by participating). Questions and answers have to be predictable and consistent in order to create a signature for the product; they have to fit with the style of the interviewer, also a person representing an audience with a vested interest. And on top of that, with a junket like the one we just saw, where more than half of the “interviews” broadcast are apparently simply stock footage — a practice I learned about this week– they have to be predictable because they have to seem as if they could have been anybody’s questions, although they are merely regurgitated marketing material from the studio, labeled differently to imply that a coherent entity apart from the studio actually produced them.
  • Many fewer outlets were involved. Warner Bros. obviously did not want to spend the same amount promoting this film as it did the previous two (for whatever reasons internal and/or market-driven). The people who were going to see it were already salivating, and the only segment the pre-film marketing really seemed to try hard to bring on side were LOTR fans who’d been frustrated by TDOS, although that, too, turned out to be a bait-and-switch.
  • After three films the interviewers, who were from the same media outlets as the two previous years, were running out of things to ask about material they weren’t that familiar with to begin with.
  • After TDOS, the studio was anticipating a similarly repetitive critical reaction to the piece, so it wasn’t worth investing in an extensive junket.
  • The media outlets were expecting the same, so they didn’t make an effort.
  • And part of it, in my opinion, was the huge problem that the plot resolution, which was known to most of the core target audience, was embargoed for discussion just in case they might pick up viewers who didn’t know how the novel ended. Armitage said repeatedly that his favorite parts of the film involved either Thorin’s madness or “the end of Thorin’s story” — if that was all he could say about his performance, it was definitely a brake on further, more detailed questions. I hope he got asked some questions about that for the extras on the upcoming EE, so we can get more information.

But that said — explaining why the interviews were repetitive in execution doesn’t get at the question of why people seem to want to consume repetitive interviews.

ra_twitter[Richard Armitage photograph tweeted by the UK Hobbit Movies Twitter account during the TDOS #AskThorin event in December 2013]

We might think — oh, people don’t want them, that is just what they get because the outlets are not very creative and they are not marketing to Armitage fans anyway, but to broader audiences. The problem with that argument is that even when people from those broader audiences are offered the chance to ask new questions, as in the Twitter Q&As, they ask the same ones over and over and over and over and over. Admittedly, publicists pick the questions, but presumably they do that in part because they get asked so many times. So it was amusing that Lee Pace, when asked at the Apple Store what props he got to keep, asked in return with good cheer but a faintly exasperated humor why that was the most asked question.

Tired of it, Mr. Pace? Me too, me too. But repetitive questions are so important to us as viewers that we continue to rehearse them even by criticizing their existence. It’s like the groan that rises internally from the chestnut pleases us just as much as an original question would. And let me be honest, after near to five years of fangirling and four years of The Hobbit for me, if I count the ramp-up, there are a lot of groan-worthy questions.

Why do we ask for and listen to the same questions again and again? Even though they make us groan, at times? To the point that we can more or less predict what they will be and how they will be answered?

460335288[Lee Pace and Richard Armitage respond to questions at the Apple Store Q&A, December 2014.]

I found myself thinking about last week’s orientation (this university is so large that it admits a couple thousand students as firstyears in mid year). A student admitted at my campus gets a nudge from the registrar and a personal email from to come in for individual academic advising. Roughly half of my advisees take me up on it, but they still have to check in at a general advising session during orientation, where then half of the students are people I have met before and the other half are known to me only via their transcripts. I always tell the people who’ve been to my office that they can skip the general session and they always stay.

I’ve done eight orientations now and I’ve got a general list of things to say, in more generality than I do in my office, and everyone listens. Students hearing it for the first time pay rapt attention as I tell them that they enroll in more than six hours of upper level history at their peril, or which section of “theory and methods” to enroll in for optimal ease of transition. More interesting in light of the question I’m asking tonight is the behavior of the students who’ve already been advised. They also listen attentively, but with smiles on their faces and affirming nods, even when I am telling them the consequences of getting too many Ds and Fs. This really bugged me — as a professor I was not used to students smiling at me during class in affirmation of negative messages; a concentrated or puzzled look was usually a better sign — until I realized it’s about an internal check they are performing for themselves. Is all as she said it would be in her office? the question could be. Yes, indeed, I can verify that I have heard this before and it is just as she said, seems to be the inner script. My understanding of this world is intact as I confirm that the data line up.

I wonder about whether this pattern applies to me, and in what measure, as a consumer of information about Richard Armitage. I make it my business to read or watch everything published about him — for nearing five years — and I find relatively little of significance to surprise me in terms of what gets out, either professionally or personally. The basic data outlines are established, even though with time they change meaning and the context around them gets larger and more diffuse. There are a few things I might change about my biography of him, given new data, but not many. I have always been reading and watching to find the divergent data point — but that’s my training as a historian. Find things that are unknown; say something new about them. It may not be the standpoint of the general consumer of these interviews. And I admit, even I find myself irritated at times when he messes up his own story so that the data don’t line up and I have to reconsider my narrative. Armitage has given three different explicit and implicit time points for his participation as an elf in The Hobbit; sometimes the dates he himself gives (not those that have been reported; those are a mess) for entering LAMDA simply cannot be true, given what I know about the structural turning-points of his life. I want him to get his story straight, even as I acknowledge that we tell different stories for different audiences. But in general, I still don’t really appreciate repetition.

It occurred to me, though, that the place where I do appreciate repetition is in, of all places, liturgy, some place where a lot of people I know hate it — calling it rote prayers, which isn’t exactly incorrect, as saying rote prayers can be one feature of a liturgy. But repeating the liturgy puts me in a particular spiritual place, where I don’t have to be paying as much attention, and where my inner assumptions about G-d and the world come to light and are affirmed and magnified. It is an identity moment: yes, G-d is who I thought G-d was, the spiritual world is where I believe it to be. There are songs in the liturgy that I don’t like, that make me clench my teeth, but they, too — like the circus question — somehow belong to the whole ritual.

Is that the charm of the interview that covers the same territory and is that what keeps us watching?

When we watch Richard Armitage and he turns out to be exactly who we thought he was, or who we want to believe he is — are we gratified and re-rooted in our own identities?

If that’s the case. Wow, troubling implications.

~ by Servetus on December 23, 2014.

7 Responses to “Autoloop Armitage liturgy, or: Musing about who wants repetitive questions and why”

  1. What an interesting post. I had never thought about whether there was any inherent interest/pleasure in hearing autoloop Armitage. The repeated questions simply bore me – and for that reason I have skipped most of the BOTFA junket clips so far. But I think you are nailing it with your parallel to the students who come to the orientation sessions. There is something gratifying about “recognizing” something, or checking that one has understood something correctly. In terms of Armitaging, I’d also add that as a fan it might give you the feeling of being au fait with the topic, you are a “connoisseur” – in the sense that you are not only checking that what you understood was correct, but recognising old news means you are “on top of things” or you have amassed some knowledge on the subject of choice and therefore can put it into context. Added benefit – you can underline your status as a long-term fan (in front of new fans?) by commenting on the old news (as in “yawn” or “old chestnut”). I confess I have certainly reacted like that on occasion…
    As for the journos and the repeated questions – I am also wondering whether there is such a thing as “no-go” areas, i.e. they are stuck with a certain number of ever-repeated questions because they are asking within the framework of a particular promo tour. Or they may have been signalled beforehand that they are not to ask questions that pertain to a), b) and c)…
    Also – completely agree that I sometimes roll my eyes at the mixed-up timeline that RA presents himself. ggg

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    • I thought, yesterday, in the context of another question, that this wouldn’t happen so consistently if it weren’t suiting some particular purpose in our self-interested society.

      good point about the demonstrative quality of all of this.

      no-gos: there must be. I know that the ending was embargoed; maybe that wasn’t the only thing (?).

      it also occurred to me this morning that another reason that publicists pick these repeated questions in the Q&As is that it gives a greater number of fans the illusion of access.

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  2. The one question I have been wanting to know during the Q&As for both Proctor and Thorin, is about what has been the easiest part of playing that role. It is easy to ask about the most difficult and challenging parts, but I have been interested the opposite of that. But never got an answer.

    Interesting read again from you! Thank you.

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  3. Yes, I believe you are on to something here.

    It just goes to show how professional Richard is when he answers the same questions repeatedly, but always – or almost always – with another angle or twist so we do not always get the exact same answer. On the surface of it, he never seems to tire of these questions, yet we can safely assume that it must bore him beyond words.

    Repetition in this instance could be used because some of the audience (probably the majority) is not like us. Most of us try to look at each and every interview Richard has made, and we expect something new, but those that just want to be informed, may be satisfied with the information they are presented with.

    At these press junkets, the journalists have very little time at their disposal; some seem to use that miniscule amount of time expertly, while others – in my humble opinion – do not seem to get so much out of their allotted time.

    I believe that at some point, it’s simply becomes difficult to come up with something new and interesting. And perhaps the word is spreading among the journalists that so and so has asked this and this question, and the pressure is then on to ask the same question to audiences missing out on ‘vital’ info. It can’t be easy to be the last interviewer, because all the good questions have already been asked and answered.

    I wish that the journalists would consider their audiences some more, though. Different audiences require different things in terms of both content and presentation, I think.

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    • I think it’s fair to note that each of these junket interviews goes to the same outlet, so that it’s rare that a single person would watch (say) 20 of them. But they go to outlets where in many cases the fans can be assumed to know the answers already.

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  4. […] us another #AskArmitage in honor of his latest two audiobooks. We’re getting to a point where many of these questions are becoming very familiar, and I still think the interviews where he was asked questions by a professional are better. Part […]

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