Who owns Richard Armitage’s fan messages? (part three)

Continued from here.

Earlier today I told you about my ongoing internal dialogue. So in my final question about ownership, now we get to a piece of it on a question of “me + richard armitage” that I have forestalled public discussion of here for years. Every time it came up, I gave a very specific answer which was less than the whole, because contemplating my own reaction to and attempts to deal with the problem has always had the potential to twist my guts. And the interpretive possibilities around the question always offered an unshielded moment for unfriendly readers to savor. 2013 was no more fear; 2014 was no more shame. 2015 = Liberation. 2015 = Liberation. I’ll keep saying it. 2015 = Liberation.

Here we go.

We haven’t really discussed the actual question I asked, but that’s how blogging goes sometimes

Who does own Richard Armitage’s fan messages?

The answer is obvious and not obvious. The most common usage of the word “own” English corresponds to “possess.” In that sense, on the one hand, messages to fans are “owned” by Richard Armitage in the sense that he composes them — although doubt about whether he does so himself is of long standing and the appearance of @RCArmitage and tweets and behaviors that occasionally don’t square with our 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 picture was always going to be heightened while he uses Twitter, but if too much of his tweeting looks like self-promotion we are forced to conclude either that someone is tweeting for him in order to support his publicity efforts or that he is now more openly engaged in public self-promotion via Twitter than he has wanted to acknowledge in interviews, when he says that he tweets inter alia in order to promote the work of others. (This is an observation, not a criticism: An actor who doesn’t promote and self-promote gets no work.) Armitage also owns the messages insofar as he provides them to fans (or could stop doing so). On the other hand, as every author soon learns to no little potential chagrin, Armitage has no monopoly on possible interpretations we apply to those messages, only on what he thought he meant to say — and he has no possibility to withdraw or retract them, as they are disseminated so quickly after publication that erasing them completely would be cost prohibitive. A record of them will always persist somewhere. @RCArmitage has given us at least three incidents around this problem, as tweets that could have been offensive were withdrawn and fans disputed whether copies posted on social media should be allowed to persist.

The inability of Armitage to possess the messages completely reveals that fans do own these messages on multiple levels. First, Armitage’s messages are “owned” in the specific places where they are hosted. As the persistence of deleted tweets shows, fans control ownership in that sense — so that, until recently, fans had monopoly ownership as Armitage did not ever host his own messages, and had all fansites (improbably) been extinguished, Armitage’s ownership would have been erased. I remember a discussion in Summer 2010, when the Armitage Army withdrew its website, about a series of messages that Armitage had sent to alternate fansites after he’d been cast as Lucas North and whether the ones sent to a particular site would persist elsewhere and if their preservation in a different setting than originally intended was legitimate. My awareness of this discussion also backgrounds my severe reaction to the threat of an “exclusive” “Christmas” something — because that possibility heralded the possibility of ownership accruing to someone in a much more formal sense. Memories of past fan debates might be one reason why Armitage made the comment about “favouritism,” because any fan contestation of who houses a message relates to the question of ownership and thus puts fans on different footings as potential competitors to receive and preserve a message. In this particular case, however, given the career aspirations of the ostensible owner, fan consumption of the messages could have been turned against us as the interviewer is now clearly its rightsholder with regard to video, images, content, words, and licensing of precisely the derivative works of which she was so dismissive in the interview itself. Why should someone who snarks at how fans make ringtones allow fans to do so with material she owns?

That specific case aside, fans own messages in the sense that we host them, but at the same time we lack ownership in the sense that we do not create Armitage’s messages and do not explicitly influence their content. Nonetheless, while fans do not compose the specific texts of Armitage’s messages, of course, our presence as a notional audience for them certainly influences the content and tone of what is said, for one of the considerations in composing any message is how to communicate with a particular group of people, which may not go as far as “what would they like to hear?” but would include questions like “how I can phrase this particular piece of content in ways that this audience will understand and which will move them?” Part of the function of this sort of communication is certainly to persuade or cause identification, and feeling identification with the crush is a huge piece of the business of fandom, both from the side of the fan and from the side of the crush dealing with the fans, as fostering such positive identification lies in his interest. In Armitage’s specific case, as we discussed previously, positive identification with his messages became an excuse, or at least a motivator, for “giving in” to the crush. In that sense, though fans do not tell Armitage what to say in a message, we certainly influence on some level — let’s call it implicitly — what shows up in such missives. If fans did exercise more control over the content of the messages, we might have more ownership of them in the sense that we would feel the content of the messages to be our own on some level.  This reflection moves our discussion from the sense of “own” that means “possess” to a further meaning that’s become more frequent in the past decade or see, “own” as “claim.” If the messages are to work as communication with fans, then, fans must “own” them in the sense of “claiming” them, and if we are to do that, we must somehow develop an identification with them (as fans did in early days of the fandom — those fans felt “spoken to by Richard Armitage”), and if the composer sees his interest as tied up in that process of identification, he is influenced by us. So we come to a sense in which fans do “own” the messages on some level, or at least they are co-owned material between Armitage and fans, the visible evidence of a particular kind of relationship or negotiation with certain prevailing assumptions on both sides.

When we come to use of the word “own” as an expression of what amounts to an affective relationship with something — as in, I own my feelings, I embrace them — we get to a third, older meaning of the word, which is something like “admit,” as in, “I own I was surprised by that,” or in the expression, “own up,” as in, “he owned up to his crime.” That meaning is largely tangential to the discussion above but it makes a nice transition to the admissions I am about to make.

Continues here.

~ by Servetus on January 26, 2015.

One Response to “Who owns Richard Armitage’s fan messages? (part three)”

  1. […] from here. Discussing ownership in the sense of […]

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