Why are fan constructions of Richard Armitage so vulnerable?

Continued from here.

The fragility of a fandom-based tulpa

I can be whoever you need me to be: Richard Armitage from photoshoot video made for Esquire UK. Screencap.

I can be whoever you need me to be: Richard Armitage from photoshoot video made for Esquire UK. Screencap.

One aspect of fandom that makes it particularly friendly or perhaps even prone to tulpa construction, I would argue, is similar to the reason that series tv and movies are friendly to fanfic — it’s because the building blocks are there and ready, created by an industry that itself manipulates them for our delectation. In fanfic, the would-be author can practice what it would be like to write a story from beginning to end, using characters and themes already in place; in fandom, the fan can use the pieces of an admired personality as put together in the media and other sources to build a helpful projection of the crush based on her needs. One doesn’t need to expend the effort to create this projection from the ground up — one can find a plausible projection that is already half built in that it has been constituted by a real person and an industry that also both engages in constructing him and encourages us to do so — to apply our own fantasies to the crush. In that sense, someone like Armitage, about whom many questions remain unanswered, can be an ideal tulpa simply because a lot of things can be projected onto the screen that he provides. A problem then arises when the person who gave rise to the tulpa for the fan does something that draws into question the accuracy of the fan’s tulpa. Thus the very attractiveness and approachability of the celebrity (or we can even extend this to the characters he plays) as tulpa is the same thing that makes a celebrity-based tulpa vulnerable. When I’m writing a character in a book (thought by some to be another parallel to the tulpa), I can always assert inviolably that I know that character better than anyone else; the character is not typically vulnerable to explosion from within, or at least not to anything that would surprise me. In contrast, the celebrity tulpa is always vulnerable and constantly in need of defense precisely because my tulpa can be decisively overridden and made null and void with a single remark in an interview.

Or I can be this person: Richard Armitage, from Hobbit DVD extras. Screencap.

Or I can be this person: Richard Armitage, from Hobbit DVD extras. Screencap.

When such conflicting data arises, fans often start to squabble (or worse), and I’ve long wondered why I or anyone cares enough to argue as opposed to discussing calmly any of the issues that arise: for example, about whether or how much native chest hair Richard Armitage has (a common point of controversy among legacy fans before about 2012), whether he still smokes (an unbelievably explosive topic), who he’s sleeping with, whether he’s had a nose job, if his latest suit was a good fit, or for that matter, anything else about him at all that is either unanswered or open to interpretation. I’m not excluding myself from this phenomenon, because I am not only constantly tempted to argue on the basis of certain kinds of evidence that someone else is constructing Armitage incorrectly — I give in to the temptation much more often than I would like. APM is also but one kind of manifestation of this tendency. I’ve termed this sort of squabble an identity battle, because the centrality of identity was the only thing that explained to me the energy and occasionally the rage with which these battles were conducted, but it still puzzled me. Why is Richard Armitage’s identity, or even my understanding of it, or any detail about him — or, something else I’ve occasionally been involved in, a pitched battle over the interpretation of something one of his characters does — the occasion for such furious disagreement?

My conclusion is that thinking about Armitage as tulpa explains some of this. After thinking about the Richard Armitage tulpa and the roles the version of it that I have play in my own life, I hypothesize that the problem goes back to the structural features of the tulpa. It is a figure that motivates me to do or feel something (in my case, write) that I really want badly, but which I haven’t been able (for whatever reason) to provide for myself. It doesn’t really matter what that motivation is, or why I haven’t been able to put my own purchase on it — fans build all kinds of tulpas for different reasons. Thus, it is central to my identity because it allows me to live out or work in useful ways to a central desire, often, if fan reports are accurate, something that I’d forgotten about or needed to be reawakened and thus I cannot give up easily. So when conflicting information arises and I feel that someone’s saying something wrong, it’s not the real Richard Armitage who’s been challenged or harmed or is in need of protection, although I think I could self-justify it in those terms. But Armitage’s needs in a situation like this, were they even known, would be more or less irrelevant. In these struggles, it’s my tulpa Armitage that’s under siege.

My tulpa Armitage is centrally important to my identity, and must be protected at all costs, because he’s providing me with this thing that I need that I didn’t know how to get before, whatever that thing is. At the same time, he’s doubly vulnerable, both because my own capacity to provide what I desire for myself is somehow damaged, and because he’s vulnerable to implosion from other sources, particularly the real Richard Armitage. The tulpa is vital to my life, but he can be destroyed either by my inability to maintain him, or by the statements of the person or the industry who gives me the very building blocks I need to understand him.

Each of us builds the Richard Armitage tulpas we need

What if you’re not engaged in Armitage-inspired weight loss? I think to some extent, for a lot of superfans, it doesn’t matter, and I think many of us build multiple tulpas at the same time, or build tulpas that meet multiple needs. Those who need fitness inspiration build that version of Armitage. Some of us need a distraction (“fandom as escapism”) so we give our imagined Richard Armitage, or his characters, the power to provide us with that, I hope, as much as possible, without guilt. Some of us need a pretend lover. Some of us need a shoulder to cry on. Some of us — me — need a muse and the re-exposure to a legitimation of the senses. Each of us builds a tulpa around that need.

Next time: my Richard Armitage tulpa.

~ by Servetus on June 3, 2015.

19 Responses to “Why are fan constructions of Richard Armitage so vulnerable?”

  1. […] Next: because this is getting long: why our constructions of Richard Armitage tulpas lead to disagreements, or worse. […]

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  2. Das ist interessant und erklärt aufs Schönste, wie die Mechanismen funktionieren. Klar, dass somit jede “Kritik” sofort zm Angriff auf das Selbst wird. Reflexhaft, weil aus Selbstschutz, springt der APM an und die schönste Keilerei ist im Gange. Bestechende Argumentation. Dem kann ich mich problemlos anschließen. Wahrscheinlich sind sich 99,9% der Beteiligten nicht mal im Ansatz darüber im Klaren, dass sie aus einer persönlichen Verletzung heraus agieren. War wieder mächtig erhellend für mich. Danke. 🙂

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    • Thanks to you. I have been wondering for years why there are things that just absolutely set me off when other fans say them, whereas there is potentially worse stuff that I shrug off — and I realized it wasn’t about him.

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  3. I wonder about the fragility of the fandom these days and wonder if it is in fact an illusion because it has become more diverse. What I mean is back in the North and South days fans who crashed the BBC site were invited to join C19 and then the AA was set up. When I joined the fandom around the time of the VOD these were the only sites for discussion about this man. They had strict rules and great Moderating teams so it was very structured and cat fights and squabbles did not occur or if they did they were nipped in the bud. However as RAs fame increased and the importance of social media changed so did the Fandom. People who did not like the structured strict rules of the two original sites set up on their own. These new fan sites and blogs allowed and encouraged discussions about RAs sex life, his life style in a way that just is not allowed on the legacy sites. If we so wish they allow us to criticise and disagree with his choices and the comments he makes. So now instead of two sites they are many thus making the fandom look diluted and allowing for intense discussion and fighting in public where as because of the rules you didn’t get that openly at the beginning. Although I’m sure at time PMs flew about.

    Into this each individual brings their own standards, prejudices, politics opinions etc and we project them on to, not just to RA but each other a dangerous thing to do as we no more know each other than we do RA.

    For me like you he is and was my muse but it his characters that inspire me not him personally. I don’t know the real RA nor do I want to. I have explored his characters and written about many. I think the image he presents to the public is in a sense another character – one who changes depending on what he is promoting.

    Will he continue to be my muse – I don’t know it is a long time since I wrote any fanfiction. My latest novel is about an actor but is in now way based on RA so who knows.

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    • I don’t believe that I said the fandom was fragile, I believe I said that the constructions of Armitage that fans make are fragile.

      re: the weight loss Armitage tulpa — what I’ve observed with the people I’ve known that have been very successful is that eventually their image of Armitage becomes irrelevant to the process. They have internalized the process of what they need to do enough that they don’t need the projection they have made of him as reassurance. I think it’s similar with fanfic — if you want to be a published author of original prose you eventually have to make that step and the picture one has of him becomes less important in that process, or, at least, changes based on what one needs from it.

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  4. Thanks for the great post!!!
    Leider werden sich die Streitereien, die immer mal wieder aufkochen, nie vermeiden lassen und zwar aus genau den Gründen, die Du so großartig beschrieben hast. Egal wie gebildet und/oder reflektiert Fans sind, letztendlich ist Fansein eine Sache des Herzens/Bauchs und wenn die Emotionen hochkochen, gibt es ab einem bestimmten Punkt, der von Person zu Person verschieden ist, kein Halten mehr :/

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    • yeah — it makes me wonder about my own representations regarding the steadfastness of my fandom, just because I appreciate and benefit from that emotion, which feeds my creativity, but I find the fan wars exhausting and anti-creative.

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  5. I think what our own versions of Richard Armitage are reflect who we are or what we need. so we defend them passionately b/c we don’t want to be seen as someone who needs the wrong thing, or is so off base from reality that our powers of perception are judged. our individual versions of Richard can be very personal and something we grow to rely on; having that chipped away is scary.

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    • yes, no disagreement here — the constructions we build are very personal, although some features of them can be held in groups.

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  6. Un peu de gaieté , peu de sérieux , pour changer mes propos négatifs .

    Je propose comme sondage :
    ” être fan de Mr Armitage vous a t-il fait varier de poids ? ”

    1) perte de poids : + sidération à effet coupe-faim
    + changement alimentaire qualitatif
    + moins de temps pour grignoter
    + reprise d’activité sportive
    + suivi des résolutions 2015 de R Armitage
    2) aucun changement : + volontaire
    + involontaire
    + efforts vains
    3) prise de poids : + inactivité complète
    + perte d’activité + ou – grande
    + augmentation calorique de vos repas
    + grignotage intempestifs
    + effet yoyo …
    4) question ouverte: vos prochaines résolutions .

    ou encore
    “être fan vous permet -il de découvrir , d’autres domaines culturel ou non ?

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  7. A little joy, not seriously, to change my negative talks .

    I propose as a sampling:
    ” Being a fan of Mr Armitage , do you change your weight? ”

    1) Weight loss:
    + stunning to appetite suppressant
    + Qualitative dietary change
    + Less time to nibble
    + Resumption of athletic activity
    + Followed the 2015 R Armitage’s resolutions

    2) no change:
    + voluntary
    +involuntary
    + Vain

    3) Weight gain:
    + complete inactivity
    + Loss of activity + or – large
    + Increase calorie meals
    + Untimely snacking
    + Yoyo effect …

    4) open question: your next resolutions.

    or
    ” Being a fan , does allow you to discover other cultural areas or not ?

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    • yeah, I would also that the risks of gaining weight as an Armitage fan are probably higher 🙂 given how much computer time one spends on it.

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      • Alors faut-il prévoir un challenge spécial pour les fans d’ Armitage ?
        Celui ou celle qui parviendra à perdre le maximum de poids sur une durée x , y et w pourrait gagner un dessin , ( voire un bikini ) dédicassé .
        Dommage pour les fans de l’hémisphère sud , qui sont en saison d’ hiver

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        • The fan forums used to have weight loss challenges, I believe. I don’t know if they ever would have done that, though 🙂

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      • So it is necessary to provide a special challenge for Armitage’s fans ?
        Whoever manage to lose the most weight over a period x, y and w could win an RA autographed drawing (or even a bikini) .
        Too bad for the fans of the southern hemisphere that are in winter season .

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  8. A l ‘ heure des épreuves de philosophie de fin d’année (baccalauréat ) , je vois sortir de tous les commentaires , le sujet 2015 : Raison versus Passion ” dans le ” Cyber – Harcelement ” .
    Jane Austen ou Elizabeth Gaskell ont des émules dans les fan fictions , comme en avaient les grands philosophes Platon, Socrate , Aristote , Rousseau , Kant … alors avec internet ..

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  9. At a time of year-end events philosophy (BA) I see out of all the comments, the subject 2015: “Reason versus Passion “in the” Cyber – Harcelement “.
    Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell emulated in fan fictions, as had the great philosophers Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant …so now with internet ..
    subject for my son and daughter as well

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