Reading Richard Armitage, or, Assumptions I have made

Richard Armitage, head shot from the Cats program. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Richard Armitage, head shot from the Cats program, London, 1995. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Continued from here.

For approaching five and a half years, I’ve been writing almost daily about the work, activities, and personality of Richard Armitage, a person I don’t know and whom I have seen in person seven times from the distance of the Old Vic stage or in a crowd, who has walked past me very rapidly a few times on a London sidewalk while I remained in a euphoric stupor after watching him act.

Despite that distance, putting together a picture of Richard Armitage has been the central focus of this blog in all that time (much more so than the aspect of news provision that I have undertaken with increasingly mixed feelings). All of the posts — the biographical ones, the psychological ones, the analytical ones, the fanciful ones, the joking ones, the sexy ones, the hypothetical ones, the speculative ones, the supportive ones — all involved assembling a version of Richard Armitage.

It’s hard enough to describe accurately the people whom we see and talk to every day, whom we’ve known for years. How does anyone write reasonably about a crush — about someone they don’t know, will never know, and moreover, about someone for whom practically all of the available information comes from sources designed to build him up as an attractive illusion for mass consumption?

Richard Armitage as Felix in A Normal Heart, while at LAMDA. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Richard Armitage as Felix in A Normal Heart, while at LAMDA. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

All of us build our pictures of the people we don’t know (and sometimes of people we do know) on the basis of assumptions and inaccurate information (as far as the entertainment press goes, well, one has to try to use what one gets). These assumptions come out of the information that we receive, our critical engagement with that information (“don’t believe everything you read / hear,” as I was told as a child), how we read that information in light of our own contexts, and the way that we fill in the holes that the information leaves us with, based on our own common sense reactions and experiences.

So all of us make assumptions. You do, too — even if you don’t think you do. Today I am going to talk about some of mine and where they come from. I think it’s necessary to do this to explain why the Cybersmile pieces have struck me in such a negative fashion.

Many of my assumptions are based on the fact that Armitage and I are rough age-mates and that, although we grew up in different countries, we have similar social backgrounds. We have also both worked (I have quit; he is still working) in highly competitive professions — such that I can at least grasp the outlines of the sorts of pressures that may be brought to bear on him, and have observed how men around me have dealt with similar pressures. I am aware of, and do not discount, both differences in professions (acting is not the same as academia) and cultural differences (the American petit bourgeois family is not the same as its British counterpart), and accept that these issues may be read differently across cultures.

Richard Armitage as Dr. Tom Steele in Doctors. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Richard Armitage as Dr. Tom Steele in Doctors. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

So here are some assumptions that have grounded my writing about Richard Armitage over the years. I would categorize these as “reasonable assumptions about ambitious men in their forties who come from a petit bourgeois family background, possess and actively pursue artistic aspirations on a professional level, and have enjoyed a comparatively large measure of success in that pursuit.” I’m not articulating every assumption I’ve made over the years, but these are some of the more important ones.

  • On the whole, humans try during their lives to maximize personal utility (happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, rewards) and minimize disutility (suffering, disappointment, sadness) within the constraints that they feel operating on them. Constraints may include things such as family assumption, personality features with varying capacity for change, political circumstances, level of talent, and so on. If they can change the constraints to increase their utility without paying too high of a cost, they will. It is up to the individual to know when the cost of changing a constraint is too high to be borne. They may also choose to prioritize one of these factors (ambition) over another (say, a personality feature), and the calculus is, in each case, personal.
  • One basic constraint that operates on most humans is family background and history. It is both the supporting framework for one’s choices and the structure with which one initially wrestles in building a self.
  • Someone who comes from a petit bourgeois family, especially one where the parents are the generation who attained that status, will have “not getting above yourself” or “modesty” as an important value in his socialization, just as much as “honesty” and “industry.”
  • Still, since one doesn’t precisely share the social experience of one’s parents, the rationale behind certain parts of their creed will remain opaque, and one may still squirm a bit due to that divergence in personal social framework, even when one agrees with them. Even when such parents are supportive of one’s own desires, and many are, still certain worldview conflicts will emerge.
  • Value-breaking with one’s parents in this kind of family — no matter how necessary it might be, or even done in the sake of family support for one’s goals — is fraught precisely because one is aware of how many sacrifices one’s parents have made, their entire lives. Still, certain kinds of personalities are bound to value-break with their families of origin when life goals diverge.
  • In general, highly competitive careers require their practitioners to be ambitious. Roughly 90 percent of actors are unemployed at any given time. The actor who wishes to be continually employed must thus be both industrious and ambitious, in that he must want to be doing better than 90 of his fellows on any given day and work harder than those people in hopes of achieving that goal.
  • The pursuit of ambition often comes into conflict with “modesty,” and as this conflict is not easy to resolve, at times it behooves one to prioritize or display more prominently one’s equally important value (from childhood) of “modesty.” This does not make either the value or its performance a lie; this move is simply a strategic one that protects the self from harm.
  • For the person who wants to achieve a great deal professionally, saying that one doesn’t want much is a way to keep oneself from being disappointed. This stance is not a lie, precisely, insofar as an artistic profession generally involves a calling, and one wouldn’t do what one is doing were one not genuinely interested in it. Equally, however, professional rewards are important both personally, professionally, and because of the sacrifices that have been made on one’s behalf.
  • At some point, such people realize they will have farther to go than people who grew up with certain advantages. It’s primarily love of the activity (or, at times, the related realization that the love of the activity makes it impossible for one to compromise by doing something less rewarding) that makes it worth continuing and working even harder, despite the obstacles. One accepts that one may be behind schedule on certain things.
  • Men in this group who have made it to the age of forty without marrying and putting offspring in the world are not typically in that position because they lacked opportunities to do those things. While they may regret their family status to some extent, still such regret about personal matters and family stands behind their awareness that other things have been more important. In the case of the ambitious man, “other things” often include career matters and/or the desire to remain unencumbered or not to take on responsibilities that would stand in the way of their ambitions. They may also rationalize the decision in light of their lengthier reproductive viability (“I’ll get around to that someday, when I’m ready / more secure / have more time” is a common statement), and they may develop closer relationships with nieces, nephews, or friends’ children as a result.
  • Because ambitious men who are childless and/or single realize that they have chosen this path more or less on their own terms, or that they have sacrificed some things for the pursuit of something else very important to them, they do not experience undue anxiety about their relational status or their romantic relationships.
  • Men in their forties have had enough life experiences and relationships that they behave differently from men in their twenties. Romantic or relational urgency, if it appears, has a different quality. Drama is unattractive.
  • Single men in their forties tend to become the object of unsolicited “mothering,” and are often hostile toward it when they experience it.
  • Getting back to the background issue, children who stand out from the norm in any way will become the target of (at times brutal) disciplining behavior (“bullying”) in their peer group. Such disciplining may take on extreme intensity in very homogeneous communities, where the unusual child somehow functions as a problematic challenge to the integrity of the whole community (school, town, church, etc.) body, one that must be suppressed at all costs. Petit bourgeois society in particular tends to be hostile toward difference. The child who is different must consistently defend himself as long as he wishes to maintain that difference or cannot hide or change it.
  • At the same time, despite all the self-doubt created by intra-community disciplining, the child’s awareness of difference that can sustain him/her if he can find a way to use and develop it as a source of strength. This process takes time and may require a change of context to work fully; it certainly requires a capacity for change and risk-taking.
  • In order to move on from wherever they find themselves, humans have to take some risks; at the same time, the petit bourgeois family tends to value security, if not above other matters, then certainly very highly.
  • The child of such a family who engages in risk-taking behavior, even if he has the support of his parents to do so, is to some extent working against type or rebelling against shared values merely by engaging in behavior that subordinates security to other factors. Such children fight the battle for mental toughness early often because they must master their own fears, but also any fears accruing to them from others.
  • There is always residue from childhood; the adult decides how to regard that residue and develop strategies for using or addressing it.
  • Art that rises above the pedestrian involves risk(s).
  • The ambitious person has taken many, many risks by the time he has become an adult, and more if he becomes a successful artist. In particular, those who work in artistic careers expose themselves to rejection time after time and to the thought that they are being rejected in situations where they are not even aware they are being considered. Over time, people who offer themselves for rejection become — if not accustomed to it — able to deal with the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that they will be rejected, often for factors beyond their control. They develop coping mechanisms for processing this ongoing rejection.
  • People who are aware that they will not always be first choice or not always loved are capable of understanding different kinds of responses — whether critical or laudatory — for what they are in each case. They are capable of assimilating useful, constructive comment on their work, and ignoring useless feedback and concentrating on the main points.
  • They are neither crushed or held down by criticism, nor are they emotionally dependent on personal praise.
  • A truly successful artist pursues his own telos — his own artistic ends — while keeping sight of useful criticism but still prioritizing his own ends within the structural constraints of his professional sector. He makes the best choices he can of those offered to him, in line with his values, ambitions, desires, and needs.

Next: I want to read this against the way the Cybersmile data struck me.

What assumptions do you make about Richard Armitage? What do you write into the picture that isn’t explicitly there?

~ by Servetus on July 6, 2015.

18 Responses to “Reading Richard Armitage, or, Assumptions I have made”

  1. An addition from the astrological point of view 😉
    you can really see A LOT of ambivalence manifest in RA’s chart, playing around the areas of friendships/partnerships, privacy and public status, hopes and wishes and life goals. I think anyone, who is “following” him for some time (and hasn’t turned ones brain off, for better praising his looks, charms or whatnot) can see an ongoing struggle to find a balance between “what is the right thing to do” and what he wants to achieve.
    And this is not the same for everyone! Some people feature “learning patterns” in their charts. In his you find a very prominent expression of WILL that more or less collides with lots of ambivalent thoughts and a “calling” to overcome one’s fears and be ones true self.
    This chart represents the german saying “Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” – I don’t know if there is a similar expression in english? 😉

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    • I don’t think everyone’s life path is the same, but speaking from a historical point of view, one can point to particular life patterns in certain generations, certain social groups, and so on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed. I only meant that although many people have ambivalent patterns in their charts, his are really very pronounced in comparison. And there are astrological explanations at least for generational patterns.
        I think if one comes from a bourgeois background AND constantly wants to please others and “do the right thing” a career in the arts is an extremely difficult task.

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  2. Extrait trouvé sur Richard Armitage France:
    “Traduction de la tribune écrite par Richard pour Cybersmile
    (11 Juin 2015)
    Merci à Jolie Pensée pour la traduction
    La Condition Humaine et les Médias Sociaux”:

    ….”C’est encore une part de mon travail de créer un personnage crédible et finalement de créer un moi crédible en-dehors de mon travail. Juste… “parce que c’est ce que je ressens”, c’est un peu une bonne excuse. Reformons des groupes de discussion à l’école !!! “…

    J’ai souvent encore des problèmes personnel de compréhension des textes en anglais . Aussi j’ai recours aux traductions des sites de fans .
    Celle -ci me sidère !
    Parle t-il de travailler à créer une image publique de lui-même ?
    Un personnage fictif , celui qu’il veut laisser au public UN MOI fantôme , une envellope transparente , propre , sans aspérité , bien pensante , bien agissante …
    Comme vous avez écrit les fans “bon teint bon genre” créent “an attractive illusion for mass consumption” , image qu’il renie , mais dont il se sert de temps en temps ( cf selfie dénudé).
    Dans cette mesure il est logique qu’il demande de banir tout propos critique et encore plus négatif à son égard .
    Est -ce tenable sur le long terme ? Peut -il vivre caché derrière une image préfabriquée de lui-même longtemps ? Qui est dupe ?

    Vos commentaires sur l’enfance , le giron famililial, l’attraction pour le domaine artistique , l’ambition , la carrière hors norme , les sacrifices à l’âge adulte, …sont criant de vérité.
    Restent tous les non dits , explicites ou non , que je ne développerai pas mais qui transparaissent dans vote texte . Je “Cybersmile” .

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    • I don’t think he was talking about a public image of himself so much as a self, period, i.e., he wants to be a credible person himself and know why (avoiding the cop out, “because I feel that way”). However, he would have to create a public version of himself — and that’s been a claim of this blog back since May of 2010. If the critical skills I see around the web are any index, he’ll be able to get a long that way for a long time. Most fans do not (at least publicly) question at all the image of him in the press or as he presented himself here.

      I never thought any of this was controversial at all until recently.

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  3. Traduction
    Excerpt found on Richard Armitage France:
    “Translation of the forum written by Richard to Cybersmile
    (11 June 2015)
    Thank you to Jolie Thought for translation
    The Human Condition and the Social Media “:

    …. “That’s another part of my work to create a credible and ultimately create a credible character me outside of my work. Just … “because that’s what I feel” is a bit of a good excuse. Reforming discussion groups at school !!! “…

    I often even personal problems understanding English texts. Also I use fansites translations.
    One of these AMAZES ME !
    He talks about working to create a public image of himself?
    A fictional character, the one he wants to let the public , a ghost ME, a transparent envellope, clean, no bumps, right- thinking, right- acting …
    As you wrote the fans ” good complexion good kind ” create “an illusion attractive for mass consumption” image he denies, but which he uses from time to time ( cf:see bare selfie).
    To that extent it is logical that application banish all about criticism and more negative towards him.
    Is this tenable in the long term? Can he live hidden behind a prefabricated image of himself for a long time ? Who is fooled?

    Your comments about childhood, the famililial lap, the attraction for the arts, ambition, extraordinary career, sacrifices to adulthood … are true to life.
    All remain unspoken, explicit or not, I will not elaborate but they reflected in your writings . I “Cybersmile”.

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  4. Le rejet du public et des professionnels est un risque connu et accepté , quand on brigue une telle carrière . L’éviter est une bataille contre des moulins à vents . Le rechercher est une mise en danger évidente .
    Cela ressemble à une randonnée au bord d’un précipice .
    D ‘où la demande de limitations à l’expression d’autrui ; les contraintes ,les restrictions personnelles à l’ expression personnelle spontannée et finalement la création d’un personnage marionnette fictif , qui devrait être l’image idéale voulue de soi .
    Le théâtre de soi mis en scène et l’adhésion de tous recherchée .

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    • I wonder if he thinks what fans say about him has all that much to do with his general public perception / image. I’d always reasoned the opposite, that what fans have to say is much less important than his image in the general entertainment press / industry.

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  5. Traduction
    The rejection of the public and businesses is a known and accepted risk when one is seeking such a career. To avoid it is a battle against the windmills. To search it is an obvious endangerment.
    This looks like a hike to the edge of a precipice.
    Hence the demand for limitations to the expression of others; constraints, personal restrictions on personal spontaneous expression and ultimately the creation of a fictional character puppet, which should be the desired ideal self-image.
    Self-theater staged and sought the support of all.

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  6. Sounds very consistent and structured 🙂 I didn’t structure it but instinctively i would lean towards similar assumptions. Except i also think that, given his particular profession and living in London and bigger places in the world that he grew up in, would then be just as big an influence as family background and a very different one, i would be inclined to say a liberating one. The longer he was in this different environment, successfully the more he would allow himself to build different values from his background. I think this is one of the major factors of evolution of the last 10 years or so. Part of it also accepting that he can be a very different person to his parents’ son, if that makes sense.
    I wonder if the modesty thing is a religious influence as well…. (more puzzling for me personally as i recognise the background but not that particular trait quite as much).

    I think he’s grown to be accepting of the fact that his lifestyle allows for different values of priorities in life, even if he still strongly believes the values his parents have are the good standard. Maybe a case of having different goals and aspiring towards different things in life but essentially believing that the interaction with others should be dictated by the values instilled in him as a child by his family. There seems to be a very strong guidance of the right and wrong ways to behave, again i wonder if religion played a role (not saying he is in any way religious himself, but if parents were that might drive certain behaviours very strongly).

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    • I very much agree with you, Hariclea, about the strong guidance of the right and wrong instilled by his family raising.
      Very interesting post, Servetus, in accordance with my thoughts. I’m not so sure about the weight of criticism on him. I think it depends on whom is it coming from, but he is likely not crushed down by it, at least anymore.

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    • I don’t disagree re: different influences in London / adult life; however, my reading of him is that he’s closed off in this sense, that he compartmentalizes. That’s probably because I do it, too. I have lived away from home (with the exception of two brief periods) since I was 18, but that means mostly that I hide pieces of my identity from people for whom that knowledge is not appropriate. Because of such contrasts in the lives of people who’ve moved away from their backgrounds (away to home, the public to the private) I would be cautious about drawing any one to one conclusions about the relationship between what he says about values and what he thinks about them privately. There are things I think really does believe strongly and almost moralistically (“hard work”) and there are other things I have, at least until recently, been less sure about.

      Maybe his parents are more religious than normal but I know a lot of people who are “recovering from very religious childhoods” (and I am one of them, too, that’s why I know so many) and to me, he doesn’t really have that particular vibe, at least not in his press. I read it as more of a class thing.

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  7. […] a reluctance to conform to outside expectations. For more detail on this matter, you can see my catalog of some of those assumptions from last summer, although I never found the courage to write the successor post. In general, Armitage’s […]

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