2015 continued (part 3): me + richard armitage + Cybersmile
Continued from here. Again, I’m just picking pretty pictures to break up the text.
me + my richard armitage fantasy
My frustration about the outcome of the Marlise Boland incident was not (as Richard Armitage said) about favoritism in the first place — it was about professionalism — and then in the second place, it was about the whole question of how anyone, and in this case my crush, who as a tulpa is a sort of alternate self that one builds, might potentially be responding to criticism or disagreement. I was cultivating the idea of Armitage as a strong person who had the capacity to resist clamor. Fans, I think, are going to clamor, and part of the enjoyment of fandom is confronting different opinions. If we all have to agree about everything, what would be the point of any fandom exchange at all?
As I mentioned, I had recognized the ways in which the fantasy Armitage that I and other fans build relates ultimately to our own needs, and had identified (at the time I wrote that post) my own need for Armitage to be happy with his life choices and to keep working. I had built an idea of an Armitage in my mind who was capable of withstanding pressure about most things, because this is a feature of being an adult (making a decision or a statement and sticking to it, formulating a vision of what one wants to do and being faithful to it, being able to live with the possibility that not everyone is going to love everything one writes). I found enough supporting evidence to build this feature into my Armitage fantasy — the long path the dancer took to become an actor, the many years of struggle and certain behaviors (like the extended phase of casual dress in press photos) that indicated 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 interviews revealed a greater level of verbal and physical self-confidence after the first round of Hobbit publicity, and then, of course, the interviews that started to be published in summer, 2014, as he was performing The Crucible, indicated — as I thought — an increased awareness of his own vision and independence of mind.
Moreover, I had always felt that Armitage must have had to develop some distance from the opinions and attitudes of his fans, certainly in the wake of some of the context of fan messages in the Guy of Gisborne era. It seemed to me that a great level of immediate exposure to these opinions on Twitter would demand the development of ever greater fortitude over against the demands and opinions of fans, and I also thought this was present. In early 2015, for instance, I could have added to this the decision to play Francis Dolarhyde in Hannibal, which was the kind of step that Armitage was certainly aware would be difficult for some, indeed many, fans to follow.
Admittedly, I built that idea out of my own needs. As I have seen after a good half year of reflection, I did that because it’s been my perception that at least twice in the past, at crucial points I stopped writing or stopped being creative or productive because I could not stand firm against the opposition or disagreement I was receiving — when I started publishing my writing, from my mother, and then again as an academic. In each case, the outcome (a gradual withering away of the creative impulse altogether) was so personally and emotionally damaging that when my first encounters with Armitage’s work gave those impulses back to me, it felt like a final chance to figure out how to resolve this conflict and continue working productively and, I hoped, creatively. “Here’s someone who doesn’t always confirm to what other people want, who hasn’t given in when he saw obstacles in his way,” was my thinking, “and look at how strong his art is — and it is getting better and better.”
[All of that, I hope, is relatively unobjectionable (if perhaps silly). Brace for objectionability. I’ll also take one last opportunity to whine about how difficult this has been to write. OK, end of whining.]
I’m reluctant to revisit all the negative emotion of last summer, but here goes.
me + richard armitage + Cybersmile
Here’s my discussion (our discussion) as it played out on blog. That Armitage planned some connection to Cybersmile was evident from the premiere of his Twitter account, because he followed it right away; a retweet in April made that connection concrete. My original discussion of how disturbing I found that choice is recorded here and here. Cybersmile announced Armitage as its ambassador on June 3. His initial Cybersmile piece is preserved here, and my initial response is here. After a week of uproar, Armitage took another opportunity to response to criticisms, which is here. My response to that post is here, and here’s a guest post by Judiang that articulated additional concerns I endorse(d). At that point, Cybersmile appears to have dropped mostly from my references — in part because I got more involved in documenting and responding to my viewing of Hannibal, and my reading of the Hannibal press.
These critiques were focused primarily on principled issues — in essence, I felt (and feel) that Armitage was treading into territory that he hadn’t thought about in detail beyond a general feeling that bullying was bad, based, as we learned in the second post, on his own experience of being bullied. He wanted to do something to influence such behaviors (a story similar to one that we had already heard during the Battle of the Five Armies press run, where his response to a question about why he had joined Twitter referred to wanting to end “vicious” competition among fans). At the time, Cybersmile’s website was vague as to what it was challenging and what it did, Armitage’s discussion of potential disagreements with his prescriptions was vague, it was unclear who his audience was or what behavior exactly he wanted to discourage, and his discussion of some of the key questions that typically arise in discussions like this was so jumbled that it wasn’t always clear what he meant to be saying. For instance, he seemed to be offering a fairly stringent critique of humor at one point. He suggested that people use their real names on the Internet. And so on. One could (and did) poke dozens of holes in his argumentation. It’s not my intent to raise these issues again here.
Throughout that round of critique, I tried to stick to fairly concrete themes. My own experiences as a fan in the Armitage fandom played into my responses, as they did for other people. I also expressed clearly my anger at being lectured or preached to about personal and public behavior from someone about whose personal life I know nothing and whom I had never proposed to accept as a moral exemplar. Those discussions are all recorded in the links above and the related discussions.
I’d known for a long time (as impossibly controversial as it has ended up being to write about it — there’s an apparent problem with saying that one doesn’t think the man’s either learned or intellectually inclined) that Richard Armitage is a feeler, not a thinker and that there are consequences to this recognition for anyone who is a thinker and crushed on him. When he said, in one of the Strike Back extras, that Jodhi May brought something cerebral to her role as Leila, I don’t think it was a compliment. Hey Richie, smart girls know when we’re being dissed. On the whole, I didn’t feel that this was horrible, since it’s not like I was going to date the guy, and I have occasionally been guilty of hiding my feelings from myself by means of thinking. In essence, I’d prefer to be more in touch with my feelings rather than less.
So — full disclosure — here’s how I felt / feel — which I didn’t record on blog because I couldn’t have handled the backlash at the time.
I was disappointed and horrified by these pieces. To tears.
[A reaction that demonstrates just why you can’t gauge what you say only by a prediction how others will react to it, because it’s fairly clear that many times even people in one’s target audience — I am directly in Richard Armitage’s target audience for those posts — won’t understand what you meant in the sense in which you potentially meant it.]
I’d been building this brave Richard Armitage tulpa who was willing and able to resist the criticisms of others. Who had learned to ignore the noise around him and do and say his own thing. Who had inspired me to be as open as I could in writing, to explore things that were incredibly painful at times, to open myself up to my feelings and exploit the resulting creativity. I think it seemed obvious to many of us, long before Armitage said it, that he’d been bullied at some point, or else had an experience of deep humiliation — because these are the strongest moments of his acting, when he shows shame or abasement. A series on how he used this move with Porter starts here; or here’s a discussion of Thorin in one scene from An Unexpected Journey; I’ve written about it with regard to Mr. Thornton and Guy of Gisborne as well. But I, at least, had assumed that this was something he’d managed to process and exploit, that he understood why constant giving in is not a life strategy. Not least because it was something his work has taught me.
And instead, from these posts, I got a Richard Armitage — and I say this now in full awareness of how offensive it may be to some readers, because this is how I felt — whose prescriptions about manners epitomize the views of a Spießer; in English, literally, lower middle class, or more descriptively, perhaps, a conventional prig. One of the folks who keep the aspidistra flying. If you can’t say something nice considering shutting up.
Paraphrasing Armitage: Preserve your reputation. Only say things you can say to a child or your mother or a loved one. If it might hurt someone, don’t say it. Be “decent.” Let how others may receive what you will say be your primary concern. Silence is braver than speech. Debate is ultimately irrelevant because the outcome doesn’t matter (“everything is valid”) and after all everyone has an opinion and they are all equal. Concentrate on taking care of others’ feelings. Only speak online if your motive is a praiseworthy one. Pull back what you’ve written. Remove it if you change your mind about it. Those who choose not to make these maxims their watchwords are finally equated with people who claim they have the right to bully as a function of free speech.
Although there are some fallacies in that list of sentiments, I suppose that any of them might be a useful maxim if taken in a particular context. But taken together as the prescriptions of someone who apparently seeks to be a role model, they build a picture of man who is much less than courageous, who would rather be silent than speak since everything is valid and nothing is important enough to really disagree over, and the most important thing of all is that people be decent and that no one’s feelings ever get hurt and no one’s sentiments get offended.
It’s not the problem, on the level of my feelings that I disagreed with any of that (although I did, and I articulated those disagreements on the intellectual level). It’s that they paint the picture of a coward who is afraid to disagree with anyone for fear their feelings might be hurt or that they might get a picture of him as someone less than a person with a perfect reputation who never, ever gossips. He comes across as a person who is more concerned about how he looks to others than how he really is put together inside. They suggest a man who doesn’t think any topic people might discuss on social media is worthwhile enough to disagree about, indeed that the things that everyday people think and disagree about are entirely equal in value. They suggest someone who’d rather hide behind his white curtains than risk a kind of art that might possibly offend (as self-contradictory as that was for someone who was playing the most superficially offensive role of his career at the time he said it). Someone who has raised “what other people think” to the level of a household god.
I was stunned that my fantasy of Richard Armitage (which I’d spent years building, poring over interviews and articles and statements, watching performances, comparing notes with others) was so drastically off target from who the man apparently really is. I thought I was crushed on someone who was struggling to be courageous. Instead, I found myself in an echo chamber with someone whose prescriptions for behavior were drastically more conventional — and significantly more pusillanimous — even than the ones I grew up with.
[So, 2100 words, and probably time to stop. I have a bit more to say about the significance of this recognition, but I’ll stop for now. I will, in the next section, answer the “so why did you even stay a fan” question, since I know that will be some readers’ first question. First sleep, though.]