Fans don’t care that much about our object’s rational career considerations
This started out as a comment and then I figured I might as well post it myself. Response to this.
I used to spend a lot of time saying, “Armitage can only take the roles he’s offered, he doesn’t get a selection of all possible roles to choose from,” and I was wasting my breath. So I’m wondering if I should say this or not, because it’s potentially inflammatory, but I’ll give it a shot and try to be as neutral as possible. You’re describing the rational case here. And not just for actors — for anyone in a creativity or intellectual profession this kind of thing is true. You try to get the job you want, you do the job you get. You are probably better than the job you get, but there are sooooo very many people out there, all of whom who want the best jobs. In my experience, everyone thinks they are better than the job they get. In my own past profession, probably fully 20 percent of people with history Ph.Ds have the talent, drive, industry, and intellect to be teaching at Harvard or a peer institution, but there are only so many spots at places like that. So those people teach elsewhere. Or do something else. And so on. What you say is more or less what I thought immediately — he wants to be doing something before April and this pays money and he doesn’t hate it and it probably has its own level of interest for him. I’d add to that — I’ve gradually developed the impression that he doesn’t like long term commitments and this isn’t a long term commitment. And, of course, if you’re creating a CV you want to meet as many people as possible in as many areas as possible to make sure that you continue to have contacts because contacts facilitate more and better work. I think he’s a very good networker, probably a better one than most fans immediately realize.
But in my opinion, fan discussions about this question are largely unrelated to rationality or Armitage’s actual possibilities or prospects or desires. After years of observing these discussions, I’ve gradually concluded that they are not actually about the vicissitudes of Armitage’s career, but rather about fans’ perceived needs. Some fans badly “need” him to have a headliner career or to lead a successful multi-million dollar franchise; some fans badly “need” him to have a solid career in classical theater with leading roles in canonical plays; some fans badly “need” him to do projects that underline their notion of him as virtuous or humanitarian (if anyone ever gets to see Brain on Fire those fans should be very happy); it used to be that there was a huge segment of fans who badly “needed” him to do more period drama; some fans badly need him to enjoy doing the stage door or to appear as if he’s having personal interactions there.
I can’t venture to give a reason in any individual case but I would say that by and large, the reasons for these convictions relate to justifying the amount of time and/or energy the fan spends on fan activities. The inner dialogue is, “yeah, I spend a lot of time on this, but it’s worth it because he _____________________ [fill in the blank with the fulfilled need, e.g., “he has all the talent to be doing lead roles in Shakespeare and it’s only a matter of time till he does one.”]” There’s also a mirror narrative of this where the fan identifies with him precisely because he hasn’t made the breakthrough the fan hopes for (“He’s good enough to play Macbeth at the National Theatre, but no one has seen his real talent”).
I’ve been watching the fan discussions about this lately, too, and my read on them is that they are largely impermeable to rational discussions about Armitage’s actual career prospects, or the normal factors that influence any actor’s career, precisely because they are not really about Armitage or about the careers of actors. They are about the emotional needs of the fans who are having the conversations. For example, there’s one fan who’s absolutely insistent that everything Armitage does be somehow artistically significant and also virtuous. The possibility that a film about robots could meet these criteria is out of her window of awareness. One could intervene to tell her (although I know nothing about this film or the role Armitage will play in it), that one frequent dramatic purpose of putting a robot in a narrative is precisely to ask questions about humanity. I think probably 25 percent of the plots of ST:TNG touch on this question and it’s why Data is such a popular character. Science fiction in general is a genre that can engage heavily in social critique when it wants to. But there’d be no purpose in telling her this, because it’s actually not about robots or no robots for her. It’s about something else entirely that has nothing to do with Armitage and everything to do with what she needs from him, which in turn is a function of the fundamental questions with which she addresses the world and which brought her to this fandom.
In my opinion, one of the purposes of the whole fan experience (at least if my own reactions are symptomatic of anything) is precisely that the demands placed on the object don’t have to be rational or realistic; they only respond to the fan’s own perceived needs. Like every fan, I have my own list of desiderata in this regard; Armitage’s career trajectory just happens not to be on it. He should do what he wants and can get and I’ll vote with my feet (as I seem to be doing with all of his recent audiobooks). But in real life I can’t tell the people around me what I need them to do or be beyond a very circumscribed limit, whereas I can make these demands of Armitage with impunity. One of the purposes of fan fantasies seems to be to able to place demands somewhere (or justify the demands, or the circumstances, of the fan’s own life, in ideal terms).