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).

~ by Servetus on January 7, 2017.

31 Responses to “Fans don’t care that much about our object’s rational career considerations”

  1. I left this comment at the blog referenced in your second line and I leave it here too:
    Thank you for giving me some perspective on this because I was really asking myself ‘is he even trying anymore’ after reading about Miles. It just seemed like he was frittering away his talent after proving how good he can be after The Hobbit and The Crucible (and others such as Sparkhouse and North and South). I was really disappointed in his career choices lately but this makes me reconsider being so judgmental of him and take a closer look at myself as well.

    • LOL, I think you should go ahead and be judgmental. I’m judgmental. But as you say, I think what it tells me is something about me, not about him.

  2. I nodded along with everything here. I know that much of this has undoubtedly been an issue in the past (what fandom doesn’t have repetitious discussions?). These sorts of topics usually have me considering context . . . both the context within which I, myself, am responding to the situation and the context that RA, as an actor, may be making decisions. It’s all supposition, of course, and I guess I’m articulating my own needs as a fan this way. Apparently, I have a heavy need for context (even if I have to invent it myself).

    • Extrapolating: I think that for you the primary context in which Armitage is to be understood is the professional world. (Your blog is heavily about that, so far, anyway.) I’m not saying that that’s the wrong context. Just that for most fans I have observed that hasn’t been the primary issue. Not only in the sense of unawareness of the professional world, but in the sense that even if they know about it, it doesn’t play an important role for them. You can spend an hour telling an Armitage fan about the business model of a theater and how it affects it ticket availability and reservations, but in the end, if the theater is unimportant to her, the only thing that will matter to her in the end is the availability of the ticket and specifically, whether it is available on her terms.

      I think that this state of affairs (fans unaware of, and/or not interested in, professional constraints on work available) in turn relates to the kind of work that he’s done. This fandom really is torn at times by the fact that he hasn’t stayed in one consistent milieu and doesn’t fully conform to the expectations of any of them. So every time he does a different genre, those of us who are “fans of Armitage” get confronted with the expectations and assumptions of the different fandoms and genre fandoms who appear on our doorstep. I think if he did work in theater more consistently, his fandom would be different and there would be more acknowledgement or at least awareness of the factors you cite. But every time he does a play I feel painfully reminded that most of his fans are not theatergoers. Every time there’s another con he doesn’t do I am reminded that while many fans of his are popular culture mavens, he doesn’t see appearing at cons as one of the responsibilities that relates to having played Thorin Oakenshield. The encounter with the Fannibals was a year-long episode in dealing with the fact that Armitage doesn’t really like to tweet. One used to be able to assume that every Armitage fan had at least seen part of North & South but I was slapped in the face this week with an awareness that that is not the case, either.

      It’s not that I object to context — I provide a lot of context myself. It’s just that I can’t really determine what context should be important for other fans, not least because any of the contexts we might discuss will be hypothetical for most fans. (This is a piece of why shipping is so contentious around here — because everything is soooo hypothetical that there is almost no substantial base of agreement or group of facts that all fans agree on the meaning of to even start a discussion with.)

      • You’re definitely right about the general thrust of my own context on my blog. I tend to think of him as a working actor first, the way I think about any number of actors I know personally and whose work I very much admire. Maybe it is my way of demystifying him.

        I stopped myself several times on twitter in the last day or two from trying to “educate” those who I assume aren’t really interested. As often as not, I write on the blog to articulate my own perspective on an something and then send that POV out into the world, for better or for worse.

        • I think this is one of the biggest problems with social media in general (the person who bops in to educate me about something) and Twitter in particular, but it’s a risk one takes whenever one speaks as the medium seems to want to encourage that kind of interaction.

          You certainly have the right to present your own POV. I suppose the problem here is how informed people present differing points of view. I didn’t want to leave a thousand-word comment on your blog; that is usually considered rude.

  3. Being in a fandom has really been educational. I suppose I’m generally open to whatever genre or role he might take, but never understood back in the days when I’d get so energized about, say, seeing him portray a doctor in Sleepwalker… that the actual chance of seeing him portray a doctor in Sleepwalker was so completely out of my control. I guess I don’t care whether his career takes another trajectory into super-stardom/franchise/headliner but I admit it would be nice to have that assurance that the product would at least be accessible. I have a hard time getting energized in the way that I used to be energized about a film like Miles… not because of the idea of teenage motorbike racing and animal robots, but simply because I’m not sure I’ll ever see it released.

    • well, you could be a fan of someone like Cumberbatch, then you’d have a little more guarantee of being able to see what he does. But I know what you mean — it was easier to get energized about Berlin Station and Love Love Love because they would be seen (by someone). In this case, I’m not entirely clear what the film is about, what role he’s playing, where he’s filming it, and as you say, when it is released. It’s sort of like if they said, “your favorite violinist is playing some music somewhere at some unspecified time in the future.” I’m prepared to be positively disposed but I can’t let myself get excited (or bothered in the negative sense) until there’s some prospect of more. I did that with Urban — I was really thrilled about that one. Well, at least I got a good read that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise out of that one.

  4. if you asked me about this issue 3 years ago my answer would have been something along the lines of ” the varied kind of work that he chooses doesn’t bother me. he is building a well rounded career and should follow whatever interests him and energizes him as an actor. I will follow, whatever it may be.” but now I would say, “he’s giving me whiplash!” I don’t want him to be trapped in one type of character/genre but I think it would be better (for me) if he would at least pick things that somewhat relate to each other. I need to see him, for him to be readily available on a regular basis to keep my attention. as you say, it’s not about him, it’s about what I need from him/his career to keep me coming back for more.

    • I like the way you connected fan needs to his career concerns in this comment. In general I don’t think he should be moved by fan concerns and I have never thought the Armitage fandom was really a discernible market segment of a proportion that would move markets, but you suggest that the decision not to build up a consistent body of work in a particular area (even if it were “just” action films) hampers the construction of the audience that he is seeking to build and that might help him find certain kinds of roles that would make him more generally visible, easier to get.

      • yes, I feel he’s doing it backwards. instead of doing several projects that share the same tone/genre (action, sci-fi, period romance) to build up an audience and then stepping outside of the box to do an Indie film that’s not as easily categorized, he’s jumping all over the place, which makes it hard to associate his name with anything. so while he may have a group of devoted fans that will follow him anywhere, mass audiences don’t know him and thus studios don’t want to take a chance on him.

  5. I read all comments, everywhere, very interesting. But maybe is it my lack of english or I’m a simple fan. Because it doesn’t matter to me, which movie or theatrepeace is taken by mr.Armitage. Doesn’t matter to me what he wears, I ‘m just a fan of mr.Armitage himself. I don’t think, I can meet him in person, to far away, and cannot travel (homesituation) but what I see in interviews, I think he is a human being, whom I love. Just who he is. Because when I see all movies, theatrepieces and series, their is one I really like, because I love historic costume dramas. But I would enjoy Berlin Station because RCA is in it. So I hope to see his new project, only because I’m interested how his career goes on. Hope something is released in Holland. Ofcourse I would talk to him and ask him some(or many) things, but even I know for sure, this doesn’t happen. I only hope, he is succesfull and lucky. That is my simplicity in everything.

    • So what if he weren’t successful or lucky?

      My point is mostly that everyone has things they need to get from the fan experience. For some fans it is a certain kind of project (that is not the case for me). For a long time I thought my biggest need was to see him happy. I’m realizing in the last two years or so that it’s more that I need to have the feeling that he has a “there” that I’m pursuing insight about by blogging (which is why the tweets have been so frustrating to me).

      Perhaps for you it is a particular kind of pleasure; I don’t know because I don’t know you especially well.

  6. Very interesting thoughts by you, heatherparish, and those who have commented.

    I’d say anyone interested in an actor needs (or at least could use) some awareness of the difficulties this job involves. Armitage has a limited choice of jobs / roles and probably quite often doesn’t get what he really wants. So any decent work is appealing – more business contacts, some income, maybe a bigger success than one might have expected. Within those limitations, I’m fascinated with the variety of roles Armitage has had so far, as well as the fact that he’s branched out into TV / film / narration for documentaries / audio books / radio plays / theatre. That’s unusual, especially for someone who isn’t an unknown who has to make do any way he can. I think part of it is his trying to assure that his career won’t die when he’s reached an age when he’s a lot less likely to be cast. Another is that he’s doing his best to avoid being typecast and having to do the same thing again and again. I find that a lot more interesting than actors who go a safer route and become the go-to for action / romcom etc. But it can drive me up the wall when interesting projects don’t get distribution because his name isn’t big enough after all as a result. It’s also frustrating when his talents aren’t fully used (e. g. Into the Storm, Berlin Station). But I guess those projects were still good for his career and therefore for getting other / maybe better roles.

    • I guess I disagree that a fan of an actor necessarily needs awareness of the difficulties of the job. I would say, there are certain things that are harder to understand without that awareness, but I don’t think complaints about role choice actually relate in most cases to ignorance of the structural problem. (I can relate this to my own life, b/c the market for history professors has similar features and one is that you have little choice of where to live. My parents complained about this endlessly for twenty years — why do you have to live so far away? They knew what the structural factors were; the complaints were about articulating their needs.) Similarly, the complaints about role choice are only in the rarest situations actually related to ignorance of how an actor gets a job. Or — something that popped up about six weeks ago — complaints that “Armitage doesn’t care about fans, he only cares about making money” in response to his remark “whatever it takes” about getting people into theaters were not mitigated by giving people an idea of how little Armitage probably earned from doing Love Love Love in relationship to his cost of living in NYC.

      There’s probably a sense in which most fan demands or desires are on some level “unfair” (whether or not they are made in awareness of structural factors affecting choices or not) just because they really are about the fan.

  7. I spoke about fandom as “Gemeinschaft” or as “Gesellschaft”? You said: “I hadn’t thought about Tönnies but that is a really provocative insight”. You said “Tulpa is on acute life support”. And yet all I understand is that fans are not one unity but lot of different tulpas are coexising, sometimes not very intelligent, unanimous or tolerant. So why do have fan to be consensual and loving towards them and towards the object of their attention?

    • They don’t have to be (that is part of my point — what individual fans want is a result of their individual needs and in many cases is not meaningfully influenced by information about real factors that influence what is available to them to consume). Fans as consumers of a fantasy about art are sort of at the ultimate point in that kind of continuum as they construct themselves as people solely influenced by desire. If their desire is not fulfilled they are always free to leave — or (as in my case) to struggle mightily with their relationship to the object of desire.

      I suspect that if we look at it closely we would see that very little of what fans want (and put in their tulpas) is much influenced by what is fair or real unless the fan has some kind of actual interface with the factor they’re addressing (as Heather is a theater professional, what she is discussing is part of her real world, as her example illustrates). People in general have a hard time believing that things they are not experiencing / have not experienced themselves are real (this is often true for me as well in other settings). That problem explains a lot of US political life, I’m convinced.

      • La mémoire est plus facile à appréhender, quand elle est basée sur son vécu, sa propre expérience personnelle, que sur ceux d’autrui. Dans ce dernier cas l’effort de prospection dans le passé, l’expérience d’autrui est bien plus grand, pour appréhender le même niveau de connaissance, afin de se projeter dans une mémoire personnelle juste, de gradient élevé.
        Et ceci ne doit pas négliger le pouvoir de l’oubli. Il est plus simple et souvent salvateur d’effacer de sa mémoire les évènements destructeurs du passé ou du présent. Surtout s’ils n’ont pas été personnellement vécu, si leur connaissance ne peut venir que de celle d’autrui ou si leur intégration peut devenir destructrice pour son confort intellectuel personnel.
        Après reste la notion de curiosité personnelle. Il n’est peut-être pas donné, à tout le monde, les capacités de risquer son confort personnel, pour appréhender une vérité, une connaissance autre, dérangeante, voire destructrice.
        Mes bientôt quatre ans de fan et mes deux ans de participation à la rédaction de réponses à votre blog, confortent mes propos avec plein d’exemples.

      • The memory is easier to dread, when it is based on ones real-life experience, ones own personal experience, that on those of others. In this last case the effort of prospecting in past, experience of others is much more big, to dread the same level of knowledge, to fall in a just personal memory, of high gradient.
        And this does not have to neglect the power of the forgetting. It is simpler and more often saving to erase of ones memory the destructive events of past or of the present. Especially if they were not personally lived, if their knowledge can come only from that of others or if their integration can become destructive for ones personal intellectual comfort.
        Later stays the notion of personal curiosity. The capacities are not maybe given, to everybody, to risk his personal comfort, to dread the truth, the other disturbing knowledge, even destructive.
        My soon four years of fan and my two years of participation in the writing of answers to your blog, consolidate my words with a lot of examples.

  8. As I read this post, and Heather, yours as well, they both made perfect sense to me. It’s been pretty clear for years that Richard doesn’t like having gaps in his schedule, and will try to fill them if he’s able. I think there are many reasons for this, and obviously this is all conjecture on my part. I do not know the workings of his mind. He appears to be a pretty high energy guy. He may love not showering, and hanging around watching movies, and reading, and listening to music, and eating pizza for a few days, but my guess is, he probably gets a little stir crazy after that. His career didn’t take off until he was in his thirties. That means he lost time in making his name a well known one. He wants to get it out to as many people, industry as well as viewers as possible, including those outside of his fan base, and do his best to ensure that his career goes on for as long as he chooses. He also wants to be able to perform in different genres, and different mediums. Obviously he needs to make money. However, any fans that think that’s his driving force, aren’t paying attention to all the independent films, or the stage work, and would probably be surprised at how non-lucrative they are.
    When I saw the post about Miles, I wasn’t all that excited, but I love Richard. I will see anything that makes it to the light of day. I haven’t loved everything he’s done equally, and there have been a couple I don’t watch repeatedly in the regular rotation, Frozen comes to mind. It’s not that he didn’t do a good job in it, it’s just a little too weird for my taste. I don’t love Between the Sheets either. Again, it has nothing to do with his acting, much to do with the writing. Some others I’ve seen an uncountable number of times. Sometimes I’ve been surprised, and loved a project that was outside my normal taste, because of his acting. I’m willing to give it all a try. He has his reasons for what he chooses. In the end, that’s good enough for me.

    • I don’t disagree; I just sigh when I see this argument used as the “clobber” argument. I think Twitter is tending in that direction lately and I admit that it’s wearing on me.

  9. Also said at Heather’s site: I wonder how much choice he really has, how much he really can control what he does. I’m sure he has some choices but I also think he picks whatever he can that isn’t too awful and hopefully can challenge him a bit.
    I certainly don’t love everything he has done but the things he has done that I do love keep me holding out for more gems and even in the things I don’t like so much, I still find Richard gems. So, I keep looking out for new work and always wonder – how much did he really want to do this and how much is it him just keeping at it.

    • What he might have gained from the Hobbit was the ability to control what he doesn’t do, so to speak. But obviously he also has priorities and needs.

  10. Richard’s fast changing of different characters has always lead me to believe he tends to leave an “out” in his series if he sees something else he wants to do. IMO he is a workaholic, who enjoys trying and playing many different roles and if he is not working will take the next project that is most interesting to him that comes along. There are several roles I am not crazy about, but I have bought and watched to add to my collection, but I do it because I want to keep my collection as complete as possible, just as I am sure he is looking for that one “role” that truly bring him the satisfaction he is looking for. As an actor, he has standards and goals and I feel he is the type who sets them very high and is probably never quite satisfied with what he has accomplished ( even though we see it differently).

    Will he eventually find that elusive role he wants to stay in? Only he will know if and when it is available to him. I don’t think it helps that he has movies out there that have not been released for public consumption ( I really wanted to see Sleepwalker), but as a man who works in a field that is fraught with disappointments, it is something you learn to live with- just like us normal people who go up for jobs with 20 other applicants and are enormously qualified, but someone closer to the “in crowd” gets it. Each of us lives our lives as we go along and Richard will do his as he pleases and we shall take it as we follow along and just as he goes from job to job – hopes he finds that elusive dream.

  11. […] What this message said to me was something that Richard Armitage has said before. Based on what he’s said in public in the last few years, Richard Armitage definitely urges people to paper over trouble, who cries “peace, peace” when there is no peace. Here, it’s talk about having to accept isolation and division (news flash: whether we accept it or not, it’s not a narrative — it’s real) if we don’t act empathetically. There’s ample evidence of Armitage’s stance elsewhere, too. Don’t argue, don’t stand up to people who bully you, be empathetic, we’ve heard this all before from him. As blog readers know, my own position couldn’t be more different. Research is starting to show that people who could empathize are actually less sympathetic to people in situations they’ve experienced. I think it’s a fundamental cognitive and political mistake to conflate what actors do when trying to figure out how to play a character with empathy as it impacts actual social problems, and as I’ve said in regard to concrete issues in the fandom — fans don’t want to empathize with each other’s needs and I don’t fundamentally believe we want to take intellectual steps toward empathizing with what …. […]

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