Will Richard Armitage bring us together in 2017? [part 1]
[As I realized that I’ve been obsessively rereading my favorite fanfics all week to comfort myself because of the distressing political news, I guess I’ll finish up this post draft first.]
Warning: politics! But not a rant. More of a ramble, about politics and the Richard Armitage fandom. And my feelings. Skip to the heading you’re interested in. This is the prelude of assumptions on my mind. The part I really care about is in the subsequent post.
me + boycotting vs. consuming things I love
Not long ago, I was reading an article about what happens when breweries favored by beer fans (or their owners) make political statements. I used to live about two miles as the crow flies from the Yuengling facility in Tampa, but I was never a Yuengling drinker, so if you’re asking, I can now cite a political reason for continuing not to buy a mediocre beer. Aren’t I virtuous? [sarcasm] My favorite Wisconsin brewery is explicitly liberally positioned and was so well before it became my favorite brewery. But although it doesn’t hurt that all its employees have health insurance, I buy the beer because I think it’s excellent, to taunt my out-of-state friends (they only distribute here, intentionally), and occasionally, to deliver a six-pack to my poor, exiled cousin The Architect, who lives in Minneapolis. Like most liberals who are willing to boycott via consumption, I’m not very consistent (I had a paragraph of examples here that I’ve deleted). My general feeling is that a successful boycott is probably more useful as a long term negative public relations measure than as a technique for immediately hitting a company in the pocketbook. The grape boycott is probably the major thing I associate with Cesar Chavez and the UFW, for instance, and it was over almost before I was born. I will be permanently suspicious of produce picking conditions in the U.S. because of them. In a similar way, PETA drew the question of animal testing into my view, even if I don’t endorse or agree with everything the group has done. Although I still use some problematic products, I do think about the question now.
But I’m off track. What I found interesting in the article was the guy who said, essentially, we drink your beer to forget politics, so stop talking about politics. Implication of the beer guy: we just want to buy your beer and drink it, we don’t want to hear your politics (Or perhaps: pay for them or seen to be implicated in them because we drink your beer. For something that’s a true hipster signifier, craft beer has an awful lot of libertarian and conservative consumers as well.)
confrontations with politics while consuming something you love
Similar views (by extension) have been expressed in the Richard Armitage fandom (more recent examples are available on Twitter) — people argue that we participate in fandom for fun, and life is horrible enough without making fandom about all the horrible things, among which many would include politics. The first piece of this question — how much Richard Armitage should talk about politics — is familiar terrain for us. Some commentators are generally averse to Armitage making political statements, and others (like me) are more positive about it. Armitage said almost nothing political until 2013; it was so surprising to some fans that there was a tussle at the time over whether the journalist tricked him into doing it. After that he was still quiet until 2016, when he had quite a bit to say about the refugee question and about Brexit. It was unlikely that Armitage would influence many previously held opinions. Current political science research tends to demonstrate that celebrity endorsements of any kind often negatively impact a candidate’s or position’s attractiveness in the general electorate as opposed to niche groups that already appreciate either the celebrity or the candidate/position endorsed. But it fills in my knowledge of Armitage, which is a plus, and which is important for the emotional project behind this blog, even when what he says bothers or enrages me.
Naturally: I certainly agree that celebrities have the right to share their political convictions. Equally: when they do so, it opens up new cans of worms for their fandoms. Because it’s a bit like the beer guy. I’m really there for the beer, whoops, I mean, the acting and the learning and the creativity and the fun, and so on, and not for the politics.
how much fandom time do I want to spend on politics?
As I have been, so most fans, I suspect. One clear transformation in the Armitage fandom that’s been visible in 2016 has been the amount of time many of us have spent talking about politics in fandom venues. From the beginning, I felt that the Armitage fandom had a limited interest in open political discussion. While people may have had intense political commitments in private, as I do, most did not carry them into the fandom. When Armitage took on his first projects with heavy and inescapable political relevance this year (Love, Love, Love and Berlin Station), after the Brexit discussions of the summer, fans proved that we can and do have political positions, but it’s my impression that only very few fans truly wanted to engage on that level for very long. They’d state an opinion, but they didn’t want to negotiate (although that effect also has something to do with how FB and Twitter work). Interest petered out quickly; I saw people saying that they were bored by these discussions.
In the past, such discussions occurred on some of the fan forums, but were mostly fenced off; other forums prohibited them from occurring. There is / was one blogger who was very explicitly political and that became one reason for me to stay away from that blog. I did disagree with the political position, but I read a lot of stuff that I disagree with in the course of a day. It was more that, like the guy in the beer article, I didn’t need Armitageworld for politics, I had plenty of it elsewhere, and for me fandom was for fun and creative self-actualization and not for political discussion. I didn’t want my comments or sentiments turned into fodder for a political program and definitely not one I disagreed with. When I wrote things that could be understood as political, and I certainly did, I often tried to keep them on the emotional rather than on the political level, written as things about shared values even when policy in response might be contentious.
Admittedly, the atmosphere changed a bit with the eruption of the tumblr fandom, because it’s important on tumblr to be woke and the political disagreements there are legendary. Even so, the specific political issue most of the tumblr fans I saw addressing was directly related to questions in the fandom. The issues involved were not usually extraneous, as the ones we are confronted with lately are. But there is a compulsion to discuss politics on tumblr that always made me uncomfortable. I understand, and under particular circumstances endorse, the typical tumblr argument that refusal to acknowledge or discuss a political issue is itself a political stance, that refusal to engage supports the position of whoever benefits from the status quo. At the same time, however, the insistence that absolutely everything be political and/or politicized is a typical feature of a totalitarian society. From the 1960s, some historians made the influential argument that in some cases, Germans supported National Socialism externally, in a situation where everything from school to work to rabbit breeding clubs was politicized, in hopes of preserving a non-politicized private sphere. It seems to me that in a liberal society, people should have access to the freedom not to care about politics. In a liberal fandom, similarly, fans should have the freedom not to care about the political issues that affect the fandom or political discussions that go on inside it.
In practical terms, it doesn’t matter, because the way that our current social media constitute the fandom makes it very hard to avoid exposure to political discussion; all one can do is not participate. My feelings about it remain mixed because while I agree that people who want to talk about politics should do so, in my own experience, it’s not productive to have political discussions with total strangers or over the Internet. In any case, decisions about that particular question have been ended for three reasons — first, because Richard Armitage has started tweeting and FBing about politics, of course fans are going to (and should) respond to him. Second, there are fans who have “Armitage” in their Twitter handles and also tweet frequently about politics, which automatically puts anything they say into the Armitage tag on Twitter and makes it unavoidable for anyone who uses that tag as a source of Armitage-related news. (Over long or short, admittedly, this makes the tag useless, as people ultimately retreat into their own conversations.) Finally, unlike me, many fans don’t separate their fan and real life personas online, and so increased levels of political discussion by those people in light of the current atmosphere mean we’ll generally be exposed to more of it. When the fandom left the moderated discussion forums behind, stopping certain conversations became impossible.
So, again, my feelings are not especially consistent. I’ve occasionally talked about politics on blog (more so in 2016 than ever before). I support the rights of others, including Richard Armitage, to discuss politics within the fandom if that’s what they want to do. I’ve generally preferred the possibility of uncomfortable discussions that ensued over the doldrums of what I felt was a stifling atmosphere before. At the same time, I admit to feeling like the beer guy: I don’t always want to talk about politics. I particularly don’t want to do it all the time in this setting, where the preconditions for a productive political conversation are often lacking. At certain moments, in fact, I really don’t want to; I also want that refuge where I can just enjoy the pretty or my feelings or cultivate my creativity, independently of reality. So if I were in control of the world, I would choose a fandom that didn’t talk about politics all that much. But I don’t control the world and I don’t see a consensus for that emerging among “us” anytime soon.
On top of that, lately the problems created by the politicization of all space (referred to above) have really been on my mind. The situation might be really critical just now. If political opinions I find objectionable come to dominate in the public sphere, what is the role I play in that state of affairs if I don’t object at every opportunity? Germany had a word for that, too: inner emigration. So did East Germany: Eigensinn. What James C. Scott called “weapons of the weak.” I’m not sure it’s enough.
I guess we’ll see what’s about to unfold. My intuitive feeling is that, particularly for the next two years, those of us who really care not just about the generally accepted social protections of modern industrialized states that have been in place for over three generations, but also about basic civil rights supposedly guaranteed to us in the U.S. Constitution since 1789, are going to have to engage like never before in support of them or they will be ripped away from us.
In which case, blogging here, or saying anything political at all in this space, may fall victim to forces beyond my control.
Though we’re not there yet.