I’m enjoying the “silence,” personally
[I cut this out of something else I’m writing just now because it was supposed to be a small point but got too big.]
I may be taken as a contrarian for saying this, but I’m enjoying Richard Armitage’s relative silence on social media since mid-December quite a bit. Even as I support his right to tweet, I’ve always been ambivalent; torn between appreciating his speaking for himself (and what that means for my capacity to develop a fuller picture of him) and sympathy for what he’s saying and feelings of extreme alienation about the regular tweet/delete exercise when it concerns something significant and occasional serious tactlessness.
But potentially more significantly (depending on how you feel about the fandom) — and apart from whatever reach it has as a publicity tool, which has always seemed to be its primary function — Armitage’s illusory presence on Twitter has largely had deleterious effects on our fandom as a whole. I say illusory, because I don’t think we really “get” much from what he tweets (apart from selfies and other pictures). Although I encourage people not to think in binary terms (either it’s real or it’s fake; either it’s informative or it’s not), the balance clearly falls in one direction — there has rarely been much sign of a “real” Richard Armitage there and despite occasional promising moments at the beginning, there is very little of it now. For whatever reason (his oft-cited personal disinclination, referred to as recently as spring of 2014, or an inability to accept or tolerate the sort of discourse that normally emerges on Twitter), rather than learning how to navigate his social media to communicate effectively about the things he was willing to reveal about himself to fans, he’s gradually become defensive and even more preachy. It might be worth it to put up with that if there were some kind of exchange, but this is the big lie of Twitter — it offers a promise that we’ll be really talking to him that even when it went well, would never have materialized in a meaningful way. The history of his fan communications even before August 2014 pointed largely in that direction.
And in return for the “present” of his “presence,” we pay with particular side effects in the fandom. I’ve long talked about increased policing before, something that was really rife on Twitter in 2016, when it became even harder to disagree or criticize him without generating passive aggressive side-discourses about “some fans.” A lot of people disagree with his political tweets — and just as it’s his right to speak politically, it is the right of others to respond to them. The appearance of tweets assuring him that he has the right to speak and he should just ignore what disagreeing fans say ignores not only the real conditions of speech on a platform like Twitter, but also the fact that he’s always the most powerful speaker there when speaking notionally to any fan. Moreover, something that was increasingly intense in 2016 and fairly tedious was the oft-observed issue of long conversations using his tag that have nothing to do with him or his work. This is certainly the right of fans to do — on some level saying, “hey Richard! notice me!” is one of the purposes of Twitter –but for me it’s a negative byproduct of the fact that he can be tagged about everything.
In the end, the phenomenon of the tweets in the tag that are primarily about attention-getting rather than about substantive issues is really a symptom of something that I like much less well than the pesky or annoying effects above; that is, Armitage’s presence on Twitter inevitably makes everything in the fandom about him. Over time, it created a vertical re-orientation of the fandom in which fans were primarily following his baton as opposed to listening to each other. When we only want to talk to Richard, we don’t seem to want to talk to each other very much. That works in an orchestra, where everyone is cooperating to produce a pre-ordained effect, but it’s not a great as a source of fandom energy or creativity. I never wanted to be steered by marketers; much less do I want to be conducted by Armitage.
As Guylty said recently, before Armitage as tweep, when we were primarily oriented to the possibility that he might say something, we made our own fun. Since he’s been quiet, conversations that aren’t directed at Armitage seem to be developing again. I feel like there are more pictures on Twitter and chains of conversation about them that focus on fan needs an interests as opposed to pleasing Richard. So I guess the bottom line for me is that Richard Armitage being silent makes me like the fandom more — and I should say, since I’ve liked the fandom that shows up here to talk, it makes me like the parts of the fandom that I primarily observe rather than participate in more. Those conversations, when they turn away from primary concern toward Armitage and turn into primary concern about him, have the potential to re-ignite fan creativity; certainly for me, and I hope for others.
I’ve been asked, why not ignore the fandom? Ignore the conversations on Twitter? But try as I might, I don’t think a fan identity and a fandom identity can help but be intertwined (even if it’s not always a positive entanglement), unless the fan never broaches the boundary of communication with other fans. I don’t agree with or love everything other fans do, but without fan interactions, I’d just be a person in a room somewhere, staring at a screen. And as a fan, that is the last thing that I personally want to be. I like the increased energy, productivity and conversationality that I’ve seen showing green shoots again in the last two months or so, and I hope for more of it.