Those are pearls that were his eyes: me + Richard Armitage sea-change?
This is kind of a weird blogiversary post, but as of a little over three weeks ago (February 26th actually), it’s been seven years!
I put these numbers from February 26, 2010, here not to attribute any meaning to them except this: that a significant and ever-changing and developing community of fellow fans of Richard Armitage have found it worth their while to read and engage with this blog and me since the dark days of February, 2010, when I started writing it, more or less out of desperation.
Thanks to everyone who has contributed, in whatever way you have done that. You have definitely changed my life. Particular thanks to Guylty, who blogged here for some time before building her own wordpress house, and, naturally: to Richard Armitage!
I’ve been writing this post for a long time. Part of why I’ve been struggling is that lately I have less energy for introspection. But also: while things changed so fast last fall, I always remained undecided about how to respond to them. To some extent, this post is continued from here — a year ago now — and I’m actually less convinced about how to proceed than I felt I was then. Between then and now were another installation of CyberSmile, all the Brexit tweets from Armitage, then the election, then last Christmas.
And now the present. Lately, I’m always angry and frightened. These are not creative emotions. At night, I want to protect myself — not open myself up enough to get inspired. Or (as on many nights) I get involved in a conversation with no possible resolution, just sort of out of principle, but without the capacity of changing anyone’s mind. I honestly don’t know how to make myself the necessary level of deaf to the things that the people around me are saying some days. It’s all taking its toll on my thoughts and aspirations.
This is probably where this post should have started.
This quotation comes from a ten-year-old newspaper magazine article that was part of the publicity for The Impressionists and Robin Hood.
Armitage admits to doubts about becoming an actor. “I regret it a lot,” he says, furrowing his brow. “And I don’t know why, because when it’s good, it’s great. But it can take its toll on your emotions. You can spend a bit of yourself when you give yourself to a character. At the end of a job, you have to remind yourself who and what you are.”
Richard Armitage, Sunday Times Culture Magazine, April 30, 2006, cover story.
It’s interesting how often Richard Armitage has referred to his one of his characters being “a better man” than he is. Most recently it was Daniel Miller, but I believe he said that about either Lucas North or John Porter as well. Whenever he does this, people rush in to reassure him that he is fine the way he is, but somehow I don’t think he’s saying that he is personally suffering from terrible self-esteem. I think he’s saying that the characters he plays have a more coherent, perhaps a more principled, or less fickle, self than he has.
I’ve been reading a lot of analog books this year, the kind you travel to the library to get — “normal reading” is a chief pleasure of my new existence. I don’t recommend the book from which this quotation comes, although I read it all the way to the bitter end, but the quote is interesting. These are excerpts from the reflections of Willem, an actor on his way to fame, who is considering the effect of his friendship with another character on his self-perception.
His work, his very life, was one of disguises and charades. Everything about him and his context was constantly changing: his hair, his body, where he would sleep that night. He often felt he was made of something liquid, something that was being continually poured from bright-colored bottle to bright-colored bottle, with a little being lost or left behind with each transfer. […]
In graduate school he’d had a teacher who had told him that the best actors are the most boring people. A strong sense of self was detrimental, because an actor had to let the self disappear; he had to let himself be subsumed by a character. […]
He had understood the wisdom of this, and still did, but really, the self was what they all craved, because the more you acted, the further and further you drifted from who you thought you were, and the harder and harder it was to find your way back.
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (New York: Doubleday, 2015), pp. 436-437.
Richard Armitage is always saying he’s boring, it’s true.
So –in all that turmoil of becoming a fan, seven years ago — what was I looking for?
Given the anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot again about my crush on Richard Armitage, how it descended, over seven years ago now, the reasons for it that revealed themselves, the effects, the significance of the things I appreciate about him. The reasons for it lay in a deep career crisis that was about to get worse. The effects were total immobilization and a gradual reawakening of my perceptive capacities and an increased willingness to feel. His beauty was there to catch my attention and the story of Mr. Thornton was there to address my vocational issues. Over the years, Armitage took roles, often archetypal ones, that addressed fundamental problems or questions of mine, over and over, in ways that made me wonder what pattern I was caught up in, watching him. And these choices persist into the present, even if I have been resistant to some of them (Francis Dolarhyde, whom I want to write about but don’t know if I’ll be able to watch again) or struggled to write about them (Kenneth; this is still on the table as a possibility) or maybe just been busy keeping up with the stream of news. I hadn’t started off intending to provide an instant or comprehensive Richard Armitage news service, and I still don’t. Still, I enjoy participating in the thrill as much as anyone and I always end up sliding in that direction. It’s so easy to get immersed in the journey itself and not think structurally about it until it’s too late.
Not that I had no fears about my allegiance, or that there haven’t been hiccoughs along the way, the CyberSmile thing being the most apparent and most serious. But there were others: the need to adjust to Armitage as tweep, the regular rounds of tweet/delete, and the (in my opinion deleterious) effects his illusory presence on Twitter has had on the fandom as a whole, both increased policing and the way his presence on Twitter inevitably makes everything in the fandom about him. Try as I might, despite moments of frustration and alienation from my fan identity, I don’t think that that identity and a fandom identity can help but be intertwined (even if it’s not always a positive entanglement). In short: I don’t believe the fans who tell me they’re not part of the fandom even as they tweet, post, and comment away energetically.
Thinking over the whole history of Armitage’s tweeting, particularly his political tweets, there were always dangers. I wanted a more exact picture of him — about this, see below — and the Twitter contribution to his image for me could be positive, as during Brexit, or negative, as after the U.S. election. I don’t question his right to tweet his political opinions; indeed, I am often pleased, as I know how difficult it can be to speak, and they have sometimes left me feeling very akin to him. On a basic level, he has as much right as anyone else, and he’s always the most powerful tweeter in our particular context, so I have never felt any need to defend him in that regard. But insofar as my crush is based on some level of identification with him and the needs I’ve developed out of it, his tweets can also be problematic for me when they disrupt that identification. As I’ve been detailing intermittently for the last two years, he’s my tulpa, and I probably wouldn’t build a feature into my tulpa that involved political insensitivity. Disagreement, yes, but tactlessness? Or wishy-washiness? Probably not. And yes, I agree it was hard to attribute intention when he only had 140 characters, but in 2016, he got FB. I thought that would make things easier for him, but it apparently did not. There was a certain potential ambiguity to tweets (or at least a possibility that one had to concede — he would have said something more reasonable had he had the space), but FB erased that possibility, as he had the opportunity to say exactly what he wanted at whatever length. In fact, his Christmas message 2016 was one of the most poorly written, disjointed texts he’s ever produced for fans (even apart from whether one agreed with what he had to say or not). His decision to publish it in the middle of the U.S. broadcast of Berlin Station felt like a slap in the face to those of us who were contorting themselves to watch the show — in general, his departure from public view after the closing of Love, Love, Love felt abrupt and ungenerous, although I haven’t missed him. And the fact that the message was now in his custody as opposed to that of the fans, given the 2016 tweet/delete game, meant that it stood at greater risk of disappearing entirely, although admittedly the fact of Twitter also really transformed the fandom’s attitude toward the Christmas letter. Before Twitter it was special — a highlight of the year — while since Twitter it is just one of many communications and not special at all.
I was looking for the openness that led to inspiration, and in getting interested in Richard Armitage the person, I was looking to understand how he — who opened me up so much — produced the thing that energizes his work.
It occurred to me recently that I got a whole doctorate in modern European history in seven years — including an M.A. thesis and a Ph.D. dissertation plus some rather taxing comprehensive exams and several years of primary source research in Germany.
Is it just that, like many academics, I have a talent for making easy things hard? It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve heard that, if it were true. Or a case of the sunk cost fallacy at work? That’s also been an actual problem of mine, historically, part of why I’m experiencing difficulty with committing myself at the moment. Then again, I seem to have little difficulty committing myself as an Armitage fan.
Or I could listen to all the stupid theories in the press about why women develop celebrity crushes, some of which even get repeated by fans themselves when they’re angry at other fans. So much self-hate in fandom, and then subgroups of fans making other subgroups of fans into enemies for purposes I have never really understood but must have to do with identity formation. But I know a lot of fans and have talked in depth with a lot of fans and most of the going explanations I’ve heard don’t really apply to the fans I know. And frankly, while there may be some broad patterns, every fan’s story is different, and interesting on its own terms.
Something that I hadn’t anticipated, that’s become a central part of the fan experience for me: the looking-at of pictures.
When all of this started, my then-colleague Dear Friend asked me if there were studies of female fans of Elvis or the Beatles, and I didn’t know, and she suggested there was some relationship between fandom and the sort of veneration of the saints that elite women conducted in the middle ages. I didn’t want to agree with her, but I think that after many years of this, my resistance has worn down.
It’s true — when new pictures appear, I still experience something of a moodstorm. When I’m upset or unhappy, flipping through folders of Armitage’s pictures can calm me right down. I’ve even recommended Armitage picture veneration as a remedy against the February blues.
I don’t think this is going away. It still works.
I think I’d decided, at some point after that long summer of 2015, as Hannibal was airing and I’d decided to leave my job, that I still was impressed by Richard Armitage’s work as an actor, but not much by Richard Armitage. It was well beyond the problem I’d feared most over the years: it was that inside this very sensitive actor lived a moralistic, often thoughtless jerk. We’d seen glimpses of it, before, the guy who was convinced most actors didn’t work as hard as he did, and so on.
And then in 2016, it was a seesawing sort of feeling — tweet / delete was a problem, particularly around the Wall and Orlando, but I felt curiously akin to him again over the refugee situation (although as usual I felt like some of his fans were more interested in the problem than he really was) and Brexit. And there were all the Berlin Station leaks to get excited about — and then the prospect of a play!
And I had loved The Crucible so much. Seeing it was transformative. I felt like I’d do anything to see that play. And even though I was excited by the script, I figured even if I didn’t like it, it would be worth it, as I’m on record as not liking The Crucible.
I know that isn’t possible to know the truth about a person by reading the entertainment press. Still, I do not believe that everything about the entertainment press is a lie, either. The trick lies in discerning the useful information. I started to try to do this with Armitage a while back, and I’d still like to continue.
Because the transformative part of the fandom was really the way he called forth my gaze and my creativity and my desire to write. I wanted to know how he did that. How the person he is does that.
And Love, Love, Love really was all that. It recharged everything in me that wants to write.
And then the day after I got home, the election results.
And Armitage’s comments on that.
I was just at sea for so long. I really wanted to quit. I was just so pissed off at the election, and at him. My long fragile tulpa felt unrevivable.
I started writing the documentation of that visit (out of the rationale that I needed to do at least that) and I got to the place that I remembered how much I had enjoyed the play and seeing him in person.
And I had December tickets.
But the fan feeling — I didn’t feel the fan feeling.
So when I went back to NYC in December — and I apologize for not writing that post yet, though I will — there was a bit of a “I’m saying goodbye” thought in the back of my mind. I wasn’t ready to give up completely. I wanted the proof that I was free of the fan feeling and the blog was done.
But that isn’t what happened.
I saw the performances and I was electrified — again.
And then — back to the hotel room to watch the last Berlin Station episode on my computer, and Armitage can’t even wait until it’s done broadcasting in the US to say goodbye in a way that’s both preachy and bitter.
My reaction to that: I still want the electrified feeling. I never want to lose that again.
I apologize that the end of this is so rushed, but I feel like if I don’t publish this now, maybe I never will.
So I think this is where I am now:
I still, after all those years, have the electrified feeling.
I love the electrified feeling.
It makes me want to create. More importantly, it makes me believe I can. The tulpa that I’ve built lets me believe in myself enough to get to the end of a text despite all of my self-doubts, which are many.
In essence, although Richard Armitage is integral to that experience, the experience is more important than Armitage himself.
And I need him to do it for me. So it’s not that he’s boring — but I think that the evidence I’ve seen suggests that he’s a less than coherent human. And what I’ve read about acting this year suggests that maybe that’s a problem in general for actors. I don’t know.
So if this makes any sense: I’ve decided that I’m going to not to let Richard Armitage, as fickle a self as he seems to have, ruin my enjoyment of Richard Armitage.
So the direction to go now needs to be the concrete exploration of where this electrified feeling comes from. Rather than trying to figure out who is creating it and how he does it, for now, since everything about the tulpa is working other than my understanding of Richard Armitage as a person, I’m going to try to focus on understanding how the effect appears and works.
If you made it all the way to the end of this: thanks for every minute you have spent reading this post and the blog in general. I’m grateful you’re around!