On the persistent fantasy that Richard Armitage is reading this blog
So this one popped again today as well: “What would Richard think if he read what you wrote?” and “I know from a very reliable source that he reads quite a bit of what is written about him.” And so on. To be fair: these are mild versions of a question I’ve been asked a lot, usually in the form of an accusation: “You don’t think Richard Armitage would like your blog, do you?” or even as an assertion: “You know that Richard Armitage thinks you’re disgusting, right?”
Sigh. How many ways are there to express that what Richard Armitage thinks or doesn’t think of me is not a primary concern?
Yesterday I was preoccupied with the topic of repetition fatigue in fandom. In a way this question is a subset of that one, because it was more interesting for me to consider that matter seven years ago than it is now. It always kind of astounds me that anyone who has read this blog would think I would write it without having considered that question, or that it is possible that I haven’t been asked this questions dozens of times over the years by now. In fact, I think someone might have asked it of me within a month of my starting to blog. But still, people ask me questions as if I’ve been blogging for seven years without having ever considered how to do it or where my boundaries lie. Honestly: if there’s an ethics question related to blogging, I have possibly spent weeks thinking about it.
Short summary: beginning in 2011, I conceived of my relationship to Armitage via an image given to me by Judiang at a stressful moment of notional proximity discomfort, and which I / we called “the bubble rule.” You can read about that more here. By the time the bubble rule became less tenable as a way of thinking about a framework for what I was doing — specifically, on the day Richard Armitage started tweeting — I had been informed that I had been “reported” to Armitage’s agent twice by groups of disgruntled fans, without any attempt by the agent to contact me, so there was less reason to think that the fact or content of my blogging presented some problem to him. I don’t mean to claim that it’s not a matter of dispute — consider the discussion here, in which superfans disagree on this question. We’ve been through this question several times since then; I think this was my most recent response to how the possibility was affecting me. But at this point, I find the question wearisome, at least in its previous permutations. I don’t think about it much anymore, admittedly; over such a long period of time I have refined my awareness of my project and have grown to trust myself as a blogger.
But it occurred to me today that there is something of interest here, and that is not the question of whether Armitage reads this blog, but why so many people are (a) convinced he does and (b) worried that he does. And while my attitudes haven’t significant changed post-Armitage-tweeting, this question: what does Armitage perceive of the fan world? is probably heavily impacted by his perceived presence on Twitter.
I’m not sure it should have been, because frankly, there were always rumors, very early on: “Armitage’s messages to the fandom indicate that he’s well informed about what we say,” was a common thing people said to me back in 2010 and 2011. Armitage himself said conflicting things in early interviews, sometimes that he had looked at what fans say, sometimes that he had not but relied on others, sometimes that he had at some time but had quit doing so, and then later that he had been too involved and had had to back off (or here), and that he had decided he had to “leave [us] to it.”
So yes: he sent mixed messages. But at the same time, I had additional information. For something like 14 months I wrote a feature on this blog called “Legenda” (it was a successor to another column called “Obsession Update“) in which I linked pieces of the Armitage fandom that interested me. It started with just other blogs, and expanded to consider fanart and tumblr and fanfic and interesting tweets and news and whatever I found that hadn’t merited comment in its own post — a sort of fandom aggregation. By the time I stopped doing it at the end of 2013, it was starting to take up considerable time, on the order of ten to fifteen hours a week, to try to view everything concerning Richard Armitage only in English, let alone the other languages I can read. There were also materials in languages I can’t read and places I never went. In short, I never believed Richard Armitage could afford timewise to keep track of what people said about him because I’m a data jockey and a very fast reader, and I barely could. Maybe he looked occasionally, maybe he had a friend who read it or paid a publicist’s assistant to read it, but it was never been plausible to me, given his own statements about how reading it had bothered him and the sheer amount of stuff, that he spent much time on this activity.
But people insisted. Before 2012 (The Hobbit), Judiang diagnosed this insistence (which reappeared in the contest of the “Armitage will be harmed by what fans say about him” question) as an effect of the hangover from the early days of the fandom when there were few fans, and they all felt incredibly close to Armitage and cared for by him, something that had changed over time and was no longer accurate even by that point (now five years ago). At that point, the concern was people writing fantasies or RPF about him; it’s fun to read those comments and realize that that concern, at least, has turned into a non-issue. No one cares anymore which fantasies get written about Armitage — there is RPF and slash RPF and “imagines” (reader self-insert) and all kinds of stuff. We are more open in that sense. So there is progress.
Has anything changed about Armitage’s reading habits? He’s on Twitter, so at least notionally more present, and stated at some point (I’m not finding the reference, but I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t want to join social media with fans if he weren’t going to read what was said. So he is reading? I can’t exclude it — but for all the reasons that he stated before 2012, which are still applicable, I doubt his reading habits since then have changed significantly, with one exception: it seems clear that he reads some comments tweeted at him or left on his FB or instagram pages. I won’t say I never tweet at him, or leave a comment, but I do so with extreme rarity. So in any case, I never used to put my blog directly in his path, and I still don’t. It’s where it’s always been, with the same distribution patterns it’s always had: one link per post on Twitter, tumblr and FB. (Twitter urges one to repeat one’s content, but I’ve never done that.) I’m broadcasting in just the way I always have. If Richard Armitage is coming here, he’s coming because he decides to do so, and really, after seven years, were he reading, I doubt he’d be very surprised at or hurt by anything I said now. Nonetheless, some fans want to attribute “tweet / delete” behaviors and his silence from mid-December till mid-January as evidence that he is unduly harmed by fan comments, but I’d need to see more evidence, particularly in the second case.
But what I started off wanting to talk about (twelve hundred words in, geez, Serv) is not so much whether Armitage is reading now when he wasn’t doing so consistently then (a), but rather (b) why it seems important or reasonable for others to believe that Armitage is reading this blog, such that their fears that he will run across it prompt them to tell me in all seriousness that I should quit writing or stop being a fan.
As the linked discussion at Judiang’s blog above points out, I think there is something really potent (and possibly “special” for this fandom, given its origin story) about the idea that Armitage is in touch with his fandom. There are fans who were really drawn in by his messages, for instance. Even before his tweeting, fans made constant requests for him to get social media accounts and be active on them, such that he responded to them in a fan message. Much of the fandom wants him to be immanent (apologies, I’ve had half a post on that topic for months and it won’t let me write it somehow) and sees his Twitter as the location where his ubiquity will be manifested. Armitage should become flesh and dwell among us, to mangle a religious metaphor. On this view, Twitter isn’t a divergence from a pattern in which sometimes Armitage spoke and sometimes he didn’t, but rather a continuation of a warm imagined past in which fans loved Armitage and Armitage loved fans. That Armitage often maintained long silences in the pre-Twitter years, or spoke in ways that suggested he did not approve of what fans said back then, has no bearing on the development of the idea. So in a way, what happens in the Armitage Twitterverse (whether it’s changed or not from the fan perspective), and perhaps secondarily on FB, is more significant in many people’s minds than what happened elsewhere before. My personal position is that I’ve been tweeting off and on since 2011 and regularly since 2012 and my behavior hasn’t changed, but in the minds of others, what is said on Twitter, even if not said directly to or at him, is much more important than it used to be because Armitage is more likely to see it. This explains the development of Twitter as the premiere place for fan policing to occur now, and it’s easier than it used to be to police because it’s easier to tweet than it is to leave a comment on a blog.
So the next question is: why is the constant presence, the idea that Armitage is reading and knows everything, such an appealing idea? Here I start to extrapolate, because it’s not my preferred idea (I’d prefer a transcendent or at least a remote Armitage and I often suspect he would, too), but I think that this, too, is part of the big lie of Twitter. Armitage has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a notably unskilled tweep, but even if he were wonderfully deft, and tweeted a picture every day of something he saw, or revealed important details, or (gasp) exchanged tweets with fans, he still wouldn’t be immanent. He would only be present in illusion. He still wouldn’t know everything that every fan had written — it’s just not possible — and he still would only be sharing a version of his life that he edited for his followers. But the notion that he’s there would say to a fan: you matter. Given the larger size of the fandom and its greater dispersion among different media, the belief that he processes all this information might stand in for the earlier belief that he was somehow intimate in a kind of boutique way with his fans.
So all along, I’ve been saying to people who object, Richard Armitage is not reading my blog, thinking that was the answer to their concern. Don’t worry, he’s not paying attention to me, was my line. (And I admit historically feeling a lot of frustration with the way that people often assign me the role of Armitage Everyfan. I’m not representative of the fandom and have never claimed to be.) But I see now that that assertion only makes it worse. I’ve been here a long time, I’m prominent, it’s undeniable that a lot of people will at least glance at what I have to say. I’ve done everything I can since 2013 to discourage the idea that I’m engaging in some kind of empire-building (I can see now how people thought I was doing that in 2012 and 2013 and although it wasn’t my intent, I was guilty of not seeing that it was at issue) and have intentionally stayed out of fandom things I used to enjoy doing for that reason. I don’t think this way, but I suppose it’s possible that someone might think, if he doesn’t read that blog, is he reading what I do? And there’s definitely a sense in which a lot of the fan venues are demonstrative, a sort of performative construction of fandom staged on the chance that they reveal something about the fans if seen by the Armitage. Many fans on Twitter and elsewhere see themselves as doing something for Richard Armitage in a way that I haven’t typically seen myself. So I wonder if, given the structural situation and the longevity of this blog, when I say, He’s not paying attention to me, what those who make that charge hear me saying is He’s not paying attention to you / us. If he’s not paying attention to Servetus, who is “harming” him, maybe he’s not paying attention to all the rest of us, out there loving him for all we’re worth.
It would explain the venom, anyway.
I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything I can say. This blog was not conceived as a letter to Richard Armitage; it was conceived as a way for me to reflect on my fandom and my experiences and a way to communicate with fans who might want to reflect in a similar way on theirs. It was a way to deal with the non-authentic self I was performing in 2010, and it’s allowed me to put together the elements of an authentic self that in turn has influenced how I lead my real life, what I do and say and write. It’s grown and changed as I’ve grown and changed. It attempts to be one thing: as honest as is practically possible. Not to please fans, not to please Richard Armitage, but to fulfill my own goals and reflect my own preferences. The more I am doing that, the happier I am as a blogger. I think there’s something in that about being a middle-aged woman, about the realization that so many of my friends and I are having about the time we’ve spent on other people’s needs. There may be an age conflict here; when I was in my teens and twenties, I didn’t understand a lot about why older women behaved as they did. But in any case, whatever the reason, it’s not going to change.
I don’t have a solution — I can’t influence the content of other people’s fantasies or determine what their emotional needs are. I’m also not going to lie about what I believe to be true here. I don’t think he’s a devoted reader of this blog, and I don’t think what fans say about him either helps or harms him. So maybe what I need to start doing when this comes up is to say, I don’t believe he pays attention to me. I’m sure he’s long ago muted me on Twitter and not reading this blog and living a happy life. But it’s altogether possible or even likely that he is listening to you.