This was supposed to be a brief post, it ended up being over 2000 words. Sorry! This will probably only be of interest to active online Richard Armitage fans, most of whom I am at odds with over the Lucas/John story line in Spooks. Here I hold myself up for slaughter once again.
Today I’m going to way in once more on the tricky subject of Richard Armitage fan fervor that I’ve been blogging about periodically since starting this blog over 12 months ago. There is something that has been on my mind since the intensely hostile and borderline hysterical anti-Spooks writer sentiment that some RA fans were venting following the demise of Lucas North in series nine of Spooks (I anticipate getting into trouble for using the words ‘borderline hysterical’. I’m not saying that everyone who didn’t like the story was hysterical but SOME certainly erred close, so I stand by it!). I’ve chosen not to mention my thoughts on the blog until now because I suspected it would be an unwelcome observation. But now I feel that perhaps the time is right to bring it up.
In recent weeks I’ve noticed a changing tone in some corners of the RA fan community in relation to the acknowledgment that fantasy is an element of being an avid fan. Some have noted this in a positive sense, and others have noted it the worrisome sense. One commentator in particular expressed a concern that the distinction between the real life man and personal fantasy seems to her to have become increasingly blurred in the minds of some “obsessed” type fans. As I don’t visit RA fan discussions forums myself and only visit a select number of blogs, I can not verify that this is the case (it would be difficult to measure in any event). But the issue of blurring either reality or character with personal fantasy is one that resonates with the thoughts I was having during the season nine fall out.
At the time I fiercely (perhaps borderline-hysterically!) defended the Lucas/John story line in Spooks and later revealed its personal resonance. To the RA fans and critics I cheekily retorted that Spooks was not obligated to satisfy their latent fantasies about Richard Armitage and Lucas North. Although I said this in spirited jest, it masked some serious thought about the relevant deep interpsychic processes that my professional guise (as a social scientist) found hard to ignore. Knowing that fantasy proneness is significantly correlated with intense celebrity admiration in some individuals, my jesting was not entirely without a vague scientific basis!
So the subject I want to talk about today is fantasy. This is not something that many people will speak about openly. And in the world of RA fandom, it’s not one that I think people tend to talk about directly, at least not in my experience. One RA blogger, Servetus, to the best of my knowledge is an exception, and I applaud her honesty in conveying this aspect of her fan experience. Anyone who reads Servetus’ blog will know that she is a highly conscientious fan, who while freely admitting to being in the firm grip of Armitage mania, also has her feet planted firmly on the ground. She is also concerned with the ethics of being a fan and the murky aspects of fandom that the concerned commenter I mentioned before was alluding to.
When talking about this subject it’s important to stress that fantasy is a normal part of intrapsychic life, especially for those with creative and vivid imaginations. Fantasy can offer fun, escapism, comfort, new ways to imagine ourselves, or even provide a coping mechanism for when times are tough. I know for myself, having gone through years of chronic depression, that concentrating on creating a fantasy in my mind was one tool I used to give my head a break from the torrent of negative thoughts that accompanies a depressed/bipolar state (conversely, it was also a vehicle for expending some hypomanic energy in the form of writing fan fiction). As did watching various TV shows, like Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks and Robin Hood. Being able to escape into these fantasy worlds was a life line. And needless to say, fantasy and imagination is also critical to creativity, to be able to write, paint, and invent or create something new. In childhood as well, fantasy is important. A child who has imaginary friends is likely to have strong communication skills because this type of fantasy play fosters intersubjectivity.
So when we speak of fantasy, we should not do so with a sense of embarrassment or shame, but the reality is that most people are reluctant to acknowledge to others that they engage in fantasy for they feel to reveal such intimate thoughts would be humiliating. The idea of adults partaking in fantasy has some how been simplistically misconstrued in the public mind as being a lurid, abnormal or childish pass time. Fantasy, like anything (such as eating), can take on a pathological dimension but it in of itself is not an unhealthy endeavor. The reluctance to disclose fantasy is a notorious challenge for psychoanalysts in clinical practice. Once their clients begin to reveal some of their fantasies they know they are getting somewhere and have gained their patient’s trust.
As you might have gathered from the title of this post, I suspect that many fans out there might be consciously or unconsciously (I’ll explain unconscious fantasy in a moment) engaged in fantasies about RA and/or Lucas North, but this issue is largely hidden from view in the online fan community. Yes, people do write fan fiction, but this is the socially acceptable and visible form that personal fantasy takes, and we generally don’t speak of fan fiction as one person’s personal fantasy, we call it creative writing. By turning it into a creative piece of work, the fantasy is somehow legitimised (to be clear, fan fic is not necessarily always a literal expression of one’s personal fantasies). But for many people, their fantasies are not written, they do not become fan fiction, and simply exist in their own head, unknown to others. It’s a private affair, gleefully, or perhaps guiltily indulged in, and rarely admitted to others. Fantasy is a subject addressed indirectly via fanfic, fan art, jokes and gossip, and rarely directly in the manner that provides a serious detailed description of one’s waking fantasy. Some fans might joke about having a fantasy about RA or one of his characters, but do they share the intimate details? Usually not, for to do so risks ridicule and being judged to be one of those looney RA fans.
So what I wasn’t prepared to say before but will now, is that I think it’s inevitable that fantasy had some baring on how some people responded to the Lucas/John story. I suspect that the transformation of Lucas North into John Bateman disrupted the internal fantasy life of some Richard Armitage / Lucas North fans. Among other things, John Bateman put a big ole spanner in Lucas’ embodiment of the character of desire. Curiously, in contrast to Guy of Gisborne, John’s flexible, self-serving morality made him a confusing and arguably unsympathetic character. Loyal, admirable, virtuous Lucas was no more. Rather than being an object of desire, he became one of disdain who could not be redeemed. When fans said that the character of Lucas was “ruined”, what may have also been the case was that their fantasies of Lucas were ruined as well.
Now, I appreciate there are all kinds of reasons why one could “objectively” say that the Lucas/ John story line was problematic, but this is besides the point – it’s one thing not to like the story, it’s quite another thing to genuinely feel “completely devastated” by the revelation it held. For one to feel this way, as many fans did, surely there must be something else going on? To lay the blame for how one feels about the Lucas/John story solely at the feet of the writers is to ignore what the fan herself brings to the table.
In MY experience most of the disgust with the John/Lucas story came from those with an usual attachment to Richard Armitage and/or the Lucas North character. When I say unusual, I don’t mean abnormal in the “pathological” sense (although that probably exists as well). What I mean is that most people who watch Spooks do not analyse it in detail, write fan fiction, and discuss it on an online forum. For those of us that do engage in the online world of Spooks and RA, sometimes we forget this. We are not the majority. We are the usual minority who have been geeking out about Lucas North in our little internet bubble. Let me take a moment to remind you what it’s like outside of this bubble.
In real life I know many people who love Spooks. Now that series nine has been aired in Australia, I’ve been curious to find out their response to the Lucas/John affair. I can tell you that NONE of them had the kind of problems with the Lucas/John story that many RA fans have had (yes, I know that non-RA fans had problems with it too, there are plenty of those on Spooks Forum, for example). In fact one lady told me that she had never trusted Lucas from day one, and the revelation that he was actually John Bateman finally made the character make sense to her. When I mentioned that the Lucas/John story caused a great deal of controversy among fans who talk about the show online, many were incredibly surprised, some even laughed. These people, although all loving the show, do not have an usual attachment to the characters or actors in it.
Now, earlier I mentioned the issue of unconscious fantasy, this comes about by what’s called ‘taking the position of the other’ when watching drama. We all do this instinctively (except if you have Asperger’s / autism!), this is how we understand the implications of plot for each character in the show. For those with an attachment to a particular character or actor, however, taking the position of the other, such as those playing opposite the character/actor who is the object of affection, means that subconscious desires can be covertly played out beyond conscious awareness. Your involvement in the drama, the scene, could be operating at a deeper level, thus your reaction to drama involving the character/actor of interest will inevitably occur at a deeper level too. Just to tease this out a little further, on The Creative Experiences Questionnaire which is a psychological instrument to measure fantasy proneness, one of the items reads “When I perceive violence on television, I get so into it that I get really upset” – this item and others like it reveal that some people, more so than others, are prone to becoming more absorbed in the TV they watch than others. It’s quite possible that this internet community is largely made up of such individuals, and if so are probably more fantasy prone as well – it’s a hypothesis!
What I am suggesting in this post is that fantasy played a hidden role in the intensity of critical response that many fans had towards the Lucas/John story. Because of fantasy, some people were more personally affected by it and responded accordingly. To my mind there is a clear disparity in the intensity of the disdain for the Lucas/John story between RA fans, and Spooks fans who did not like the Lucas/John story but do not have any particular attachment to RA. To me this is not such a big deal to point out, it’s just how our minds work and how the dynamics of fandom influence perception. But to others it is an affront to their faith in their objectivity to point out that their latent (or overt) desires could affect their objective reasoning (to be honest I’m inclined to think that complete objectivity is a fallacy). For the social scientist it’s part of our job to highlight social and other forces that unknowingly affect our reasoning and social actions when we don’t realise it (such as how latent racism can impact judicial processes or clinician judgement) but when you point these things out in the real world, people can get defensive, because they don’t like to think that something they are not aware of is affecting their judgement.
What will probably happen once I publish this post, is that a bunch of people will comment saying that they hated the Lucas/John story, and have never fantasized about Lucas North, and imply that this disproves my “theory”. Or conversely, that the John Bateman revelation did not disturb their Lucas North fantasies. If you read this post closely you’ll have noticed that I used words like ‘some’, ‘maybe’, ‘might’, ‘possibly’ to convey the tenuousness of what I am proposing. You will also know that I made it clear that I was not suggesting that all people who were miffed about Lucas/John had a secret fantasy life about Lucas North, nor was the John revelation disturbing to all who engage in fantasy. I simply suggested it might have played a role in some people’s objections to the story, and contributed to the intensity of the overall fallout. If fantasy proneness is strongly correlated with getting overly absorbed in TV drama and intense celebrity admiration, then it’s not an implausible suggestion. All I’m offering is a bit-part to the story of the aftermath, not a grand theory that explains it.
What I have learned from posting about potentially contentious issues in the past, is that despite trying to talk about matters in shades of grey, my discussions are sometimes interpreted in black and white. Perhaps my writing it not clear, or maybe people skim instead of read, probably both. I’ve also learned that many readers who agree with what I write will message me privately instead of commenting publicly, and the commentary on the blog then becomes skewed and is not representative of the range of views that are actually out there. And this provides a case in point. Some aspects of being involved in an online community are hidden, and are not represented by what is visible and readable on our computer screens. As we travel around the online fanosphere, it might be worth keeping this in mind.
A related post: Richard Armitage Fan Fantasies #1023 – 1033