This post is part of an ongoing series which attempts to decipher fan fervor for Richard Armitage.
I couldn’t decide where to focus the central crux of this post, it feels like there are separate yet associated ideas which are still percolating in my head and thus remain somewhat blurred. As such this is probably a piece of premature posticulation on my part, but if you’ve been reading this blog for some time you should be used to this by now!
The first idea I want to muse on is that of the male ideal. I couldn’t help but let out a little chuckle recently when I read a random fangirl’s tweet “Richard Armitage has ruined all men for me. ALL!”. I had a similar feeling after seeing one of the most amazing live bands on the planet. All future gigs had an impossible standard to live up to; it took a little time to adjust to seeing the slew of average yet adequate local bands again. I can relate somewhat in relation to men, too. I sometimes wonder if my falling head over heels in love at a young age was such a good thing. Although the relationship in question ended at my instigation, the bar was set pretty damn high and I’ve probably been a bit too picky ever since.
While I hope that the fan who lamented “Richard Armitage had ruined all men” for her, made that statement in jest (as we can’t really “know” Richard Armitage), it does speak to the holistic nature of his appeal that has become part of the fan fervor dynamic. One of the first things I think fans want to find out upon forming some sort of admiration for someone based their talent and/or physical appeal is – are they are good person? Is this person worthy of my support and admiration beyond what is immediate; are they a person I can respect? Many feminists on the left have been confronted with this question in respect to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. They admire the philosophy of the man and his organisation but are not so keen on his questionable sexual ethics, which really puts a dampener on the whole thing.
Fortunately, no such obstacles have obstructed the appeal of Richard Armitage. One part of the Richard Armitage story that seems to be significant in fan appreciation of the man is that he appears to be a thoroughly decent bloke, and this I dare say is a strong part of what fuels the fan fervor. I’m not going to spend time going into the numerous ways in which this is expressed, but one obvious example are the charity pages Richard Armitage set up at Just Giving, to which fans have donated over £10,000.
It goes without saying that it is always pleasing to find that someone is “a good person”. I wonder however if the perceived personal qualities of Richard Armitage would be so important, if we thought that most of our significant others and the people in our various social circles were in possession of the wide range of attributes that we value in a good person, too? What is interesting to me is that fans feel so thrilled to find continuing evidence of the man’s decency – to me it begs the question: are our worlds so devoid of persons of this type that we feel the need to laud it when we find it in artists we admire? One could infer that the fervor of Richard Armitage fans, or enthusiastic fans of anybody for that matter, can be measured in contrast to the lack of decent people in their lives. I don’t think such a measurement would stand up to scrutiny, but it is curious to me that we seek out and laud good character qualities in the object of fangirl crushes when I would hope that such qualities are ubiquitous in the people who surround us in our real lives. Is human decency such a rare commodity that to observe it (or project it) in abundance in a desirable man pushes the fandom into fervent territory?
I guess this is where the theory of relativity could potentially come in. How do your significant others measure up to the qualities that you perceive to be present in the object of your fandom, in this case Richard Armitage? Is Richard Armitage or indeed the characters he has played, such as Harry Kennedy and John Thornton, symbolic of things that are missing or not 100% satisfactory in our own lives? Such as desire? Is this the role that fantasy and fan fiction plays?
Up until this point I’ve been fairly gender neutral about this, but now it’s time to press the contentious button and speak specifically about MEN. I wonder if the female affection for Richard Armitage, beyond his acting talent and physical attractiveness, has something to do with how we feel about men in the broadest sense. I’m sure we all can think of men in our lives (friends, family, lovers) who fill the full spectrum of the human condition, from the kindest most decent heart through to the most arrogant, selfish and sexist. We could also take that spectrum and possibly make a broad (insulting!) generalisation on a scale of 1-10 of how “good” we think men in our society generally are (the same could be done for women, but Richard Armitage is not a woman, so that question is not particularly relevant to this discussion).
There’s part of me that can’t help but suspect that one of the reasons we so highly value a man of (perceived) fine virtue, is that we perceive such men, certainly to exist, but ultimately to be in short supply. Whether this is a fair assessment or not is up for debate (and could equally apply to women), but I wonder what baring this has on fan fervor. In my mind there is a question as to whether the fan importance placed on Richard Armitage’s perceived decency, kindness and humility is to be twinged with a little sadness, for it may signify that we do not experience enough of these qualities from the people in our own lives or society at large.
Let me provide a personal case study to illustrate my point. When I look back at the male musicians I admired when I was growing up, I can see that it was those musicians who spoke openly and eloquently about, among other things, issues that affect women, that filled the spaces on my wall. While my father would say things to me like “feminists just want to be like men”, I would hear Kurt Cobain say things like “we need to teach men not to rape”. There was an unconscious relationship between my lived reality, my ideals, and the people I admired and put on my walls. While I no longer adorn my walls with posters from Rolling Stone and Smash Hits, it would be arrogant to think this thread no longer exists. I can see it in my love for the TV show Doctor Who, a program that is brimming with the kind of humanity the real world needs more of.
These kinds of issues may not filter so strongly into all the different fandoms we have, but it must have some relevance if we are to understand why we become ardent fans of some things and not others – there are variables from within our own lives that can affect where our fandoms are directed, it’s not always a simple matter of the band, show or person being “sooo gooood”.
Images from RichardArmitageNet.