Aug 2, 2011

Richard Armitage Fan Fervor: A Modest Theory of Idealism and Relativity

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!

Richard Armitage

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.

Richard Armitage

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.


  • Wow. *slightly speechless* What a great post.

    Most of the men in my life are decent fellas, like RA, and I’d say RA even has a fair few things in common with my husband as well. So perhaps I’m not exactly lacking decent men folk in my life. But the question still remains.

    There are a lot of nice guys out there, and a lot of bad ones. Man-kind as such would perhaps be a 5, because they are so spread out over the spectrum that you just end up somewhere in the middle. For every angel there’s a demon, sort of thing.

    When you say your teenage heroes were people who had views that you sympathise(d) with, I think you’re on to something. Even more fascinating if you pick someone over the other (without knowing ANYTHING about them aside from how they look) and later you find out that actually, your preference turned out to be the most attractive … not just look-wise but personality-wise. Or maybe it’s just a happy coincidence. Apologies if I’m not making sense here. Might need to write an actual post to try analyse it a bit more.

  • I am a fan of Mr. Armitage’s work. I would never presume to know the person he is, unless, of course he accepts my invitation to stop by for a bowl of fresh peaches w/ my Prince (the Prince in my life who is the epitome of “fine virtue” & amply supplies my need for a virtuous man) and me. I will not pass judgment on the virtues or lack thereof in Richard Armitage. I suppose, from a fan’s view point, all I can know about him is he’s easy on the eyes & he is a hard working man. I admire this about him, but that doesn’t mean I can conclude that, just b/c he is only the most handsome man on the planet & devoted to his job & is very good @ it, he’s a good person.

  • Very interesting post! This brought some ideas to my head, not sure this is a response but I’ll share what you made me remember/think while reading this.

    Firstly I think the title is key, I think your theory applies mostly to women that have some (or a lot) of idealism in them. I consider myself an idealist and have always said, I like to read/watch a story with a happy ending, where the good guy (expect where RA is the bad guy) wins, some people say to me that is not interesting because is not real and my answer always is, life has so much drama that I want to read more about the good and people being happy.

    Is not that my life is awful, it has its ups and downs as so many other people’s and I actually know is very probable that whatever my problem, there must be others having even worse, even with no solution, so I don’t think is about seeing so little of good around you but more about an idealist’ (at least from my experience) need to keep going that motivation and hope that there’s good in the world, it exist, it can be done.

    Objectively that RA seems to be such a nice and kind man is a bonus, objectively you can love the book and not necessarily like the author or agree with how he/she lead his/her life. I find it difficult to do, although it doesn’t work both ways. If I don’t like the book but I found out the author’s been a great person, I probably always make the distinction of saying in spite of not liking the book I think that is a good person. If I like the book and find out the author has this qualities I admire, it will enhace admiration for both, book and author. I don’t know if it is because of idealism, but my reaction is very subjective and I know it.
    So I guess I agree with you about finding those (good in our lists) thing in RA enhace our admiration, attraction to him.

    Not so sure if I made sense…

    OML :)

  • I agree with Traxy, great post. It’s certainly true for me that I’m attracted to RA, not just because he’s a brilliant actor and good looking, but because he is a good person and I respect that.

    I’m certainly not without decent people in my life, my family and friends are the most kind-hearted people I can think of, so therefore I feel that for me, RA appealed because I appreciate the value of decency, not because I’ve found a lack of it in my life – though it is true that there are people on both sides of the spectrum.

    I no longer entirely know what it is about RA that attracts me – in fact, it’s not one single thing, but a combination of a lot. Thought-provoking post, thank you.

  • Great post and much to think about. Sadly many times we are disappointed with men in our lives. Issues of faithfulness for example. Yet, they can be “good men” in other ways…

    I think also that we perceive RA as unique in the celebrity world. We all read so much in tabloids about celebrities whose personal lives are far from admirable (OK – Charlie Sheen comes to mind), or who squander their money instead of helping others. We believe Richard, at least what we know about him, to be a good and kind man, and it also helps confirm in our minds and hearts that we are smart enough to have made a good choice by being his fan.

  • Excellent post, extremely well written. I think you’re on to something. I had a drafted post on something related in Feb. Will try to finish and you can see what you think. I agree that the alleged virtue (again, we don’t know) is highly at issue for many fans, but I’m not convinced it’s because of a perceived lack of virtuous men in our own lives. I think it’s more atavistic than that.

    • Thanks! I look forward to reading your thoughts. I’m not convinced its directly related to men in our own lives either, if this notion does apply I think it’s more likely to be in the more general cultural/societal sense, rather than the personal environment.

      • I agree you have a very thought-provoking post here. But I can’t agree that I gravitate towards Mr. Armitage for the lack of good men in my life. In fact I only know good men — they would be the only type of man I would allow into my life. So that is not it for me.
        It is surprising however I think, to find someone in the acting field who is so humble and polite to all.
        So for me, it is the combination of his great talent, good looks, intelligence and real-life gentlemanlike demeanor that gives the 1-2-3 and knock-out punch!

        • Hi Phylly, thanks for your thoughts. When I pose something like this I do not intend to suggest that it is applicable to *all* people who like RArmitage, or even the majority. Clearly, people will gravitate towards someone for a variety of reasons that will not be the same for each person. As I said to Servetus, it may not so much be about men we know personally, but about our impression of men in the broader sense.

  • What a thought-provoking post. I get where you’re coming from but I think there’s a little more to it. Armitage and other celebrities exist in what we (universal we) have been trained to think of as this rarified, mysterious, hedonistic hot-house environment. Only the very best get in, don’t you know, and we plebians can only wonder at what goes on behind the velvet rope. We’re so primed to hear tales of celebrity badness that when someone is NORMAL we glom onto it. My two cents and change, anyway.

  • No idea whether or not Mr. Armitage is the good, decent man he appears to us. The element of “celebrity” plays a part here. Speaking which, he is an actor. When he is Harry K, probably he calls on Harry K elements in himself to “be” Harry K. When he plays Lucas9 he calls on whatever elements of himself to bring to the surface and thinks himself into the character. All the interviews/DVD extras have been fascinating in the gradual emerging control of himself and response to the interview.

    From the viewpoint of the audience/fan, we find him extremely attractive, and wish to see one “celebrity” who actually is a rather nice man. This won’t be popular, but the issue of supporting charities is something all actors do. Personally, I’ve liked him very much from earliest to latest interviews and suspect the RL RA is a pretty good chap on the whole. However, it doesn’t do to put him himself on a pedestal, in place of other good, decent chaps around.

    (Actually, until proven wrong, I think he’s the cat’s pyjamas and the bees’ knees and all those other archaic descriptions. And DDG :D )

  • I like your post, but I will have to agree that RA has ruined all men for me also. I don’t live in a fantasy world. I have beed married for 20 years to a nice guy. He has his faults. He’s good looking, although not aging as well as RA. Definitely not a movie star, but, hey, nor am I! Anyway, I used to appreciate stars in a shallow way for their good looks and/or acting talents. Then I would appreciate others for wit and friendliness. Then maybe be happy if my husband thought to take me to dinner once in a while. You know?

    I don’t know RA at all, but he is so amazingly good looking in all respects, such a wonderful actor, makes you love him as the most awful villains, and seems so humble on top of it all? Comparing him to hollywood makes them all look just not worth looking at.

  • This is an excellent post, and I’ve been wanting to comment for ages, but haven’t been able to dedicate the time to think out a reasonable answer. My computer crashed just as I was about to publish this comment – perhaps it was a “sign” that I should leave things left unsaid, but …..

    At the moment I am watching the RA fandom from the periphery, having made the decision to change the emphasis of my blog from all things Richard Armitage to “most things” Hobbit related. Part of this has been a realisation for me that Richard Armitage has now joined an ensemble of actors and a production team that are all worthy of equal attention and it seemed a little skewed to just focus the attention on him given the fact that there are a swag of people who are way more experienced and well known than he is. (I’m not sure why I didn’t feel this way with Spooks when perhaps I should have). I have therefore placed myself in the position of “observer” as opposed to “active participant” in the RA world and perhaps some of my opinions will be unpopular with many who feel the man has no “faults”.

    I tweeted a while ago that we can’t tell what an actor is like from just reading his interviews. It has perplexed me somewhat that fans draw conclusions that RA or any other actor is a “nice” person purely from what they read in an interview. Interviews are his means of PR and from watching RA as an actor for four or so years, I sense he might perceive interview giving as a necessary evil, just as I suspect he sees red carpet appearances and meet and greets with fans as “ordeals”. When I read an interview with him, I am inclined to pick up veiled innuendos and implications that the fandom attention does not sit well with this man. There is a subtle sense of ambivalence, perhaps even embarrassment. These days RA politely acknowledges the fandom in his annual or twice annual messages, but a more personal contact all started way back in the old days when he was struggling and was discovered in N&S. Let’s face it, having a supportive fanbase helped his career in those days, and no struggling actor is going to shrug that off. The trouble is, once the actor has progressed in their career and the supportive fanbase has become unmanageable, what does he/she do but try to disengage without causing too much affront. I have watched RA attempt to do this as the fanbase and its fervour has grown, and yet, his fans still don’t take the hint that he has moved on. At the moment he has buried himself in The Hobbit – he has a mammoth task ahead of him in terms of trying to prove to a wider, less accepting audience that he is worthy of being given the part of Thorin Oakenshield. I suspect it is this critical audience, including his fellow experienced cast and crew members, that he will try to impress – the opinion of his existing fans, many of whom would have preferred him to have taken another role as romantic lead or hero, will become irrelevant. Has the existing RA fandom come to terms with this I wonder? Has the scene become a case of unrequited adoration? Reading many posts on forums as I do, I would have to say that there is a certain amount of fear that he will become so famous after The Hobbit that he will be “lost” to them …. I argue, that he was never theirs to lose.

    From my perspective, I would have to say that I know no more about this actor than I did when I first saw him years ago in Vicar of Dibley – the reason I feel is that he does not want to give more of himself away than he absolutely has to and he attempts to shun the attention. As you say in your post, fans really want to know that he is a “good” person …. I do too, but I don’t think we can really surmise anything from his interviews and reports from fans with whom he has exchanged a few polite words on a red carpet as evidence. The Just Giving pages are a means by which he can harness fan energy and generosity and deflect that to benefit good causes, but it also is an attempt to discourage fans from sending him personal presents. I think that plot has failed actually, and I will predict he is going to get swathes of gifts sent to him for his upcoming birthday with hopeful expectation he will personally respond. I sense that it is difficult for some to acknowledge that the fanbase may be largely perceived by the actor as a body of anonymous supporters and that nobody (apart from perhaps a chosen few like Annette at RAOnline) are viewed as any more or less important than the other … nor are most fans remotely recognisable to him.

    So why the idolatry for want of a better word? I think in part you are correct. Here is a good looking, seemingly decent and unattached bloke who embodies an ideal. That’s a simple answer and while it makes sense for a subset of the fandom, it doesn’t explain the RA fan phenomenon fully. Many people are just looking for companionship, and the fandom can serve as a very useful and supportive network. RA the actor is placed on a pedestal, and a group of people admire him. That group find they all have something in common and form friendships – the group grows as more people join. The reason for their involvement is the person placed on the pedestal but he has become more and more of a fantasy character. What is interesting here is what will happen if the “object” does something that makes him fall off the pedestal, and what will happen to the relationships that have formed as a result of his existence on their pedestal? Which situations might make the group disperse? His choice of roles is a big factor, and his public persona is another.

    Recently I guess I have found the RA fan fervour just a little galling given the fact that I work in an area with brilliant people who are saving children’s lives and who get far less acknowledgement. I sense that many actors like RA if they are honest with themselves, are aware of this inequality and I’d like to think are humbled by it. From where I am sitting, which is on the edge of the fandom, and as a person who is immersed in the daily tragedies of families who have sick children, I would like to see him becoming more active like many of his colleagues in the eprforming arts on social justice issues/ causes etc as I feel he could put his growing public profile and his fans’ energies to a really good use. I want to hear more from him on issues that matter to him, and I feel I can’t really make any assumptions about his “decency” or “goodness” until he perhaps allows a glimpse of this more personal side to him. I was tempted back into the fold after the Christchurch Appeal, but I need more persuasion. I will content myself with admiring his acting abilities and my fervour will be directed towards wishing him every success in The Hobbit. (If he turns up at the Children’s hospital to talk to the kids, I’ll let you know ☺ . In the meantime perhaps many Londoners will have need of the charities he has asked fans to support on his Just Giving Pages after the riots, so it is appropriate to perhaps mention Shelter and The Sallies at this point.)

    Apologies for mammoth comment!!!!

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, mulubinba. You’ve made many great points, I think I pretty much agree with everything that you’ve said.

      I get an sense of his uneasiness and embarrassment with the fandom too. I also feel that too much is read into single statements he has made, while others which contradict the 100% perfect nice guy impression are overlooked or not given equal credence (such as his omission that he is broody and can get overly angry).

      In regards to the Just Giving pages, I don’t think the fact that he set them up makes him special in any way. It was the right and sensible thing to do in response to his particular situation.

  • Interesting topic to look at the fandom (RAs fandom in this case) in a critical way, have been doing that for some years in my diary LoL.

    Can you explain this for me, Fitzg
    (Actually, until proven wrong, I think he’s the cat’s pyjamas and the bees’ knees and all those other archaic descriptions. And DDG :D )

  • Thank you Skully and Mulubimba for your interesting and brilliant analysis of the RA fandom.
    I agree with everything you said and I hope there will be more posts of this kind.

  • Speaking of fans going to far in their ‘passion’ to support RA..

    Vote against it I would say before RA’s agents have to send a polite email saying:’Though we welcome interest in this historical figure on the web we’d like to urge you to remove the petition on a project that is still in it’s research stage..’ etc

    • I think we need to be careful about “policing” the fandom, from my point of view it is prudent to encourage reflection on how one “does” fandom without being judgmental about how others “do” fandom.

      Having said that, regarding the petition for the Richard III project, personally, this is not something I am interested in being involved in and will not be promoting it on this site. I appreciate that it is well intentioned and I am not speaking against it, but personally I am not comfortable with doing fandom in this way, as it would feel like I was interfering in RA’s business without invitation. Obviously, others feel differently.

      • I agree on your position about fandom in general Skully. If you don’t agree or something is not of your interest just not participate and not promote it and so if something has support it will go forward if it doesn’t it won’t.

        OML :)

  • @Jacqui – cat’s pj’s etc: just the shallow effect of this particular actor on this person; while keeping feet on ground in clear recognition that I don’t know the man. Please don’t take me seriously as a besotted fan. Only partly so. :)

    @Mulubinba, struck by your comment about ensemble productions. Actually, while Mr. A was a major reason I caught up with MI5/Spooks, I’ve found the other characters compelling. Even in RH, in which he was a dominating figure, the rest of cast was interesting, too. Hope RA continues to do a considerable number of character roles.

  • Fitzg: I actually meant what do those expressions mean for I’m non british.. ;-)

  • @Jacqui – that occurred to me after –

    cat’s pyjamas and bee’s knees, very old-fashioned English expressions – meaning variations of “just the best”, lovely person, etc.

    DDG – “drop dead gorgeous”.

    Actually, I’m Canadian, of English and Irish ancestry; lived in England a few times, so that’s where these (not Canadian) phrases come from.

    Slainte! (Irish – like Hola, what would be the French equivalent? Calexora would tell me!) :D

  • Thanx for explaining , I also believe RA is lovely person in real life but as he said himself ‘naughty’ but what could naughty mean in his case..? Not naughty as in ‘mischievous’ .. but more in a sexual way.. When pictured with fans he tends to hold people tight, I may be a bit embarrassed if he held me that close at a photo opportunity.. but you never know depending on the atmosphere?

    (don’t know how to create quote)
    Actually I think RA himself no longer reads all stuff send to him, I suppose his mum filters things out and/or sends signed photo’s back as a thank you. Pics RA may have signed beforehand. Gifts like chocolate or cuddly toys or whatever people send to him may well be donated to hospitals/local foodbanks etc. I don’t think he’ll read all birthday messages posted on the boards, maybe his mum does and reads out the most special/fun/interesting to him. Maybe he’ll send a personalized thank you to someone or a group who has never send something before or maybe thats what the messages are for! Most fans who send him something/gifts may think they are sending him a special gift not knowing 10 others thought exactly the same, so he may get a 10 x special 40th birthday books!

  • Very thoughtful post. I am new to “fandom”, as I have never felt the need to share my feelings about any other actor/actress, ect. However; I just wanted to share what attracts me to RA is his intelligence. RA is an intelligent man, who speaks honestly and passionately about his projects. He is not boastful or arrogant. He does not think he is sexy and for me, that in itself is sexy. He has gentle, caring eyes. And last but not least, the voice sends me somewhere I cannot divulge to others. I am in serious like with him. P.S. @ Jacqui; I can handle the squeeze and I think you could, too. I love the incongruences of naughty and nice.

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