Richard Armitage Fans and Human Dignity

Richard Armitage captures my attention and sparks my interest like no other celebrity has since my first celeb crush, Jeff Goldblum. I was a teenager then and the internet barely existed, let alone the user-generated content that Web 2.0 is known for!

Richard Armitage

My first awareness of Richard Armitage the actor occurred after Netflix recommend I watch the BBC remake of Robin Hood. I don’t generally like bad boys, so I was surprised when the character Sir Guy of Gisborne commanded my attention whenever he was on the screen. I realized this actor draws attention through the expressiveness of his face and his use of stillness. I admired his acting ability and disliked the show’s early cancellation. When I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I was delighted to discover that this admirable actor had been cast in a major role in a major motion picture! Richard Armitage delivers a stunning interpretation of Thorin Oakenshield, and I look forward to seeing more in the second Hobbit film.

Then Netflix recommended I would enjoy North & South, which turns out to be Armitage’s first big break. Watching this BBC miniseries made me acutely aware of Richard Armitage’s physical attractiveness. My celebrity crush took off. And I discovered an entire universe of fan fiction, user-generated video clips, and reams of computer wallpaper options. The type, quantity and quality of fan attention online was amazing, appalling, and fun! In Britain, his fans are called the Armitage Army.

Richard Armitage: Human Dignity

My profession and my faith both cause me to stop and consider how we treat each other in even the most casual situations. According to the Pastoral Constitution of the Catholic Church, “whatever insults human dignity… are infamies indeed… they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.” While the church document cites serious actions, like slavery, prostitution, and disgraceful working conditions as examples, it got me thinking about how celebrity worship might also be an insult against human dignity.

Many of the Armitage fan creations celebrate the physical appeal of the man, while simultaneously reducing an entire person to a two-dimensional thing to be enjoyed. It reminded me of an actual crush I had in college, on a friend who was absolutely pleasing to look at. He was aware of my attention and after a few years he confessed to me he didn’t like it. He explained my open appreciation of his physical form made him feel like a piece of meat. Watching Richard Armitage answer interview questions about his fans reminded me of my experience with my friend.

To date, Richard Armitage has been very open and accessible to his fans. Many of the fan blogs respectfully moderate posts and comments to avoid publishing content that overtly sexualizes the actor. During interviews however, he’s clearly embarrassed by how many of his fans obsess over his sexiness. Here’s the struggle I would like us all to consider: how do we enjoy a crush on a celebrity without diminishing that person to a 2-D object of consumption? As the Oscars approach on Sunday, this question is significant.

Celebrity Worship

The majority of fans behavior toward celebrities does not fall into the category of mental health problems. Psychology tells us that the warm fuzzies that form the foundation of all interpersonal relationships are at play when we feel happy about  a celebrity. A study in 2008 even suggests we get a boost in our own self-esteem through celebrity worship. We know a growing body of evidence suggests that the human brain is not well equipped to distinguish between real relationships and “parasocial” or imagined ones. That means we get a boost from celebrity crushes, just like from our family and friend relationships.

Yet parasocial relationships, for example, my crush on Richard Armitage, are by definition a one-way street. In some ways, I wish Armitage would re-consider joining Twitter, because that social media medium allows for more two-way interaction between fans and celebrities. At the same time, I respect him for choosing to limit his exposure and keep his life simple. It tells me something, I think, about who he is. Yet how do we indulge celebrity crushes without diminishing the person, insulting their dignity? I really know more about John Thornton, Sir Guy, and Thorin Oakenshield than I do about Richard Armitage. One fan confession speaks to my feelings about this: “I know some people want their celebrity crushes to be single… I know I’m never going to meet these people anyway… so I want my celebrity crushes to have a someone.”

Thoughts for the Oscars

I invite you to consider how we minimize the humanity of others in our daily lives. As you watch the Oscars and the associated coverage:

  1. Pay attention to how we talk about and depict the Hollywood stars that work so hard to entertain us all.
  2. Consider your own parasocial relationships and what role they have in your life.
  3. Reflect on times in your own life that someone reduced you to a smaller part of who you really are, like your job title, your appearance, your financial standing, or your faith.

I hope these reflections will open you up to a richer understanding of the human experience and new insight into ways we insult human dignity.

Dedicated to the Armitage Army