Actor’s Left Nipple Breaks Records, Spawns Debate
Actor Richard Armitage found portions of his bared torso at the center of yet another fandom controversy this week with the much-anticipated release of the Digital Theatre production of his critically acclaimed performance as John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which was staged at The Old Vic in London’s West End and captured live on film in September 2014. The actor’s decision to remove his shirt to sold-out audiences throughout the run of The Crucible during the period referred to as “The Summer of Love”, recently came under fire when screencaps of a controversial scene in the opening of Act 2 went viral and caused an ogling epidemic in the fandom. At the center of the latest debate, through ripped and thread-worn prison garb, peeks Richard Armitage’s Left Nipple.
With the release of the production in its entirety, many more GIFs and screencaps have emerged, several of which have allegedly interfered with viewers’ abilities to appreciate the somber subject matter as well as the talents and capabilities of Armitage as an actor. One vocal member of the fandom, a self-appointed delegate for SPOOFER (Spokespersons Policing Oglers Or Fans Exploiting Richard), who wished to remain anonymous, expressed disgust and disdain for the appalling “absence of maturity and decency, of understanding what this role, the play entails” and was deeply saddened when one screencap, obtained during the curtain call, drew undesirable attention to Armitage’s left nipple through a large rent in his costume over the pectoral area.
When the relatively small but vocal minority, SPOOFER, attempted to reign in and subdue the members of the fandom who were less than discreet in their appreciation for images of John Proctor’s left nipple, debate erupted in what is now being called the Tumblr Nipplegate Scandal. Many commenters argued that just because some fandom members had the audacity to celebrate the reappearance of the nipple in Act 4, it didn’t necessarily indicate incognizance on the part of the posters for the devastating themes of The Crucible, or the brilliance of Armitage’s portrayal in the leading role. “Proctor is supposed to be sexy, so what is wrong with acknowledging that, and throwing in some irreverent humor along the way? Puhleeze. Are the Puritans alive and well on Tumblr?”
Armitage is not the only celebrity to find himself embroiled in a so-called Nipplegate Scandal. Pop singer Janet Jackson, author of the original Nipplegate Superbowl XXXVIII Halftime Scandal of 2004, could not be reached for comment. Jackson’s representatives, however, expressed confusion when they were told that the controversy surrounding Richard Armitage’s exposed nipple was directed not at the actor himself, but at certain factions within his fandom who drew attention to the nipple. “Where’s the outrage? When Ms. Jackson’s nipple was inadvertently revealed by a spontaneous wardrobe malfunction, Ms. Jackson herself was hounded and demonized! Where’s the pasty? At least Ms. Jackson’s exposed nipple was covered with a pasty onscreen and during the live performance!” Janet Jackson’s representatives do seem to have made a pertinent distinction between the 2004 and 2015 Nipplegate scandals: it is impossible to attribute Armitage’s visible left nipple to a wardrobe malfunction, when the nipple is reputed to have been exposed approximately 101 times during the run of The Crucible.
One popular Armitage blogger, recently returned from her travels, was home just in time to weigh in on the nipple controversy, and recalls seeing the nipple many a time when she attended The Crucible live performances in London on more than one occasion. The blogger openly admitted to being sidetracked throughout Act 4 when she was seated in close proximity to the nipple. “That rip was so strategically placed… I remember consciously noticing it when I sat somewhere on the right-hand side of row 2 in the main auditorium. Boy, was I distracted. But well, my grateful thanks to the costume designer,” was her comment in response to another blogger’s edit designating the outer curve of Armitage’s pectoral muscle as one of the places deemed desirous to be kissed in a popular series titled “Places I would like to kiss Richard Armitage: Just South of the Nipple Edition.” Others commented, when the image appeared on a variety of social media platforms, that the screencap was impossible to view without the eyes being drawn repeatedly to the nipple.
Perhaps the most outrageous edit of the curtain call screencap depicts SpongeBob SquarePants actively laving Armitage’s left nipple, and caused an enormous uproar on Tumblr. We contacted the cheerful square-shaped sea sponge in hope of understanding his motivation for this unexpected and completely unanticipated appearance on the London stage. SpongeBob optimistically pointed out that it’s clearly clear from Armitage’s genuinely genuine, heartwarmingly heartwarming smile in the image, that both SpongeBob and Armitage had enjoyed the moment. “That moment, there in the finest theatre establishment ever established for theatre, was a moment I’ll never forget because it’s an unforgettable moment! There we were, in the midst of the most enthusiastic standing ovation where an audience ever stood and ovulated enthusiastically!”
SpongeBob’s PR representatives, employees of Nickelodeon, issued a warning that parental discretion was advised for the character’s appearance at The Old Vic, and hastened to apologize for SpongeBob’s use of the word “ovulation” in his statement. “Listen: everyone loves SpongeBob. He’s a loveable guy. We can all agree that SpongeBob SquarePants is a squeaky clean character, and sometimes that works to his disadvantage. In his naivety, we believe SpongeBob’s reference to ‘ovulation’ was intended to convey the concept of ‘applause’ and in no way did SpongeBob intend to imply that any audience members might have ovulated during the curtain call.”
Nickelodeon went on to explain that they believe that the screencap was taken out of context, showing only a brief and repetitive image that may appear to indicate undue attention was paid to the actor’s left nipple. “Furthermore, we would like to emphasize that there was no sexual impropriety on SpongeBob’s part. This unfortunate screencap, when viewed with a jaded eye, might appear to show SpongeBob’s ministrations in an amorous context, but we must reiterate that both Richard Armitage and SpongeBob had their pants on, and SpongeBob was merely performing much-needed ablutions for the actor following an extended incarceration of his character. The harvest and usage of sea sponges to perform cleansing rituals and exfoliation has been documented throughout history, and should have no innately vulgar associations.”
Whether vulgar associations are drawn from viewing Richard Armitage’s left nipple or not, no one can deny that its performance in The Crucible has enjoyed unprecedented success. Digital Theatre reports that the left nipple has been downloaded to over 1100 cities and has resulted in record numbers of sales and record-breaking traffic on their website since the production became available on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Reports have surfaced of would-be nipple viewers waiting up to 34 hours for their HD files to download, and the usually rapid Digital Theatre support staff has been working overtime to troubleshoot issues preventing the throngs of Armitage Admirers from viewing his nipple’s performance on the London stage.
When contacted to ask whether any priority was given to more serious theatre enthusiasts and Armitage Admirers who appreciate the actor’s talent and recognize his investment of “heart and soul to this piece of art” over those who might only have been interested in drooling over the nipple, Digital Theatre stated: “It is surprisingly difficult to make such distinctions or differentiate between our customers in this fashion. We actually encountered no references to Armitage’s Left Nipple in the queries submitted by consumers. Customers were and are being assisted on a first-come-first-serve basis, and the positive responses, when their technical issues are eventually resolved, have been astonishing.”
Reviews from both the Armitage fandom and critics alike for Yael Farber’s production of The Crucible have been overwhelmingly positive. The piece, which received an unprecedented number of 5 star reviews, has been nominated for two prestigious Olivier Awards: Best Revival, and Best Actor. It is not known whether the controversy will have any impact on the results, but many wonder if it is fair to the other nominees to have to compete against Richard Armitage’s Left Nipple.