Stockholm Syndrome, Victimization, and the media’s version of American men

Stockholm Syndrome:  In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm Syndrome


Victimization Symptoms: Victimization symptoms were proposed by Frank Ochberg as a distinct subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is not formally recognized in diagnostic systems such as DSM or ICD, and includes the following:

  • Shame: Deep embarrassment, often characterized as humiliation or mortification.
  • Self-blame: Exaggerated feelings of responsibility for the traumatic event, with guilt and remorse, despite obvious evidence of innocence.
  • Subjugation: Feeling belittled, dehumanized, lowered in dominance, and powerless as a direct result of the trauma.
  • Morbid hatred: Obsessions of vengeance and preoccupation with hurting or humiliating the perpetrator, with or without outbursts of anger or rage.
  • Paradoxical gratitude: Positive feelings toward the victimizer ranging from compassion to romantic love, including attachment but not necessarily identification. The feelings are usually experienced as ironic but profound gratitude for the gift of life from one who has demonstrated the will to kill. (Also known as pathological transference and/or Stockholm syndrome).
  • Defilement: Feeling dirty, disgusted, disgusting, tainted, “like spoiled goods,” and in extreme cases, rotten and evil.
  • Sexual inhibition: Loss of libido, reduced capacity for intimacy, more frequently associated with sexual assault.
  • Resignation: A state of broken will or despair, often associated with repetitive victimization or prolonged exploitation, with markedly diminished interest in past or future.
  • Second injury or second wound: Revictimization through participation in the criminal justice, health, mental health, and other systems.
  • Socioeconomic status downward drift: Reduction of opportunity or life-style, and increased risk of repeat criminal victimization due to psychological, social, and vocational impairment.

There’s an exciting publishing sensation out there.  It’s E.L James’s S&M trilogy, the first of which is Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy.  I haven’t read the books myself but, as best as I can tell, they are this generation’s Story of O.  As a hip young college student, I tried to read the Story of O, but I quickly got terribly bored.  All the faux sophistication in the world wasn’t going to make me like a creepy story of domination and submission.  My distaste for this genre seems to leave me in something of a minority.   The trilogy occupies the top three spots on Amazon’s bestseller list.  Women, apparently, are completely thrilled by this story of a naive young woman who enters into a submissive relationship with a tortured man who has a compulsive need to dominate women sexually:

Mr Grey, a 27-year-old billionaire, seduces young graduate, Anastasia Steele. He has a penchant for bondage and soon envelops her in a world of kinky sex, S&M and XXX-rated bedroom ‘contract’ games that make for solid post-watershed reading only. Love, inevitably, is not omitted from the romance.

Maureen Dowd, who is rather famous for holding men in disdain (or, as she asked and answered, Are Men Necessary?: When Sexes Collide) doesn’t think much of the book’s concept and, as I do, thinks it’s an O retread.  She is willing to consider the theory, however, that this whole S&M thing isn’t really about men dominating women but is, instead, about women making men do the work in the bedroom:

The Harvard-educated [Jennifer] Hunter [a dominatrix] asserts that most women are sexually submissive — “the sexually dominant woman is that rara avis” — and scoffs at the idea that anything in the book is offensive except its overwrought prose.

“Every good dominant knows that the submissive is really the partner in control,” she says. “All a submissive woman has to do is relax and enjoy the ride while delicious sexual acts are visited upon her. She’s the star of the proceedings. Someone is ministering to her needs for a change. Master is choreographing all the action. The book seems to have resonated with so many women because, after a long day of managing employees, making all the decisions and looking after children, a woman might be exhausted about being in charge and long to surrender control.”

Think about that theory:  because women are in charge of everything all day long, and are responsible for everything, their sexual fantasy involves a man who takes charge, even if the manifestation of that willingness to take charge is to engage in bizarre, but ultimately tame, sexual games that would have left the Marquis de Sade nodding in bored approval, much like a doting parent at the kindergarten play.  Or to put it more bluntly, since men are disappointingly absent during the daytime, let’s pretend they can be “manly men” at night time.  I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly sad.  It answers Dowd’s question by saying men aren’t necessary at all, except to fulfill some freakish fantasies.

50 Shades of Grey isn’t the only pop culture phenomenon out there celebrating bizarre sexual practices that see women pretending to be the weaker sex.  Frank Bruni, with great sadness, examines a new TV show called Girls, which he sees as emblematic of the failure of women’s lib, which has resulted in a dehumanizing, dead-end, hook-up culture.  As with 50 Shades of Grey, the young woman in Girls is a prop for the man’s fantasies, with the woman’s pleasure (if any) coming from that passive prop status:

THE first time you see Lena Dunham’s character having sex in the new HBO series “Girls,” her back is to her boyfriend, who seems to regard her as an inconveniently loquacious halfway point between partner and prop, and her concern is whether she’s correctly following instructions.

“So I can just stay like this for a little while?” she asks. “Do you need me to move more?”

He needs her to intrude less. “Let’s play the quiet game,” he answers.

The second time, she’s an 11-year-old junkie with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, or so he tells her, commencing a role play in which he alone assigns the roles. He has highly specific fantasies, and she’s largely a fleshy canvas for them.

Who needs love when you can turn every relationship into a porn tableau?  Bruni is correct that this is deeply saddening.  I’m not sure, though, that I see it as a failure of women’s liberation, so much as one of its goals — but more about that in a few minutes.

Cultural critic Bill Bennett has looked at Dowd’s and Bruni’s columns and weighed in himself.  He sees this trend in pop culture as a terrible reflection on men — and he’s right, but for the wrong reason.  To Bennett, the book and show reveal a trend that has men degrading women:

Bruni goes on to grapple with Dunham’s loveless sex scenes and wonders whether today’s onslaught of pornography and easy sex has desensitized men to the point where they view women, to recall the words of an earlier day, only as objects. Even the act of sex itself is boring to some men unless it is ratcheted up in some strange, deviant fashion–all at the expense of the thoroughly humiliated and debased woman.

In the act of degrading women, men are also degrading themselves.

James Taranto explains, however, that Bennett errs at a very fundamental level in making the above comment.  You see, both 50 Shades and Girls emanate from female creative minds.  Yup, the fantasy of bored, overwhelmed women who desperately need someone else to take control in the bedroom is a female fantasy:

How does an essay about “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Girls” turn into an anti-male screed? Both are written by women for women. Dowd notes, but Bennett omits, that the real first name of author E.L. James is Erika. As for “Girls,” Bruni points out that Lena Dunham “is not only its star but also its principal writer and director.” And if it’s anything like “Sex and the City,” no heterosexual man will ever watch it except as a favor to someone of the opposite sex.

We don’t dispute Bennett’s contention that pornography is degrading to women, but it takes no courage or insight to say so. “Fifty Shades of Gray” and “Girls” sound degrading too, but Bennett seems to shy away from confronting the fact that this degradation amounts to female pornography–produced by women for the entertainment of other women. In postfeminist America, it’s so much easier and safer to scapegoat men.

Taranto is absolutely right, but he hasn’t gone far enough, while Bennett hasn’t quite figured out what’s really going on.  Post-feminist America is indeed remarkably hostile to men and these books are evidence of the fact that feminism has reduced men to mere sexual utility.  Looking back on the rhetoric of the 60s and 70s, this was one of feminism’s goals all along.  After all, who can forget Gloria Steinem’s stirring battle cry:  “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  Feminists seem to have discovered that this is true in every area of life (work, child rearing, socializing, etc.), except in the bedroom, where an archaic amalgam of heterosexual urges and sheer exhaustion make a faux manly man an object of desire.

Both Bennett and Taranto, however, have pulled back from noting one important thing:  today’s media men — the film producers, TV producers, publishers, etc. — are entirely complicit in this trend of degradation, a trend that not only turns women into sex objects, but turns men into ciphers, useful only in a utilitarian way once the bedroom door closes.  Women may be roaring all over, but you cannot get these films and TV shows made, or these books published, without male participation, participation that is often very enthusiastic.

Take a film such as The Help, which was a Hollywood big deal.  Although it’s based upon a book that a woman, Kathryn Stockett, wrote, the movie is a male production.  A man — Tate Taylor — both wrote the script and directed the move.  And it is not a nice movie when it comes to men.  For one thing, the men are mostly missing in action. When they do appear, with two minor exceptions, the men in The Help are cowards, wife beaters, and racists.  The two exceptions are a paper cut-out black preacher man whose sole role is to give a brief sermon about Moses, and a white man who is on the screen for about two minutes and who is not racist.  And that’s it.  That’s Hollywood’s most recent approach to men in the Jim Crow South.

The Help is not anomalous.  Men do not fare well in media land.  They’re buffoonish, violent, and often invisible.  Women and girls routinely teach them lessons in order to make them more sensitive.  And invariably, the men are complicit in this.  Male actors, male producers, male directors, and male whatever other else they are in Hollywood willing produce widely broadcast materials that make America men look just awful.  It’s the rare production that celebrates manly virtues.

Hollywood’s men are not interested in providing affirmative role models for America’s boys and young men.  Instead like sufferers of Stockholm Syndrome or Victimization Syndrome, they gleefully join in with their intellectual captors in denigrating and demeaning men.  This is a tragedy when it comes to the men who have already given themselves over to their feminist captors and a national disaster when you imagine the second generation of young men raised to hate themselves.

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  • Libby

    Yeah, I remember reading a friend’s copy of “9 1/2 weeks” in 9th grade – the first and last bondage book I’ve ever read. Women are so liberated that they want to micro-manage their domination? Ugh.
    You’re right that Hollywood has been denigrating men for years. My husband has nicknamed “The Color Purple” as ‘black men suck’, “The Joy Luck Club” as ‘Chinese men suck’, “How to Make an American Quilt” ‘white men suck’, etc. That’s why I skipped “The Help” and will continue to skip similar books and movies. At least with Science Fiction you can have both strong male and female characters.

  • jj

    I know it occasionally looks monolithic – a lot more than it is – but the simple fact is that Hollywood, like organized crime, just isn’t all that organized.  “Today’s media men – the film producers, the TV producers, publishers – are entirely complicit in the trend of denigration…” – no.  Not really.  What they’re entirely complicit in is trying to make money.  That viewpoint is currently selling.  An idea comes along, a film is made. If it’s a success twenty more like it will be made in the next half-decade.  (If it succeeds BIG, fourteen like it will be made in the next two years.)  We’ve all seen this process repeated and repeated in our movie-going lives.  “Men do not fare well in media-land.”  But if  a new-generation John Wayne appears this afternoon and is a sufficient success by Friday, there’ll be five more of him by next week.  They’ll fare just fine.
    The idea that women have a civilizing effect on men is hardly a recent development – in Hollywood, on TV, in publishing, or in life.  (Even Wayne’s gunfighter submitted gracefully – more or less – to a Quaker girl’s civilizing ministrations.)  I suspect this goes back to the beginning of time.  Guys would, for the most part, wander along with the herd, killing small things and eating them raw, spending the nights in trees.  Knives and forks, napkins, plates, finger bowls, clothes, houses, staying in one place and calling it “home” – all female constructs.  Centered, I suspect, around child-rearing.  Most of what we refer to as “civilization” is a female construct.
    All of us of a certain age did most of our growing up only rarely in the presence of Dad.  He went off to work in the morning, not to be seen again until the end of the day.  (My own father, with the life he led, was occasionally not seen for months.  On the other hand when he was home, he was home – and then he was the only one.  All the fathers of my friends were gone all day.)  For a story from the era of the fifties and sixties, The Help strikes me as completely normal.  Possibly the men in it are jerks, I don’t actually remember, the movie was forgettable – but the story wasn’t about them.  The home front – the kids, the maids, the schools, the guys who mowed the lawns, the dry-cleaners, the supermarket – didn’t – in life, as in art –  feature much action from male characters.  The male characters were at work, trying to keep the whole thing afloat.  They didn’t do the household help, it wasn’t their area.  They were otherwise occupied.  I don’t think I ever saw my father in a supermarket until he was in his seventies, and I’d bet he never went into a dry cleaner’s in his life.  Not his area.  (Though, oddly enough, it was my father who taught me how to sew a button back on.)
    It may be a sad fact, but it’s nonetheless a fact that women and girls do indeed do most of the sensitivity training in most males’ lives.  When you slugged somebody at the playground, it was Mom who explained why it was a bad thing, because she was there.  Dad was at the office, his input was limited.  When you were a little older, if you were lucky, you had female friends – not girlfriends, friends – who kept your gentler side alive as you dealt with the lunacy of adolescence.  I don’t find that in the least remarkable.
    Hollywood’s men may or may not be interested in providing role models.  Most of them are not in the role model business: they see themselves as actors, doing a job.  The job involves saying the lines from the screenplay, and doing what the director tells them.  Very few actors have relationships with directors that allow them to change the way a character is written.  (Off the top of my head, Hanks can tell Spielberg he doesn’t like a character, and can get away with changing his direction.  DeCaprio can do it with Scorcese.  Cruise can input with a variety of people, because everybody knows him and likes him, and  his instincts are seen as generally reliable.  But most actors, the vast majority, do as they’re told.  Play it as written.)  As Michael Curtiz told Bogart during the making of Casablanca, “don’t think.  I’ll think.  I’m better at it.”  Before that movie Bogart had never in his life played even a vaguely romantic role, he was a thug.  All of a sudden he goes down in history as one of the great romantic leads of all time, first try.  The point is: actors do as they’re told.

  • Gringo

    It has been a decade since I have been to a movie theater. I do not watch TV- movies or otherwise.  I don’t watch many, but nearly all of the movies I watch on DVD were made back in the 20th century- and those that postdate 2000 are  usually foreign. From what the article states, it would appear that I haven’t been missing much from my Hollywood abstention.
    BTW, my father took a very active role in raising us. It wasn’t just five minutes during dinner, especially since he often did the cooking.

  • jj

    I don’t say they didn’t take an active role, Gringo – they simply weren’t (usually) the active presence.  “Wait ’till your father gets home” didn’t become a tag line because nobody could relate to it.

  • Mike Devx

    jj, it’s true that Hollywood and Madison Avenue follow the culture, and follow what sells – or what they THINK sells.
    But I think you gave short shrift (?) to one key idea: From the mid-60’s on, Hollywood and Madison Avenue became more and more – and more! – liberal.  These liberal men are the ones showing Book’s ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.  They’re the ones who caved in and who, along with the liberal women, have been putting out the message across nearly all shows that men, especially husbands, are lovable idiots and lunks who just aren’t good for much, and who certainly do not raise and train their children morally and ethically.

    I think of my conservative male friends who are husbands and fathers, living their lives with their wives and raising their children.  To a man, they take their responsibilities as fathers seriously.  They’re dedicated.  They will talk over lunch about how to raise their children well.

    These conservative friends have NOTHING in common with the vast majority of men I see on TV shows, commercials, and in the movies.  (Yes, there are rare exceptions.)  The reason for this is that liberal memes dominate Hollywood and Madison Avenue.  They are liberals, and it’s all they know.  They’re completely out of touch with the conservative values that conservative husbands and fathers live their lives by.  They can’t write it; I don’t even believe they’re capable of thinking it.


  • Ymarsakar

    There’s another version of Stockholm, in which the methodology has near 100% success. It’s sexual slavery methods. Danny alluded to them when he linked to the Islamos sucking in Western women and making them disappear.

     My ideal was something attributed to the old Persians, meaning the real Persians became Islam conquered them. Teach a boy to despise lies, shoot straight, and ride a horse.

    From the day I was born, I had an inherent dislike of lies. I didn’t understand them, though I did understand that many used them to hurt others or to benefit themselves at someone else’s expense. The last two things I learned later by choice. Riding a horse is still on the list of things to do.

    A lot of the J visual novels have incidents where the women chide men for acting like weaklings and attempt to galvanize males and motivate them to excel in obtaining virtues like strength, courage, etc. It’s not a shallow request for gifts or some other kind of benefit that “demonstrates” something females find valuable. Rather courage is beneficial to males and females, whether you are the one that has it or whether you simply benefit from indirectly. In the old days of America, fathers would test the young boyfriends of their daughters with some slight intimidation. Culturally, this was to ensure that if that boy is escorting your daughter, that he’d better stand his ground in dangerous situations. And if he lacks the spine to stand up to you, her father, then he’ll surely lack the spine to do anything in a dangerous situation. He’ll probably leave her in the dust as he runs for it.

    No matter what the motivation, rewarding virtues and punishing vices is something I approve. Modern American culture cares more about cultivating vices than virtues, however.

    The Left used to kidnap girls and indoctrinate them with Communist ideals using sexual slavery and other violent methods. Now a days they get the same result but with different methods called Hollywood. That’s about it in a nut shell. Same con game, different skin.


  • Ymarsakar

    Hollywood only writes Leftist junk propaganda. They are not concerned about selling anything, except in so far as they want to get rich from participating in the Leftist alliance. What this means is that they don’t make a product that appeals to an audience and get rich. They make the audience conform to the product that they originally wanted to sell. Their top priority was never profit, but power. Profit is just a way for them to get their war to pay for itself.

    Since the Left can only write Leftist junk propaganda, they must make the audience like the material. The power the Left holds makes that not only possible, but already true for the most part. While this turns off a large majority of Americans, Hollywood makes most of their production costs from oversea theaters so it’s not like that really matters. They couldn’t write material that appeals to conservatives anyway, even if they wanted to. And they don’t want to. That would be violating their First Principle: make war profitable in order to win the war. It benefits them not a all to get profit, while losing the war.

  • Indigo Red

    There was a time long ago when Hollywood was a place in California that made movies of whatever quality. About the same time period that BW mentions – 60s and 70s -Hollywood became a worldwide philosophy encompassing a libertinism of which Caligula would be proud. In fact, that international Hollywood produced a successful film called “Caligula” celebrating the Roman emperor in all his depravity. Even Bugs Bunny got into the act when during the opening narration of a cartoon involving San Francisco of the Old West, the narrator says, “San Francisco: where men are men and so are the women.” It’s been a long, slow, and usually quiet transformation from Humphrey Bogart to Alan Alda and all the squishy leading men and characters who wouldn’t know how to just whistle let alone be a real heroic figure while  heroic figures are themselves cartoon characters, often quite literally – Ironman, Thor, Hulk, etc. Those that were once heroic have been re-edited for a new generation because heroes don’t shoot first. The most popular film in theaters on this day involves a young woman as the hero precisely because she can do all those things that men were once expected to be capable and the stars of the cooking channel are mostly men who can whip up a mean quiche like nobody’s business. Eventually, even Gloria Steinem tired of radical feminism and married, discovering that some fish, from time to time, need a bicycle.

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