I love classic Disney movies. The music, the stories, the characters, the happy endings—all these things have ensured Disney classics remain staples in my family’s trove. Naturally, I always love when the dinner conversation takes a break from politics and our deranged selfie-obsessed culture to turn to Disney movies.
Last weekend, I was particularly happy when the conversation turned to one of my favorites: “Beauty and The Beast.” However, I heard heart-wrenching news about one of my beloved childhood classics: its romance was based on Stockholm Syndrome.
According to the Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary, Stockholm Syndrome is “a form of bonding between a captive and captor in which the captive begins to identify with, and may even sympathize with, the captor.” Due to the ethics of human experimentation, there have not been many chances for authorities and professionals to test precisely what factors cause Stockholm Syndrome. However, most experts have agreed on three central characteristics:
- The hostages have negative feelings about the police or other authorities.
- The hostages have positive feelings toward their captor(s).
- The captors develop positive feelings toward the hostages.
In one of the few studies on the subject, the FBI examined more than 1,200 hostage-taking incidents and interviewed flight attendants who had been taken hostage in airplane hijackings, concluding there are at least three factors necessary for Stockholm Syndrome to develop:
- The crisis situation lasts for several days or longer.
- The hostage takers remain in contact with the hostages; that is, the hostages are not placed in a separate room.
- The hostage takers show some kindness toward the hostages or at least refrain from harming them. Hostages abused by captors typically feel anger toward them and do not usually develop the syndrome.
- In addition, people who often feel helpless in other stressful life situations or are willing to do anything to survive seem to be more susceptible to developing Stockholm syndrome if they are taken hostage.
One quick Google search of “beauty and the beast” and boom, you get all these angry, sad, reviewers playing the “victimization of woman” and “male domination” card, trying to ruin another great movie (RIP Ghostbusters). During the aforementioned dinner conversation, I remembered a Tumblr post I had come across arguing against this analysis. I found the darn thing on my phone and showed it to my friend.
After about five minutes, my friend handed me back the phone and politely told me the truth: no one wants to take the time to read a long post on Tumblr. He was correct: I didn’t even want to read the whole thing. So, in honor of the demigods who saved me countless times in high school and college, there is a Sparknotes version of this post at the bottom.
For the rest, here are seven fleshed-out reasons why Beauty and the Beast is not a tale of Stockholm Syndrome, but a great, classic movie we can enjoy watching without having to worry about PC SJWs taking an axe to our screens.
1. Belle Chooses to Remain in the Beast’s Castle
Probably one of the most important points people forget is that Belle willingly agreed to be the Beast’s prisoner in order to save her father. In fact, Belle herself made the offer to the Beast: initially, he told her “there is nothing you can do,” which is when Belle replied “take me instead.”
2. Belle Is Not With Beast All the Time; She’s Left Alone
The Beast tells Belle she can wander anywhere around the castle, except the West Wing. He also gives Belle her own room, and sends servants to wait on her. The FBI study found that social interaction (defined as “noncoercive verbal interaction between hostage-takers and hostages about matters other than the incident itself”) is one of the three factors necessary for Stockholm Syndrome to develop. If a hostage and captor are kept in separate rooms, it is much more unlikely that Stockholm Syndrome will develop.
However, it can develop if there is a way for the hostage and captor to interact socially with positive contact (defined as absence of abuse). This does not happen with Belle and the Beast: the Beast has a one-way mirror to look at Belle, but her only interaction with the Beast is to refuse to eat with him, and disobey him. Minimal interaction, and their first “social” interaction in eating dinner doesn’t indicate any positive signs of understanding from either party.
3. Belle Doesn’t Care About Survival Or Change Her Attitude About the Situation
Stockholm Syndrome usually develops out of a hostage’s desperation to survive. This is not the case for Belle. Had she merely been concerned with her survival, she would not have gone to look for her father in the first place, and second would definitely not have volunteered to remain in the Beast’s castle.
In the beginning, Belle firmly disagrees with the Beast and refuses to obey his demand for her to have dinner with him. She even knowingly disobeys his one rule in the castle: do not go into the West Wing. When she does venture into the West Wing, the Beast’s violent reaction towards her does not drive Belle to feel sympathy for him. Throughout the ordeal, Belle cares more about satisfying her own desires than simply surviving.
4. Belle Consciously Changes Her attitude Towards the Beast, But Not Until He Changes
In the same FBI report mentioned above, regardless of whether hostages had pre-existing sympathies for their captors “in a true manifestation of the phenomenon the individual’s response is involuntary, unconscious, and without insight.” Belle knows full well that her attitudes are changing towards the Beast, and she questions them (in true Disney fashion) through a song (lyrics courtesy of MetroLyrics):
There’s something sweet and almost kind
But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined
And now he’s dear and so unsure
I wonder why I didn’t see it there before….
New and a bit alarming
Who’d have ever thought that this could be?
True that he’s no Prince Charming
But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see
To the pleasing Disney tune, Belle recognizes that 1) the Beast has become more kind and gentle, and 2) Belle is aware of the changes in her attitude towards the Beast, but still a bit wary. Belle is not in any way exhibiting the effects of Stockholm Syndrome. Rather, the Beast is exhibiting the inverse of Stockholm Syndrome, Lima Syndrome, which is where the abductor sympathizes with his hostage (see the next point for more on this).
Most importantly, Belle’s positive feelings towards the Beast do not begin until he changes. She does not sympathize with him when he shouts abuses at her and acts violent towards her. Only once he starts treating her better (see the lyrics above) does she begin to change her feelings towards him. She never really develops pity or sympathy for his plight, because neither he—nor his servants—ever tells her the details of the situation. The castle, princedom, and less-hairy version of the Beast are surprise bonuses for Belle at the end, but I digress.
5. Belle Persistently Wants to Leave the Castle and Does Once She Can
When Belle and the Beast find out that Belle’s father, Maurice, is dying in the forest, the Beast releases Belle from her agreement and sets her free. Belle thanks the Beast for his understanding, and leaves. Yes, she leaves. Belle is given the option to return to her life before becoming the Beast’s prisoner, and she chooses to return. Unlike the case of Patty Hearst, Belle does not remain with her captor, nor does she voluntarily join him: Belle returns to her home and her family.
Additionally, when Maurice expresses shock after Belle reveals the Beast let her go, Belle explains the Beast has changed, not Belle’s view. Rather, the Beast sympathizes with Belle when she sees her father dying, and subsequently releases her without receiving anything in exchange for Belle’s freedom. He even gives her a magic mirror. Again, this is more of a case of Lima Syndrome because while the Beast sympathizes with Belle, she does not sympathize with the Beast.
6. Belle Does Not Return to the Castle to Be a Prisoner, But to Prevent Murder
Feminists and social justice warriors seem to think Belle returns to the Beast because she has become a weak, victimized woman who now sympathizes with her captor thanks to Stockholm Syndrome. But Belle does not exhibit any plans to return to the castle until Gaston spreads malicious and false lies about the Beast, then rouses up the townspeople to kill the Beast.
Belle acts out of her morals: she knows the Beast, knows he does not intend to harm the townspeople and does not deserve to be murdered. Yes, Belle is concerned for the Beast, but not the abusive, angry, (immature, whiny) creature she met in the first 20 minutes of the film; Belle is concerned for the gentle, kind, reformed Beast who released her from the contract she made with him.
7. Belle Does Not Have Negative Feelings Towards Her ‘Rescuers’
Belle does not hold negative towards feelings towards her rescuers because she has no rescuers: she is already free. Gaston and the townspeople don’t go marching into the forest shouting “Rescue Belle!” because they don’t care about Belle. Instead, they lock her in a basement. (I hope my life is never placed in the hands of people who think the townspeople and Gaston are Belle’s “rescuers.”)
Now, it would be Stockholm Syndrome if after Chip rescues Maurice and Belle from the basement, Belle were to have negative feelings towards Chip because Belle suddenly sympathizes with Gaston (who intimidated her, threatened her, and then made her a prisoner in her own house). But that is a movie ending that, thankfully, Disney did not put into the final product.
In summary, Beauty and the Beast has endured the test of time, social justice warriors, and political correctness to remain a beloved family movie. Stockholm Syndrome is a terrifying occurrence, and should garner scrutiny if placed in a positive light in a children’s film. But Beauty and the Beast is not a tale of Stockholm Syndrome: it is a tale as old as time that continues to charm, delight, and entertain us with magic, hope, and how much love can change us if we let it.
Now Here’s that Sparknotes Version
Belle is not taken hostage: she chooses to remain in the Beast’s castle.
Belle does not change her negative attitude towards the Beast until he stops intimidating her and treats her better.
When Belle is released from the deal she made with the Beast, Belle chooses to leave and return to her home.
Belle does not have negative feelings towards her rescuers because she has no rescuers: she was set free.
This story would exemplify Stockholm Syndrome only if Belle sympathized with Gaston and the townspeople after Gaston threatens her, harasses her father, locks her and her father in the basement, and then Belle exhibits negative feelings towards Chip when he rescues Belle and Maurice from the basement.