Cubs Curse and The Stockholm Syndrome

This photo was taken at Minute Maid Park in 2009. Now it's 103 years and counting since the last Chicago Cubs team won a World Series in 1908 - and sixty-six years since the Cubs last played in a World Series back in 1945.

They keep on losing, but still they come. 2011 will be no different. The Chicago Cubs shall continue to take their lumps at Wrigley Field and all the other arenas of major league combat, but still their fans will come to watch and obnoxiously cheer them on, showing up in full Cubs regalia here at our place in Houston and elsewhere.

Why do they do it? What’s it all about? When they reasonably know from an experience that exceeds the lifetimes of .999999 of all Cubs fans, and we are talking about “losing” here, how do the fans of the Cubs continue to muster even the spring hope of winning? We Cubs outsiders probably never will understand it completely, if at all.

The closest condition I can point to as a fit as an explanation for Cubs fans and their ongoing support for their team in spite of all evidence to the contrary that winning is probable is the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome” from psychology. So, what’s the “Stockholm Syndrome?”

in 1973, four Swedes were held captive in a Stockholm bank vault while their violent robber captors held off a siege from police with threats of violence toward their innocent hostages. Later interviews with all four hostages confirmed that each hostage had become identified with their captors during the siege, Some had even contributed to their captors later legal defenses in court. Psychologically, this reaction was viewed as a mental defense by the hostages against getting hurt by their captors during the siege. In a childlike way, the hostages had identified with their captors to try to build a bond that would keep the armed robbers from harming them under fire. They weren’t simply acting. Their minds were being taken over by a belief system that allowed them to justify their support for the bad guys.

This condition, if you will, of course, derived its name from where it was first noted in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. This “Stockholm Syndrome” has since been identified in several other subsequent situations involving hostages who survived by forming a supportive bond with their captors. Pretty crazy sounding stuff, I know, but remember: We’re talking abnormal psychology here, folks, the kind of stuff that happens to people under long-term threatening situations in which victims are held captive in ways we would all hate as a thought about it ever happening to us.

So, how does the “Stockholm Syndrome” fit as an explanation for Cubs fans? I think it works like this: After one hundred and three years of removal from their last World Series title, the whole Cubs culture is now held hostage by the reality that “losing is a way of life.” Admit it or not, Cubs fans expect to lose – and the fate of losing has now even taken on status as adorable veneration. Whether it’s a memory of the Billy Goat Curse or the Steve Bartman Reach, Cubs fans take it all in stride as integral parts of their destiny to go down in disaster in the final reel of each passing season. They may pretend to believe in winning a World Series as a possibility, but everything in their collective conscious and unconscious experience tells them that losing is always their inevitable rest stop.

Cubs fans cannot even play the card that’s available to most other fans from the original sixteen franchises, other than the St. Louis Browns. Cubs fans cannot even brag that their 90-year old great-grandfathers remember their last Cubs World Series champion. All the great-grandpa Cub fans from 1908 have been in the ground or smoked into urns for years now. And, if there is a survivor from 1908, it’s not likely that he holds on to any memories of relevant import.

“Tinker to Evers to who?”

“That’s right, Grandpa! Who’s on first!”

Yes, I think the “Stockholm Syndrome” is a cap that fits the Cubs Nation well. They are a culture totally dedicated by experience and expectation to the reality of losing as a way of life for their kind. I guess we could stop short and just call it a bad case of “1908-itits” that affects our North Chicago brethren and their WGN convert-level class, but that descriptor doesn’t carry the issue far enough.

“Itis” is a medical suffix that usually gets attached to any condition arising from acute irritation. And that doesn’t fit the affliction that blankets the Cubs den. Their condition is chronic. And it stopped being merely irritating about a thousand baseball blood baths ago. Cubs fans had to either die from losing or start adoring its inevitability. Like the people who got vault-stuffed in Stockholm, Cubs fans chose the latter – to start adoring their captor – and their’s was named “Loser.”

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9 Responses to “Cubs Curse and The Stockholm Syndrome”

  1. Bill Hickman Says:

    Bill – Are you jealous that the Astros can’t build up such fan loyalty? Or are you suggesting that because a team does not win the World Series, baseball fans in that home town should simply desert the team, not go to the ballpark and root for it, even though it may play greater than .500 ball during many seasons? If that’s your suggestion, the economic outlook for baseball as a whole would be mighty grim if it were to be taken.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Bill – No jealousy here. And no, I am not suggesting that fans should abandon their clubs simply because they haven’t won a World Series, or won it in a long time. I am just describing what I think has happened to many of the the Cubs fans over a very long period of disappointing results. I have Cubs fan friends who truly “hope” to win, but their aspirations fly in the face of what’s actually happened to the Cubs over a period of time that is much longer than any of their lifespans. Now, let me add this note: If we ever lose the Cubs fans because they decide to stop supporting their team, I think baseball would be the big loser.

  2. Michael McCroskey Says:

    This “Stockhom Syndrome” was used as a defense by Patty Hearst’s attorneys after she joined the Symbionese Liberation Army in a bank heist, originally having been held as a hostage by them. She was, of course, convicted; proving we are still legally responsible for our actions, be we Cubbie or Astro fans!

  3. Darrell Pittman Says:

    Anyone can have a bad century.

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