Monday, January 25, 2010

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is one of the most interesting internet memes I know. There is a common definition floating around the web. And it is very successful - as most people can relate to what it describes:

"The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon occurs when a person, after having learned some (usually obscure) fact, word, phrase, or other item for the first time, encounters that item again, perhaps several times, shortly after having learned it."

However, as much as we all seem to be able to relate to it, there is no actual scientific basis to it other than just another cognitive bias: selective attention. While we tend to ignore information that we cannot relate to, we are eager to connect any newly incoming data to the existing semantic network of personal knowledge that is our brain. As a result, there is no actual research on the topic and the wikipedia regarding this lemma entry gets repeatedly deleted.

The term "Baader-Meinhof" stems from a group of German communist terrorists that was active from the late sixties until the late nineties. Despite their rather respectable death toll, they never managed to get any fame outside the borders of Germany. thus, for Americans, hearing about "Baader-Meinhof" for the first time resembles one of these moments where we get in touch with a large chunk of knowledge that we never even knew before existed.

As of late, the "Baader-Meinhof" has popped up on several web pages again. The main reason for that is that a 2008 movie on the events surrounding said terrorists has been made available on the Netflix instant movie list. It is done well enough (and the competition bad enough) that it propelled into the top ten within weeks. Thus, the number of people who experience "Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon" by actually learning about "Baader-Meinhof" has reached an all time high.

For me (having grown up with Baader-Meinhof on the daily evening news), the true "Baader-Meinhof phenomenon" is something entirely different.

And the movie portrays it quite well:

What the Baader-Meinhof story reminds me of, is the magnetic effect of outlaws on women. More than that, it is the willingness of women to go all the way out, and even kill when under the influence of an uber-alpha male.

[I am not saying that men are not susceptible to the charisma of demagogues. What I am referring to is a sexual component that makes matters more complicated - and fascinating.]

To the left you can see a photograph of Anrdeas Baader, the leader of the original group (of mostly women), who started it all.

It is this exact photograph that instigated my thoughts on this matter (long before realizing the connection between female attraction and male social status). It was back at college when I shared an apartment with a female friend of mine. We were platonic friends, but pretending to be a couple increased our changes of getting an apartment significantly (people were afraid of renting out to groups of young, single men).

I had known her for a while, and I was aware of her liberal tendencies (no surprise), but I still was flabbergasted when she put up a life size poster of said terrorist's profile next to her chich crack-y New Age paraphernalia. When I asked her why she would put up a mass murderer, her immediate response was that "he is hot".

And she did not stop there. Soon, I would be initiated to the "hotness" of Che Guevara, Charles Manson and other "bad boys" of political recent history. In each of these cases, she had some "political" reasons to justify her admiration, yet it really all boiled down to one: These men were rebels. Living life "without compromise" and "with a passion". A passion mostly for themselves, but disguised as a higher moral motif to drag others along.

While the German movie about the Baader-Meinhof terrorists unveils this very mechanism with which Andreas Baader hypnotized the women who followed him into his grave, one has to dig a bit deeper into another cinematic attempt at a similar story. In "Public Enemies", the story of John Dillinger and "Billie" Frechette is told as a true love-y life-long romance. 
Which it was. 
For her.

The web site "" (note the plural), which advertises a book on the "Women of the John Dillinger Gang." draws a slightly different image than the lovey-dovey movie. one that fits way better into the alpha status world view. One that describes my own personal version of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon rather well.

In her own words: "I'm not sorry I loved him. That part I couldn't help. I'm sorry what happened to me and what it cost me after I was caught."

It is important to note that women are not attracted to evil. They do not really care for what reason the man they fell for kills. They are attracted to policeman and thugs alike. All that counts is the high social status (behavior) that comes with these societal roles: "I like John's kind. I don't mean because he was a criminal and carried guns around, and wasn't afraid of police or any one. There was something else. John might have been a soldier or something else besides what he was."

That "something" is essence of what draws women to men of this kind like moths into the flames. 
It is expressed in how these men walk, talk and act. It is reflected in the reaction of those around them. It is an invisible force in the social universe. That "something" that women sense in these guys is the high social status that we ascribe to men with a fearless will to gain power. 
A woman will always prefer to be number two to a strong man than the number one of a weak man.


  1. Reminds me of the movie "Goodfellas".

    Karen Hill: "I know there are women like my best friends who would have gotten out of there the minute their boyfriends gave them a gun to hide, but I didn't. I got to admit the truth, it turned me on."

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  2. Go see the movie "Baader Meinhof Complex". this was a very volatile itme in Germany. Excellent. Plus, most of the women in the film range from cute to superhot.

  3. Scandinavian here, I can attest to the fact that "they never managed to get any fame outside the borders of Germany" is wrong. Europeans knew about RAF and Baader Meinhof

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