“Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America

Summary:  We continue our examination of the hit TV show “Castle”, today mining for insights about romance in 21st C America. It’s an ugly picture, suggesting (as did previous chapters) that perhaps we no longer defend America because we no longer like it. America has always been an ideological project. It might have evolved into a form that we no longer recognize as us or ours. Post your thoughts in the comments!  Spoilers!

Here we see one slice of romance among boys and girls in America, as shown on “Castle”. See 0:10 to 0:24.

Castle proposes to Beckett
Yes, I will. I also promise to stop abusing you.


  1. “Castle” shows us 21st C American romance
  2. Video evidence of an ugly trend
  3. Gender bending marking the rise of women to equality, or beyond
  4. Long-term effects on men?
  5. Other posts about “Castle”
  6. For More Information

(1)  “Castle” shows us 21st C American romance

Gender bending is one of the largest, most important, and least visible trends of our age, and perhaps one of the major sources of cultural stress. We are redefining our core cultural features, an social experiment on a scale with few — perhaps no — precedents in history.

This redefinition of gender roles provides many of the distinctive features of “Castle”. It shows the normalization of what in the past were extraordinary character traits.

  1. From the script alone how often could you tell the gender of Castle or Beckett? From reading just the police procedural scenes (solving the mystery)? From reading the romance scenes? Very few.
  2. Women as leaders: Beckett as senior detective, Captain Gates as head of the unit. Beckett as the aggressive leader; Castle as the metrosexual follower.
  3. Beckett is an example of  “action girl” (see TV Tropes) or women warrior.  Master of weapons, able to defeat men in hand-t0-hand fights.

“Castle” often takes these now-common tropes to a new level. Castle often screams like a little girl, and occasionally displays outright cowardice (e.g., leaving Beckett to run out of the damaged building in the season 6 episode “Under Fire”). He often portrays the opposite of Beckett’s consistent calm but aggressive reaction to danger.

Even more extreme, in the first few seasons Castle meekly submits to physical abuse by Beckett (e.g., episodes 1 & 3 in season 1; episode 1 of season 3). See the flashbacks in the video at the top of this post. He cannot hit back; that would be wrong. Complaining would look weak. Castle shows the essence of beta: he can neither cope with her nor walk away. The writers and audience show no empathy for him; we mock the clown.

Castle’s passive acceptance of this humiliation foreshadows the events in the following seasons.

  1. His decay from flashes of alpha to full-beta in the later seasons (he loses all self-respect after accepting this abuse).
  2. This in turn explains Beckett’s actions. How many alpha women (Beckett was a wild girl even in high school) would respect such a man? She friend-zones him while hooking up with alphas like Josh Davidson (cardiac surgeon) and detective Tom Demming. Castle follows Beckett like a puppy while Davidson ignores Beckett’s complaints about his life as a world-traveling surgeon, as did her previous love (FBI agent Will Sorenson).
  3. Beckett hears her biological clock ticking at the end of season 4, signalling Time to find a nice stable rich guy.

As mentioned in the second chapter, only with the help of amnesia can fans see this as a romantic saga.  It’s an ugly perspective on the complex drama of relationships in 21st C America.

(2)  Video evidence of an ugly trend

Let’s consider this last point in more detail, as it highlights our radical new gender roles.

(a)  Grrrl Power in the cinema

We watch and cheer Hermione Granger hitting Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The clip does not show what follows: Draco and his team running away, looking back at Hermione in fear. What else can Draco do? Video:



(b)  Watch street experiments of people’s reaction to women attacking men

Turning the Tables“, ABC News “Primetime”, 26 December 2006:


(3)  Gender bending marking the rise of women to equality, or beyond

Google shows hundreds of articles discussing this trend, in an unscientifically casual way.  Here are two typical examples.

(a) Women: hitting your man is not cute; it’s abuse“, The Telegraph, 15 March 2013 — Excerpt:

The scene will be familiar to anyone who has sat through a Hollywood romcom-by-numbers. A glossy American couple fight over an alleged infidelity, and at one point the hunk involved says something unacceptable in a pique of anger. Our heroine responds with a slap, right across the face, and the argument ends there.

We’ve seen Meg Ryan do it, Jennifer Aniston do it, and the most recent example of a whack across the chops I saw was in hipster-com Girls, where friends Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and Marnie (Allison Williams) trade insults over his sexuality before he calls her a bitch and she slaps him, hard.

The couple follow up this charming seduction scene with, as is the series’ custom, coitus that is swiftly interruptus by a character’s punctured ego.

In short, pop culture gives the impression it is cute, or empowering, or even sexy when women hit men. The scene reversed would carry a single connotation of misogyny and out-of-control male aggression, but here we are expected to laugh, or even to be turned on by these characters’ resort to the grim shortcut of violence to deal with problems.

… Young women are internalising messages that dominance is the only way to conduct a relationship successfully, in keeping with the individualistic streak that feminism has acquired in recent years, where to be empowered means getting what you want, not working together for what you can both accept from each other.

The casual female on male violence that we accept on our screens is also sexist, as it presumes that women cannot do men any real harm. The size of bruises and the amount of blood spilled is not the only way one measures the effect of violence, as any man or woman who has been belittled or controlled or intimidated by their partner will tell you.

(b) Women Who Hit Men“, Chris Norris, Marie Clarie, 7 January 2008 — Excerpt:

Cameron Diaz & Jude Law in "The Holiday"
You’re an alpha. Of course I won’t coldcock you.

Furthermore, pop culture has made the idea of a pretty girl whaling on a guy a wacky comedy staple — Angelina Jolie smashing wine bottles over Brad Pitt’s head in Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Cameron Diaz coldcocking Edward Burns in The Holiday were both played for laughs.

… Maybe it’s a postfeminist thing. Dressing to kill, bringing home the bacon, kicking ass in the workplace — the nascent alpha female may have a dark side, a culturally abetted idea that it’s more or less okay to hit the less physically vulnerable member of the relationship.

(4)  Long-term effects on men?

Are these changes good or bad? Consult a priest or philosopher; here we merely consider their effects. At the very least, these rapid and fundamental changes might disorient our society for some period of time.

What effect might a diet of such scenes have on young men, growing up on scenes of women hitting men without condemnation or reprisal?  The traditional quid pro quo of society to the prohibition against men hitting women was that women would not hit men (other than a slap for being impertinent). While that prohibition was too-frequently broken, the sight of women hitting men seems unlikely to strengthen it. (Nor does the Left’s standard tool, the current campaign against domestic violence)

I have not found research on the incidence of woman on male domestic violence. My guess (emphasis on guess) is that it’s increasing.

(5) Other posts in this series about “Castle”

Men and Women linked together

(6)  For More Information

(a)  See all posts about:

  1. Art, Myth and Literature
  2. Women and gender issues

(b)  Posts about marriage:

  1. What’s the future of the family in America? How will that change our government?, 11 November 2012
  2. Do we want to bring back traditional marriage? What is traditional marriage?, 3 April 2013

(c)  Women on top of men in society:

  1. Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?, 7 July 2009
  2. A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”, 8 July 2009
  3. Update: women on top of men, 27 October 2009

32 thoughts on ““Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America”

  1. Pingback: Romance in America: betas & alphas; girls h...

  2. “Turning the Tables”

    Utter nonsense masquerading as a social experiment.

    Watch the couple in which the woman is the aggressor.

    At any time, does the man appear to be in any distress?
    Does the man even attempt to walk away?
    Does the woman ever seem to be in control of the situation (or even of herself)?

    If I saw that scene, I would conclude that the man made a choice to sit and take the abuse, believing that he could withstand it, and that letting the woman work our her anger was the best course of action. (I could see myself doing something like that.)

    Contrast that with the brief clips shown in which the man is the aggressor. These two situations are not even remotely comparable.

      1. Joao,

        Missing the point. Not clear why, as the video clearly explains what they are doing.

        But then that’s exactly the point. They show that the similar actions produce different responses, but observers like you don’t see the asymmetry. This is a second-order confirmation of their results.

        Very 21st C.

      1. Joao,

        That’s quite funny!

        This is perhaps the most common feature of comments — they’re little more than an exercise in confirmation bias. People see what they already know, and nothing more.

        I have run posts about some of the standard classroom demos, which as should be expected provoke nods but no change. This video is the reversal exercise: give two similar groups identical scenes, watch them draw opposite conclusions about the events and their moral significance.

        More dramatic is the hidden guerrilla film.

        Let’s move on, and hope Joao never gets into a fight with a slightly smaller opponent against whom he can only defend — and has his eye poked out — perhaps accidentally. But bystanders will express sympathy and surprise, so it’s all OK!

        The really sad part of these posts is readers’ inability to relate the material presented to the point of the post, which is Beckett’s behavior in the context of a romantic relationship to Castle. Cognitive dissidence rules; readers’ blindness is the result

        Giving rebuttals would only highlight their internal conflict, hence is quite rare in comments. They usually focus on details (as seen here), or more commonly attack strawmen.

  3. Curses! You have me watching “Castle” now!

    The first episodes I watched were the repeats on TNT and they made me wonder why you were writing about the show. What’s there to see in a light-hearted detective drama with more than a dash of romantic comedy? You could go back and watch “Moonlighting” or “Remington Steele” from the 1980s for that, and catch some big-name action stars in their breakthrough roles, too. Still, that wasn’t considered serious fare then, and I wouldn’t consider those early episodes of “Castle” serious fare now. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them. It helped that the first episode I watched was the one about a murder at a science fiction convention directed by Jonathon Frakes of Star Trek:The Next Generation. He knew exactly how to handle the material; after all, he lived it.

    Just the same, I asked why you were looking at this show, and not something ostensibly more serious, like “Scandal,” “Homeland,” or “The Blacklist.” Those shows deal with the theme of how America handles power and responsibility, which I think would be more central to the mission of your blog. I’ve mentioned all three on my blog when covering entertainment.



    Then I watched an episode from this season. Lo and behold, “Castle” had become a serious show about security theater, just like all the rest of the ones I mentioned. I stopped asking myself, because I was watching a show I think is worthy of your attention and mine.

    Of course, looking at IMDB shows that Lisa Edelstein’s character Rachel McCord only shows up in three episodes, so I suspect the setting returns to New York from Washington DC. The show might return to something less serious, too. Oh, well. At least you got me to pay attention.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Neon,

      Thank you for your comments!

      However, I’ll defend the value of looking at mass entertainment — as much or more enlightening than “serious” shows. As generations of literature and comparative literature professors have done, and been mocked for doing.

      The hit shows are popular for a reason. They resonate in some way with people, with their dreams and fears. As such we can use these shows as mirrors to America, magnifying aspects of our society for easier viewing.

      Comic books, anime, manga, romantic comedies, action adventures — all give a window into aspects of America we would rather not see.

    2. Oh, I quite agree with you about the value of looking at mass entertainment. After all, the three shows I named are also very popular mass entertainment; they just happen to be ones that get nominated for awards. I was just wondering why you picked “Castle” in particular. Then I went back and read the comments to the earlier entries. Your wife got you hooked on the show. Say no more. My wife has done the same with me.

    3. “[P]erhaps we no longer defend America because we no longer like it.”

      That’s the thesis of author James Howard Kunstler. He applies it mostly to our built environment, but he likes to make fun of the Kardashians and other sources of trashy entertainment as well. Here’s a link to a video of him giving a TED talk on the subject (It might actually embed–Wordpress does that from time to time).


      “In James Howard Kunstler’s view, public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about.”

      1. Neon,

        Thanks for that comment. I have read little of Kunstler, and thought most of that quite daft. I will take a closer look.

        From your brief note, I suspect we are on different tracks. It’s easy to mock popular culture and construction. But they’re low level is typical, everywhere and always. If he was in 4th C BC Athens, I suspect that he’d mock Aristophanes’ comedies for their giant phallices and other crude humor.

    4. LOL, he probably would. And, yes, Kunstler can be a crank. The problem is that he’s the most annoying kind of crank–one who is right as often as he is wrong. That means I actually have to pay attention to sort the wheat from the chaff, instead of dismissing him out of hand.

  4. Is Alpha / Beta distinct poles of masculinity or is it a spectrum?
    I do not watch Castle but the way you bring up the wider use of romance, gender, and popular culture has got me thinking.

    For instance one watches the TV show the Bachelor (except for those prone to nausea) and the guy is presented as a prime alpha – but the guy is a tool – he could certainly ‘hold court’ at a sports bar with his swagger, and he can manipulate women with no sense of remorse – but he’s a tool. The TV network created him and can depose him and he dances to their tune.

    What real role models are there out there anymore? What tactics are available to assert an authentic masculinity against a tidal wave amassed against it?

    TV has its ‘Madmen’ but I’d rather see a reboot of Michael Landon’s character in Little House on the Prairie

    1. Pastor Ames,

      You raise two important points!

      First, as I suspect you know, the personality characteristics loosely described as alpha and beta lie on a spectrum, with other points beyond beta.

      Second, these are personality characteristics — not markers or indicators of moral worth. As CS Lewis explained, personal attributes are raw matter the spirit works with — as in the example he gives of a surgeon who enjoys cutting people.

      A larger point, too dark for scientists or journalists to share with the public (heresy is a career-killer in both fields): women (in general) love the dark aspects of alpha behavior. See the research about the dark triad of narcissism, Machiavellism, and psychopathy.

      My guess — it is far outside my range of knowledge — is that much of most societies’ social machinery exists to channel or mitigate men’s expression of these traits AND reduce women’s ability and inclination to select mates by these traits. America’s evolution has destroyed these mechanisms, reducing us to (in this respect) a somewhat Hobbesian culture.

      This is IMO the inevitable result of steering society purely by ideology, considering practical implications as improper or even evil. Inadvertent and undesirable outcomes rule.

      1. I am not exaggerating about the research into women’s mating preferences. The scientists are mild in describing their horrifying results, but the data speaks for itself.

        This research speaks of women, but as always we must watch for the WEIRD sample bias: extrapolating to humanity as a whole from a sample that is White, Educated, from an Industrialized and Rich Democratic society.

        Plus watch for the recency bias: in psychology and society we were not always as we are today, and we might be different in the future.

      2. Studies about behavior of women (horrific news)

        This is just a sample. Look at the references in each article to find more such research. Most of these are peer-reviewed research.

        1. Dating preferences of university women: An analysis of the nice guy stereotype“, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 1999
        2. Do “bad boys” really get the girls? Delinquency as a cause and consequence of dating behavior among adolescents“, Justice Quarterly, 2004
        3. Niceness and Dating Success: A Further Test of the Nice Guy Stereotype“, Sex Roles, August 2006
        4. Courtship compliance: The effect of touch on women’s behavior“, Social Influence, 2007
        5. From dating to mating and relating: Predictors of initial and long-term outcomes of speed-dating in a community sample“, European Journal of Personality, January/February 2011
        6. Mate-selection and the Dark Triad: Facilitating a short-term mating strategy and creating a volatile environment“, Personality and Individual Differences, October 2011
        7. Quantifying the strength and form of sexual selection on men’s traits“, Evolution and Human Behavior, 2013
        8. Can an Insult Make You Fall in Love? Does nagging (or negging) make someone seem more attractive?“, Jeremy Nicholson (PhD, psychology), Psychology Today, 31 August 2013 — Cites several studies
        9. Choosy But Not Chaste: Multiple Mating in Human Females“, Brooke A. Scelza, Evolutionary Anthropology, September/October 2013
      3. Follow-up note about this research

        These are just links I have on file, nothing systematic or comprehensive. These do not include research on women’s love of guys with the “dark triad” characteristics. Those studies make the ones listed above look like Disney stories. Far darker.

    2. “Is Alpha / Beta distinct poles of masculinity or is it a spectrum?”

      The term alpha (male or female) comes from the study of animal behavior. It refers to the individual that is at the top of a dominance hierarchy in a social group. Thus it describes a role, not a set of character traits.

      Pop psychology/sociology has misappropriated the term. Like most popological terms, it means whatever the user wants it to mean, and hence nothing at all. (For a light yet sensible takedown of the idea, see: Butchering the Alpha Male by Mark Manson {at his website}.)

      If we care to say anything useful regarding human beings in modern social contexts, it’s probably best to forget all about “alpha males” and use words that actually mean something.

      “What tactics are available to assert an authentic masculinity against a tidal wave amassed against it?”

      The longer I live and the more I think about it, the more I think that the ideals of maleness and femaleness have the same underlying character, just different tools with which to work. That is, work at being a good person as you find yourself in the world, and the male/female bit will take care of itself. Once you try to isolate “masculinity” as a separate thing, you’ve already gone off course.

      1. Coises,

        The terms alpha and beta do have meaning, in a lay sense (i.e., they are not terms used in the literature). Although not what they mean in wolf packs (in fact, there is research indicating the “alpha pair” concept has been exaggerated even in wolf packs). Human groups are hierarchical, and women do have tendencies to select for certain traits.

        I suspect we have here a demonstration of what I said earlier: research has uncovered things which most people prefer not to see, and will actively refuse to see.

        Speaking of research, I suggest you read actual research — like that I showed below — before sweeping away what others say about it.

      2. Coises,

        Follow-up note: when somebody cites a batch of peer-reviewed research (sample of scores of similar studies), citing blog by a “life entthusiast” is not a meaningful rebuttal.

        This is a commonplace in the Climate posts. I cite the IPCC, major climate agencies, and peer-reviewed research. People cite leftist magazine articles in rebuttal. Sad, really.

      3. Societal trends in the country’s primary relationships (Men and Women) evidenced by the studies cited should be strongly considered.
        The Multi generational repurcussions are pretty easy to extrapolate to.

        There is a wealth of work available in these areas for Doctoral Candidates in Clinical psych or Sociology and I am sure it is ongoing.
        Witness the recent spate of similarly relevant shenanigans at UCSB in the students voting to be “warned by the staff and professors” if difficult or harmful subject matter is included in a Class.

        If one does not see this at work in your own life or encounters do not assume it is not in play, do not reason these studies away.
        By it’s very nature much of this is pre-clinical and as the saying goes….one never knows what goes on behind the door with couples.
        Even more so one never knows what goes on behind the face of a significant other.


    3. Along the same vein I understand that psychology attaches a lot of weight to one being ‘assertive’ – with all sorts of benefits in the boardroom, or with libido, or even with countering depression. This makes it a powerful tool that can be used or misused for a whole host of reasons.

      Reflecting on all the posts and conversations I have seen on here lately I personally believe that an assertive masculinity that is influenced by good father-figure role models and by democratic values would go a long way in helping to better society.

      Has democratic values been relegated to the realm of being considered unmasculine? Can it be recovered?

      1. Pastor Ames,

        I agree in general. Unfortunately the “alpha” characteristics that women seem to be (tentatively) increasingly selecting for are increasingly not mediated in our society by good father figures roles and democratic values.

        Our culture is evolving in response to powerful drives and forces. My guess is that we’re letting them play out, as for ideological reasons we’ve lost the concept of steering our culture.

        These are complex issues, on the edge of the known. I wonder if they are even being studied, let alone understood.

    4. I suggest you read actual research — like that I showed below — before sweeping away what others say about it.

      Follow-up note: when somebody cites a batch of peer-reviewed research (sample of scores of similar studies), citing blog by a “life enthusiast” is not a meaningful rebuttal.

      I was only able to read three of your citations (the remainder are behind access walls of one sort or another). Unsurprisingly, none of them used the term “alpha male.”

      I’m not sure why you think I was attempting to rebut them, or your comments about them. Pastor Ames asked for clarification regarding the terms “alpha” and “beta” as applied to human males, and I suggested that searching for clarity from those terms in this context is a misguided effort.

      I referenced Mark Manson’s article because he expanded on the problems with the terminology in what I thought was a reasonably readable fashion, and I did not care to take up additional time and space in my comment. I found the article in a Google search for “alpha male,” which I did to make sure I wasn’t full of shit in claiming that the colloquial use of the term is inaccurate. I know nothing about Mark Manson. I certainly wasn’t presenting him as any sort of authority—I just linked to his words, as an extended explanation of the point I was trying to make.

  5. Very interesting piece and comments on the “comments”. Editor’s last two comments sent me reading about the Triad. It is “horrifying” and strangely and deeply prevalent. Now so unconscious in younger women and men to be almost clinically or sub clinically amazingly unknowable to them.

    Now I rarely watch TV and for very good personal reasons and that show is one of them. I feel no need to discover the dark side of the American Culture via the Tube. That is evident by just living here and reading the dailies of any sort. ;-)

    The Hobbesian part seems to explain a lot of the submissiveness we can see every day in America.

    Steering society purely by ideology….man, is that certainly a ringer for what we can see historically here, recently that is.

    Great stuff FM.


  6. Tangentially related to FM’s main points, a recent psychological research paper finds that the “dark tetrad” of dire personality traits (sadism, narcissism, subclinical psychopathy, and Machiavellianism), which women find so appealing, also characterize internet trolls.

    That seems especially relevant given the high population of trolls in the comments section here.

    “Trolls just want to have fun,” Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 67, September 2014, Pages 97–102.

    Pop sci summary here: “Internet Trolls Really are Narcissistic, Psychopathic, and Sadistic.”

  7. Fascinating literature cited.
    In general, women today are very confused.
    Men, way too passive …..and especially about female confusion.
    E.g., the subject at hand.


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