Mass Empathy in New Deal and Stalinist Propaganda: The Path to Victimhood Culture

Masumi Kameda


This paper attempts to provide the cultural history of the “victimhood culture”. This paper proposes that the subjective turn of suffering that begot today’s victimhood culture can be traced back to the 1920s U.S. At that time, empathy-based strategy of attracting people have emerged in the sphere of advertising and movie industry. This strategy was employed also in the state propaganda starting in the 1930s, amid an unprecedented social, economic, and political crisis. In the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the authorities often tried to arouse reciprocal empathy among their people, thus, mass empathy became salient in state propaganda.

This paper then demonstrates how the U.S. and the Soviet Union began creating the emotional norm specifically designed for the age of social crisis with examples of propaganda that are parallelly seen in both countries; the projects to enhance annual celebrations and leisure time enjoyment and the projects to collect the oral life histories of the socially vulnerable people. Through the analysis of case studies of both countries, this paper attempts to contextualize today’s victimhood culture by suggesting that it is an extension of this specifically historic emotional norm promulgated in the late 1930s, which defines that emotions can be, or rather, should be, shared in large unit groups such as a nation.

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