The Madame Butterfly Effect

I’ve just found a curious study on whether opera fans are more accepting of suicide in the case of dishonor to one’s family in real life, in light of the fact that this is a common theme in several well known stage masterpieces.

It turns out that they are, and the researchers label the phenomenon the ‘Madame Butterfly effect’ after the famous opera of the same name where one of the lead characters kills themselves to avoid dishonour.

Opera subculture and suicide for honor.

Death Studies. 2002 Jun;26(5):431-7.

Stack S.

The influence of music-based subcultures on suicidality has been the subject of much debate but little scholarly research. While previous work has documented that suicide is a remarkably frequent cause of death in opera, it has not explored the related consequences on opera’s audience. In particular, the possible influence of the opera subculture on suicide acceptability has been largely unexplored. Suicide in the case of life without honor, the “Madame Butterfly Effect,” is a theme in opera. Persons who are drawn into and/or influenced by the opera subculture of honor are hypothesized to be more accepting of suicide in the case of dishonor to one’s family. Data are from the national general social surveys (N = 845). A multivariate logistic regression analysis finds that opera fans are 2.37 times more accepting of suicide because of dishonor than nonfans. Only two variables, religiosity and education, are more closely related to suicide acceptability than opera fanship. These are the first empirical results on the subject of opera and suicide acceptability.

Link to PubMed entry for opera and attitudes to suicide study.

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