Addams Family Values

2:29 PM

A post where I over-analyse Addams Family Values and ask a whole lot of questions.

When I was a child, I used to love the Addams family. They seemed so strange and at the same time so cool. I was strange and wanted to be cool, so it was the perfect movie for me. The cast was amazing and the jokes were dark and funny.

Gomez's mustache, Morticia's glowing eyes, Pugsley striped shirt... it was all fun and games until I watched Addams Family Values with a more critical eye. I didn't mean to do it, it just happened. Suddenly, I'm scared of the Addams. While I was watching this sequel I was shocked and it wasn't at the fact that the beautiful blond nanny is actually Joan Cusack.

So, we need to talk about the Addams. First off: why are they rich? The characters are different but they a) seem to accept that difference in themselves and b) not care if others don't accept it. But the producers want us to accept them too. Why not make them poor or middle class? It's like the producers thought we'd might be more responsive to them in case they were rich. Apparently, the Addams need validation.

It's like that saying: "Rich people aren't crazy, they are eccentric." Does this apply to the Addams clan? Are we willing to accept and overlook strange behaviour as long as it comes from rich people?

Notice that this is not a mere detail. The plot of both Addams Family movies revolves around people trying to get their money (first their sleazy lawyer, then a gold digger psycho).

This shouldn't be so important, but the thing is: the movie is supposed to make us like the Addams, so are we supposed to like them only if they have money?

Secondly, is Wednesday a bully? I guess so many people like Christina Ricci's performance and Wednesday's lines that it's difficult to assume she's a bad person. Let's not forget that often times in movies being evil equalls being cool.

In one of the first scenes of Addams Family Values Wednesday is shown as emboding one of the key aspects of what's wrong with the movie. She is different but she doesn't accept difference in others. In the maternity ward, Wednesday and Pugsley hear a little blond girl going on and on about where babies come from, using all the possible cliches. Wednesday turns to the girl and says her parents just "had sex".

Everything Wednesdays does is to shock others. To be more specific, to shock people with conservative values.

Take the bit about school presentations. In the first movie, Wednesday and Pugsley act out a duel which ends poring (fake?) blood on the audience, Tarantino style. But in the sequel, Wednesday delivers a speech which is (slightly) anti-American. Regardless the validity of her speech, she still goes on to imprision and burn the other kids. This type of black or white worldview (popular kids X weird kids,  blond kids X dark haired kids, pilgrims X indians, parents X children) is the type of logic who leads to bullying and its extremme reaction - attacks such as the ones in Columbine.

I'm not saying that any kid who watches this movie might go on to kill his colleagues. I'm just saying that's what Wednesday did and it's what the movie proposes as cool.

Just like a true dictator (remember that Mao was on the list of possible baby names for Pubert), Wednesday does little herself, leaving all the destruction to be perpetrated by other children. They go after not only the other kids but also the camp counselours and their parents.

Lastly, who are we cheering for? Debbie is supposed to be the villain, right? The Addams are all against her and so should we. But what's the difference between Wednesday and Debbie?

Debbie didn't like her parents because instead of giving her a ballerina Barbie they gave her a Malibu Barbie - which is hilarious, I admit it. But in Wednesday's mutiny the other kids go after their parents. She seems to forgive her own parents (just like that!) but the other kids don't. Should we do as she says or as she does?

Debbie killed all her previous husbands for money but she tries to convince herself and others that it was actually their fault. The doctor was too focused on his job, the senator didn't give her expensive things to "set an example". In her words, "they had to go". Debbie also complies with that black and white logic which puts all the blame on the victim who is being killed.

Wednesday doesn't admit there was anything wrong with Debbie besides being "sloppy". Wednesday thinks  she could kill her husband without being caught. To make matters worse, she goes on and test this hypothesis.

All this makes me wonder: are the Addams that strange? When I was a child I thought they were strange people, but a more fitting label would be "gothic" or just "morbid". if you look closely you'll see they (or have become) as mainstream as it gets. 

If they were so strange we wouldn't share their points of view. Watching and enjoying the movie entails laughing with them at others and very rarely laughing with other people at them. The Addams always get the upperhand. Addams Family Values doesn't make fun of the Addams themselves, but at all those suburban white Americans who take their kids to camp and who watch and enjoy Disney movies and so on. The Addams and their values are the cool ones. And they can only be cool inasmuch as we share them.

Their views on history, for example, are very politically correct. Wednesday's speech against the pilgrims is no different from what was taught in my university. Earlier in the movie, Wednesday re-enacts a guillotine execution - French Revolution style - with the baby as Marie Antoinette.

The only politically incorrect joke are the ones concerning the environment. When a hippie nanny proposes a discussion on how to prevent forest fires, Wednesday replies "prevent them?" while lighting a match. There's another scene when the kids are practicing shooting arrows and Pugsley shoots an American bald Eagle - that are now extinct.

Since we mentioned Pugsley, why does he exist? He has few lines and does nothing. He only does what Wednesday tells him to. Even in camp he seems to be in the same room as she is.

Who are the boys in this movie? Joel Glicker is a shy boy who's allergic to everything and who is despised by Wednesday in the end. How are boys supposed to react to this movie if there isn't one interesting, confident boy in it?

Anyway, it's difficult to watch and enjoy Addams Family movies now. It seems that their agendas are too out there for me to overlook them. You have jokes concerning killing other people (be them your annoying camp conselours, your camp mates, your parents, your husbands etc), jokes about the devil, a glamorization of all things criminal.

Wednesday did prove her point - she is scaring me to death.

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  1. I re-watched the second movie approximately a year ago, and was struck by how sympathetic the Addamses are to Debbie's worldview. Even beyond Gradma's amicable comment of "What about Debbie?," they all seem to view her actions as justified and proper.

    Probably the most drastic rift between the Addamses and other people is that other people are tremendously scared of death whereas the Addamses almost seem to welcome it. They view it as a good transition rather than a bad one.

    Very interesting. And funny.

  2. Exactly, it seems like they are all on the same side - which is something I don't remember seeing in the first movie.

    Thanks, have a great weekend!

  3. This is a really interesting post, I loved the Adams Family movies as a kid, and looking back I think I liked them because they were so spooky and against the grain. While it's been years since I've watched them, I might go back and re-visit because you make some really good points about their wealth that I guess went over my head as a child! I probably didn't fully appreciate the brilliance of Anjelica Huston at eight either :)

  4. I think it's worth it watching again, because, like you said, we miss out on a lot of things when we are kids.

    Angelica Huston is amazing is this movie though. I didn't notice that in every scene her eyes glow! It's something really funny to notice, specially when she is in a scene with other characters around. xx

  5. I remember watching this as a kid.
    For some reason I never thought of Debbie as a villain. I thought of her as an abused kid, who grew up to be completely emotionally and financially dependent on others.

    As a kid I never thought too much about Wednesday - I was too interested with Gomez and Morticia's marriage (and trying to work out who the house belonged to and which one was Grandma's child).

    I absolutely despised the idea of marriage, or even dating, until I saw this movie and saw that one spouse does not have to be dominant over another.

    So that's the lesson I learnt as a child.

    I enjoyed Wednesday's bits as an adult and I can understand. If the adults force the children to behave in a certain way - locking them in all night and making them watch Disney movies (when they should be sleeping) then I can certainly understand their running amok. I always thought that they just terrorised & vandalised the camp rather than killed anyone.
    And Wednesday taught the other kids to stand up for themselves.

    As for the whole "our parents had sex". The kid will have to learn sometime anyway. I never learnt all those cliches and I fared well. I was also never taught about Santa/tooth fairy etc.

    Maybe I see the world a bit differently?

    1. I guess there are many ways of interpreting this movie (and the world!). I used to like this movie a lot and one of the things I liked was Gomez and Morticia's passionate marriage. It always called my attention how in that area they were not gloomy or dark.

      However, it's interesting how much of our opinions and ideas about "real world" things are based on fictional works, such as this movie. Isn't it possible that looking at "wholesome" things like Disney movies with suspicion has become more common precisely because of movies like The Addams Family? Or even assuming that Debbie must have been abused as an excuse for her crimes? As far as I remember the only abuse she suffered as a kid was getting a Malibu Barbie (one of the funniest bits in the movie).

      I don't know, the more I think about it, I have the impression that this movie is very successful in turning things upside down.

  6. I watched the movie when it was relased, it is my fav movie, my opinion then and now is that this film is awesome!!


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