Saturday, November 29, 2014

Through An Introvert's Lens: Addams Family Values

It would have been an enormous task to focus on The Addams Family as a whole, as it includes a panel of cartoons first published in 1938, a successful television series (1964-1966), at least one animated series (1973-1975) and two movies, the second of which, Addams Family Values, came out in 1993.  I chose the second movie not only because it's a favorite and because it's easier than focusing on the entire canon, but also because it is one of the rare examples of introversion being celebrated.

The "creepy and kooky" Addams family consists of father Gomez, mother Morticia, Grandmama, Uncle Fester, Cousin Itt, Lurch the butler, Thing, and Pugsley and Wednesday.  The Addams family embraces every force that society has taught us to fear: darkness, werewolves, witches, blood, and death.  Moreover, they do so in an undeniably cheerful way, especially Gomez.  They would make wonderful friends if not for the constant fear that they could be plotting your demise.

Introversion and dark, morbid interests have often been intertwined, with the assumption that if you have one, you must have the other.  Yet that is not necessarily the case.  Many introverts aren't the slightest bit into dark subject matter, while many people who are may not be introverted.  For example, the television and movie versions of Gomez portray him as chatty and outgoing.  In The Munsters, a similarly Halloween-themed show, Herman and Lily's family don't contain any traits linked to introversion.

But Wednesday Addams of the Addams Family movies?  Oh, she's introverted.  And gladly so.

I can't think of a character who celebrates introversion better than she, and her best vehicle is Addams Family Values.  In this movie sequel, Gomez and Morticia have a third child named Pubert who looks like a miniature Gomez.  Wednesday and Pugsley are instantly jealous and make numerous (humorous) attempts to kill Pubert, prompting their parents to hire a Debbie, a nanny who is a gold-digging murderer in disguise.  She sets about wooing and eventually marrying Uncle Fester.  Wednesday and Pugsley are suspicious, so Debbie tricks their parents into sending them off to an aggressively WASPy summer camp.  It is the subplot about the camp, especially the magnificent final scene, that is best remembered.

Is She An Introvert?  Duh.

Wednesday likes to be alone.  She doesn't usually speak unless spoken to, and when she does speak, her pithy statements make Daria seem verbose by comparison.  In her mind, there are much more important things than small talk... like world domination.

In most movies, the Wednesday character would be relegated to a sidekick role at best.  Most likely, she would be the quirky Weird Girl brought out now and then to say quirky Weird Girl things for color.  Here, while she's not the sole main character, she does have an active role.

Once Wednesday and Pugsley reach the summer camp, they (especially Wednesday) are under constant pressure to conform to its bright, cheerful, blonde social values.  These values are especially pushed by Amanda, a smug camper, and the unctuous counselors, Gary and Becky.  In a series of scenes, Wednesday pushes right back, such as in this case:

In her "quest," Wednesday is aided by another camp outcast, Joel Glicker.  While we don't see enough of Joel to get a deep view of his character, his traits suggest that he is an introvert or at least leans that way.  Like Wednesday, his desire to opt out of camp activities is discouraged and eventually punished.

After Wednesday declines to be Pocahontas in Gary's Thanksgiving musical production, Gary and Becky's tactics turn from passive-aggressive "encouragement" to torture.  They lock Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel in a cabin with what could only be the worst hell on earth for them: hours of nonstop cheerful, mainstream fare, from Disney to Annie.  They try to withstand the torture and hold true to their beliefs, but in the end, it at least appears that Wednesday has been broken.

So Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel are forced to conform to the wishes of more vapid, extroverted characters.  As we will see, Wednesday has an effective plan for thwarting these wishes, but I'll save that for a moment.  First, I should point out that Addams Family Values seems less intent on defending introversion than on defending difference in general.  These differences include weight, race, and ethnicity.  The movie's less-than-subtle message is that there is nothing wrong with these differences, while there is everything wrong with a mainstream culture that attempts to stamp them out or pretend that they don't exist.

This message isn't merely pushed in the camp plot line, but also in the Debbie-Fester plot line.  After their marriage, Debbie pushes Fester to buy a mansion, and he is miserably marched about in turtleneck sweaters and toupes.  Meanwhile, Gomez and Morticia are barred from visiting him.  Even though Debbie's motivation for isolating Fester (to kill him) is bad enough, we are meant to see that forcing Fester to be something he isn't and can never be, is also wrong.

Fortunately Fester and the Addams family eventually escape Debbie's clutches.  And fortunately, this is what Wednesday and company have to say to Gary's Thanksgiving musical:

Until this point, I've highlighted mainly media that tended to treat introverts like they didn't exist, or attempted to marginalize them.  Movies like Addams Family Values do the opposite, putting them front and center and making them come out on top.  And what was the response?  Did the world cave in?  Did the movie go unwatched?  Hardly.  The movie did make $48 million, significantly less than the $113 million raked in by its predecessor, but that might have had less to do with the story line (which critics compared favorably to the first movie) and more to do with dissatisfaction with the thinly plotted first movie.  In any event, while it wasn't a smash, it was still watched.

The reason I point it out is because too many television or movie producers have acted reluctant to place introverts front and center because "it wouldn't sell" or... reasons.  Yet even though Addams Family Values wasn't a box office hit like the first movie, it still had a lasting legacy in promoting Wednesday Addams as a bad-ass introvert, part of a 90s trend that would include Darlene Conner and Daria.  People still admire her even today, such as in the must-watch YouTube series, Adult Wednesday Addams.  Be loud and proud, Introvert Girl... in your own way, or course.


Number of Introverts: Hard to say, since more of the Addams family seems introverted than not.  At least three.

Is the Introvert Prominent?: Yes.

Is the Introvert Active?: Yes.

How Do Other Characters Treat the Introvert?:  With scorn, contempt, and torture.  For which they are soundly punished... as they should be.

The above images were used under the Fair Use Doctrine.                

1 comment:

  1. "Wednesday Addams as a bad-ass introvert, part of a 90s trend that would include Darlene Conner and Daria."

    Daria is hardly badass. She was just a two faced poser.