How The Addams Family does BDSM right

September 18 | drechyng
Morticia and Gomez Addams art print by Etsy seller ParlorTattooPrints
Morticia and Gomez Addams art print by Etsy seller ParlorTattooPrints

The depiction of BDSM in popular films suffered a blow from which it will not easily recover with the release of Fifty Shades of Gray. While it was unfortunately many people’s introduction to the topic, bloggers from all corners of the internet have derided the relationship pictured in Fifty Shades for what it really is: abuse masquerading as kink. But twenty-four years ago, a family comedy centered on a couple who liked to torture each other for pleasure gave audiences a much healthier glimpse at BDSM.

Netflix describes the movie as “Stepping out of the pages of Charles Addams’ cartoons and the 1960s television series, members of the beloved, macabre family take it to the big screen.” Some scenes from the 1991 film The Addams Family are indeed straight out of the Charles Addams comic on which it's based, like when the family douses a group of Christmas carolers with a cauldron full of steaming liquid. Others — like Morticia trimming the heads off of roses to arrange the stems in a vase — are exact recreations of the ‘60s TV series.

But what separates the film from the Family’s earlier iterations (besides, you know, colour) is the reciprocal nature of Gomez and Morticia’s relationship. The tired and offensive trope of an uninterested woman pursued by a lascivious man has appeared over and over again since the advent of television, and though Gomez and Morticia always exhibited a love and respect for each other stronger than nearly all TV couples, even the ‘60s version of Morticia had to rein Gomez in from time to time. Obviously this has a lot to do with the media mores of the time… but unfortunately, those sentiments still prevail today. And that’s why the The Addams Family film is so unique in its depiction of relationships.

The Addams’ lawyer Tully and his wife Margaret exemplify a sadly more familiar and cynical marriage: two people who ostensibly can’t stand each other but feel forced to stay together. The loathing is definitely mutual: when Margaret asks rhetorically, “Why did I marry you?” Tully responds, “Because I said yes!” The “unhappily married” cliché exists to varying degrees in most American media, to the point where Gomez and Morticia’s contrasting relationship is noteworthy.

The Addams constantly become enrapt with each other, getting sidetracked by each other’s allure, recalling their first meeting fondly, waltzing presumably numerous times a day. Morticia’s first lines of the movie, as the ever-present ghostly light with seemingly no source illuminates her eyes, describe Gomez’s sexual behaviour the night before: “Last night you were unhinged. You were like some desperate howling demon. You frightened me.” The camera zooms closer while she adds: “Do it again.” That’s right: the very first lines between the couple aren’t just a rare example of a man and woman who have been married for some time who can actually stand to be around each other. These lines, and the couple themselves, are an example of consensual BDSM.

The passion between the two has been famous since the television show, and the movie does an excellent job highlighting it as well. But unlike the ‘60s television show, Morticia seems as willing as Gomez to derail the conversation and submit to whatever distracting passion arises. The famous “Tish, that’s French!” lines are not, in the film, an example of Gomez’s passionate obsession with Morticia while she sighs and shakes her head happily. Morticia is an active participant and instigator when it comes to their conversation-stopping carrying-on. She’s just as happy as he is to make the others, and the audience, wait for the action to move forward, while they engage in behaviour more suited in media to new, young love than to a mom and dad.

Morticia takes it upon herself to confront Fester and initiate the film’s climax. The villains overpower her instead of listening to her, and strap her to a rack to torture her so that she’ll tell where the Addams family vault is hidden. Of course, following in the Too Kinky to Torture trope, Morticia isn’t phased by the stretching (she famously referred to the torture room as “the playroom” in the ‘60s TV series).

Fester, however, is extremely anxious about hurting Morticia. The whole reason she allowed herself to be put in this “predicament” that for her is regular foreplay is so that Fester’s resolve would be weakened even more so against his overbearing and abusive mother. When Gomez turns up to “rescue” her, it’s less that she needed rescuing and more that Gomez needed the thrill and motivation to get out of his Sally-Jessy-Raphael-watching funk and defend his home. In this way, Gomez is more of the damsel in distress than Morticia ever will be. This is also the only time that Morticia dissuades her husband from continuing their flirting. As Gomez is loosening her straps while Fester confronts his mother, he’s clearly distracted:

Instead of scolding him like a typical wife character, Morticia reassures him that there will be time to continue the torture scene.

But what’s even more exciting, for me at least, is when Gomez and Morticia’s mutual attraction and respect is again evident in their kinky sex life. “Don’t torture yourself, Gomez,” Morticia orders: “That’s my job.” This movie doesn’t only offer an example of a loving, respectful BDSM couple — something painfully rare whenever kink is broached in film — but a loving, respectful, switch BDSM couple. That is to say, it seems as though each member of their exquisitely enviable partnership takes turns acting as the dominant and submissive role.

Much has been written in the blogosphere about what a good feminist role model Morticia is, and I agree entirely. But I would like to enthusiastically add that she takes the role of Dominatrix at least some of the time, and that it’s not played for a laugh or to emasculate Gomez. The passion, love, and respect the Addams couple famously has for each other extends to their role-reversing kinky sex life.

More than two decades later, filmmakers could really benefit from taking a page out of The Book of Addams and show us kinky couples who are also consensual, loving, and respectful. Though of course, none will approach the wonder that is her “mon sauvage” and his “cara mia.”

This post originally appeared on LondonFuse, and has been syndicated by permission.

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  1. Such good points! Too often I read about this movie is bad because of X and this game is terrible because of Y. Whilst I agree there's media out there that is damaging, too much focus is put on what is bad and not on what is good. Particularly if it's sexual – sure depictions of pretty young things with small waists and big boobs are way overdone and sometimes disrespectful but as a woman I'm not against them completely; I'd just like to see more variety. I don't want all media to be conservative – that'd be dull. You're right the film and gaming industry should check out the Adams family and see how it could be.
    Personally Wednesday is my favourite, she's such a fantastic character.

    8 agree
  2. How has this never occurred to me before?! No wonder that Morticia and Gomez are my relationship role models (and also inspired my OTP: Mortimer and Bella Goth of The Sims).

    14 agree
  3. I love the way the film contrasts Gomez and Morticia against the "normal" couple. I've always felt that these characters have never stood to say that people have to behave a certain way to be happy, but rather that our tropes about what married life is are often incredibly sad. I think you totally hit that here!

    Also, the captions on that clip are for Christmas carols. I LOL'd.

    16 agree
  4. Yes! This is what I've been telling people for years! I <3 Morticia and Gomez for all of these reasons! 😀

    5 agree
  5. 50 shades is not an accurate depiction of bdsm. This is NOT because of any form of abuse. It's a really intricate love story between polar opposites who are trying to give what the other needs. I do not see one ounce of abuse in it. It really was 100% of her consent during (as he explained) a trial period. The end, which is where most get fixated, she literally said "Do your worst" just to see how bad it could be. And, as explained in the second book, she forgot to say the safe word. Please find other reasons to not like the series (not an accurate depiction, you don't agree with BDSM, hell being based on a twilight fan-fic is a better excuse) instead of turning something that is honestly complicated for a relationship and falsely accusing it as simply abuse.

    On that note, yeah of course they are bedroom switches. I guess the way my mom sometimes react to certain things kind of gave it away for me. I also think that, not only do the have the best marriage I've seen, but are also the best parents. And, in my opinion at least, this is because they have so much in common. How can two people not on the same page raise a child or even survive a relationship in one piece?

    3 agree
    • As a member of the BDSM community, published erotica writer, and PhD student writing her dissertation on ethical sexuality, I strongly disagree with you. That's the amazing thing about the Internet, though. You get to have and voice your opinion that Fifty Shades is "a really intricate love story." Many people will agree. Caroline and I get to have and voice our opinions that Fifty Shades is "abuse masquerading as kink." Many people will agree. As long as you ACT in an ethical and consensual manner with those in your life, I needn't bother trying to change what you THINK.

      That said, as a member of the BDSM community, I have yet to find one person who actively participates in conventions, parties, or even munches who feels Fifty Shades is a love story or even just harmless fanfiction. We've seen an increase of uninformed, unethical, and nonconsensual behavior slapped with the label "kinky" by those who have romanticized the abusive relationship in these books and act out. We, as a community that practices ethical behavior and has fought so hard against the stigma that we do abuse each other, are then lumped into this group of Fifty Shaders and punished accordingly. It has set back our community considerably.

      I don't know any other words to use to describe this experience than (sub)cultural appropriation. The only people I ever encounter who defend these books aren't actually members of our community or even aware of the code of ethics we follow. They do not face or live the same consequences we have and do because of these books and their popularity. This is not meant as an assumption or judgement against you; I just feel it's an important point to highlight.

      I recommend Dossie Easton's "When Someone You Love is Kinky" as a beginner's guide to the very basics of BDSM (followed by "Ethical Slut" for those curious about ethical nonmonogamy or at least the ethics behind WIITWD (what it is that we do)). These books will give you insight into why the community feels so strongly that Fifty Shades does represent an unethical , abusive, and frankly unromantic relationship. It doesn't mean you can't enjoy Fifty Shades. It also doesn't mean your opinion has to change or that it isn't already valid. However, if you feel strongly enough about the merits of Fifty Shades to write a paragraph-long defense in the comment section of this article, why not consider the other side of the argument (if only to strengthen your own in the end)?

      Okay. This was supposed to be a simple comment and not my dissertation. I'm off now. 🙂

      58 agree
      • "(Sub)cultural appropriation" — this. Yes. Putting it into that phrase describes so much of what is wrong & why. Thanks for taking the time to write that comment- I've read an awful lot of commentary about 50 Shades, but that point specifically helps describe it in a way that's really useful for me (to explain or explain in my head to others). Thanks.

        10 agree
    • Try this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VVyh_IM3Ik which lays out evidence that there is a pattern of behaviour that is both abusive and very similar to how cults get new members. I don't believe everyone involved in BDSM is brainwashed, so I don't see 50 Shades as anything other than what it is. It was porn written by someone who had romanticized something she had no experience in and no real desire to learn about.

      14 agree
  6. Brilliant. This analysis is casting a different light on one of my favourite films when I was a kid… Time to re-watch 😉

    5 agree
  7. Great article! I always loved the Addams family and was always impressed with how equal their relationship always seemed.

    6 agree
    • Indeed. It is so rare to find a movie or TV show where the leads consistently treat each other as equals without one of them (ie, the male lead) assuming the protective roll, dismissing the woman's abilities to act for herself rather than stay behind in safety or take on the classic heroine to be rescued by the big strong man or a "STSL" trope, even in shows that were supposed to be equal partner relationships.
      The only other ones that spring to mind is an occasional X-Files TV episode and the scene from Twister when Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton brave the collapsing house to rescue Aunt Meg. Instead of the expected, "No it's too dangerous, let me go." line I expected from a mainstream film, he shocked me with his, "Here, take my flashlight." as she climbed through the window.

      3 agree
  8. The Jones/Astin, Gomez and Morticia pairing were my roll models for a healthy relationship, along with Myrna Loy/William Powell, Nick and Nora Charles (who were played less as partners in the movies than the book than the Addams) when I was young and impressionable. It was certainly a warmer and healthier image to absorb than what I saw modeled by my own parents. I blame my Domme leanings, Gothic decorating, and creepy music fetish on the Addams Family as well. 😉

    7 agree
  9. YES! I love the Addams family films because of Gomez and Morticia. They are my dream couple! 🙂 And they must be my husband's also as our relationship is so similar to theirs.

    3 agree

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