“Tish, That’s Kinky”: The Addams Family Does BDSM Right

Originally published by LondonFUSE


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.”

 

Caroline Diezyn is a podcast co-host and blogger at NetFlakes, and a PhD student, writer, and artist in London, Ontario. You can find them on Letterboxd and Twitter.

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