The Parody Within: The Employment of the Parodic Mode in The Addams Family (1991)

Abstract: This paper argues that Barry Sonnenfeld’s film The Addams Family (1991) works as a critique of ‘traditional,’ conservative US American middle-class suburban family values. It challenges cultural anxieties of the 1990s concerning the fear of the destabilization of these values tied to the concept of the nuclear family through the use of the parodic mode, characterized by the ‘whimsical macabre.’ The absence of the parodic mode, indicated by a rupture in the established mise-en-scène through a lingering gaze and silence, aims to evoke an affective response within viewers and provides ‘counter values’ that uphold ‘traditional’ family values. It is through the film’s subversive employment of the parodic mode that it makes an impactful social comment by confronting viewers’ ideas of the ‘normal’ and the ‘abnormal,’ urging them to reflect on their values.

"Don’t torture yourself, Gomez. That’s my job” (00:07:21-28), murmurs Morticia Addams (Anjelica Huston) in the first scenes of Barry Sonnenfeld’s The Addams Family (1991), setting the tone for the film’s following parodic narrative. The Addams Family depicts an unusual family based on the cartoons of Charles Addams (1912-1988) and centers around the characters of Morticia and Gomez as the parental unit; their two children, Wednesday and Pugsley; Morticia’s mother, Granny Frump; and their two servants, Lurch and Thing. Together, they inhabit a decaying Victorian mansion in an unnamed US suburb. The film’s main storyline traces the inner conflict Gomez experiences in mourning the apparent loss of his brother Fester and the tensions that arise due to the Addamses’ unusual interests and ‘abnormal’ behavior with their conservative neighbor (the local judge) and the Alford couple. Both Tully Alford, who also works as the Addamses’ family solicitor, and Margaret Alford initially despise the Addamses. Driven by economic desperation, Tully employs the criminal services of the loan shark Mrs. Craven and her son Gordon. Since Tully is unable to pay off his debts with the Cravens, they come up with a plan to scheme the Addams family out of their family inheritance by presenting Gordon Craven as Gomez’s missing brother, Fester, and passing him off as the legitimate heir to the Addamses’ fortune. At first, this scheme succeeds as the family loses their home and their financial safety net.

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