Why Wednesday Addams is Not Radical Enough

The popular Netflix series “Wednesday” poses interesting questions regarding the status of counter-hegemonic political subjectivities in the contemporary era. Played by Jenna Ortega, the titular protagonist is a gothic girl who embodies the spirit of permanent rebellion. She gets expelled from her high school after she takes revenge on her brother’s bully by dumping piranha in the pool while he was swimming. Consequently, she is sent to Nevermore Academy, a school for all the “outcasts” of the world, namely those who possess supernatural attributes. Since Wednesday has frequent psychic visions, she also belongs to the outcast community. However, she immediately finds herself as “an outcast in a school of outcasts” due to her inveterate misanthropy. Even though she is an exceptionally intelligent student, she refuses to use her talents in service of the socializing rituals found in teenage life. To her therapist, Wednesday remarks: “Sartre said hell is other people. He was my first crush.” In her attempts to run away from school, she unearths the monster mystery that has been haunting Jericho County for a while. In the process, she coldly manipulates the feelings of others to serve her own investigatory ends. By the end of the season, she makes efforts to amend this attitude of toxic disregard by softening her hard-headed personality.

On the whole, Wednesday acts as a placeholder for a form of radical non-conformism that does not seek to be truly understood by others; instead, it takes pride in its morbid self-acceptance. In the words of Emily Alford: “Wednesday loves dark chaos for dark chaos’s sake…She’s a rebel without a cause who isn’t torn apart by that lack of cause.” Rather than pleading for the social recognition of her anti-mainstream behavior, she simply acts as “A Person Who Does Not Give a Shit.” These ideas have significant resonance with the general climate that has been engendered by decades of neoliberal reforms. The privatization of humanity’s existence through the destruction of collective welfare has led to cut-throat competition, wherein everyone acts as a self-interested, profit-maximizing agent. Given this situation, each individual is cynical about the moral character of others and naturally assumes the worst of everyone. All social bonds disappear in a fog of mistrust and suspicion. In a fundamentally corrupt world, no one and nothing can be trusted. Society is just a playing field in which people assume “roles,” staying away from any binding commitments. Rules are mere external norms to be broken whenever possible. One does not have to gain recognition from anyone; the “true” individual pursues personal enjoyment and refuses to be determined by the Other’s gaze.

In short, ours is a society of commanded enjoyment, in which the cynical subject, assured of the baseness of other human beings, aggressively asserts its own identity without being hindered by intrusive social relations and individuals. Wednesday considers “the world as a place that must be endured,” and her self-described “personal philosophy is kill or be killed.” She endures the world by becoming “an island. A well-fortified one surrounded by sharks.” She uses her lack of intimacy to objectively analyze the rules of the social game and thus achieve her desired ends. For her, “emotion equals weakness.” Cynically detached from the world, Wednesday considers the authority figures of society as malevolent leaders hell-bent on depriving her of her right to enjoyment. Instead of being duped by the Other, she wants to liberate herself from social constraints and enjoy directly. Hence, transgression becomes the default mode of existence. This transgressive life hides the fact that there is no enjoyment beyond the Other. In fact, one’s life becomes enjoyable only when a supposed Other threatens to destroy it. The value of what I have is established through the enemy that wants to take it. In this light, Wednesday’s anti-social behavior does not convey a desire to transcend social barriers and attain a prohibited enjoyment. On the contrary, she derives enjoyment from the very process of transgressing conventions and irking others. In her words, “I act as if I don’t care if people dislike me. Deep down, I secretly enjoy it.”

Wednesday knows very well that the authority figures will get irritated by her critical attitude…but she is still protesting anyway, in a spirit of cynical iconoclasm. Her provocative transgressions act as public displays of her idiosyncratic identity; their success resides in the extent to which they can unsettle others. In this sense, Wednesday is not radical enough. She nihilistically humiliates others so that she can enjoy their moral outrage. Despite her apparent indifference to others’ opinions, her very personal enjoyment depends upon the reaction of others. Insofar that her transgressions are parasitic upon the Other, they are incapable of building a new order. Wednesday defies the rules of society, but it is still the society that prescribes the rules that she defies. Nevertheless, this form of negative resistance is an indispensable stage in any counter-hegemonic movement. Its cynical denunciation of the entire system and its assertion of joyful destruction deflates any moral pretensions harbored by the Other. By zealously tearing apart any form of pompous sermonizing, Wednesday clears the way for a forceful assertion of the individual’s subjective power. This rebellion, however, will succeed only if it repudiates the enjoyment gained from provoking others and dares to build a positive project.

Yanis Iqbal is studying at Aligarh Muslim University. He is also a member of the writing staff of Midwestern Marx and has an op-ed page on Eurasia Review.