Wednesday Addams does nothing by accident. The most stoic and deliberate member of the Addams Family, he rarely makes awkward movements, smiles and winks included.
So when the spirit of play strikes the youngster who used to get excited about his school dance in Netflix’s new eponymous musical, it’s caused quite a stir, on screen and off.
The short episode makes up less than three minutes of the entire series, but it quickly becomes “Wednesday’s” best free time for how the kooky protagonist seems to be at ease. His eyes show a rare passion. His limbs, usually attached to his side, are freely rotated. The dancing is his own, to be sure – a lot of stiff, stilted moves and cues from decades past. Surely no one can mistake Wednesday’s play for the latest TikTok trend, right?
Something about this strange dance opened something strange in all of us, and it was extinguished faster than a fire at Camp Chippewa. The choreography pieces inspired viewers to watch the series, making it one of the most watched of the cast (“Stranger Things,” anyone?). Its popularity on the Internet brought Lady Gaga “Bloody Mary” back on the charts more than 10 years after the release of the song, and it was only shown in TikToks created by fans, not the show itself! “Wednesday” star Jenna Ortega admits that she organized the process while she invited new fans – celebrities included – to give a voice and even introduce the process and movements from their culture.
Wednesday Addams would probably be disappointed if he realized his fate, tremblingmainstream, but his play will not die – and so that, he might enjoy it. Here’s what lends “Wednesday” play its staying power.
The “Wednesday” dance event only started last month, but it already has a “legend” to it, said Jenna Drenten, a marketing professor at Loyola University Chicago who studies how users of TikTok and other digital platforms express their identities.
Most of the events of the event were arranged out of the window. Ortega, playing Wednesday’s youth with his fake-in-the-wisdom humor, said he planned the process on his own. He counted among his influences are Bob Fosse, Siouxsie Sioux and ’80s goth dance clubs (he may have also sneaked in some references to “The Addams Family” TV series from the ’60s).
In addition, Ortega admitted that he is not a trained athlete, making his approach even more inviting to non-athletes who have discovered the trend on TikTok, Drenten said.
“I’m not an actor and I’m sure that’s obvious,” Ortega told NME.
But Ortega’s commitment has sparked outrage, too – he told NME he drew one of the dances while waiting for a Covid-19 test result, which came back positive. This prompted some to criticize the production for failing to follow Covid-19 prevention measures on set – but still, “Wednesday” continued to make waves.
Viral trends that stay in the cultural conversation for a long time often don’t stay on their own platform, Drenten said. Look at the Corn Kid: He was seen in a YouTube series singing the praises of the cob, then clips of his appearance went viral on TikTok and he has since gone to work with him. ChipotleGreen Giant and the state of South Dakota, promoting corn exports.
“To have a long life, TikTok trends need to make the jump to culture, beyond the borders of TikTok,” he said. “The performance of ‘Wednesday’ was an opportunity in this sense because the performance and ‘The Addams Family’ legacy started outside of TikTok from the beginning.”
Another thing called “Wednesday” is to play on its side – it is a human habit to learn how to play for people’s money.
Think of the “Electric Slide,” “Macarena,” “Cupid Shuffle” — standards at bat mitzvahs and weddings, that make most of us so aware that we can do it without thinking. Crowding out at an event like this might feel like a Pavlovian response to a DJ’s song choice, but it’s also a shared culture that fosters “a sense of togetherness and belonging,” Drenten said.
“Every touch and movement allows the person doing it to be able to say, ‘I get it, I know it, we have a shared experience,'” Drenten said.
That’s part of the reason why dance styles, from “Renegade” to Lizzo’s “About Damn Time,” often dominate TikTok. But unlike this trend, the performance of “Wednesday” was not put to a popular song, although The Cramps’ punk anthem “Goo Goo Muck” immediately gained new fans. The moves were easy to pick up, said Drenten, “straightforward but different.”
But it took Lady Gaga to take “Wednesday” to play stratospheric. The version that has gone über-viral on TikTok is a “fancam” of sorts, or a mashup of episodes, appropriately paired with Gaga’s “Bloody Mary,” a biblical way of dancing that doesn’t hold back. Even Mother Monster herself did a dance version of “Wednesday”, wearing a pair of long pants.
Millions of users have since put their own spin on Wednesday’s school dance, with other users incorporating Polynesian or Indian dance styles into their versions or creating their own Wednesday look (Item, disembodied arm, included!).
Being, of course, contrary to the behavior of Wednesday, who has never been concerned with fitting in. He is perfectly content on an isolated island, where the sun never shines and ancient tools abound. Wednesday’s widely imitated idiosyncratic behavior may threaten to undermine his status as a believer in weirdos — except that Wednesday’s behavior and mannerisms have been imitated for decades.
Wednesday Addams has been around in one form or another since the late 1930s — first as an unnamed comedian, then as a toddler on a TV sitcom, then, in her most famous iteration before “Wednesday,” as the dead-eyed Christina Ricci. And Wednesday fans have been dressing like him for decades, Drenten said, often inspired by Ricci’s portrayal. Addams’ first child is no longer a secret her biggest fans can keep from pop culture.
Since Wednesday’s debut, he’s been an iconic figure for the lonely and obsessed with his unrelenting devotion to the macabre. But she is still “outside” among the women and girls of fiction, wrote Emily Alford for Longreads, because she never softened or bowed to certain story tropes. He is who he is, and he is not changing.
“She brought to the show a self-deliverance that set her apart, and became an important blueprint for a generation of girls creating their own sense of humor,” Alford wrote.
And now, many of those girls and other users are finding each other on TikTok, where niche communities can blossom (or reach everyday users). The app is “a place for people to find out who they are, and more importantly, to find other people who share their interests,” Drenten said, even if those interests include cosplaying as a ruthless little guy.
“TikTok arguably promotes more productivity and users may feel compelled to act, perform, and look in a certain way,” Drenten said. “But Wednesday reminds people that being yourself in a sea of sameness is liberating.”