The Addams Family has been a favourite amongst pop culture enthusiasts for allowing fans to reimagine their world and themselves. Creator Tim Burton has rekindled that fantasy with the new Netflix show Wednesday, focused on Gomez and Morticia's daughter - Wednesday.
While essentially entertaining, the show's narrative outlines themes of what normalcy is perceived to be in society while redefining what it is in today's day and age.
The Addams Family Song may have established the universe of the cartoons, movies and shows to essentially be creepy, kooky and spooky, but the show's take on all these traits and adjectives is a tad bit different. Instead of trying to hide their eccentricities, as most people do, they embrace them. Aditi Surana, a high-performance coach and the founder of the APT mental gym, who has viewed the show and the cartoons, agrees."As a behavioural analyst, I find most people do that. They carry a socially acceptable facade and hide their real and strange behaviour under a garb," she says.
Wednesday Addams, she points out, doesn't care about fitting in or hiding her weirdness. Wednesday, uninhibited about her morbid thoughts and evil intentions, is scary and intimidating to most people; and it does not seem to bother her. "I find she represents everyone who is getting trolled on social media for being imperfectly perfect," says Surana, who believes that the idea of normalcy is overrated.
The unreasonable need to constantly follow rules and fit in can put unnecessary pressure on people, often affecting their mental health, she believes. Our society labels anything different as abnormal, and with this label comes fear and shame. Surana, who is a proud dyslexic, reveals that she has suffered the normal all her life. She says that most things that are considered abnormal are things that people generally do not understand. She recalls, "As Steve Jobs said, the abnormal people can be the round pegs in a square hole, the troublemakers and the visionaries."
Prof. Sairaj Patki, an assistant professor of psychology at FLAME University, Pune, provides more perspective. According to him, our brains have evolved to gauge the world around us (including the social world) and draw quick conclusions about how safe it is and how well it fits our expectations. "Since any unusual situation challenges our state of the comfort of being in a predictable environment, unusual situations are flagged hastily," he says. This strategy which otherwise protects us from venturing into unknown and potentially dangerous situations also leads to the development of biases and prejudices. "Thus, any individual who is less usual than most individuals we have met and known is labelled as abnormal, while the more predictable ones are termed normal," he adds.
According to Tanu Choksi, a Mumbai-based therapist, in truth, there is no real, clear distinction between normal and abnormal; it's all relative. "The reason people are quick to judge is that what they term abnormal is what they're not used to, and people tend to make stereotypical assumptions and judgements on things they don't know," she says. Surana adds, "Normal is safe, predictable and manageable. Anything that disturbs, questions or alters the normalcy is considered dangerous."
Part of it, of course, stems from basic human survival instinct; the need to belong to a group or community. As Prof Patki put it, normalcy is defined in both statistical and functional terms. From a statistical point of view, individual behaviours that deviate significantly from the vast majority in any society are termed abnormal. From a functional perspective, individuals who are well adapted to the environment, who perform the socially expected roles well and who are not perceived as harmful to themselves or others around them are referred to as normal. He says, "I believe these parameters are very dynamic, though, and as the world around us evolves, our perspectives need to keep pace with these changes. If we view the contemporary world through an old lens, most of it will appear blurry or even murky and abnormal," he believes.
The reason people are often quick to call something abnormal is that they tend to make stereotypical assumptions and judgements on things they don't fully understand. One way to get over it is to read widely, familiarising and educating yourself about people and cultures different from your own. As Choksi puts it, "We tend to judge and fear what we don't know. That is why, to tackle this divide and discrimination, it's important for society to acclimatise and broaden our understanding of the different states of being."
And yes, the earlier you do it, the better. "We can build more inclusivity and acceptance for diversity among individuals by exposing children to individuals from different communities, cultures, ethnicities and regions, "says Patki."Conscious parenting and education can reduce the emphasis on 'us' vs 'them’ and help appreciate the diversity among humans."
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based therapist