Five favourite mean mums
This column was originally published on Killings.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there – we hope you are receiving calls of gratitude and love, breakfast in bed or a Hallmark card saying everything that your children just can’t say, but in the form of rhyming couplets. Shunning the saccharine or sentimental, I thought it an appropriate time to look at some alternative matriarch characters by listing five of my favourite mean mums.*
1. Agnes Skinner
Principal Skinner’s mother is controlling, haggard and grumpy … she is also still his housemate. Above Maude Flanders, with her treacly teachings, or maternal figurehead Marge, Agnes ‘Lamb of God’ Skinner is my favourite mother on the long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons.
Over the past twenty years, Mrs Skinner has entertained audiences with her incredible zingers and sordid storylines – remember when she began bedding Comic Book Guy or dated her son’s superior, Superintendent Chalmers? As the principal woman in Principal Skinner’s life, Agnes is adept at killing any potential romance that flutters his way, creating a particularly fun dynamic between her and fellow jaded lady, Ms Edna Krabappel. As the ‘overbearing mother’ caricature, Agnes is amusingly grotesque: she is an omnipresent, omnipotent and sinister force in her son’s life, slapping down any morsel of masculine identity or confidence Seymour may muster, making her one mean mother.
2. Norman Bates’ mother
It would be impossible to look at mean mums without mentioning everyone’s favourite Freudian family from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. ‘Norma Bates’ hovers as the Ghost of Emotional Abuse Past – present only as a voice or corpse during the film, we learn that she has reared her son on cruel teachings about the evils of sex and women (except her, of course), providing the impetus for Norman’s breakdown. This sad upbringing drives Norman to dress as his mother – an action recently recreated in a real-life fraud case – but also to kill anyone who seems distasteful to his malformed mind. Although she never gets to speak for herself, Psycho presents Norma Bates as the quintessential mean mum, an archetype of maternal manipulation.
3. Gemma Teller Morrow
Gemma Teller Morrow is the menacing matriarch of a leather-clad biker club SAMCRO in television drama Sons of Anarchy. Portrayed with intense conviction by Katey Sagal, Gemma is a fierce character: dressed in dark eye make-up and denim, she is a loving leader but also frighteningly ruthless. As loving mother, grandmother and wife, she literally wears her loyalty on her tattooed arm and chest, but she is also manipulative. Gemma lies and schemes to Machiavellian proportions, sometimes plotting against her own beloved son Jax (who is Vice President of the club). Over four seasons, Gemma deals with extreme burdens, but also deals out her own form of (often violent) justice, making her the mean mother of not only Jax, but the entire SAMCRO gang.
Euripides’ eponymous heroine from the tragic play Medea has always fascinated me. After having children with Jason (of ‘and The Argonauts’ fame), Medea is dumped for a younger princess. A ‘woman scorned’, homeless and exiled from her homeland, which she had shunned for love, Medea vows revenge on her smug former paramour. In the play, Jason is presented as an egocentric douche, while Medea is articulate and passionate. Manipulating the audience and pleading her case poetically, Medea demonstrates how her once vehement love has been unavoidably supplanted by ire, due to Jason’s betrayal, and that she has no other choice but to act.
When it comes to putting your feelings above your children’s livelihoods, Medea tops the list. After pleading her case and, apparently, finding no other option, Medea steps beyond the realm of emotional abuse by committing infanticide – killing her two precious children to get revenge on Jason. And when it comes to mean mums, you can’t get more malicious than that.
5. Beverly Sutphin
Kathleen Turner plays Beverly Sutphin in John Waters’ black comedy Serial Mom. A satire on the suburbs of Baltimore, the film subverts the ‘nice mom’ stereotype on an absurd scale. Beverly is a pretty, blonde perfectionist, attends PTA meetings and church, sews and cooks for her family. But Beverly is also a foul-mouthed serial killer, making demonic prank calls to neighbours and killing at the slightest insult. Once on trial for these atrocious (yet somehow amusing) acts, Beverly as ‘Serial Mom’ becomes a media sensation – a movie starring Suzanne Somers is even made about her – demonstrating a fascination with mean mothers the world over.
*Mum, if you’re reading this, it is no reflection on you!