Like a lot of other people, I grew up with Archie and the gang. As a young kid, his charming adolescent lifestyle was something to look forward to. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have a best friend like Jughead, and always have the company of two girls like Betty and Veronica (I would’ve picked Betty over Ronnie anytime though). Everyone was nice and pleasant (except for Reggie, but even he wasn’t exactly a sociopath), pollution was seemingly non-existent (the only visible pollutant being Archie’s car), and there was a functional education system.
But then as I grew older, Archie sorta stayed the same. As society changed, Archie remained encased in this idealistic little town that probably hasn’t changed much since it was created in the 1940s (yes, Archie has been around since 1941!). As much as a person would like to live in a place like Riverdale, it just wasn’t realistic anymore, and my transition into a teenager and adult had stripped me of the naivety one would require to believe that a place like Riverdale could actually exist.
School bullying wasn’t just being called a “rat fink” by Reggie; in the really real world, kids get shoved into lockers and are given much more hurtful nicknames that could potentially scar them for life. People don’t just date episodically the way they did, without any lasting emotional distress. And damnit, after 60 years, people grow old and have to transition into adulthood and deal with a whole lot more problems and issues, whether they like it or not!
Riverdale was like Pleasantville, in the sense that it wasn’t actually a Utopian society, but a town stuck in an eternal status quo due to a stubborn resistance to change.
Because of Archie’s irrelevance, the stories didn’t appeal as much to me before, and I stopped reading Archie. Well, I still read it when I’m sitting in the crapper at my mother-in-law’s place, because they have a bunch of back issues in their bathroom… but that’s beside the point.
But recently, I saw a post on Diatribes and Ovations about an issue of Archie that was really pissing a whole bunch of conservative mothers (and I use this term loosely, as you’ll figure out later) off. Life with Archie #16 featured a gay marriage! That’s right, a gay marriage, between two homosexual men, with the town cheering and celebrating. And you know what else? It was a gay and interracial marriage, between a black guy and a white guy. And the town CHEERED. There weren’t any hate-mongers protesting the marriage, and no psychos threatening them with physical violence; just an accepting town that sees them as two human beings that are in love.
Riverdale was no longer some backward naive town that was stuck in the 50’s; it had become more forward-thinking than many societies in the world!
And of course, people aren’t comfortable with that, and protested against stores that were selling this particular issue of Archie. But I’m not going to go into that, because Diatribes and Ovations covered this topic pretty well. Check out the post here.
What really jolted me into thinking about Riverdale though, was Archie Comics’ response to the uproar.
“We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday. We’re sorry the American Family Association/One Million Moms feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate and narrow-minded people.” – Jon Goldwater, CEO of Archie Comics.
Wow! A safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone… how could this ever be an out-dated concept? If the world really could adopt this mentality, I would forsake all cynicism and embrace it.
I looked up what I had missed in the past few years of Archie, and lo and behold: I’d been mistaken to think that Riverdale was another Pleasantville. Two years ago, Archie had gone into a relationship with Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats. That’s right, the flagship All-American white boy character of the franchise was in an interracial relationship with an African-American girl. No longer were the black characters of Riverdale limited to relationships with one another, like in the case of Chuck and Nancy.
In another storyline, Miss Grundy and Mr Weatherbee realized that they were in love and got married. That in itself is enough to break the Status Quo time warp of Riverdale, but then Miss Grundy died of kidney failure soon after, leaving Mr Weatherbee completely heartbroken. I had no idea that this could happen in Riverdale.
But what I get out of this is that no matter what happens in Riverdale, they get through things through understanding, open-mindedness, and an overall love of their fellow human beings. With that kind of solid social foundation in place, I have no doubts that Riverdale would be able to get through anything.
And why wouldn’t anybody want to live in a place like that?
So yeah, I agree with Jon Goldwater’s desire for the real America to become more like Riverdale. And quite frankly, it wouldn’t be all bad for the whole world to adopt that mentality either.
PS I frequently made references to Pleasantville in this post. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s an awesome movie about prejudice, social oppression, and dealing with change. I generally dislike Peter Parker’s whiny voice, but he acted pretty well in this movie. Here’s the trailer to get you psyched up about it.