I only ever flipped through Archie comics while waiting in line to buy groceries, bored by the overwhelming whiteness of Riverdale and confused by Jughead’s hat. But it always seemed weird that a series about such a squeaky-clean golly-gee group of teenagers revolved around something as potentially controversial as vague polyamory. The series is over 70 years old, and its technology has changed with the times (Betty blogs and Veronica snaps pictures with her camera phone) but its gender politics are completely outdated. Betty’s worship of Archie is portrayed throughout the series as admirable loyalty rather than creepy unrequited dependency, while Archie’s inability to retain even a casual commitment to just one girl is framed as… completely normal. So this week’s Douchebag Decree goes to you, Archie Andrews, you sly dog. Make up your mind.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 70 years, Archie is a serial comic with a number of spinoffs (Archie & Friends, Archie Digest, Tales from Riverdale, etc) first published in 1942. The crux of the series is the “love triangle” between irascible ginger Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty and snooty-rich-girl Veronica Lodge. Betty and Veronica are best frenemies, and constantly do battle for Archie’s affections.
Recently, the gang’s story has begun winding down – they’ve graduated from high school and are heading off to college. In issue #600, Archie planned to propose to one of the girls, and in #601 it turned out to be Veronica. The New York Times reported the story, and readership shot up across the globe; Indian readers, in particular, got a lot more interested in The Gang. But fans were clearly angered by his choice of snobby Veronica over nice-girl Betty, as shown in the polls on Archie’s website (about 80/20 in favor of Betty).
Here’s where it gets weird: in the next couple of issues, it was revealed that the happy future that was written for Archie and Veronica was just a dream. Total cop-out, right? And a fairly advanced storytelling device for a comic that has operated in classic sitcom style for decades. Then Archie goes through another (absurdly similar) fantasy future, but this time with Betty. Apparently, in #604, we’ll find out which future he actually picks. Or maybe it’ll turn out that Veronica is Betty’s Tyler Durden and Archie is just a hallucination, or Riverdale is a doll town and Betty is some sick schizotypal puppetmaster, or the girls are Stepford-bots eternally under Archie’s control. Anything could happen.
Everything is wrong with this love triangle. Betty is “sweet” and “wholesome” because of her enduring devotion to a guy who constantly ditches her for her best friend. Veronica is morally inferior to Betty because, well, she’s not blonde, her interest in Archie sometimes wavers and she even has the audacity to (gasp!) flirt with other guys. The two girls are, of course, eternally obliged to throw themselves at Archie, despite his constant emotional abuse. There have been way too many creators and contributors to Archie Comics over the years to pin the blame for this shameless stereotyping on just one person, so I’m just going to have to hate the player (Archie) who represents the game.
Maybe asking why Archie can’t just pick one girl already is as pointless as asking why Juno didn’t just get an abortion: because then there would be no story. But after seventy years of infighting and petty competition and backhanded compliments and unhealthy obsessions (…this does sound kind of like high school), maybe that’s not such a bad idea.