Pop Tates’ Chok’lit Shoppe. One of the most iconic locations in Riverdale where Archie took Betty and Veronica on countless dates and Jughead was always ordering yet another chocolate shake. As an avid fan of the series who grew up with the gang, I have always felt like I was experiencing the same trials and tribulations of each character: every time Archie was forced to choose between blonde and brunette, when Veronica maxed out another credit card or how Reggie’s vanity became a major put-off for the countless women he attempted to attract. Yet I had never imagined that this fuzzily familiar backdrop would become the setting that claimed Archie Andrews’ life, yet alone launch a platform amplifying pressing issues like acceptance towards the LGBT community and gun control.
Life With Archie is an intriguing branch of the Riverdale franchise which dapples with the idea that comics can do “mature” storytelling that’s engaging and relevant to a younger demographic without being overly grim. The series features an all grown-up cast of characters who are very much experiencing modern-day struggles that any 21st century youth would be able to relate to. While the Archie comics of the 1990s and early 2000s that I grew up with have always been relatable, providing refreshing insights on my ‘growing pains’ of young love and friendship, this latest installment features a complete metamorphosis of Archie’s gals and pals. Some of the socially stimulating content in Life With Archie include Cheryl Blossom being diagnosed with breast cancer, Veronica facing financial problems and the tearful farewell to a now aged Ms. Grundy. Archie’s interracial marriage to Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats was quite the phenomena when the storyline grazed covers in 2012. America’s favorite redhead was now involving readers in public discussion about matters beyond high school classrooms and ice cream shoppes.
However, the introduction of a new face in Riverdale, Kevin Keller, a gay soldier, is one of the most contentious moves for the graphic series. Making his debut appearance in the comic books just as the Obama administration was considering the end of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the character’s amicable and confident personality gained him much popularity amongst both the fictional realm of Riverdale and the ardent fans of the real world. Featuring a gay wedding in America’s long loved tween-oriented series might be seen as a bold and controversial move; same-sex marriage is still illegal in a majority (31 of 50) of the states. Yet this pales in comparison to the latest issue of Life With Archie where readers meet with the abrupt and horrific death of their golden boy. Archie dies defending Kevin, a now openly gay senator, from an assassination attempt on the public leader’s life during a rally on tighter gun laws.
Similar to many loyal fans, I found myself reeling in the aftermath of this unforeseen turn of events. This wave of mixed bitter-sweet emotions comes not only with the realization that a character I have known my entire life dies a hero but also with the fact that his devastating end is brought about by a conflict of values in society. His heartbreaking demise is met with a plethora of polarizing debates. Critics have categorized his death as politically motivated and unnecessary. Various conservative opinion publications online have pointed out this stroke of “unfair gay social engineering”. Portraying Archie’s death at the hands of “a homophobic gun nut” plays on the heartstrings of impressionable readers merits an emotional rather than unprejudiced sociopolitical response. Jon Goldwater, publisher and co-CEO, however, defended Archie’s departure as making a point about gun violence and diversity.
The point of Archie’s death, in my humble opinion, is not to portray the conservative group as being ideological monsters who disregard other viewpoints beyond their bubble of convention. Neither is it to represent the other side as having taken the moral high ground simply because the crowd-favorite’s death means sympathy is automatically awarded to the liberals. Nobody actually wins when Archie, or any other person, takes a bullet. Quoting Goldwater, “Archie represents the best of us.” I’d like to think that the passing of an innocent Archie Andrews is not meant to make a politically charged statement, but to call all readers to reflection. To infuse such a traumatizing twist of events into the previously straightforward Riverdale is to inject a dose of reality into the maturing minds of young readers. Riverdale’s star fell victim to the destruction that comes along with an apparently irreconcilable conflict of interest. Tragedy and loss occur when society lacks a safe, peaceful arena for inclusive debate and discussion.
While a simple comic book has opened countless doors for the advancement of public opinion, contrast this to the Singapore National Library, known to be an established curator of millions of books from all genres and all corners of the world. Government-run libraries in Singapore have removed three children’s book titles from shelves, regarding them as contradictory to the city-state’s family values. Books involved include ‘And Tango Makes Three’, about a male-male penguin couple in the Central Park zoo; ‘The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption’, which involves a lesbian couple; and ‘Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families’. Authors of the removed books have expressed their disappointment and public opposition against the decision has been clear with an online petition to boycott library events. Yet the country’s information minister Yaacob Ibrahim has expressed support for the ruling to pulp all copies of the books.Such stringent regulations are nothing new in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns and stringent curbs are placed on the dissemination of information.
What disappoints me when assessing the stark contrast between the progress made by an Archie comic and the decision made by my state library is the way in which diverging opinions are treated. Both situations involve publications watered down to an age-appropriate level targeted towards young readers. Yet while one has created a secure arena for personal reflection and maturity of thought, the other has disregarded the perspectives of the ‘minority’. To allow the state to strictly determine the values of the next generation without giving them the opportunity to filter out the beliefs that they personally support is akin to extinguishing a flame of social participation and inclusion of young Singaporeans. This comparison more than anything identifies the difference between spreading awareness about relevant issues and stifling the space that stimulates conversation.
Representing the staff at Archie Comics, Goldwater mentioned, ‘‘I think Riverdale is a place where everyone should feel welcome and safe.’’ I hope that one day, this stage for social dialogue will not only be confined to the glossy pages of a comic and a space for conversation can be born beyond the destruction of children’s storybooks.
Jenkins, P. (2014). Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding. [online] TIME.com. Available at: http://time.com/3000130/singapore-has-banned-an-archie-comic-for-depicting-a-gay-wedding/
Hickey, S. (2014). Singapore libraries to destroy copies of gay penguin book. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/12/singapore-libraries-pull-gay-penguin-book
Washington Post, (2014). For Archie Comics, a political focus is a strategy, not a stunt. [online] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/07/16/for-archie-comics-a-political-focus-is-a-strategy-not-a-stunt/
Washington Post, (2014). Archie’s death latest comic book to inject reality. [online] Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/for-archie-fans-characters-death-makes-an-impact/2014/07/14/1b72b844-0bb6-11e4-bd2c-919fc31dc2e6_story.html?tid=pm_entertainment_pop [Accessed 17 Jul. 2014].
Woolf, N. (2014). Archie is dead: ‘Everyone is really emotional. It’s an amazing moment’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jul/16/archie-comics-dead-life-with-archie
VanDerWerff, T. (2014). Squeaky-clean comics hero Archie is dying to prove a point about gun control. [online] Vox. Available at: http://www.vox.com/2014/7/14/5899351/archie-is-dying [Accessed 17 Jul. 2014].
BostonGlobe.com, (2014). Archie’s death ends modern makeover of classic character – The Boston Globe. [online] Available at: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/2014/07/15/archie-death-ends-modern-makeover-classic-character/kkelrcXI6EnYuHJLbqTVvL/story.html
Henry Hanks, C. (2014). Comics’ Archie dies heroically. [online] CNN. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/16/showbiz/archie-death-details/
EDGE on the Net, (2014). Panic and Prayer: The Christian Right Responds to Archie’s Death. [online] Available at: http://www.edgeonthenet.com/entertainment/culture/News/162583/panic_and_prayer:_the_christian_right_responds_to_archie’s_death [Accessed 18 Jul. 2014].
The American Conservative, (2014). Archie Andrews: Death By Homophobia. [online] Available at: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/archie-andrews-death-by-homophobia/