Riverdale: Discourse Bait 101
By: T. Olajide
Riverdale has quickly become the quintessential drama/mystery that fans of all ages and orientations tune in to watch without fail on CW. But, as much as we love the show, there is little to be left desired about some details within the script and arguably with those ingrained into the very fibre of certain characters.
The first point which is probably the most glaring is the queer-baiting, and I am going to couple this with the erasure of Jughead’s asexuality. From the male gaze standpoint, it is disappointing that Riverdale purports to be this socially-aware adaptation of a classic series but still teases certain demographics with gratuitous ‘girl-on-girl’ kissing scenes. How progressive is a piece that attracts LGBTQ fans only to dash their hopes in such an anti-climatic way? This moves on to the next point; why give audience to the aforementioned but then completely sideline Jughead’s asexuality, which hugely informed his character and storylines in the original comics?
Although it is reassuring that Cole Sprouse has made it a point to push for sexuality as a plot point, it is disheartening that a progressive show in such a time as today cannot make sexuality an inclusive point that arises naturally and not one that needs to be delicately handled so as not to offend — I mean it’s 2017. This is also a dicey point because it breeds contempt amongst audiences that believed that they had a shot at seeing themselves represented humanly. People want to love Riverdale not only for nostalgic value but because it’s so great! No one wants to view anything with a critical eye, no one wants to be that person who loves to hate something everyone else can enjoy.
The next issue is one that I have genuinely engaged with on different levels. There is an argument in favour of Archie assuming K.J. Apa’s Samoan heritage, while I understand this especially seeing as a few characters have been race-bent (Josie and the Pussycats, Principal Weatherbee, The Lodge family and Reggie), I would still enjoy a genuine race-bend or inclusive characterisation as opposed to inclusive narratives that are really thinly-veiled mundane pieces. I agree that it would take very little, if anything, to make Archie Samoan, but maintain that we are better off with a white Archie than a Samoan Archie that is Samoan for rating’s sake. On the other hand, this discourse only arises when we discuss people of colour, why can’t Archie be Polynesian and just be without having to stand for anything overtly political or ‘thought-provoking’. Polynesian people, like everyone else, are flesh, blood and plasma and deserve to be on the screen without having to be burdened with politically charged discourse, and so for that very reason I also find that it would not have been too much to ask for, especially seeing as Apa is very proud of his culture and heritage.
Third; I am quite disappointed that even in this piece we still have to see innocent black men smeared. Not only was Chuck Clayton created to support diversity within the comic industry, but he was crafted to oppose stereotypes that were once (and still are) forcibly affixed to black men. He was a model student, he was kind; an artist; from a middle-class family with both parents present; and a young black man who considered sports a hobby — not a ticket out of the ‘hood’.
To see him be stripped of all of this and labelled a sociopath, skilled in the art of misogyny, and then have him tortured by Betty for Jason’s sins was unsavoury. Why is Jason allowed to rest in peace while others suffer for his sins? Although the writers tried to play this off as retribution, it really seemed like ghastly history repeating itself; it did more harm than good considering that many fans of Riverdale were old enough to have a deep attachment to characters and a good grasp on their personalities. What once lent Archie Comics so much power, i.e. the reader’s ability to literally know character’s like the back of their hand, has now made Riverdale an uncomfortable ride for many. Anyone else on the football team could have been the bad guy, seeing as (almost) all the players participated in the foul score keep.
Finally, the angle Josie has been taken from leaves me feeling slightly unsettled. I do not enjoy her taking on the role of the bitchy-black-girl who essentially makes life difficult for the good boy Archie. I understand that adaptations do not have to be strictly observant to canon, but I find that Josie plays into negative stereotypes surrounding darker skinned black woman.
I mean think about the fact that Val finally gives Archie a break, and is blue-eyed and fairer skinned. That speaks volumes and does very little to paint the ‘strong black femme’ persona that I feel that the writers are so desperately trying to achieve, instead, we just get angry and uptight. It doesn’t take much to understand why this is destructive and does darker skinned black lovers of Josie a huge disservice and further drives home falsehoods; that darker skinned black woman do not like seeing people win, that we do not listen to anyone but ourselves, that we are bossy, that we antagonise people for no just cause, that we love playing the victim and that we have an inflated sense of self-worth which is underserved.
There is so much to love about Riverdale, but there is so much to be said about the very visible mistakes and dishonest choices in crafting this narrative. Sadly, I can’t help but feel that again there is a cunning ploy to lure in a specific target audience and start a certain discourse on social media, whereas if the spirit of the comics had been brought through to this adaptation it would have been even more successful than it already is. There is also so much to be said about producers and writers having a poor grasp of audiences which they craft narratives for.
Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam