So let’s talk about "Riverdale." The 2016 reboot of the beloved, grocery checkout aisle comic book series about the sweet Betty, the sassy Veronica, the much admired Archie and the rest of the cast of characters populating the charming, old fashioned Riverdale. The series has gotten several reboots (including more progressive runs of the series, one of which had fan favorite character, Jughead, come out as asexual). The 2016 reboot I am thinking of, however, is of the CW variety.
Framed from conception as the "Sexy Archie Comics," they have their characters sexy, the plotlines soapy, and the clothes amazing. As far as teen soaps go, it is pretty fun: There is a murder mystery, romantic intrigue...
And it’s pretty problematic.
Besides erasing queer identity (namely Jughead), and blatant queer baiting (Betty and Veronica, a beloved non-canon ship being teased with a kiss between the two characters and them promptly having everyone from the cast and writers screaming the equivalent of “no homo”!), the show sexualizes the teenage characters.
It is not immediately apparent why this would be an issue; the show for its faults sexualizes the men and women equally (I think there are more shirtless Archie scenes than scenes of him talking). The problem is that we are supposed to be ogling teenagers, not consenting adults. When watching the show, I realized that these clearly college-aged or older actors were not only much older looking than my high school counterparts, but the very act of sexualizing characters who are apparently underage but have adult actors is dangerous.
The average age of the teenage cast of "Riverdale" is 23, while the average age of the characters they are playing is 15. The youngest actor playing a 15-year-old is 19-year-old KJ Apa (the titular Archie), while 27-year-old Ashleigh Murray is over a decade older than her 16-year-old character.
You are having adults pretend to be kids; it’s all fun in games until it’s not. The most egregious error that "Riverdale" has committed is having their main hero have an illicit affair with his teacher, Ms. Grundy. The show paints this as forbidden love, and you almost believe them. Both actors look similar ages, and both are attractive, and then you realize that ARCHIE IS 15 and HIS TEACHER IS 23.
That’s not star-crossed, that’s statutory rape.
Television and movies like this normalize hypersexual and sexualized acts on teenagers by having actors who don’t look 15. You know why? Because a 15-year-old is still a kid.
We need to do better as role models; we should let teenagers see people who look like them on screen, and at the same time not normalize hypersexualization and rape culture. Teenagers shouldn’t look like adults, because they are not adults. We should give them space in the media where they are allowed to exist, without judgment, and without a hypersexual gaze.We all can do better. Come on "Riverdale," what were you thinking?