Riverdale

Courtesy the Riverdale Facebook Page.

"Riverdale," the popular television show based on Archie comics, returned to the CW on Jan 24. Netflix summarizes the show thusly: “While navigating the troubled waters of sex, romance, school and family, teen Archie and his gang become entangled in a dark Riverdale mystery.”

While the cast of the comic and of the show remain similar, some meaningful identities changed in translation from comic to television show. One major change from comic to show is the erasure of Jughead Jones’ asexuality. This erasure harms the LGBT+ community by perpetuating common misconceptions and by removing much-needed representation for asexual people.

Asexuality is a sexual identity where an individual feels little to no sexual attraction, according to the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN). Jughead Jones, in the comics, shows little interest in dating or fornicating with people of any gender. His friend also explicitly states that Jughead is asexual in Jughead #4. However, the kiss between Jughead and Betty in episode 6 “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” dashed any hopes the asexual community may have had for representation.

“I was very excited when I found out that they were going to make it because I thought that it would be good representation," said Reagan Scott, a junior psychology major. "But then at the end of the season, not only did he have a girlfriend, but they also showed them hooking up.”

The erasure of Jughead’s asexuality deeply affects the asexual community because there is little to no positive representation of asexual people in media. Media “‘symbolically annihilates asexuality, misrepresenting it as a lack of social skills or as a physical or mental disability rather than a legitimate sexual orientation,” wrote Benjamin Marks of the University of Iowa. “For most of its history, a lack of sexual desire has been pathologized as a medical disorder or illness, or conversely praised as a religious virtue like abstinence.”

Media can dehumanize or delegitimatize asexuality as a sexual identity. The representation the asexual communities receives promotes the idea that little to no sexual attraction correlates with a medical emergency, such as in the episode of House titled “Better Half." Asexual people are misrepresented as lying or confused, such as in "The Olivia Experiment," or that asexuality is simply a barrier to overcome to have sex, such as in "Sirens."

Jughead represented positive asexual representation that the community desperately needs and wants, and erasing Jughead’s asexuality in "Riverdale" reinforces the idea that larger society views asexual people as inferior.

“Media itself especially in America is very sexualized, even commercials have women posing for sex appeal to sell their products. And I think that media does treat sex and sexual characters as kind of the goal for humans," Scott said. "I think that it would just be nice to take a step back from that and realize that that’s not everybody’s prerogative."

Erasing Jughead’s asexuality in Riverdale dismisses an opportunity for asexual people to see themselves as normal teenagers in high school, a representation direly needed. Therefore, Riverdale producers should stay true to Jughead’s comic persona and allow him to be asexual.

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(4) comments

nonyab

Confused here. I don't watch Riverdale (spoiler alert: why would any ace want to watch a show that took an innocent bunch of comic characters and over-sexualized them??). But I'm questioning this article's stance because it first states that "However, the kiss between Jughead and Betty in episode 6 “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” dashed any hopes the asexual community may have had for representation." But it later states that Jughead "hooked up" with Betty.

For those of us who don't watch this BS in the first place, it would be nice to get some clarity on what EXACTLY the episode depicted. If it was just a kiss, then no, I do not see that as "erasing asexual identity." You can be asexual and enjoy kissing. You can also be asexual and try sex, so it really comes down to the particulars of HOW this episode handled this subject matter. If it was just the same ol' teenage horn-ball BS, then yes I agree it's offensive to shift an asexual character into a typical hyper-sexual hetero male.

However, aces are not a monolith. So please don't assume that a kiss = identity erasure. He could still be ace. Or maybe he is questioning. The character is a teenager, after all. Maybe he's not sure yet that he's ace. Maybe the show will explore this later on. Again, I don't watch the show, but as a screenwriter myself I could see how the topic might be opened up in a later episode based only on the info given in this article. Personally, I think it would be great to see an ace character actually struggling with his identity in this way. It opens up a lot of potential, both from a story/character standpoint and from a societal/representational standpoint.

And for the guy who doesn't understand why aces need and deserve more representation, think of it this way: If the character was originally black or First Nations or Asian or any other non-white racial or ethnic identity and the show changed him to be white, would you be okay with that? If the character was originally trans and changed to be cis-gendered, would you be okay with that? Or if he was originally gay and changed to be heteronormative, would you be okay with that? Aces are ridiculed in every possible way in society and people don't even recognize that they are marginalizing us to the point that we don't even feel comfortable discussing our identities. How is that okay? Just because there might be fewer of us than many other marginalized groups does not mean we don't deserve to have representation. As for your sports fan analogy, it's insane - like trying to compare apples and orangutans.

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This article puzzles me for a couple of reasons. First, why does every subgroup need a media-based role model? Do people who don't like sports need one? How about people who don't like to engage in public speaking? Frankly, why is every aspect of sexuality the most salient feature of a person's identity? Who cares if someone is asexual? Do foot fetishists need a media role model?

And second: What kind of role model is Jughead? The absurdity of bemoaning the changing sexuality of Jughead, a cartoon character, is mind-bending.

This generation truly has run out of meaningful things to complain about.

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