Thursday, April 23, 2020

Gothic Girls Gone Wild: Riverdale’s Recrafting of Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge

For decades, the Archie comics have depicted the fictional world of Riverdale and while doing so explicitly and implicitly addressed era-relevant social issues. Two characters have consistently been at the forefront of transgressive interests since their first appearances in 1941 and 1942: Betty Cooper, sweet girl-next-door, and Veronica Lodge, privileged debutante. These characters have been reinvented and freshly envisioned in the CW’s series, Riverdale. The world surrounding Archie Andrews, already dynamic as it has been developed over an extended period of time via multiplatform storytelling, has been updated, intensified, and othered. This multilayered amplification of setting provides an effective backdrop for the revitalized Archie characters but also complicates the understanding of the degree to which Betty and Veronica have been recrafted in a way that makes them currently relevant when situated in the conversations and politics of this #metoo era.

Intergenerational family dysfunction, secret societies, predatory men, marginalized women—all are classic elements of gothic fiction and all are present in CW’s Riverdale. Deconstructing the strategic and central role of setting in Riverdale provides a fuller opportunity to evaluate the influence of these tropes on the characterizations of Betty and Veronica. Have the characters truly been recrafted in ways that acknowledge the changing roles of heroines in present popular culture? Or has their potential been undervalued and they been used as tropes themselves? Once the impact of the gothic setting is identified and disconnected from the overall narrative, an isolated assessment of the depictions of Betty and Veronica is accomplished.

Throughout the decades, Betty and Veronica have always been central characters and social activists involved in gender politics. Their new depiction honors that tradition. Despite, or perhaps because of, being a broadcast television show, Riverdale intersects with mainstream popular culture. As part of that culture, the series represents the interests and concerns of its audience. Are the CW’s modernized versions of Betty and Veronica fully actualized meaningfully transgressive characters? Or are they foils to showcase the boundary-crossing actions and attitudes of others? An analysis of the translations of Betty and Veronica from the pages of comics to the screens of televisions affords an opportunity to examine the ways in which they have and have not been recrafted to reflect and inform on present attitudes of gender politics, such as commodification of sexuality and gender performativity, as well as consider to what degree these heroines have been fully respected as heroines with unique voices.

Note: This is an abstract for a work in progress.