Loving flawed creations is OK

Some of the books that shaped our childhoods probably shouldn't shape others'.

Summer 2008 was my first introduction to Archie comics. We were renovating our home, so I couldn't spend hours in front of the TV as I would normally. My dad got me a bunch of books, these comic books included, to keep me occupied during my summer holidays. 

More than a decade later, I still love and read Archie comics. Archie's lovable charm, Reggie's narcissistic antics, Betty and Veronica being each other's best friends and worst nemeses, Jughead's goofiness — all of them carry a deep sense of comfort and nostalgia. 

But as I read these comics today, I can't stop noticing the blatant sexism, overt sexualization, and casual racism. That's one of the side-effects of growing up and learning more about the world, I think. Plus, I don't think my background as a literature student (literally taught to analyze creations) helped either. 

Sexualization and The Archies 

Whether it's the boys ogling the girls at cheerleading practice or Melody making jokes that the airport officers make jokes about "searching her", — the women aren't treated as humans in the comics but as bodies under 'the male gaze. In fact, Cheryl Blossom, the redhead who routinely steals Archie's heart, was taken out because she was deemed "too sexual" and promiscuous but was later brought back due to her popularity. 

It should give you pause because Cheryl, Melody, Betty, Veronica, and all the other girls, who are sexualized in the books, are all supposed to be 16-18-year-olds. Teenagers reading these comic books might imbibe the wrong ideas. Boys will notice it's okay to leer at girls and make crude remarks (girls will think they're teasing and laugh). They might be encouraged to pursue their crushes even if they have a partner (Reggie-Midge) or have explicitly or implicitly shared their refusal (Ethel-Jughead) 

Reading those stories or those panels makes me uncomfortable now. I'm not even sure how people read Archie comics these days — but I know so many of us grew up with it. Whether we think it's true or not, we've been influenced by the media we consumed. 

Riverdale — a missed opportunity 

This sexualization is even more apparent in Riverdale, the show that's based on the comics. The characters are all in high school (before the time jump) when they show and condone a teacher-student relationship (Miss Grundy did not look like that in the comics!), incest (???), and several scenes with sexual overtones (especially those featuring Cheryl, Betty, and Veronica). 

When I first heard about Riverdale in 2017 — I was thrilled and so excited to see that they were going to turn my favourite comics into a TV show! But then I heard about them erasing Jughead's aro/ace identity. 

Previously, he was only coded as aro/ace, allowing people to speculate, but in 2018, the comic book creators finally showed him openly acknowledging his asexuality! It would have been fantastic to see the same represented on the screen — asexual folks don't have enough (good) representation, and an Aro/Ace Jughead would have been a step in the right direction. 

By making the show darker and "edgier", the show lost something fundamental to the Archie comics: wholesomeness. The Archie comics offer you a laugh, a moment of respite from your day by engaging you with the Gang's latest schemes and antics. I would have appreciated a nice, cosy drama that depicted the students' everyday lives at Riverdale High because there is a lot to be celebrated within ordinary moments. Bonus points if they had cast people who looked like they were in high school. 

Loving something flawed is OK

The Archie comic books debuted in 1941 — 80 years ago this year! Keeping in mind that we're all products of our time and knowledge, I can understand why they had such a heteronormative setting (every character has a love interest of the opposite gender) or why the depictions of Asians (if any) were steeped in stereotypes (slanted eyes, yellow skin). 

But that doesn't mean I have to turn a blind eye to it today. I still love the Archies, but I acknowledge that it probably isn't the best comic book to give a kid today. Other than them gawping at the landlines and physical letters in the stories, I don't want to expose them to old, outdated ideas. 

Everything is a product of its time — our ideas will give way to newer, better thoughts and ideas. If our work stands the test of time, that's great! If it doesn't, we acknowledge the flaws without getting defensive. Creators should take every opportunity they get to grow with the times. 

I'm not throwing away any of my Archies; in fact, I still actively hunt for older copies (the new art style isn't my jam). I'm not locking up my memories of the summers I spent reading Archies or Enid Blyton books because they shaped me. Now that I'm aware of their flaws, I'm better at recognizing them and not passively imbibing them. 

A lot of us grew up reading Enid Blyton books. I mispronounced her name until I actually went to the UK — simply because I'd only ever read it. In the last 48 hours, English Heritage acknowledged her work as racist and xenophobic. If this is news to you, it's not the first time someone has pointed this out. It's true. She even named one of her characters the N-word!

Once, when I put my hand against a white friend's hand, I immediately drew it back. It looked dirty, unwashed next to her pristine, WHITE, hand. She hadn't done anything (she's great), but it was my internalized colourism coming through.

When I think back to the times that Enid Blyton wrote about dark-skinned characters needing a wash, I wonder if I picked that up. Or it could have been the scores of other media that propagated that anything not white is not clean (or pure). 

If you love or loved Enid Blyton's books, this is by no means an attack on your memories. It's simply an acknowledgement that some of the people who shaped our childhood had deeply flawed and wrong perspectives, and we may have internalized a lot of it without realizing it. 

Archie comics and Enid Blyton’s works are not the only books I love that are flawed. It's okay to like something flawed if you're honest about what it gets wrong.

Nobody is perfect, and nothing we create is perfect either.

We do the best we can with the information we have. 

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