Why Is Riverdale Perpetuating This Tired & Problematic Trope?

Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
I’ve never claimed to be a comic book fan. I can’t tell you a single thing about the X-Men or Batman if it isn’t straight from the movies. But the exception in my childhood was Archie. What was sure to be an otherwise dull trip to the grocery store always came with a silver lining of an Archie comic. The stories of Archie and his friends felt more like reading a young adult novel than anything and as a young bibliophile, I was immediately hooked.

Today, I recognize those plotlines as the perfect recipe for a teenaged drama to rival Pretty Little Liars. Last night’s premiere of Riverdale, a new CW show based on the comic book series certainly did not disappoint. Archie is having an existential crisis about his extracurricular activities. The historical love triangle between him, Veronica, and Betty is already forming. And the CW has even added a token gay character to be the voice of everyone’s sexual desires.

Nothing ever stays exactly the same when a story jumps off the page onto your screens (Harry Potter was close, but even Warner Bros. had to make some adjustments). So I wasn’t surprised that Jughead is revealed to a sad loner-type on the outs with his best friend Archie or that Betty is a ticking time bomb of emotions. And I definitely expected for the entire Riverdale cast to be way hotter than I ever remember them being in cartoon form.

In other words, feisty gray-haired Miss Grundy is now a statutory rapist.

I know that television often requires that things be sexed up a little bit, but the updates to Ms. Grundy are just plain creepy. No longer is she the old, maternal mentor of Archie and his friends. In Riverdale she is cast as decades younger, and sleeping with Archie. In other words, feisty gray-haired Miss Grundy is now a statutory rapist. Their illicit affair is a central part of the storyline in the show, and a huge disappointment for me.

The “hot teacher” trope — which relies simultaneously on the assumed sexual availability of women to any guy old enough to find her attractive, and the slut-shame-y idea that a woman who is sexual in any way lacks the morals to avoid situations like sleeping with your student — is so played out. Meanwhile, their tryst is framed in the context of ‘forbidden love’ and ‘steamy romance.’

I’m not a TV writer but I can definitely think of some other ways to spice up Ms. Grundy’s character. She could have been a drug queen pin moonlighting as a teacher, or perhaps the biological mother of one of the angsty teenagers. But for a show that seems committed to exploring sexuality and even feminism from a progressive angle, keeping Miss Grundy relevant by making her a sexual predator and then calling the whole thing a romance seems particularly tone deaf.

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