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Thursday, June 22, 2006

It's All About Betty 

I bet most people, browsing the various "Archie" comics, have wondered what was going on between Archie and Betty. She's lovely, good-natured, likes Archie. Why is he not devoted to her? I could understand if he had some sort of plan that didn't include Betty, or if he were very studious or religious, but he seems to be an average teen (or what people deemed as such in 1949). In fact he's gaga about women and spends most of his time trying to date Veronica.

Could there be some extra-panel explanation? For example, could it be that Veronica is sexually active and Betty is decidedly not? I doubt that. I can see Betty being extemely innocent, a bit of a tomboy, level-headed, but it's certain she would do anything to please Archie. In fact, for a while I assumed that Archie and Betty had a long sexual history and that this was Betty's real issue with him. She felt used. Not just the once, but repeatedly, over a period of years, and couldn't let it go.

But that can't be true, because Betty is both intelligent and self-confident. She seems to know what she is doing and has a good idea of what she can and cannot do. Her assessment of the other "Archie" characters is also generous and realistic: she remains friends with Veronica, for example, only chastising her for her domination of Archie.

This leads to another idea: is Archie the problem? Is he hoplessly enthralled by Veronica? That might work. Perhaps Archie has left Betty to engage in some sort of humiliation transaction with Veronica, and Betty wants to save him from this abuse.

But again, what I gather about Betty excludes this. I think she would have the sense to remove herself from the situation and appeal to others: Jughead, or Dilton. I think she would back away from anything that crazy.

Moreover, you would think that a comic about teen social life would have some erotic charge, but the "Archie" comics do not. They're exclusively about dating, man-woman relationships, and romance, (which, in America, gets underway and conks out in high school), yet sex has no role here.

(By the way, if you thought that "Archie" would spawn a million erotic parody sites, it hasn't. Not that I spent much time looking. I think if you draw an erotic "Archie" cartoon, what happens is the "Archie" people come to your apartment at 2:00 am, sieze everything, and drive you out to the Riverdale Industrial Park for a bit of privacy.)

Of course, people might say: "But you wouldn't give the 8-14 crowd a comic showing teens getting up to mischief like having sex, now, would you?" Well, no. But why give them a comic obsessed with flirtation which, at the same time, denies the very existence of sex? Isn't that a bit perverse? And real teens do a whole lot of things besides worry about dates. I seem to recall realising at that age that I was probably useless except as automatic weapons fodder. So why wouldn't an acceptable comic treat one of the many other difficulties of teen life? Job? Education? Trying desperately not to be bored? It could be as amusing as you can make it, a bit like "Seinfeld", or "Trailer Park Boys" for example.

But no. And the real reason for all this is that "Archie" is truly concerned with nonsex. It is a militant anti-sex organ, and Betty is its mouthpiece. She embodies everything charming and delightful in femininity, only to negate it. She's there with her big American smile, saying: ... Ceci n'est pas une pipe.


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