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The Rise and Fall of ‘Riverdale’

Riverdale -- "Pilot" -- Image Number:RVD101g_BTS_0281.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Behind the scenes with KJ Apa as Archie, Camila Mendes as Veronica, Cole Sprouse as Jughead, and Lili Reinhart as Betty -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network. All Rights Reserved.

Riverdale started off strong, the initial hype before the show even aired was substantial, everyone was talking about this brand new teenage drama show. This was because the show had so much potential, and despite all the original Archie comic fans being sceptical as to how well the show would mirror the comics and the characters inside them, the first three episodes of Riverdale were good enough to captivate over one million live viewers and gain a huge fan base whom were promised diversity and LGBTQ+ rep on screen while an unproblematic cast off screen, however, none of those hopes rung true and unfortunately Riverdale -and the cast- went downhill.

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It began with the erasing of Jughead’s asexuality (which is mentioned in the comics), while simultaneously removing any hope of asexual representation in an exponentially popular mainstream tv show. Despite Cole, apparently, fighting to salvage an asexual Jughead, the show writers went on to force Jughead into a relationship with Betty, therefore solidifying that an asexual Jughead will not be the reality. Now, this isn’t just a representation problem, but it’s also an issue with erasing certain groups from our screens; continuously, mainstream mediums represent other members of the LGBT community, but it’s almost non-existent that they ever represent asexuals. Therefore, when Riverdale ignored the opportunity to represent an underrepresented group, the fall of Riverdale began.

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It continued when the viewers were shown such a diverse cast with a variety of actors of colour playing, what was thought to be, mainstream characters in the show. However, characters like Josie, Melody, Val, Chuck and Reggie are persistently being sidelined and ignored throughout the show as opposed to their fellow white cast mates who are almost always being given the spotlight. This is once again a huge issue, as they represent POC in the show as only important or viable characters when they and their storyline revolves around a white (or white-washed actor). For example, Chuck Clayton’s storyline essentially only exists to allow the ignorant mental health alias “Dark Betty” to thrive and Valerie’s storyline and screentime become obsolete after she broke up with Archie (who is played by a Samoan actor but is given two white parents) and now the only mention she receives is as “Archie’s ex-girlfriend”.

This horrible treatment and marginalisation of these characters of colour in Riverdale further perpetuates the notion that POC are inferior to white people in not only mainstream media but in real day to day life, as this dismissal of Asian, Black, Spanish and Samoan actors is very damaging to young viewers of colour to watch a show where white people are prioritised while people who look like them are blatantly neglected and discarded. This lack of screentime, eventually, led Ross Butler (Reggie in the show) to leave the show probably to fixate on projects that would actually use his talent and not delete his scenes or ignore he even exists. So while Riverdale continues to pride itself on having a diverse cast, its horrible representation problem thrives.

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Another aspect of Riverdale’s downfall was the problematic cast. Overlooking their irritating “daddy” obsession, the Riverdale cast proved to be one of the most problematic in 2017 with most of them being caught in a scandal or queerbaiting fans in the few months that Riverdale was airing. It commenced with Cole Sprouse’s consistent troublesome behaviour, due to his belief in reverse racism (and his use MLK and ethnocentricism to defend this belief) and the alleged abuse and manipulation allegations from his girlfriend of three years. It continued with Lili Reinhart– who plays Betty-, whose unfunny memes and queerbaiting “Beronica” fans for RTs (seeing as they made up the majority of the fanbase and resulted in the show’s renewal) eventually led to said fans calling her out on this behaviour. Instead of issuing a sincere apology or response, she tweeted this to victimise herself despite her fellow cast member’s issues. Furthermore, Lili then went on a tweeting spree about the importance of mental health- which is ironic since Riverdale glorified self-harm– and decided to belittle clinical depression by essentially telling her fans “not to waste their life being sad”.

Carrying on, the list of problematic Riverdale cast mates continues with KJ Apa– who plays Archie- who was revealed to have liked an Instagram comment shaming fat people and claiming the only way to “stop them from dying a fat early death” is to make fun of them. In addition, he was also found to have posted a misogynistic and rape culture perpetuating Snapchat, which entailed “15 reasons why beer is better than women”, one of the reasons stating “a beer never says no”. KJ has yet to even acknowledge this scandal. And the final troublesome Riverdale cast member is Rob Raco (Joaquin in Riverdale) who posted an Instagram photo with the caption “growing a moustache makes me look like a Mexican rapist”. This caption is not only racist but it supports a false stereotype about Mexicans, therefore when fans attempted to call him out or receive some form of an apology, he either ignored them or responded by blocking them. Overall, it almost seems as if the Riverdale casting call wanted actors who are damaging to the show; and it doesn’t make it any better that Riverdale fans not only accept this problematic behaviour but they also defend it instead of recognising the issue and calling out the celebrity involved.

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In conclusion, The list of things Riverdale did wrong could go on for hours, with the demonization of abortion used as a plot device in the show, the mediocre -at best- acting, the lazy writing and plot devices, the glorification of self-harm, the irreverent use of “Dark Betty” to romanticise and sugarcoat Betty’s mental illness, the amplification of student-teacher relationships; the list goes on and on. It seems evident that Riverdale has gone downhill so rapidly and season two probably isn’t going to be any better for the show. Therefore instead of wasting your time watching Riverdale, you should Watch Dear White People, The Get Down or Brooklynn Nine-Nine. Support shows that don’t queerbait or marginalise POC.

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Written by Rayan Ramadan

I'm 15 years old and live in London, but my family has roots of Libyan and Italian. Apart from writing articles, I enjoy basketball, ice skating, politics, debating and watching movies. If you want to contact me: rayanramadan@rocketmail.com.

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  1. + the extremely stereotypical role of kevin, the gay friend with no personality except for being gay, & the biphobia towards that closeted football player

  2. I agree with everything but have to disagree on saying that it was wrong for Aj Apa to have white parents on Riverdale. He’s only a quarter Somoan. His father is half Somoan. He should be allowed to play White AND Somoan characters (even though there are rarely any Somoan-American characters on TV or movies). He is from New Zealand. Why can’t he play a white character? Yes I believe poc are misrepresented so I would definitely choose Archie to have Somoan parents rather than White parents. Though I can’t help but feel that this is a biracial issue. Biracial people are usually never casted. They should be allowed to play characters that are a race they indentify in. If I’m Asian-Mexican, maybe I’d like to play a historical figure on an Asian Movie. Or play one for a Mexican one. There are never biracial characters. I find it awful that we can’t play characters that are apart of our culture unless they’re apart of BOTH of our cultures. Other than that, beautiful artical & I completely agree with the rest of your passage. Riverdale is awful & completely misrepresents poc.

  3. I agree with everything here apart for the reading of the asexuality part. Just because Jughead is in a relationship doesn’t mean that he is not asexual. This is a MASSIVE misconception with this part of the LGBT+ community. We can be in relationships, we can kiss whoever we want, that does not erase our sexuality. We can still even have sex, masturbate etc and still be asexual. Asexuality means we do not actively think about or want to have sex. Some are disgusted by it, some still have sex for their partner and to have kids. When masturbating, people often do not include themselves in their imagination.

    Jughead in a relationship/having sex can still be turned into jughead being asexual. In fact it would be a good plot point about self discovery and educate viewers into what asexuality actually is.

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