Thursday, 22 April 2010

Teenage kicks

It's the ultimate modern accessory, even more indispensable than the iPod or Sky+. These days, if you don't have a gay best friend, you might as well lock yourself away with a DVD of Harbour Lights and a wholesale crate of Muller Fruit Corners.

Even the Riverdale gang have their very own GBF now, and they're about as cool as David Cameron performing Fuck Tha Police on a karaoke night. If you're not familiar with Riverdale, allow me to be your guide.

It's the generic everytown, home to permanently priapic redhead Archie and his friends. As the stars of one of the longest running comic books in history, Archie and friends have been part of the pop culture firmament for almost 70 years.

Unless you're a fan of tooth-achingly clean-cut American kids, you're probably only aware of Archie's musical output. In 1969 he and his white-bread cohorts scored a number one hit with Sugar Sugar, even knocking the Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Woman off the top-spot.

Like Fleetwood Mac, but without the coke and paranoia, the three-guy-two-girl combo was rife with sexual tension. Lead singer Archie was constantly battling with beefcake Reggie for the attentions of blonde Betty and brunette Veronica. Fifth wheel Jughead was the Mick Fleetwood of the group, and seemed to be more interested in hamburgers and his weird crown-cum-party hat.

Although many decades have passed since Archie and his friends first appeared in all their four-colour glory, they've remained trapped in a snapshot of nostalgic Norman Rockwell innocence. They may have the internet and mobile phones, but they're still living it up in a small-town utopia of malt shops and 'jalopies' (although, to be fair, Archie finally traded up to a 1960s Ford in the mid-eighties).

The humour is similarly old-fashioned, as Archie constantly fends off sand-kicking bullies in his pursuit of sweet Betty and spoiled Veronica. If this was a realistic portrayal of teenage temptation, Archie wouldn't be trying to choose between the two slices of cheesecake, he'd be coercing them into a vodka-fuelled threesome.

So it's particularly surprising that Archie and co have welcomed a real-life gay into their gang with nary a whisper of controversy. In the comic, due to be published in September, we're introduced to handsome Kevin Keller who has recently moved to Riverdale. When Kevin catches the eye of fickle trust-fund slut Veronica, Jughead encourages Kevin to lead her on so that he can revel in her ultimate disappointment.

Cruel mental torture and humiliation aside, the most surprising thing about this whole storyline is the fact that Kevin's sexuality is never portrayed as any kind of an issue. Then again, the Riverdale gang always reserved their enmity for the student body of Central High.

The fact that Archie Comics have made a "commitment to keep Archie properties reflective of the current world of teens" is entirely positive. It's just sad that the gang's tolerant approach may ultimately prove just as fantastical as the rest of their time-warped existence. In a week when it emerged that two teenaged girls attempted to push their openly lesbian classmate off a cliff, we might all wish the world was a little more like Riverdale.

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