Re-reading the Archie comics coming out of a theory, or even any women studies class, complicates the childhood comic. At a first eight year-old glance, Archie comics are entertaining, they are predictable with uncomplicated plot threads. However, at university level glance there is so much more going on: the homosocial relationship between Archie, Veronica, and Betty; the archetypes that Veronica and Betty are complicit in; and the hair color controversy.
There has been much talk about how introducing a new gay character to the Archie comics effects its all-American, mainstream iconography. However, to me there are more problematic issues at hand then introducing a homosexual character, for example the debated issues of Archie secretly being in love with Jughead, causing his ambivalence towards Betty and Veronica. More than this, the competitiveness, and the thriving of social femininity and the homosocial that Betty and Veronica take part in. It is through fighting for Archie, or trying to win his affections, which Betty and Veronica take on an opposing persona than the courtly lover (two men, one woman), and become active, rather than passive, objectified, women. Further, in “Ladies Man”, Betty asks Veronica what she finds most attractive about Archie, and Veronica responds with a vociferous (and homosocial) responses of “You!”. Then, it is not necessarily that Veronica finds Archie extremely attractive, or his personality rather charming, but what is fueling her is the competition with Betty and perhaps even trying to get closer to Betty. This competition, then, not only fuels Veronica towards Archie, but also proves a social femininity that she is trying to prove—it is through being with Archie that Veronica will have won, Veronica will have been the most feminine.
Considering femininity, it is interesting to see how Betty and Veronica’s hair color plays into definitions of femininity. As someone pointed out in a lecture a few weeks ago, it seems that Veronica and Betty look like the exact same person but with different hair colors/cuts, but if, in fact, one was to shave Betty and Veronica’s hair off, they would look identical. Case and point:
The facial expressions, body type/build, and hand gestures are identical here, the only thing differing is the hair color. Then, what are the connotations of hair color, presented a la childhood Archie Comics? Do blondes really have more fun? Are brunettes more vixen-like? It seems that Archie comics propel a stigmatic reading of hair color to match personality types. Then, Betty Cooper is the fun-loving, exciting, wholesome girl next-door, and Veronica is the rich, sexy, self-assured brunette vixen. Further, it is through the antagonism of Betty and Veronica that speaks to a common convention of the nineteenth century. Northrop Frye describes this convention: “one very common convention of the nineteenth-century novel is the use of two heroines, one dark and one light. The dark one is as a rule passionate, haughty, play, foreign” (Frye 93). Then, the Betty and Veronica characters challenge the courtly love motif, but succumb to essentialist understandings of femininity, especially femininity that is determined by hair color.
Frye, Northrop, and Robert Denham. Anatomy of criticism; four essays. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 2006. 93. Print.