Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Jughead, Riverdale, and Aromatic/Asexual Erasure

I've been really excited for the upcoming CW show Riverdale ever since it was first announced. It's based on the excellent Archie comics, the casting looks wonderful, and the source material has that rarest of things, a canon aromantic/asexual character in Jughead.

So the news a few days ago that actually, in this adaptation, Jughead wouldn't be asexual and would instead be chasing the ladies, made me really sad, and has taken away much of my enthusiasm for the show.

I'm trying to process whether I was expecting too much here. While actor Cole Sprouse has stated that he hoped his character would be aroace as in the comics, it's never been officially stated whether he would or wouldn't be, prior to this news, as far as I'm aware. But (at the risk of sounding hopelessly naive) it just seemed to make perfect sense that he would be. Firstly, it just seems as if two straight guys, a gay guy and an aroace guy opens up more interesting storyline possibilities than three straight guys and a gay guy does. An aroace character who has a great group of friends could really have helped push back against the cold and solitary representation which makes up a large proportion of the tiny amount of aroace rep we DO get.

And secondly, while I don't generally look at upcoming shows with the thought of "Oh wow, potential aroace character!" because that would be a surefire way to massive disappointment, I feel that hoping one of the most well-known canon asexual characters is portrayed as aroace is surely reasonable? I honestly don't think the importance of the panels in Jughead #4 last year, where the character was confirmed on page as being ace, can be overstated. This was an established character, talking openly with a friend about being ace, and it felt completely and 100% natural. Reading that as a teen would have given me so much hope that not being sexually attracted to people wasn't a big deali.

And while I'm so, so glad that Chip Zdarsky made Jughead an on the page aroace in the comic - and I'm hugely pleased that there are some great representations of aroace spectrum characters in YA books I'll mention below - I know that the TV series is likely to have a much wider reach that the comics or any of the currently available YA novels do. For me, on screen rep in a contemporary TV series - especially one aimed at teens - would have been a huge step forward and I think it's a real missed opportunity.

That said, Cole Sprouse has me not ready to completely give up yet. He really sounds as if he understands the importance of Jughead's sexuality, and while I know actors have limited power to change anything, I appreciate that he's making his voice heard about the issue. He said to MTV news that it was possible events in season 1 needed to happen for "Jughead to eventually realise that kind of narrative." Here's hoping!

I appreciate this hasn't been the most cheerful of posts, and while I definitely think we need much more aroace and ace rep than we have, some of the stuff that IS out there is really good - so I wanted to share some recommendations for it.

Radio Silence by Alice Oseman - one of the most important characters in this one is demisexual; it's talked about on page and it's a wonderful representation.

This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin - straight guy, ace guy, straight girl love triangle. GLORIOUS relationship here and fabulous on-page rep.

What The Heart Wants by Naomi Tajedler - super cute short story; f/f relationship at the heart of it but there's also a straight girl/ace guy romance for two side characters which is absolutely lovely too.

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate - great story with seven leads, including a pan character and an ace/aro character. The words 'asexual/aromantic' aren't used, which would normally strike me as a missed opportunity BUT I can forgive Riley as I think it's pretty clear that it fits the character not to use them. (As opposed to the pan character, who DOES use the word proudly; again this is a perfect fit for them.)

Rock & Riot by Cheriiart - absolutely wonderful webcomic with gay, lesbian, bi, trans, non-binary and ace characters. Think Grease but hugely diverse. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous!!

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