Growing up (in Australia), my vision of the US was moulded by a number of things. The Brady Bunch and Mork & Mindy on TV. Grease and Smokey & The Bandit on the big screen. And literature-wise it was Archie comics.
In fact Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang were the epitome of what ‘America’ was all about. High school hijinx, white picket fences, meeting at the diner for a milkshake…
Like most of us, I had this idealised version of the states in my head where everyone was friends, freedom of speech was paramount and equal opportunity was king. After all, this is the home of the brave; the land of the free.
Sadly as we got older we realised that – although we might snicker at ‘root beer’ – Archie comics was a little too idealised. Perhaps even two-dimensional. So we filed it away under “childish”.
For not too long ago Archie comics announced one of their openly gay characters was getting married.
Grown-up Anthony realises that the USA isn’t quite as accepting as his childhood perceptions, so wasn’t surprised at the reaction particularly from the conservative belt. But what WAS surprising was the reaction of Archie comics to the criticism.
“We don’t care if bigots don’t read our comics”.
Read that again. No back-pedalling, no justification, no spin. At a time when it’s incredibly hard to make money out of comics, a corporation is resisting the urge to go into spin mode and is instead just making a stand.
And now because of their stand, an organised protest group called One Million Moms is trying to pressure Toys R Us into not displaying and selling Archie comics.
This same group recently tried to pressure JC Penney into pulling Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson because she was gay. They describe themselves as “an online activism campaign which gives mothers an impact with entertainment media decision-makers, and lets them know we are upset with the messages they are sending our children and the values being taught.”
Apparently freedom of choice and expression isn’t big on their values list.
But despite the criticism and possible loss of sales Archie comics is standing firm according to co-CEO Jon Goldwater.
“We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealised version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.
“We’re sorry the American Family Association/OneMillionMoms.com feels so negatively about our product, but they have every right to their opinion, just like we have the right to stand by ours. Kevin Keller will forever be a part of Riverdale, and he will live a happy, long life free of prejudice, hate and narrow-minded people.”
I’m an avid reader. Books, magazines, comics, online forums… if it’s got words then I’m there, but I haven’t picked up an Archie comic in decades. That will change this week as I make a point to purchase three or four. They don’t have to be the issue in question and I’m not doing it for value or even the storyline.
I’m doing it to send a message to the small-minded people of the world that I want literature to reflect all of society not just their sheltered part of it. And to support the open-minded people at Archie by sending a few bucks their way.
Growing up we used to argue over who Archie should choose – Betty or Veronica (Betty all the way btw – you can’t beat the nice girl next door). It was quite simplistic and, although I didn’t know it, reflective of the heterosexual dominance of the media.
I want my kids to grow up knowing that – even if it isn’t your particular sentiment – there are other choices out there. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
So please buy an Archie comic today. And make a bigot cry.