Archie Andrews is getting married to Veronica Lodge, and I have to admit: It's killing me. I am genuinely upset and angry about it. It's a bizarre feeling to be so irrational about my favorite Riverdalian. After all, why do I care? And if that question wasn't enough to weigh on me, it's compounded by a more basic issue, namely, why did I ever enjoy Archie Comics in the first place?
Ultimately, I think the reason I care about Archie's upcoming nuptials has to do with why I read the comics in the first place, and that, in turn, explains why some on the left are upset with President Obama. Let's start with Archie.
As a child, boxes full of Archie Comics, a rich inheritance from my older siblings, littered my room and mind. I read them constantly. But thinking about my obsession, I have no idea why Archie Comics interested me, and I am left confused on a number of levels:
- They're not funny. And I don't mean that their jokes don't appeal to my current sensibilities, I mean that they usually don't even attempt jokes. I don't think they try to be funny.
- Stories Contradict. There's a reason you don't see a lot of Archie fanboys at Archie-cons. Okay, there are many reasons why you don't see Archie fanboys at Archie-cons, but one of them is that the comics have no consistent view of the characters. There is no canon, there is no mythology, there are only a mess of contradictions.
- Nothing Happens. There is no overarching storyline. Even as Archie Comics have updated from phonographs to computers to text messaging to keeping their own blogs (yes, seriously), the basic premise of Archie getting into hijinks with the exact same people is recycled again and again.
For a long time I assumed that I read them for the same reason that George Costanza expected people to watch his television show -- "because it's on TV." I figured that I read Archie comics because they were there. That theory has a major weakness. Other books, and other comics "were there" for me to read. So what is the pull that Archie had over me?
I think their appeal stems directly from their weakness. Yes, the storylines contradict. Sometimes Archie was brilliant, while at other times he was a dunce. Sometimes Archie was the star athlete and at other points he was the waterboy. Reggie could be Archie's best friend in one strip and his arch nemesis in the next. The comic book never took a firm stand and therefore Archie could be what you wanted him to be. The lack of plot developments aided this. Archie Comics are built in a structure that's just strong enough to stand on its own but sparse enough for the reader to fill in his or her own biases. For a child, for me, it was a paint by numbers book. It supplied the outline but I got to color it in.
Which is why it's crazy for Archie to get engaged to Veronica. One of the many contradictions in the Archie Universe is Archie's love life. Sometimes he is with Veronica Lodge, ensnared by her upscale, high class, dark-haired allure, and other times he is dating Betty, the blond, down to earth, girl next door. This is of course compounded by Betty and Veronica's relationship to each other (best friends/sworn enemies), Archie and Reggie's relationship (best friends/sworn enemies) and Reggie's relationship with Betty and Veronica (love interest/sworn enemies). Confusing as it is, it left the reader with the same paint-by-numbers feel as the rest. There were many potential possibilities. Well, why would the comics take that away? Why commit to Veronica over Betty, leaving all of the Betty fans as sad as she clearly is on the comic cover above. When Archie makes the decision to marry Veronica, he stops being the blank figure on which I can see a beautiful Archie-Betty future.
President Obama has had to deal with similar ramifications for making some of his decisions. During the election Hillary Clinton, among others, made the case that part of President Obama's appeal was that he was a blank slate
, someone who you could paint-by-number:
"where he said that he is a blank screen and people of widely different views project what they want to hear... with the blank screen it gives you a chance to just really infuse it with whatever you hope for, whatever you want without knowing."
As president, though, Barack Obama has had to make hard decisions. Last week, when President Obama gave his National Security speech, he took flack not just from the right, but from the left as well:
[L]iberals have expressed dismay at what they view as a Democratic president acting much like his Republican predecessor. They cite Obama's moves to reverse himself and fight the court-ordered release of prisoner-abuse photos, to revive military tribunals for some terror suspects (although he is revamping how they would work), to oppose a truth commission to investigate past detainee treatment and to continue using in some cases Bush's "state secrets" doctrine that claims unchecked presidential power to prevent information disclosure in court.
Some on the left are upset by some of President Obama's policies, but it's not just the policies that bother them. It is something deeper. Like Archie asking for Veronica's hand in marriage, every policy choice that President Obama makes limits our ability to paint disparate futures onto his canvas. Part of Candidate Obama's appeal (not all of it, as some Republicans claimed) was possibility. He was a man who saw both sides of contradictions, who we could see acting as a friend or a rival, who we could see behaving differently in different situations, who, like Archie, had enough story to stand on his own, but was compelling enough to allow the voter to paint on his or her dreams.
For some followers, President Obama has embraced Veronica, leaving all those who were hoping he'd go with Betty hurt, surprised to lose out on the future they saw with the sunshined girl next door. The President, though, has no choice but to make decisions and set policy. It is what we elected him to do. That not every Obama fueled dream or hope would come true was inevitable. What's Archie's excuse?