May 18, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 813: Archie's Girls Betty and Veronica #246, June 1976

Today's comic veers off from the trend of domestic adventure for these two young ladies, and actually addresses class difference in a couple of its stories. Veronica has always been a wonderful touchstone for questions of class. Sometimes she's a positive representation and sometimes a negative one. More often than not, at least in the comics I've been looking at lately, Veronica uses her privilege as a weapon rather than a tool, and today's comic is no exception. In "The Outspoken Word," Veronica uses her self-perception of superiority to offer outspoken criticisms of everyone she comes across, until she meets someone as outspoken as she herself who turns the tables. "Fit to be Tied" sees Veronica give Betty an entire wardrobe of clothes that have had the size tags changed, in order to convince Betty that she has put on weight. This is a really awful story, as we witness Betty refusing to eat and exercising what we would now consider a very unhealthy amount, all because she doesn't fit into the clothes Veronica has given her. Of course, the story turns it around, and Betty becomes a champion athlete out of the deal, but Veronica's deception is never revealed, and Betty's worry about her weight is never addressed.

I was teaching my class about what we call the "Generalized Other" in communications theory today. It's the mores and narratives that we are provided by the greater society we inhabit. The key to these narratives is recognizing that the stories the generalized other tells us about ourselves is not necessarily the story that we should inhabit. The problem is that it's hard to inhabit other stories if we're not made aware that they're possible. Hence, representation. The female narratives presented by these Betty and Veronica stories in the 70s offer little in the way of non-normative behaviours. It's surprising to see Betty excel at sports in the one story, as she's usually relegated to winning over the hearts and minds of her peers with her domestic skills. And I'm not even sure what the narrative that's presented through Veronica is. Every now and again she shows some self-awareness, but more often than not her comeuppance is experienced only by herself, perhaps suggesting that the rich will get what they deserve, but never in view of those they've wronged. Which might assuage the concerns of those wronged, but is, as far as I can tell, not entirely true to life.

I'm finding these comics cool in that they're provoking in me a lot more rigorous thinking than some of the others I've read. Perhaps it's that distance of time that allows for a more critical view of things. What's lovely is that they're providing a touchstone on how far we have actually come in the last 40 years. What will things look like 40 years from now?

To be continued.

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