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A New Millenium Dawns, and Hits the Snooze Button

09.01.2000 | INTERNET

Though humanity still struggles to find truth in our collective existence, there are, alas, some questions which can never be answered. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? The grand philosophical debates which have plagued the thinking person's mind for centuries and will continue to plague us indefinitely. A similarly unanswerable question has been the bane of my existence for as long as I can remember: What the fuck is the deal with Archie Comics?!

Archie Comics confuse me so much and on so many levels that I scarcely know where to begin. They are a ubiquitous presence at every supermarket checkout line everywhere, alongside the cheap tabloids that specialize in laughably doctored photos. And while there are over 12,000 separate Archie titles (all of which vaguely sound like the names of porno flicks--Archie and Jughead, Archie and Veronica and Betty, Betty and Veronica Double Digest), I have never in my entire life ever seen a person even pick up an Archie Comic while waiting to make their purchases, let alone purchase one. I have never met anyone who has ever read one. I've never even met anyone who knows someone who's ever read one. From a purely financial standpoint, how can this possibly be explained? Are they subsidized by the Federal government? Marvel Comics nearly went bankrupt about five years back for having saturated the comics book market, yet at the same time countless trees have been slaughtered so that Archie Comics can litter every supermarket in North America.

If you are as disturbed as I am about these issues, the official web site of this surrealistic bit of Americana,, will not answer any of your broiling questions. It will, however, make you want beat someone with a tire iron. Preferably someone involved with the Archie Comics machine, but anyone will do, because after you visit the site, you will want to hurt the world in the same way the world has just hurt you.

In the web site's current Fun Summer Incarnation, the index page features a drawing of Archie dreaming of an idyllic beach scene, where he is slathering a bikini-clad girl with sunscreen. See, he is offering FREE SUN SCREEN APPLICATIONS (hoping to undercut, I suppose, those who charge for their sunscreen application services) and a line of attractive smiling females is snaking behind him off into the distance. It has all the subtlety of a local newspaper's political cartoons, with about half the laughs. This tone is maintained throughout the site--sexist, derivative, and so painfully unfunny it will make you forget that humor actually exists.

Meanwhile, the people responsible for Archie Comics have forgotten that irony exists. No opportunity is missed to remind you that Archie Comics is dedicated to the concept of wholesome entertainment, going so far as to actually use the adjective 'wholesome' as often as possible to describe themselves and the dreck they produce. Under their definition, wholesomeness apparently includes going out with two girls at once and playing them against each other, as Archie incessantly does. Wholesomeness also includes having two female characters who are obvious epitomes of the old virgin/whore complex, proving that the producers of Archie Comics could not have a more open contempt for feminism if they went and punched Camille Paglia in the face.

On the web site, Archie is constantly seen going bug-eyed over some babe who enters his line of sight, and yet the carrot-topped hornball never does anything more risqué than share a soda or get a peck on the cheek. My guess is that this is meant to imply that he's a normal, red-blooded American male (and not at all gay, god forbid). However, it would also be risky, within the wholesomeness of the Archie universe, to imply that he has genitalia of any sort. I'm not sure how old Archie is supposed to be, but in any case I think it would be a lot more realistic if he slipped every now and then and screamed, "Jesus, I'd love to tap that ass!"

To further pummel you with wholesomeness, the site has a special section called P.T. This does not stand for Potty Training, but rather Pretty Terrific. This section is intended for bolstering the fragile egos of pre-teens (Get it? Pretty Terrific has the same initials as pre-teen!). As anyone who actually remembers being young will tell you, the only thing worse than having low self-esteem is having someone who does not have low self-esteem attempt to cure your low self-esteem by insisting on how good it is to have self-esteem. The P.T. pages are divided into P.T. Boys and P.T. Girls section, and the P.T. Girls section is comprised solely of ways to improve your looks via clothes or makeup. Some of their suggestions include using clear mascara and gluing silk flowers to your old flip-flops for a fresh new look. The tag line insists, "P.T. Girls are Pretty and Pretty Terrific!" If Gloria Steinem were dead, she'd surely be spinning in her grave.

In a brief recognition of the 21st century, Archie, Jughead and the gang engage initiate a dialogue in a P.T. page called Personal Talk, where they discuss a friend of theirs who appears to have a eating disorder (maybe she paid too close attention to the P.T. Girls page). Upon being given a definition of bulimia by Betty, Archie sagely observes, "Throwing up is definitely NOT healthy." The suffering friend is shown in a disturbing cartoon looking disoriented and sick, which approximates the reader's feelings upon having to see Jughead and Veronica glibly discussing anorexia.

A well-hidden section of the web site called Legal Stuff has a lengthy, and disturbing, disclaimer: "By visiting our site, you are agreeing to all of the terms and conditions listed on this page and any other laws or regulations that may apply to this site," the lawyers insist. The section also lays out strict laws for the use of Archie characters which are as follows:

Any use must portray the characters in a manner which is substantially consistent with the wholesome manner in which they are portrayed in the comic books published by ACP. For example, they shall; (a) not be depicted in explicit activities inappropriate for a youthful audience; (b) always be shown wearing seat belts when driving; (c) never be shown taking drugs; (d) never be shown smoking; (e) never be shown drinking alcoholic beverages; (f) never be shown nude; (g) never be shown engaging in violent or abusive behavior; (h) never be shown in knowingly engaging in illegal activities; and (i) never be shown engaging in any activity which is contradictory to the commitment of ACP to the use of the characters to promote good dental and personal hygiene. When I thought I couldn't hate the web site any more than I already did, another item popped up which sent me into a fit of apoplectic rage. Apparently, Josie and the Pussycats are somehow allied with the Archie universe. From approximately the ages 4-6, Josie and the Pussycats, and its offshoot Pussycats in Outer Space, were my favorite cartoons (I really liked Tom and Jerry too, but it didn't have leggy chicks in cat suits playing in a band--there goes the latency period theory). Now I will never be able to watch Josie and the Pussycats ever again, knowing that they are teamed with the Archie world, and therefore Satan himself. Archie Comics has ruined a happy childhood memory, trampling it to death and leaving me to choke on their wholesome dust.

There is a section entitled Fun n' Games, which stretches the definition of both of these terms to their absolute breaking points to include anything which doesn't physically harm other people. Not surprisingly, there are no fewer than three games which involve putting clothes on, or purchasing clothes for, Veronica and/or Betty. A contest challenges kids to come up with a fourth panel for a comic strip involving a dog too fat to get through a door. Why this is supposed to be funny instead of sad is not explained. There is also a trivia contest which tries to shame you into participating by screaming, "How much do you REALLY know about Riverdale?" I can only hope that the top prize for a high score is to go kill yourself.

There are some things that people were just not meant to know. I suppose one of these things is why the adventures of an orange-haired jackass and his anachronistic pals are published incessantly, despite any empirical evidence to suggest that anyone actually likes them. Like cockroaches, Archie Comics would probably survive a nuclear holocaust, multiplying like rabbits and proving once and for all the theory that the survivors would envy the dead.

About the Author
Matthew Callan blogs daily at MSN Sports Filter. He has contributed to the NY Press, NPR, and "Excelsior You Fathead", a biography of Jean Shepherd. His Freezerbox piece "The Lemon Pledge" was given honorable mention in the 2003 edition of "Best American Non-Required Reading," and his fiction has been shortlisted for contests in Zoetrope: All-Story, Bomb magazine, and other publications.
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