July 22, 2014

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My version of Proverbs 30:18″€“19 goes:

There are three things that I do not understand: the success of Al Jolson, the popularity of Milton Berle, and the appeal of Archie Comics.

I may loathe a particular pop culture product, but I normally can understand why someone else might find it appealing, either now or in the past. Those three, however, leave me stumped.

But while Jolson and Berle are long dead, thank God, Archie Comics”€”stale, ugly, joyless, insipid”€”endure, taunting me from every other checkout counter.

(Weirdly, the franchise’s half-caste musical/Saturday morning cartoon spin-off somehow managed to embody precisely the opposite characteristics. Universally acknowledged as the Everest of bubblegum, The Archies”€™ “€œSugar, Sugar”€ sounds as fresh and happy”€”and even sexy”€”as it did when it hit #1 in 1969. “€œThe Archies sing from exultant satiation,”€ David Smay writes rightly in Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. More so than the dour Doors or the sour Stones, “€œSugar, Sugar”€ is, he declares, the real sound of “€œTop 40 after the pill.”€ Mick Jagger sang unconvincingly about not getting any satisfaction, whereas the unapologetically ersatz Archies effortlessly conveyed post-coital delight. If only Don Kirshner had been in charge of the damn comic book, too …)

“€œWhich is … what, exactly? Butt sex? Political assassination? Naked, shameless pandering?”€

Anyway, I should be delighted by the news that the comic’s titular “€œArchie”€ is, at last, deceased. Shot to death, even.

But while I hasten to add that I was nowhere near Riverdale when that happened, my relief is tempered.

You see, in last Wednesday’s number of the Life with Archie series, the redheaded, eternally youthful hero took a bullet for a gay politician.

Of course he did.

This scenario represents progress of a sort, in that the homosexual character isn”€™t the one who dies this time. The gay counterpoint to the “€œmagical negro”€ is what you might call the “€œtragical homo,”€ a pop culture trope exhaustively catalogued in Vito Russo’s 1981 classic The Celluloid Closet. But we”€™re well into a new century, and gays have milked that Harvey dry, I guess. Time to switch it up, and make the straight guy the “€œlovable but doomed best friend”€ instead.

“€œThe way in which Archie dies is everything that you would expect of Archie,”€ beams Archie’s head honcho, Jon Goldwater. “€œHe dies heroically. He dies selflessly. He dies in the manner that epitomizes not only the best of Riverdale but the best of all of us. It’s what Archie has come to represent over the past almost 75 years.”€

Which is … what, exactly? Butt sex? Political assassination? Naked, shameless pandering?

Oh, wait, I know: “€œEat your spinach or else”€ liberal propaganda! Dummy me.

Maybe there’s a comic book industry bar bet the rest of us aren”€™t in on. This week alone, Captain America became a black guy and Thor got a sex change.

The fact is, though, comic books have been a medium with a message ever since they were more or less invented by a gang of second-generation East Coast Jewish boys of a fairly predictable political persuasion.

And that message is getting more decadent, and desperately “€œrelevant,”€ with every passing season. Lefties who laugh at the leaden earnestness of Reefer Madness or Davey and Goliath mindlessly applaud ham-fisted propaganda as long as it’s stamped with the D.C. or Marvel corporate logos.

But do they actually buy this stuff? David Walker says yes, and that’s the problem. An African-American comic book artist, he reacted to the blackening of Captain America with a blog post subtitled “€œDon”€™t Mind Me, I”€™m Just Going to Vomit in the Corner.”€


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