Jughead in the pilot episode of 'Riverdale'

Riverdale Jughead Controversy: Aromanticism, Asexuality, And Weird Ship Names

First-season teen drama and Archie Comics adaptation Riverdale has received some tonal and stylistic shifts from the original comics. Folks who remember the old supermarket checkout-line Archie Digest will likely be a little shocked to find the amount of budding teenage sexuality and, oddly enough, murder, in this CW drama. But no drama on the show can really compete with the drama surrounding the portrayal of the character of Jughead Jones.

Jughead has always been a weird character in the comics — usually more interested in hamburgers than in romance, he made a great foil for Archie and his romantic woes in the original comics. Comic book writer Chip Zdarsky (best known for creator-owned Sex Criminals) took over the solo Jughead comic book in 2015 and re-identified that consistent ‘weirdness’ as something else — an aromantic, asexual Jughead who’s mostly averse to being touched.

Now, for readers not familiar with the terminology: Asexuality is when you don’t feel sexual attraction. Aromanticism is when you don’t feel romantic attraction. These identities are controversial in some ways — inter-community discourse as to whether people who identify as aro or ace (the community-preferred slang, like bi for bisexual) ‘fit’ under the larger LGBTQ umbrella is an ever-present thing — and they are basically nonexistent in fiction.

We actually tend to associate romantic and sexual love with humanity; this can have really harmful repercussions on aro and ace people, who can come to see themselves as “broken” or “incomplete” for not feeling these things.

So, seeing Jughead as aro-ace in his own comic book was a big deal in the community. When Riverdale was announced, aro and ace Jughead fans wondered if they would get explicit TV representation.

As it stands, they haven’t.

For the past two weeks on Riverdale, the show has been pursuing a romantic storyline involving Betty Cooper and Jughead, and in both episodes (“Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” and “Chapter Seven: In a Lonely Place”) the two characters have kissed. This basically flies in the face of current comics characterization for Jughead, and has dealt something of a crushing blow to aro and ace fans of the character. In fact, if you search “Jughead” on Twitter, a significant amount of the Riverdale tweets you’ll find will be like this:

Additionally, there are other tweets that are not fit to print due to profanity, but essentially express the same opinion.

That said, not everyone is bothered by this storyline — fans of the Riverdale pairing have taken to calling the “ship” “Bughead,” and the relationship itself was trending on Twitter in certain locations while the most recent episode aired.

Jughead and Betty share a romantic moment in "Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!"
Jughead and Betty share a romantic moment in ‘Chapter Six: Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!’ [Image by Dean Buscher/The CW]

Even Jughead actor Cole Sprouse has been won over by the romantic storyline. In January, he expressed in an interview with Teen Vogue that “[…]he [was] fighting for Jughead’s sexual identity to become highlighted in future episodes.” However, earlier this month, he walked back this conviction, saying this about Betty and Jughead’s romance to BleedingCool:

“While I think that representation is needed, this Jughead is not that Jughead. This Jughead is not Zdarsky’s Jughead and this Jughead is not the aromantic Jughead. This Jughead is a person who is looking for a kind of deeper companionship with a person like Betty and Betty ends up being this super nurturing, caring, care-taking person that with Jughead’s screwed-up past they end up diving into each other and it ends up being a beautiful thing.”

While fans can still hope that Jughead has some kind of romantic/sexual epiphany about his identity, as many teens do in real life, it doesn’t seem likely at this point. That said, the CW’s track record for maintaining romantic relationships for longer than a season is not great, and a big part of the Archie mythos has to do with the love triangles so integral Archie, Betty, and Veronica’s stories, so Bughead fans might have a few things to watch out for as well, and may not want to rest on their Riverdale laurels.

Riverdale will be going on hiatus for a few weeks following the most recent episode, but will be returning on March 30, 2017, with an episode titled “The Outsiders.” The show airs at 9 p.m. on The CW.

[Featured Image by Katie Yu/The CW]

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