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November 08, 2004

  • Betty and Me
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    I suppose when it comes right down to it, I've spent most of my life looking for Betty Cooper.

    My relationship, if you want to call it that, with Betty Cooper began when I was about six or seven. Back then she was a backing musician to the musical group The Archies. I didn't really know a lot about her then. Truth to tell, I was more interested in Archie and in following the American Bicentennial-driven adventures in American history. The series was called The U.S. of Archie and every week the gang met George Washington at Valley Forge or helped Alexander Graham Bell (a Canadian) invent the telephone. And then they'd sing and stuff. In those days, Betty didn't have a whole lot to do except play tambourine and do backup vocals.

    Sooner or later, I got to know Betty a little bit better. When we would visit my grandparents in St. Catharines we'd inevitably go to the local Mac's Milk where I'd buy the latest in DC and Marvel comics, and my sister would go for the Archie imprint. And when I got bored with reading the latest adventures of Batman and with the perqs of visiting my grandmother's (which usually consisted of comics, better US stations through their cable provider and a cool unfinished basement) I'd go and read my sister's comics.

    Once I got into the world of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica and Reggie I made a fascinating discovery: the guys were, well, kind of dull.

    Archie was nice and all, but foiling Mr. Weatherbee and Miss Grundy became somewhat redundant after the second or third time. Especially since it didn't take all that much brain power to do it and, let's face it, Archie was not exactly blessed with a lot of brains. The rest of the male cast didn't grab me much either: Reggie was a jerk; Moose had limited potential; Dilton cut a little too close to home for me. I grew to appreciate the anti-heroical Jughead in later years, but I found little appealing about him when I was young.

    That left me with Betty and Veronica.

    Now those girls had something. They had…passion. Okay, it was passion for, well, Archie Andrews, but it indicated an interior life that was hitherto unknown in Riverdale. And not only did they compete for the affections of the hunk with the hash-marked red hair, but they were this microcosm of the American class struggle: Veronica was a pampered, spoiled girl raised by a millionaire. Betty, on the other hand, was raised by salt of the earth working class parents who knew the value of a dollar.

    I think it was that quality that attracted Betty to me initially. She was the underdog, and the character that would choose fair means over foul to get what she wanted. And when she didn't, her methods were at least ingenious.

    Even as a pre-pubescent, I soon realized that if I could fall in love with a fictional character, it would be Betty Cooper. And as I grew old enough to know better—on a variety of fronts—as a teenager I still concurred with that notion.

    What was the appeal of Betty? It's true she's a pretty blonde. Back in her classic days in the 1970s and 1980s being drawn by Dan DeCarlo, she was gorgeous. However, don't let the golden locks fool you. Betty Cooper was no bimbo. Next to Dilton, Betty was the smart one of the Archie gang—she always had good grades and she was the one in Riverdale High you could picture eventually graduating from law school or med school and have a professional career helping people before going into politics for the noble reason of public service. It's safe to say she probably has the brightest future of any of the gang. Veronica would probably get an MBA and run the family firm and become a female Donald Trump. It's clear Archie's never going any further than perhaps managing Pop's Malt Shop once Pop retires. And, mark my words, Reggie's going to be running a strip joint one day.

    It's probably from being raised by such salt of the earth parents that Betty has a very good moral compass too. Betty is kind-hearted, loyal to her friends (even Veronica), compassionate and honest. She doesn't let her lack of wealth and her so-called second fiddle status with Archie stop her—she turns those limitations into strengths. She's very down to earth and practical.

    At the same time, though, I think it would be something of a misnomer and the makings of a false dichotomy to say that Betty is the ‘good' member of the Cooper and Lodge partnership. I do not buy into the modern notion that the two of them are some Madonna/Amy Grant embodiment for the kiddie set. Betty's no plaster saint. She's no prude either. She likes making out with Archie just as much as the ‘bad' Veronica does. It's implicit that Betty has a healthy appetite for, well, whatever it is that comic book characters do in the back seat of a jalopy. Virtue does not equate to being boring in the world of Riverdale High. 

    While I do think that it's simplistic to say that the brunette was bad and the blonde was good, there is something to Betty's relationship with Veronica Lodge. It wasn't until recently that someone pointed out to me that the two look virtually identical except for the hairstyles. For as much as the two hold opposite—Betty, a middle class child with two siblings who defines the girl next door; Veronica, a rich only child who smoulders with Comics Code-approved sex appeal—the two have an awful lot in common. Both are wise to the ways of the world—they know when one is scheming against the other—and both are smart and resourceful women who know what they want. It's as though in competing for Archie, the two girls are making the other whole, drawing from their similarities and their differences for a common and competitive goal.

    I find it funny that everywhere I've looked, people have described Betty as the ‘second fiddle' to the affections of Archie; that she's second place to Veronica. As a kid, I tended to think Betty came out on top most of the time. Veronica had feminine wiles and unlimited financial resources but Betty was winsome, smart and sweet. How could she lose?

    When I come to think about it, maybe that's what I've been looking for all this time.

    I think it's safe to say that in some way Betty Cooper has affected my own personal romantic orientation. In my own way I suppose I'm still looking for a Betty Cooper of my own, albeit an adult one of flesh and blood. I've been looking for an earthy girl next door with a great sense of humour, smart from book learning and the wisdom of the world, mechanically inclined—we haven't even touched on Betty's ability to fix cars and bake cakes—who knows the multidinous joys of snogging and enjoys each and every one of them.

    I may never actually find anyone that simple but that complex, but as imprimatur of my ultimate woman, I suppose I can't do much better than that either.

    I'm not alone in that sentiment. My all-time favourite moment in an Archie comic comes from the ending of a story where, after Veronica manages to win the round and get Archie, Jughead—good old dispassionate, hamburger loving, disinterested in women, anti-heroical Jughead—talks to Betty and says something I'd never forget for over two decades. "As you know Betty, I have sworn off women completely. However if I were to ever change my mind and do the unthinkable and choose to go on a date with a woman…it would be you."

    Me too, Jughead. Me too.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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