Please note that this post contains plot discussion and spoilers regarding the first episode of Netflix’s “Riverdale”
As a fan of the original Archie Comics I was surprised to find that the teacher, Ms Grundy was portrayed not as the older, proficient teacher of Riverdale High, instead she was used to market a new subplot of forbidden love between her and Archie.
The scene appears like this: Archie is chopping wood, of all things. Unbeknownst to him, the Slurpee-sipping, Julliard bound teacher is in her car watching him. With a glimpse of his abs the decision is made to invite him inside her car because “it’s far too hot” for him to be working so hard. Within seconds the frame cuts to teacher and student having sex in the back of her car.
Her character dwells only within this storyline with the show finding more and more excuses for their relationship to be justified. It even uses Ms Grundy’s “past” and uncovered identity to draw out the feeling of empathy between the two.
(Archie: “oh you’re the only teacher who went to Julliard guess I have to have private lessons with you”
Me: ”if she went there and she somehow got here while she is still young she obviously wasn’t that good”)
To put it plainly: I have issue with this. It is dangerous to make excuses for these types of relationships. I hate the idea that the ‘illicit love’ storyline is injected into teen dramas in order to stir up controversy. This plot device isn’t new on our screens; other shows such as Pretty Little Liars, Degrassi, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek are all guilty too, though this by no means makes its acceptable. However, all these shows neglect to express that this romance is wrong and instead is used as a way to entrance a teenage audience making sense of their identity of being in between childhood and adulthood by dwelling on ‘taboo’ sexual fantasies. The scene itself of Ms Grundy and Archie is essentially a low budget porno, both in its staging and dialogue, specifically through the glares of longing and desire. In doing so it neglects the discomforting fact that their relationship is statutory rape and instead lumps it in with the rest of the show’s sexy sexy teen angst time.
Teen dramas like Riverdale shouldn’t flaunt their “special sort of love” but present it as an abuse of trust. The main issue presented in these shows are the teacher’s threat in “losing their job” not “I did something illegal”. Examples like Gossip Girl go one step further and put more of the fault on teenagers such as Serena for being “young” and “wild” than the educator. Shows make the mistake of blind sighting their viewership with depictions of illicit romance that they perpetuate toxic social opinions.
All these Teen shows also have a common thread of female teachers playing the part as the temptress regardless of if they were portraying the teacher or the students. This links with cultural history of women like Eve, tainted with desire withholding consequences for their actions. These characters ultimately gain the male gaze as their romantic attachments are seen as wrong and surround their whole story.
Although I loathe this continual presentation of educators getting their freak on with their students this cliché in teen dramas can be challenged. Instead of presenting it as always comfortable and sexy it can be presented as confusing and riddled with self-doubt. Consent can also be deliberated in these shows and reflected on. Teachers are members of our community that have careers built on trust and educating their students, but by subjecting characters like Ms Grundy to a revamp where she is only used as a tool for Archie to vent his advancing sexuality the show loses all ethical credibility.
If you are experiencing sexual or physical violence you are encouraged to ring for 24/7 nationwide counselling is available through Sexual Assault Counselling Australia or on 1800 211 028