The genius of Riverdale and the teenage girls who love it

This show is amazing. But why should we be surprised? Teenage girls have long been cultural catalysts.

Riverdale couple 'Bughead.'
(Image credit: The CW)

Though I am a 35-year-old woman, my Wednesday night ritual has become tittering, over Twitter, about Riverdale, a teen-centered soap opera airing on The CW. And I am far from alone, watching redheaded hero Archie Andrews and his pals Jughead, Betty, and Veronica solve vicious murders and hook up, PG-13 style, to the latest chart-topping mall rock. Many of my friends, also 30-something women, convene on social media to swoon over the couplings (Betty and Jughead, aka "Bughead," for life!), speculate about the identity of this season's Big Bad, and hashtag our grown-up wisdom at the characters when they make quintessentially impulsive, teenage choices (#Jughead, seriously, your dad told you not to join the Southside #Serpents. #listentoyourfatherJughead #noreally). Inevitably, though, one of us will stop, and ask, with a very sincere chagrin — is our passion for a teen soap patently ridiculous?

Though Riverdale's first season was one of the first bona fide ratings bonanzas of 2017, and season two's debut only expanded its audience (in part, thanks to The CW's savvy streaming arrangement with Netflix), the show is still often called a "guilty pleasure": As in, "the best guilty pleasure on TV today"; "a guilty pleasure with a conscience;" and, most ubiquitously, "your new guilty pleasure." The implication here is that the show's compulsive watchability, and, most pertinently, its target demographic of young women, makes it inherently less thoughtful or nuanced than more conventionally serious-minded, "adult" fare. But let's not forget: Teenage girls have been cultural catalysts many times before. The Bobby Soxers who fainted over Sinatra; the girls who formed the earliest fan clubs for Elvis, The Beatles, Leo DiCaprio, or James Dean; and the teenagers who were obsessed with Daria, My So-Called Life, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer long before they became the "cult classics," were early champions of artists, and art works, that are now seen as significant, even indelible. It's long past time we started taking teenage girls — and their favorite shows — more seriously.

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