There is no more vivid memory in my mind than that of a nasty brown spider descending from the ceiling of my childhood bedroom. In the same way the young couple in a coming-of-age movie accidentally turns their heads toward each other at the same time, conveniently placing them lip to almost lip, I greeted that spider with an intimacy only now reserved for the closest of family members. That one experience cemented a life-long fear that no amount of therapy, cognitive or Fear Factor-style, could ever assuage. I am irrationally, screamtastically afraid of spiders.
My son, on the other hand, watched a spider descend from the ceiling of our living room just the other day, awed and transfixed at what he called the “butterfly spider.” What he witnessed was a magical creature, beautifully lit from behind by the ceiling light it was affixed to, floating down towards him and filling his world with wonder. He already loves Halloween and kid-friendly versions of spooky things, spiders included. The real thing was all the more delightful.
Our childhoods are very different, he and I. I’m almost as jealous as I am proud.
That difference in presentation of reality is what’s on my mind today, post-Riverdale. I’m still working out my obsession issues, although writing 50,000+ words about it certainly did help. I’m not nearly so upset by the breakups as I am by the act, the song, the presentation of a reality I’m familiar with and the debate I read on Twitter about the responsibility in that representation.
If there is a more existential song than Mad World, then I don’t know it and I’d prefer to keep it that way. That shit does something to you, man. Between the haunting music and the depressing lyrics… and then to show Betty’s very public exploration of her sexuality, not for her own gratification but to, well, solve a problem. It’s all a little too… real.
I’ve written about my experience with how culture shapes sexuality, specifically that of a young girl or teenager. Because, even now, even with #MeToo and #rapeculture, things haven’t really changed THAT much from when I was young. Maybe we’re ready to speak out about it now, but the experiences, for the most part, haven’t changed.
Women’s sexuality was and is defined in relation to men and I don’t mean just heterosexual women and I don’t mean just biological women. I mean we’re still part of a culture where sex is a commodity used to control others.
The purpose of Betty’s dance was to control Jughead by gaining entrance to his environment. The purpose of the serpent dance as entrance is to control the women belonging to the gang.
Was the scene exploitative? Yes. Does the show need to take responsibility for that? Yeah, probably. But was it a pretty good representation of the half the world’s experience with sexual discovery? I think so, actually, yeah.
“Children waiting for the day they feel good”
Part of that scene did feel good because DAMN BETTY. We finally got to see the buttoned up girl shed some of her layers and come into her own in a brand new way. But it also felt a little… ishy, a little uncomfortable, a little wrong because she did it for those reasons in that place in front of those people.
It is about choice–because feminism is about having and owning our choices–and that dance was Betty’s choice, but it’s also about determinism because how much of it really is our choice if we’re stuck in this culture that only reveals to us a limited set of possibilities?
“When people run in circles, it’s a very very mad world.”
I was as blown away by the power of the scene as I was horrified by what it meant for a whole new generation of women. I was as delighted at seeing Betty in a whole new way as I was sad and hopeless that things would ever change enough to get better. It was a terrifying butterfly of triggering magical spiders descending from both the darkest and lightest ceilings of our culture, both promising and threatening.
As I wrote in my journal this morning, ” I’m… shook, as the kids say. Because that song is so haunting, especially for people suffering from depression because, well, hell, it IS a mad world and nothing makes sense and maybe everything is horrible and pointless and then we all die and that’s the best part. … So that’s where I’m at, post-show. Haunted by the ghosts of Donnie Darko and Betty’s butt cheeks.”