By DONALD DeMARCO
“The deepest definition of Youth,” wrote philosopher/scientist Alfred North Whitehead, “is, Life as yet untouched by tragedy.” The words “as yet” are foreboding. One way of staving off tragedy, therefore, is never to age. It is a strategy close to the heart of many writers of fiction. Neither Peter Pan nor any of Disney’s animals grow older. Nor do many comic-book characters. Dorian Gray did not age, but, unfortunately, with tragic results. The Sybil made a colossal mistake when she chose immortality and not eternal Youth. In her shriveled up old age, all she could desire was “death.”
Given the prospect of tragedy, there are but two strategies. One is to find its meaning. This is the difficult strategy. The other is to avoid it. Remaining young is one way of avoiding it, though it belongs strictly to the imagination. Heaven is a place where tragedy is absent. The desire to remain young represents a foretaste, though one that is incomplete, of paradise. The world can be “too much with us,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins has said, and can becloud our aspirations for something better.
Archie Andrews and his gang were forever 11th-grade high school students, residents of the mythical town of Riverdale. His life was predictable, innocent, and stagnant, but he remained eternally young. The millions of readers of Archie Comics took delight in the fact that although they, themselves, were aging and dealing with life’s tribulations, Archie and his friends remained happily exempt from the curse of time. Would Archie marry the wealthy Veronica, or would he choose the down-to-earth Betty to be his mate? Readers enjoyed endlessly proffering their opinions.
And this blissful state of youth and non-commitment continued unabated for roughly seven decades until political correctness arrived on the scene with the force of a tsunami.
Miss Grundy, who taught English and math at Riverdale High School, dies of kidney disease. Cheryl Blossom, an oversexed romantic interest for Archie, develops breast cancer. Jughead Jones, who always knew where his next hamburger would come from, struggles with financial woes. Archie, not wanting to discriminate between Betty and Veronica, marries both of them in alternate universes, without being too specific to either one.
Archie’s new best friend (replacing Jughead) is Kevin Keller who has a “husband” and is working hard as a U.S. senator for tighter gun control laws. In an assassination attempt against him, Archie takes a bullet for his friend and dies a hero (Life With Archie, July 16, 2014). The invasion of political correctness completely shatters the iconic Archie and his Brigadoon world.
Writer Paul Kupperberg was not unaware of what he was doing. “Archie Andrews is an iconic American character,” he told the world, “loved and remembered by millions of readers of all ages….And when you mess with people’s iconic memories, you’re playing with dynamite.”
Archie allowed us to dream of a Riverdale we all knew did not, and could not, exist. We found it comforting, amusing, and reassuring. It was a pleasant escape from our own day-to-day problems. Yet the hope of discovering a new Shangri-La is always with us. All such fictional worlds are, to be sure, highly imperfect images of Heaven, but they should not be shattered.
Dynamite is not for dreams. We need to keep hoping for Heaven, and mythical utopias are important stepping stones that help to keep that hope alive. The demise of an icon is the shattering of a dream and a rude return to a world in which one more refuge has been taken from us.